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Habalar Meets Boston

Williamsport school teacher Mike Habalar was one of ten area runners who participated in the annual Boston Marathon this past April. In last week’s column, Mike shared his thoughts on the benefits of running and his training regimen that led him to Boston. This week Mike reveals his race day experiences of running in the

Williamsport school teacher Mike Habalar was one of ten area runners who participated in the annual Boston Marathon this past April. In last week’s column, Mike shared his thoughts on the benefits of running and his training regimen that led him to Boston. This week Mike reveals his race day experiences of running in the Super Bowl of marathon races.

“Boston is different as it starts later than other marathons. It has a 10:00 a.m. start for the elite runners. Most of the other marathons I’ve run start at 7 or 8 in the morning. I’m used to that regiment. At Boston, my start time was 10:30 a.m., so it is an adjustment. You are so hyped up for the race to start that it presents a mental barrier that wouldn’t be there if the race began earlier in the morning. You want to get up and run. That’s what you’re used to doing. There are so many runners the logistics are complicated. There are bus rides, lots of waiting around and walking to the start. It was a lot different than anything I had ever done. I don’t think that it cost me in any way, at least I don’t like to think that, but it is an adjustment.

“My go-to-meal the night before a race is half a pizza. Everybody is different, but that has been successful for me. So when I woke up the morning of the race, I had a leftover slice of pizza and a couple of bananas.

“There were about 25,000 runners in the Boston Marathon. At Boston, you are assigned your bib number in accordance with the qualifying time you recorded for eligibility for the race. My bib number was 10,800-something. It is humbling. I know I am not in the elite class, and I understand that. But when I am running other marathons, I’m generally going to finish in the top 25%. In Boston, you are running against the best-of-the-best. So I became a mid-pack runner, and that is humbling.

“Boston didn’t go nearly as well as I had wanted it to. It ended up being the worst marathon time I have ever run. It was my ninth marathon. The day before, I had driven the course. I thought my training had been really, really solid. I felt very good about what I had done building up to it. I think almost any marathoner tries to hold themselves back at the beginning because you have so much adrenaline flowing at the start. Looking back, I realize that I did go out a little too fast. It was a warm day, and at the halfway point, I was on the pace where I wanted to be. But even though I was on pace, it felt entirely too hard at that point, if that makes sense.

“About mile 16 on it got really dark. I had been in a similar dark place in other marathons. It just becomes you are going to finish the race because that’s what you do, but it is not going to make you happy. When I say things went dark, I’m referencing that the body isn’t doing what you have been training it to do. I had run 20-mile training runs at a 7:30 pace and here I was, not even hitting the hilly part of the course, running 9:00-plus. I think a lot of it had to do with poor hydration on my part. It was a warm day, and I don’t think I took enough liquids in.

“People ask ‘what were the crowds like?’” They were fantastic, but I was in a really, really bad spot.

“The other demoralizing thing is that you have a visual representation of who you should be running with. So as you see people running by you with bib numbers of 14,000 and higher, it just smacks you in the face, and you know you’re not running well. You try to fight it. It’s psychological, and you know it is not your idea. But, it’s Boston. I wanted Boston to be what everybody wants Boston to be. As a result, I came away from it with a bad taste in my mouth.

“After the race, I had some trouble with my stomach. We stopped on the way home for a meal about two hours after we left Boston. I barely ate and had trouble getting anything down. The next day I had taken off work just knowing it was a long drive home and what my body may feel like. But, I went and got some mulch and worked in the yard for a couple of hours. Despite my poor time, I wasn’t as crushed by this marathon as I was in some other races. When this one went dark for me, it wasn’t like I could salvage things by running a couple of good miles. It had already fallen apart.”

Despite his disappointment, Habalar was emphatic when asked if he would do it again.

“Oh my gosh, yes, absolutely. It is in the back of my mind to try and re-qualify, and this fall, I will make an attempt to do so. The qualifying times vary, but for males in my age group, I’ll need to run a sub-three hours and twenty minutes. I just changed age groups, but the first time I qualified, I had to run three hours and fifteen minutes.

“Like a lot of other runners when I first started to run, it was on my mind of what I needed to do to get to Boston. Boston is the Holy Grail of running. Finally qualifying at that 3:15 mark was my highest physical achievement since I’ve been running.”

“Right after Thanksgiving, I’m hoping to run in the marathon in Baltimore. That is where I ran my best time, and if you qualified there once, that is where I feel like I can do well again.

With the Boston experience now behind him, Habalar offered some advice for others who may be contemplating the same dream.

“Don’t underestimate the course. The beginning of the race is downhill, but you’ve got to be prepared to hold yourself back. You can’t stress that enough. If you start out too fast, you can blow yourself out in a hurry. You’ve got to respect the course.

“It is also a good idea to temper your expectations. I didn’t really think I was going to run a personal best, but it’s Boston, and everybody wants to achieve that. Because the course is so challenging I don’t think it is the smartest thing to go into it with that objective. I think it is better to wrap your mind around trying to do the best you can, but you don’t have to have a personal best to savor the experience.”

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