Performing well in a marathon and realising your full potential is all about the training you put in. It’s about the sacrifices you make and the suffering you’re prepared to endure in order to get your body primed and ready and in peak condition for the big occasion. One man who had certainly been willing to put the hard yards in ahead of his spring marathon was Barry Dolman.
It wasn’t just any Spring marathon he had signed up for though, it was Boston. Boston in the United States of America – one of the most iconic and desirable marathons on the planet. And since he was going over there, Barry wanted to do it justice and make it one to remember.
It was the 127th running of the Boston Marathon, making it the world’s oldest annual marathon. The 2023 edition also marked the 10th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing when two explosive devices were detonated near the finish, killing three people and injuring hundreds.
The race is traditionally held on Patriots’ Day which is the third Monday in April and the course is comprised of a point to point route rural Hopkinton in southern Middlesex County to Copley Square in Boston. The average number of participants is 30,000 and the area where the race is held can be subject to some very interchangeable weather, meaning it’s difficult to predict how the conditions might be on the day.
There have been some heroic performances from Bournemouth AC members in the Boston Marathon in previous years when battling the elements. Who can forget Jacek Cieluszecki’s ordeal in 2018, when he faced a biting headwind the whole way round, accompanied by freezing temperatures and torrential rain. His body almost shut down that day but he still somehow managed to get round in 2:49:45.
The year before that was when Tom Paskins ran it and it was a baking hot day with no breeze and no shade. That made it a real challenge for him as well and he performed admirably to get round in 3:06:27.
Caroline Rowley ran it in 2015 as part of a journey that would eventually lead to an Abbott World Marathon Major ‘Six Star Medal’. That’s the most prestigious participation prize in running. She had to overcome a bitterly cold headwind as well, clocking a time of 3:33:27.
With a fastest marathon time of 3:03:46, Barry was hoping Boston would be his first sub three and he was going to do all he could to make that happen. It’s a tough course to do it on though as you can of course have a headwind the whole way round. Plus it’s undulating throughout and you have the Newton Hills to contend with from 16 miles, including the aptly named Heartbreak Hill which comes into play between the 20th and 21st mile.
Barry is friends with two of Bournemouth AC’s top marathon men of the current era Rob Spencer and Craig Palmer, both of whom have a 2:25 marathon to their name, so they could give him some pointers on what it takes to reach your full potential in a marathon.
He’d been impressing everyone at the club with some of the quality long runs he’d been doing in training which included a 2 hour 50 minute run where he covered 22:75 miles and a 3 hour run where he covered 24.5 miles. He also ran the Eastleigh 10k in 37:42 after running for 1 hour and 40 minutes beforehand, getting progressively faster with each mile at the end of the run.
He even managed to go the full distance in a training run, again, ramping the pace up for the last 11 miles and finishing it in 3:06, giving him an average pace of 7:06. In his last long training run he completed the Bournemouth Bay 10k in 37:41 after doing 10 miles beforehand. He was clearly in great shape ahead of the Boston Marathon and his legs had help up really well throughout the training block.
In typical Boston fashion, the conditions weren’t ideal as there was a slight headwind in the direction they were going and there was some light rain as well.
Ranked 8,366 out of all the competitors in the field, Barry was forced to start the race in Wave 2 so he was with mostly runners who were going much slower than he was intending to. His wave started 10 mins behind Wave 1 though. That meant that from about 3km in he had very few people to hide behind.
Knowing you have to run a whole marathon into a headwind could be a daunting prospect. Barry wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way though. He wanted it badly. This was his moment.
Opening with a 6:32 first mile which contained some downhill and some uphill, the next couple of miles were on a downhill trajectory and Barry went through them in 6:12 and 6:18. That led to a first 5k of 19:56. The fourth mile was also downhill before he reached an incline on the fifth mile. A 6:14, a 6:35 and a 6:25 mile saw him get to 10k in 40:04.
The next 5k was pretty flat and Barry went through each mile split at very close to 6:25 pace. That was a 20:06 10k so his pace for each 5k instalment thus far had been very consistent. The next couple of miles contained some small inclines and Barry went though them in 6:28 and 6:34 pace before a 6:29 for his 12th mile.
That meant he’d registered a 20:19 for his next 5k. Reaching the half way point in 1:24:51, it so far so good for Barry. He was feeling very strong at this point but of course, there was still a long way to go.
Getting through the next couple of miles in just over 6:30 pace, Barry then picked it up a bit for the 16th mile which contained some downhill. After that, it was time to face the Newton Hills.
Still able to hit 6:55 pace for the 17th mile despite the upward trajectory, Barry then followed that up with a 6:51 for the 18th mile. The next one provided some brief respite from the hills and Barry went through it at 6:40 pace. That took him up to 20 miles. He’d got there in 2 hours 11 minutes and 17 seconds which was a superb effort. The prospect of Heartbreak Hill was now looming large on the horizon though.
Recording a 6:51 for his 20th mile, it was onto that last big climb for Barry. He tackled it well, with the ascent being 0.4 miles in length and 600m of vertical. Getting through the mile in 7:13, it was then time to begin the descent that would eventually take him close to the finish line.
Despite what the hills had taken out of him, Barry was able to get back on the pace as he headed down the slope, going through the 22nd mile in 6:31 and the 23rd in 6:34. He’d now been running for 2 hours 31 minutes and 52 seconds and had just over 5k remaining.
In marathon terms, he was almost on the home straight now so it was just a case of digging in and closing it out. There was every reason to remain positive. What could possibly go wrong now? Then, suddenly, the heavens opened. The light rain had turned to a heavy downpour, which wasn’t exactly what Barry would have wanted.
Showing tremendous grit and determination though, he got through the 24th mile in 6:42 before putting in a 7:04 and a 7:27 for his 25th and 26th miles. That left just a third of a mile to go. As the finish line came into sight, he knew he’d made it and had produced something very special.
Clocking an official finishing time of 2:54:26, it was a truly magical moment for Barry. He’d achieved a qualifying time for the Berlin Marathon, which for his age group was sub 2:55. That was one goal for him, as was ultimately recording his first sub three marathon.
Finishing in 2,568th place out of 26,624 finishers, Barry had come in 62nd place in his age category, which was a remarkable result. That was out of 2,051 men in the 50-54 age group. Since he was ranked 8,366th to begin with, that was an incredibly impressive upturn.
Having wracked up an elevation gain of 1,155 ft during the 26.38 miles he covered, Barry’s average pace came out at 6:37. Given the magnitude of the hills and the undulating nature of the course, that was a tremendous result. Especially when you take the rain and the constant headwind into consideration.
It was an improvement of 9 minutes and 20 seconds verses his previous best marathon time on a harder course so that represented huge progress for Barry. With the work ethic he has and the intelligence of knowing when to push and when to hold back, there are no bounds to what he could achieve in his future marathon endeavours.
Looking at the stats after the race, Barry joked that his pace graph looked better than Eliud Kipchoge’s, if you ignore the Y axis labels. In actual fact, it did, as Kipchoge never managed to get back to the pace was he going at at the start of the race after the 21st mile. Barry did, for at least two or three miles.
It had been an amazing experience that he will always look back on fondly. Yes, he found it tough towards end and the hills really were a killer but that makes the achievement even greater and the satisfaction that much sweeter. With the course being so undulating, Barry said it felt like death by a thousand cuts. But he showed great character to tackle everything that was thrown his way and that’s how you need to approach it to do well at Boston.
The atmosphere was electric throughout the race and in fact, there was a huge buzz of excitement around the city all weekend. Everyone was talking about the marathon and Barry loved being a part of that. He was certainly looking forward to celebrating afterwards with a few pints of Samuel Adams 26.2 Brew and boy had he earned them!
Everyone at Bournemouth AC was thrilled to hear how well Barry had done and he was quite taken aback by all the support he received when he switched his phone on afterwards. He’s always the first to congratulate others and encourage them in their own performances but this was his moment. This was his time to shine and he had seized it.
Barry already has his next marathon booked in and that will be Valencia in December. Since it’s a winter marathon as opposed to an autumn one, that will be ideal for Barry as it will give him a bit more time before he has to start his next block of marathon training. No doubt come September, he’ll be ready to attack it with gusto again.
It will certainly be interesting to see what kind of performance he can produce on a flatter, faster course and with hopefully much better weather conditions. Before thinking about that though, he’ll be able to enjoy the summer, take on some shorter distance races and probably nail down some other personal bests. Above all though, he’ll have time to reflect on his truly marvellous marathon achievement.