“I get it now, this Boston thing,” says Rob Hancock after he finished the Boston Marathon in 2009. “Still the pinnacle running experience” of his life, Rob’s peak race highlights the long journey it takes to master the marathon.
He ran his first marathon in Los Angeles in 1998 with a “just finish alive” effort of 3:59:21. Nine years later he caught the racing bug again, dropped 30 pounds, and attempted to qualify for Boston in the 2007 City of Trees Marathon in Boise. He bonked horribly with a 3:35:38 and 17-minute positive split. In 2008, he ramped up his training, and qualified on the same race with a 3:17:48, and 1:40 negative split. Boston bound he followed the same training plan – Pete Pfitzinger’s 18 weeks, up to 70 miles per week – through the cold Idaho winter leading up to Boston. What time to shoot for? “After much deliberation, I settled on an ‘A’ goal of sub-3:10.” A personal record that is not only ambitious but a Boston Qualifying time run in Boston.
Boston is more than just a race, it is a gathering ground for many notable runners as well as friends from across the country. The days in Boston leading up to Monday morning’s event provide Rob the opportunity to chat with Jack Fultz in an elevator (1976 Boston winner), visit with Dick Beardsley (see 1982 “Duel in the Sun”), and connect with an online “nemesis” to trade jabs. After the expo and even a “Duck Boat Tour” of the city, Rob made it to bed the night before. He remembers thinking, “strangely, I’m calm.” A good sign.
The morning of any race is a special time. “I wake up on my own at 4:30 (that’s 2:30 A.M. my time – gulp!). My first order of business is to check the weather. Still predicting high 30s to high 40s throughout — that’s good. But the flag atop the adjacent Copley Square Hotel is flapping wildly and pointing directly west – a strong direct headwind. That’s bad.” The mixed weather report notwithstanding Rob makes his way to the buses next to the Common and rides to Hopkinton, some twenty-six miles away.
There at the Athlete’s Village, Rob grabs a snack, waits for the time to start at the home of a friend of a friend, and then checks his bag at the bus as he walks the quarter of a mile to his starting corral (#7). The wait is almost over. Everything goes in quick succession now. “The seven thousand runners down the hill behind me are a sight to behold. Flyover. National Anthem. Gun. Holy crap. I am running the Boston Marathon. I am alive.”
Rob pursues his goal, mile by mile, staying in control of his pace. On his first mile, there is a “steep downhill, but the throng of runners keeps me from going out too fast. I’m grateful for that, and right on pace.”
Of the many memorable things along the course, the people that come out to cheer have to be at the top. Rob recounts, “I high-five another little guy…and I hear his dad say ‘You’re slapping hands with people from all over the world!’” Rob continues, “Of course, I’d heard how great the spectators were, but I was completely unprepared for their enthusiasm. I expected the usual polite applause and shouts of ‘Go runners!’ or the occasional cowbell. Oh no, this is something entirely different. All you have to do is point at the crowd or raise your hands, and you’re greeted with this deafening roar more befitting a winning three-pointer or touchdown. I find this new power intoxicating, and I start using it frequently.”
By the halfway point Rob is right on pace with a 1:35:36. 7:21 pace. The remaining question he asks himself: “Can I do a 3:10? With the hills looming? We’ll see.”
Rob continues to run just a few seconds below his target pace for each mile. After mile 20, when the challenge of a marathon can truly begin, Rob recalls, “The crowds continue to grow. As I’m approaching the third hill halfway through the split, an older gentlemen yells out. ‘Ya just gawt this little one, and then Hahtbreak, and then it’s awl downhill from theah!!’ I bet he’s been doing this for years. This little bit of inspiration makes me pick up the pace, attack the hill with vigor, and log a split 23 seconds faster than I’d planned.”
Rob conquers the Newton Hills and then clicks off the remaining miles still running just a few seconds below his target pace. As he runs within the last half mile through a deafening roar of cheers he thinks, “I want to be done, but I don’t want it to end. I glance at the Garmin just as it turns from 3:07 to 3:08. I smile, knowing sub 3:10 is in the bag. But man, 3:08 sure sounds a lot better. I give it all that’s left, and cross in 3:08:53.
I stop and grab my knees. A few paces past the line a guy next to me is doing the same thing. He makes eye contact and nods. I say, ‘Man, wasn’t that something?’
‘Unbelieveable,’ he says with a thick accent.
‘Where you from?’ I ask.
‘Holland.’ We share a quick man-hug and high five. I’ll never see that guy again. But I’ll bet we remember each other forever.”
As Rob makes the long slow walk to get his medal and check bag he thinks back to all that led up to that moment. All those winter training miles. The sacrifices his wife and boys made. His folks, now gone, and how very proud they would be. At that moment, “I look around, relieved to see I’m not the only one choked up.”
“Whenever I hear other runners talk about Boston, it’s always in superlatives: The best crowds, support, organization, course, etc. They say you won’t understand until you experience it. I wondered if all those veterans were just maybe a little loony. Could it possibly really be all of that? Oh, yes. It can. That, and much more. I get it now, this Boston thing.”
Look for Rob out on a run with the BAR!