with Tom O'Grady (Interviewed by Chris Bishop)
Congrats on your first local finish for the Boston Marathon. You’ve been the top local finisher before. How was your experience at the Boston Marathon this year?
Thank you. It was a different experience for sure. Usually when you go to Boston for the marathon weekend the weather is starting to get nicer. The biggest change was that the event was in the fall so instead of everything beginning to bloom, the colors were changing and leaves were falling. There was an excitement in the air at the expo as everyone seemed excited to participate. Packet pickup was very easy as the crowds seemed lower due to the increased COVID-19 restrictions and the small field size for the race. The race itself was pretty tough for me this year. Overall, there seemed to be a lot of emotion from the crowds, volunteers, and participants this year. I think everyone was simply happy to have the event back.
What was the biggest difference this year besides the October date?
The biggest difference for me was the start. I’m used to having to arrive early at the athlete village and waiting for the start. This year there was no athlete village and you were only supposed to board buses at specific times. The race started earlier at 9 a.m. and there was a new rolling start. The idea was to get you to Hopkinton with little time to spare before your start time. With the rolling start you would walk straight from the bus to the start line and go. I liked some aspects of this and didn’t like others. It was a little nerve-racking getting to the starting area with less than fifteen minutes to spare when I’ve always had to arrive close to the start of big races like this an hour or more before the start. The rolling start was a little nerve-racking because normally you know exactly where all of the people of your ability are located. Anyone in the first wave could start so I started further back than normal (about 25 seconds instead of less than 5). Additionally, I had no way of really knowing who in front, near, or beside me was of similar ability unless I saw their bib numbers. The start was much more crowded for me than normal and took a lot longer to thin out than normal. The ground was wet and my biggest concern was not slipping, falling, and getting trampled.
Were you surprised to be the first finisher in the Capital Region?
Yes, I was a little surprised this year. I ended up running a little slower (2:40:44) than I normally run at Boston. We have several very fast runners in the area and I know some of them had BQ times. I didn’t really pay attention to who was signed up beforehand and assumed someone probably ran faster. I hadn’t really paid attention to my place locally either until you (Chris Bishop) said something. I usually see the results in the paper but there was a shorter story this year more rightfully focused on the return of the race amid all the troubles holding large events as a result of COVID-19. It seemed like a lot of people struggled or ran slower than normal this year so that ended up allowing me to place higher with the time I ran than I think I would normally place.
Were you grouped with the elite?
No, I had a red bib (#439) that was simply in the first corral of the masses. I’ve never been in the elite grouping in Boston. It’s very tough to get an elite assignment. The cutoff this year was 2:19 for open men and my fastest time ever was 2:28.
You said you struggled this year. What was tough?
My training volume prior to the race this year was much lower than normal. I was only running about fifty miles per week. With all the changes due to COVID my goal has been to stay fit and healthy. I’ve purposely not taxed myself as much as normal during training simply because I have not wanted to get sick. With this in mind I knew the race would have to go perfectly to run a faster time. The race day was a little warm. It was about 60 at the start and around 72 when I finished. Combined with humidity, I just felt like I was overheating the whole race. Usually I can stay hydrated and use the water stations to cool off but it wasn’t working as well this year. This year the Newton hills beat me up much more than normal. I was able to rally a little after Heartbreak Hill but then faded again over the last two miles. It seemed like a lot of people had similar races when I looked at splits of those around and ahead of me. The most disappointing thing about the race was probably that this weekend is usually very cool and perfect for a race. It was probably better suited for spectating at a marathon rather than running a marathon this year!
Can you compare it with the other Boston Marathons you ran?
No, they’ve all been unique. This was my seventh Boston finish and I’ve come to understand any day you cross the finish at Boston (or any marathon) is a good day. I’ve had good weather, bad weather, great days, OK days, and not great days. This year probably felt the most like 2014 to me. I ran in 2013 when the bombings happened and everyone returned to support the race and the city. With COVID-19 disrupting so much over the past 18 months, this year it seemed like everyone was mainly happy to be there and happy to support the race and city again.
Thomas J. O’Grady, Ph.D., M.P.H., CPT-NASM is a public health professional and researcher who is an avid runner, hiker, and lover of the outdoors. If you would like assistance with run coaching, personal training, or nutritional coaching please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ogradystrategies.com for more information.