I AM A BOSTON MARATHONER!
Pre-race, my goals were:
1) Finish healthy and safe (don’t do anything stupid, don’t injure myself, don’t push too hard if something hurts, don’t get tangled up with someone, fall or get overheated/go hypothermic)
2) Give it my best effort on the day
3) Embrace the experience
I achieved all those goals.
….and then there were some time goals, none of which happened. Am I disappointed? A little, mostly because they were very conservative goals that on a typical “day at the office”, I “should” have been able to hit. I realize saying I’m disappointed with my time may sound ungrateful (and I always thought I’d be thrilled with a finish no matter the time), and I don’t mean it that way. I just want to be honest about how I feel. Being disappointed in my time doesn’t mean I’m disappointed in the race. I got to live my dream come true and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
I am proud of my effort. I ran every step. I gave it all I had, I just wish I’d had more to give on the day.
Now, the LONG stream-of-consciousness recap you came here for…get a snack and some coffee, settle somewhere comfy and let’s get this party started!
WEATHER AND GEAR
The weather was cold (not a big problem, better cold than hot!), and sometimes windy (but not “Shamrock bad” to me anyway). Then there was the rain… I ran a 5k in the rain many years ago and didn’t enjoy it. My second marathon, the one I ran injured, had cold spitting rain and wind that was not pleasant when I had to start walking at mile 20. Those two races, both many years ago, are the sum total of my experience running in the rain and so the weather was freaking me out a bit. (DH would snort – “a bit?!”) If it had been a local marathon with another one available soon, I might not have run the race – but it wasn’t, it was Boston….and if you’re healthy and think you can be safe in the conditions, you run Boston. (waiting for this to bite me next year) I don’t know if the conditions messed with me as much physically on the day as they messed with my head, but considering how cold my hands got (added to the difficulty getting gels) and the rain dripping off my visor onto my face at some points, it might well have. But it didn’t rain the whole time, for which I was grateful.
I’m thankful to the people who helped me do better in the conditions than I would have without the extra new and new-to-me gear.
Laid out kit the night before, pinned on bib, debated s/s v tank, both are super light weight, made for summer running, but I’ve worn the tank in every marathon, including the cold Richmond in November. Briefly thought of long sleeve (would have been my Shamrock shirt or a very warm base layer) but I was afraid I’d overheat. (you can laugh, knowing I’ve done 4 marathons now where I thought I’d toss gloves/arm warmers and didn’t) I’m almost always cold – sometimes REALLY cold – and I don’t like being cold, but I am not used to running hot so overheating scares me as I know less how to deal with it and less how it feels before things go bad.
I went to the Village with bra, tank, arm warmers, Teflon-coated running vest (extra pair of cotton gloves and some, ahem, supplies in the pockets), warmer “water resistant” gloves, ear band, visor, shorts with wet wipes in the pockets, and quad compression sleeves under my toss sweats. (along with wearing my FlipBelt loaded with 10 gels, and a flask in the sweats pocket with a Vanilla GU mixed with water for the start) I also carried a rain poncho which I used in the Village, overshoes which I ditched in the Village never having worn, but would bring them again, and carried a yoga mat via strap – had a yard garbage bag stuffed in the center in case of extra need. I didn’t carry my phone, and there were times I wished I had, to get people’s names or to chat with DH and friends pre-race. But once the race started it just would have been weight. I knew I wasn’t going to take pictures or text during the race, and I knew it wasn’t possible I’d be out there alone at any point in need of help that I couldn’t get, so I left it with DH.
Note that the vest, quad sleeves, ear band and gloves were new. Yes, I violated the “nothing new on race day” rule with my kit – and that, plus the shirt I added in the Village – probably saved me from hypothermia. I don’t recommend such big changes, but sometimes you have to take the risk, and I’m thankful to the folks who helped me!
New on me as I left the hotel, and all purchased race weekend:
- CompressSport quad sleeves – purchased per my chiro’s Thursday direction as I’d pulled a groin muscle in my left leg Wed night getting out of a chair – you can imagine how freaked I was. The pull improved on its own and with e-stim, but after talking to the sales guy, I grabbed a pair. I did manage to test them before the race by wearing them from Sat afternoon through the Sunday shakeout run and was prepared to ditch them if needed. I think they helped my hamstrings a lot, my quads too – never even noticed the groin pull – and they added a little extra warmth (and made finding me in the finish line video easier). I think they’re awesome and am still wearing them, recommend. Just realized they come in other colors than the black I got. Goal of course is to be stronger and NOT need them. DH was so impressed with the sleeves he picked himself up some of their trail shorts. They appear to only have men’s shorts, boo.
- Frank Shorter Teflon-coated vest from jacket w zip off sleeves (would have bought yellow, but blue was what they had at expo, may get yellow later) and warm ear band
- Brooks running gloves with pull over nylon mitts (no longer for sale I guess, not on Brooks’ site) – L instead of needed XL but keeping these!
I didn’t pin my bib to my vest, in case I wanted to ditch it. I pinned it to my tank, which meant that every 5k, for the timing mat, I unzipped it partially and then re-zipped it. I had to trust that the chip would register that way. I didn’t think much about the photographers except the ones at the end (thought about that ahead of time) and it turns out that so far there’s only one photo of me that’s not in the last 600 meters where they could clearly see my bib – it’s one at the 10k split mat (where there are photographers above) and I found it in the unidentified photo section. My logic was that race photos usually aren’t that great, the conditions were bad, and timing is the priority – except for finish line photos!
Monday morning, up 5am. Race schedule: bus loading start 7:55, those buses arrive at the Village around 9, to corrals 10:15, wave start 10:50. I ate my small cup of applesauce with 1/2 scoop of Hammer Whey around 6 or so. We’d decided the night before that we needed to leave the room shortly after 7am to allow for crowded elevators and the walk to Boston Commons for the buses , as well as one or more portajohn stops at the Commons. I paid attention to the tales of traffic backups and people begging to be let off the buses to relieve themselves anywhere. Didn’t want that to happen if I could avoid it. I carried a squeeze pouch of applesauce and a pouch of Vespa. The applesauce was to be taken if I got hungry on the bus or soon after getting to the Village so my stomach/blood sugar weren’t affected pre-race, and the Vespa to be taken around 10am.
Even in my toss sweats, with the hood pulled up, it was quite a chilly walk to the Commons. I was pretty tense and in my own head, fretting about the rain, so it was a good thing DH walked me over. I might have found a pod of runners to tail, but I might not have, and I surely couldn’t hold directions in my head. We happened to leave our hotel and pass the tents at the time a huge number of race volunteers in their orange jackets were heading out – we followed them for a bit, then DH said they were going elsewhere and we changed course.
Got to the Commons and got in line for the portajohns. There were a fair number of runners, dressed in interesting combinations of toss/warm clothing, but not as many as I’d have expected. I think that’s because people kept moving into bus lines and heading out. There was a constant stream of announcements about not being able to check gear in Hopkinton, not being able to take gear bags on the bus (though people did seem to be able to get small bags with food/drink through security) and which wave was to be where. We hung out for a few minutes, hoping Leah, who I’d met at the shakeout would show up, but she was delayed leaving her hotel so I missed her. (found out the Sheraton had fire alarms go off at 12:30am, felt bad for those runners!) DH tried to block the wind for me, but it kept changing direction. Decided one more portajohn stop was in order, then we said farewells. The plan post-race was for me to return to the hotel, figuring the family meeting area would be too crowded for us to find each other (on a decent weather day, probably true) and I’d decided I’d just ask people for directions afterward….my brain function, memory and sense of direction are not high post-marathon.
I got in the security line for the buses. As I did, I passed a wide-eyed runner saying goodbye to her husband. He said “you look terrified” and she replied “I am!” (I chimed in “me too” – hoped to find her in bus line but didn’t happen) Had to wait longer to get on a bus than I wanted, given the cold, and while it was warmer, it wasn’t warm. I don’t think our bus left until 8:25.
On the trip out, it started to rain, and the bus steamed up so much the driver opened his window. Again, not so warm. It stopped raining by the time we got to the Village. My seatmate, an Eastern European woman living in Toronto who only started running around age 50 (now 58), chatted. I think we got started because was shaking with cold and she asked me if I was cold. I put the hand warmers DH had given me into my gloves, and it helped a bit. (I kept them in through some of the early miles in the race.) We compared clothing notes (she was afraid she’d overdressed, I suspect she was fine), talked about this being our first Boston. Turns out our original BQ times were pretty close. I gave her my garbage bag since she didn’t have a poncho. She plans to run NYC (she qualified and happened upon registration) and is going to run the Grand 2 Grand ultra this summer. It was lovely talking with her. We unfortunately split up on arriving at the Village around 9:30 (as I headed for the portajohns) and I didn’t get her name or number. I hope she did well.
In the portajohn line, standing on the grass/mud in the field (oh yeah, snow=mud) I jumped into the conversation the two women behind me were having (I will do this at races, especially if I’m nervous). They were charity runners I think, one was from South Carolina, the other from Vermont – the person behind them was local but was talking about skiing in Vermont. We wound up talking all the way through the line, me mostly listening, and then the SC & VT women and I wound up in the tent in roughly the same place. There wasn’t really a place to sit, so we stood. I could have made a place, probably, and had the mat for just such a purpose, but in my cold brain’s logic, I thought the ground would be even colder than standing and was afraid I might pull or tweak something sitting down or getting up. (see, I’m already not thinking too clearly)
I wasn’t doing well at this point. I could not stop shaking from being so cold. I don’t mean delicate little shivers, I mean shaking/trembling so that it’s visible to others. The last time I was that cold was before Richmond, but that was just waiting in the line for 20 minutes, not standing outside for an hour on top of already having been outside and cold. I also couldn’t think straight. I kept wondering if I should be taking my applesauce because I must be burning calories but now it was past 10 and too close to the start, what should I do. I couldn’t decide. I couldn’t decide if I should take the Vespa (knew I could run w/o it) as it was ~2oz of liquid and in the cold, liquid causes me to need to relieve myself more quickly, not optimal in a race. I also completely forgot about my FRS chews (so hadn’t had any caffeine either) – they wound up banging around in my pocket and annoying me for the race. Never wound up taking my pre-race Energy Surge tablet or the extras of that & Endurolytes I carried in baggies in belt. The Energy Surge might have helped. Actually, given how good salted gels tasted, the Endurolytes might have too.
This is where the Vermont woman pretty much forced her long sleeve toss shirt (midweight tech) on me, after being incredibly patient when she kept offering and I couldn’t decide. Of course then I had to take off my sweat jacket, vest, and tank to put the shirt on – when she saw what I was wearing, she said “oh yeah, you need this”. It helped right away, but I was still shaking.
At some point it was time to go to the corrals and then the start line. On the walk to the start, it began to rain again. Suddenly things seemed to be happening faster than I was quite ready for. I met a charity runner along the way who distracted me, kept me company, made sure I got to the portajohn by the start and helped me out of my toss clothes. He was planning to run at a very slow pace due to an injury, so we said goodbye before the start.
I must put a plug in for two books that really helped me be familiar with the course (along with whatever videos are online):
Boston Marathon: The Legendary Course Guide by Raymond Britt – he took photos while running the course himself one year and puts comments, tips and his splits as well.
26.2 Miles to Boston by Michael Connelly – a lot of history about each mile, but also helpful information and photos
Because of those books, I knew that the start was narrow and the first few miles were going to be very crowded, no way to find a clear path or make a pace. Just go with the flow and try to hold your own place in the crowd. People were very cautious – I didn’t get elbowed, stepped on or shouldered…at one point later in race someone bumped into me and apologized, I know I did the same. I’ve been elbowed and stepped on worse at other races. Many people wore ponchos (some the whole race) and the only almost oopses I had were with two runners who’d run their iPod cords outside their poncho, and there was a huge amount of slack cord. Both times, I caught the cord between my fingers on a forward right arm swing, realized it and yanked my arm back. Glad I didn’t wind up pulling it out of their ears, ouch. Also, guys really do peel off into the woods next to the road shortly after the start to urinate – and they’re not shy (I’d read about this so it was kind of funny).
So how’s the downhill start? Not unmanageable, even in the rain with the crowds. I think you’d need more space to really be able to take advantage of it and go out too fast, but that may have just been how it was on the day. I was nervous about downhill with the rain, but it was fine. I was being careful, trying to watch my footing and run with the best form I could.
Each of the towns you pass through has a sign on the course saying either “Entering X” or “Welcome to X”. The sign for the second town, Ashland, came very quickly – I thought “already?”
One really cool thing is that from the start, even when you begin to get some space in the pack, if you look ahead, as far as you can see are the bobbing heads and bright colors of the runners ahead of you. Britt had mentioned this in his book and it shows in photos.
Spectators giving out orange slices (I’d read about it) must be a Boston thing. I’ve never seen it anywhere else. People were standing out in the cold rain and wind with tubs and dishes of oranges they’d spent time preparing, hoping to help us. A few places were giving out their own water, one woman was trying to hand out Twizzlers. I think there were some sort of ice pops being given out at the top of Heartbreak, but doubt they had many takers. I did see at least 3-5 spectators handing out paper towels, a nice thought as you could dry your face or glasses and feel less soggy even for a moment.
Early on, I saw the man who does the race in a wheelchair, backwards, pushing only with his feet. I saw Peter Sagal guiding his Team with a Vision blind runner. Saw a few more guides/runners from them and Achilles. I saw charity runners supporting a variety of causes, some with names and pictures on their shirts. One in particular struck me, running in memory of her mom and someone else, made me wonder if I would have the guts to run for that knowing how bad I’d feel if I wasn’t successful. Props to the charity runners – training for and running the race is hard enough, raising funds is a whole extra effort.
The first half of the race felt like it took a long time to happen, though it was my faster half of the race. Somewhere around mile 9, it felt like some energy went out of my legs. I didn’t feel like I was bonking, but I wonder if I ran the race more glycogen-depleted than I thought due to all the time pre-start and being so cold. I knew there was a lot of race yet to go.
I started thinking about getting to 10 miles, then after that to the halfway, then thinking of it as a training run in terms of mileage (only 13 miles!), then told myself “get into the hills and you’re into single digits”, “get to Heartbreak and you’re under 6 miles to go”. I also was looking for landmarks and thinking when I would take my next gel. Sometimes I wasn’t thinking at all, just moving and watching out for anything in the road that might be a problem.
I was very lucky. I had no real physical problems including the “boo boos” (as my chiro would say) that had been nagging pre-race. Neither of my PTT tendons acted up, my glute mins were silent for the first time in months, my hamstrings were the quietest they’ve been in maybe a year (go quad sleeves!) and my quads didn’t hurt. My hips (flexors) and calves felt a little tight, and my feet definitely were feeling the pounding on the pavement, but there wasn’t ever anything that made me concerned or made me consider stopping. Somewhere around miles 9-10, I started to feel the weird “pre-collapse” sensation in my left ankle. I fretted about it a bit and tried to watch how I was landing, check my form. Thankfully, the sensation did pass without incident. Afterward, I noted real soreness (to the touch) in my upper arms (biceps). This happens to me post-race but less so on training runs unless they’re long/goal pace. Interestingly, Shalane apparently had the same problem at Boston.
At multiple points during the first half to 16 miles, I was getting cramping that almost felt like a side stitch, but not in the right place for that. It didn’t seem to be related to when I took gel/water, which sometimes has happened in training runs, and it felt different than that. I tried to treat it like a stitch and exhale hard when my foot hit on that side. It helped momentarily, but then it would come back. Slowing down a little seemed to help, and when I tried to speed back up, sometimes it would come back. I tried to do what I could when it wasn’t happening in terms of pace, but I’m not the greatest judge of pace, and the rolling course made it harder to hold a steady pace. After that, the cramping seemed to improve. Well, up until mile 19.
After the halfway point, then I started to think about the course more, knowing “downhill at 15, then the hills start, then downhill, then get to the Citgo sign, then you’re close”.
It looks “flat” from about mile 6 to the downhill before 16, but I knew from running the course profile that it wasn’t. I’m so glad I trained for the seemingly constant rolling. There is so little flat on the course, and sometimes my brain would say “geez, ANOTHER uphill, come on!” but it would be short and fairly shallow, and then over. If I’d not been expecting it or hadn’t practiced it, I think it could have gotten in my head.
It’s interesting how some irritating things you can just force your mind to ignore and tolerate during a run or race, and others just keep bugging you. For example, I had put the FRS chews in the upper chest pocket of the vest so I could easily get to them. However, since I hadn’t taken them, they started bouncing against my chest and were painful and annoying. It took a lot of work with gloved hands, on the run, to get them out and into another pocket.
FUELING & AID/SUPPORT
I took my Vanilla Bean & water at the start. The plan was to take a gel every 3 miles, which isn’t exactly what happened. I took a Vanilla at mile 3, Salted Watermelon at 6, Strawberry Kiwi Roctane around 10, Salted Caramel at 13, Blue Pom Roctane at 16 & 19, and Caramel Macchiato at 22. The “salted” gels tasted particularly good. (a sign I was down on eletrolytes? had some in my belt but no way I could have gotten them with hands so cold)
It was taking me longer to get the gel out of the wet cold belt (sweat more than rain) with wet cold hands (gloved or not) and I don’t think it was consistent whether the aid stations were before or after the mile markers. This made it harder to anticipate for me – it’s also easier to see them in advance when there are less people on course, the volunteers stand out more in empty space though their orange jackets were helpful for visibility.
I went through several iterations/process improvements with the gels. I started taking my right glove off to fish for the gel. (it eventually got so hard to get back on soaking wet that I just shoved it in my pocket) Then I’d transfer it to the left hand, open it, get as much down as I could and get a couple sips of water (which was pretty darned chilly).
The next improvement was to – since I was losing time at each stop anyway – get the NEXT gel out and put it in the chest pocket of the vest. Then I changed that to just carrying it in my left hand for the next 3 miles. I couldn’t get the gel I wanted at mile 9 (which is why I wound up taking the gel for mile 12 at mile 10) and got frustrated.
I turned the flip belt around after mile 10 – moving the emptier pockets in the front to the back – but what I didn’t realize was that the belt had rolled so that the slits to get to the gels were now facing my body, not away from it. This became frustrating and tiring. It was taking more and more effort to get any gel out, and it was work to make myself keep digging for them, holding them and taking them. I went from tossing the top you tear off to ripping it off with my teeth and attempting to at least spit it away from me before taking the gel. By the time I got to 22 and took what turned out to be the last one, I don’t know if I figured I’d make it without another or it just seemed like too much work. The Jet Blackberry might have perked me up if I’d taken it at 23 or 24.
The aid stations themselves were excellent. They were every mile starting at 2, great idea…. 4 tables of Gatorade then 4 tables of water…then another set on the other side of the road a little further down so you never had to change sides of the road…that said, you spent a lot of time running through a lot of cups.
There was plenty of on course support. In addition to the race volunteers, there was a huge law enforcement/security presence (local police in fluorescent vests & uniformed National Guard, guys in fatigues and barriers in some places) and a med tent about each mile with big electronic sign reminding us of that before you got there, certainly was each mile late in race. Some of the police and National Guard guys were even clapping, cheering and encouraging us. I tried to thank a few, but didn’t have much energy.
And, every med tent/aid station also had portajohns. This became important to me when the cramping finally indicated something was going to happen no matter where I was. Fortunately, I was approaching the mile 19 aid station at the time. I ran all the way to the curb, and afterward I made sure to go back to the point where I stepped off the road and start running right from there, so I do believe I ran every step of the race. I lost about 4 minutes, best I can tell. Glad it happened before Heartbreak.
MORE RANDOM THOUGHTS
The crowd support was amazing, all that people had said it was, very impressive in the conditions and very helpful to me, surprising as I can get annoyed with people, crowds. The only thing that bugged me was so many spectators were on the course – not off to the side – for hand slaps, really too far into the road so that you had to move to not run into them if you didn’t want to slap. At one point, the crowd was pounding on the sponsor ad banners that are zip-tied to the barricades (in some places there are barricades) as they do in cycling races, and I really liked the sound effect of that. It was almost like the beat of music.
Due to the crowds, I paused my iPod a fair number of times. I repeated a couple songs early. While I wouldn’t want to run without music, as I like having that boost, I couldn’t rely on being able to hear songs or on the timing of them given the crowds and varying paces. I’d run with music again, but probably be quicker to pause or skip or repeat. It was also a little challenging in that my shuffle was on my bra, under the vest and 2 layers of shirt, so some fiddling was required any time I wanted to adjust. Managed it mostly with the gloves while I had them on, and was glad I didn’t screw it up somehow. The iPod came through unscathed as did my fantastic yurbuds.
People were cooking (or restaurants were) in the first 10k or so and it smelled wonderful. Wood smoke, barbecue and I think burgers. The thought did flash “I’d love to stop and get warm and have a hamburger” but only for a moment. Fortunately there weren’t really any smells that were unpleasant or made me queasy. (and with the rain I didn’t notice anyone’s cologne or detergent smells, as I have in other races – nice)
As far as the wet conditions, I think the rain didn’t affect my feet as much as unavoidable puddles did. I tried to get around them but sometimes I just couldn’t. Also, runners kicked up water onto my shoes as they passed. I suspect I did that to some folks too. I used Trail Toes on my feet (rec by my friend Felicia, she used it in Marathon des Sables) and it was was awesome, not a single blister including the one that had been popping up on runs at home! I body-glided the heck out of everything else, which I usually don’t. I think under arms, at bra straps and around where the vest hit my neck probably helped. I had no chafing.
I had a lot of moments of thinking, “Oh yes that’s that place I saw in the book or on video” – TJ’s bar, the ice cream store, the Ashland clock tower, the Framingham train station, shops I’d seen on video….somehow I missed seeing the Stylianos Kyriakides and Johnny Kelley statues as well as the Team Hoyt statue. So much is already hazy in my memory….Only on reviewing Britt’s book to help me with this recap did I recall that “yes, we ran by a lake” (Lake Cochituate, in mile 10). I’d completely forgotten. I wish there was a recording chip in my brain that I could play for myself as well as for you, to re-experience the race.
I’m glad I knew the places where there were train tracks to be careful of in the wet conditions. I really appreciated people who’d told me their perspective on different points on the course. I also appreciated DH’s tips on running in the rain – avoid running on the paint on the street and steer clear of manhole covers or other metal. The dips for some of the utility access, covered by small round metal plates set down below street level, collected water and were things to be careful of. I managed with the metal and only got forced onto paint a few times. With so many runners, you don’t always get your choice of where to run.
There wasn’t very much camber or tilt to the road, which I had worried about – yay!
I spent a lot of time focusing on the ground for caution, people around me, thinking about gels, looking at spectator and sights. I didn’t have a lot of spare brain power to think thoughts or really hear my music. Looking back, it seems like I was mostly focused on the race or not thinking at all, with some stray thoughts coming in, or giving myself reminders about gels, form, etc. I wasn’t spending a lot of time talking to myself either. Some encouragement, some nudging or determined “I will do x, I won’t do y” or things like that. I went through my apparently typical process (seems to happen each race) of telling myself “you can walk if you need to, or crawl, but you’re finishing” to realizing that I’d be really ticked and really cold if that happened, and that I didn’t NEED to walk, and then telling myself that I would run the whole race, no matter the pace. I can begin to understand how the elites race without music (believe they have to, under the rules) and how many of us regular folks do as well. I still like the option for myself though.
I have so many snapshots in my head of towns, trees, buildings, people and signs. I wish I could share them all with you.
I didn’t see any of the people I knew who said they’d be out cheering at different points along the course. But I didn’t spent much time looking, except scanning for Christine near Wellesley. By the way, her mom Pam really has some grit, running though she’d spent Saturday night in the ER with dehydration from food poisoning.
It was interesting to be running in such a huge event, surrounded by people and crowds, and also be quite alone. I didn’t see that many people running in pairs or groups (makes sense if you’re running for time, Baystate was like that). It made me wonder what it would be like to run the race with someone.
It was helpful to have run the Runners’ World Heartbreak Hill Half even though it was last June. I recognized the turn at the firehouse (which I’d also seen in pictures) and passed the hospital and BC thinking “been here, run this”. I really hope they can have the event again in 2016.
At the time I passed through, Wellesley college women were not out in full force (or I didn’t think so) and I didn’t see the sign I’d put in for. It wasn’t a scream tunnel, but people on one side. The Boston College cheering section, on the other hand, was deafening. Families out in Newton Hills. So many people out to cheer us the whole way.
I saw a woman w 75+ on her back and, in the last mile, a man with 80+, inspiring. I saw people with shirts indicating how many Bostons or marathons they’d done, or how many/which of the World Marathon Majors. I saw someone running in what looked like a gladiator costume, complete with helmet, cape and sword he was holding out in front of him. He was running with someone else, I’m not sure if he was supposed to be chasing her or what.
At some point in the first half I thought, “I can do this course better, this isn’t an unmanageable course for me”. I was pleased that I thought that and pleased to discover that it wasn’t so far outside my ability that I couldn’t do it or could never improve. I ran the whole thing the first time!
THE NEWTON HILLS
All my research and course-specific treadmill training paid off – the hills were not as bad as I would have expected, including Heartbreak! This is not to say they were easy, but I was pretty afraid of them after all the warnings and given my lack of downhill training and general hill experience.
The first is what I call “Dave McGillivray Hill” – because he always talks about it, says it’s hard and that people get surprised by it. It’s when you cross 95/128 and is basically an overpass open to the conditions. He says whatever the weather is, it’ll be accentuated there – more wind/cold/heat. I thought of Dave several times, particularly regarding the weather, as in his memoir he jokes that it rains whenever he puts on a race, and because I knew he’d be going back out on the course, later, when the forecast was for worse weather, to run his Boston. (He did, and the weather was worse. He’s such an impressive guy, I’m a fan.)
So I knew “that was the first, 3 more”.
I repeated some songs – Uptown Funk and My Body (thanks Felicia) almost the whole way in the Newton Hills. The beat and the lyrics helped.
I don’t remember much about the next 2 hills, I was trying to look at the houses and see if I remembered any from the half marathon, look at the people. Also, the aid stations every mile are a distraction and something you must pay attention to even if you’re not going to stop as you need to be aware of cups, other runners, etc.
I kept an eye on my Garmin, knowing from my training where Heartbreak was and knowing the offset of my Garmin from the course markers, and I thought, “ok, we must be starting pretty soon”. There was a fairly large hill, but I’d expected more spectators and sponsor tents at the top (from Britt’s book). I kept thinking “this must be it” and when I got to the top I saw a sign that said something like “top of Heartbreak Hill” off to the side, by its lonesome. I’d expected lots of hoopla, signs, yelling, music.
AFTER THE HILLS
If I recall there’s a little flat following, then another slight up, then the downhill I’d been warned about by the woman on Metro. It was noticeably down, but not bad on my legs.
I knew from the profile that there was one more brief incline before we got closer to the Citgo sign.
Somewhere late in the race volunteers were handing out heat sheets (think it was after the hills) and some people took them and ran with them. The people who were walking surely needed them but it can’t have been close to enough.
The Citgo sign appeared somewhat suddenly, and with the misty rain it was almost like a mirage as well as a beacon. Glad I knew that when you first see the Citgo sign (just around 24) you are NOT at mile 25 – it’s when you’re AT the Citgo sign. Happily, there are signs that tell you you’re at 25 and signs for 1 mile to go. By the time we got to mile 25, the crowd support was so deafening I stopped my iPod and pulled out my earbuds to soak it in. I had planned to pull them out on Hereford and tuck them under the vest so I wasn’t wearing them in the photos, so this was just early.
THE LAST MILE
Running on Commonwealth, the crowds were thick and very supportive, and could cheer for individual runners as we were spread out more now.
As I approached Mass Ave, I heard chants of “USA” from the crowd on Mass Ave, and I chanted for a moment. In front of me was a dual “blade runner”, and the back of his shirt said “The voice inside your head that says you can’t do it is a liar.” This choked me up a little. As I passed under Mass Ave, it got very quiet, as I’d read it would. When we climbed the small incline and I saw what I knew (from running it on 2 fun runs and walking it, and from videos) was THE turn onto Hereford, it started to hit me. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston, just like everything I’ve read, just like the tshirt I bought. It’s hitting me what it really means.
I‘m about to finish the BOSTON MARATHON.
I nearly lost it on Hereford, I was both smiling and in tears, I could feel myself start to gasp like I was crying and had to tell myself out loud “keep it together”. I put my sunglasses on top of my visor so the photos would show my face.
Left on Boylston. The last stretch on Boylston after you turn the corner is indeed – as you have heard and read – longer than you think, even when you know that you’ll feel that way and know how long it is! You can see the finish at the turn, but mostly because you know it’s there (at least for someone with my poor eyesight) and you’ve seen it in the days leading up to the race. The crowds help you avoid that “will I ever get there” feeling when you see the finish far away, and you can see everyone trying to come up with a finishing kick with whatever they’ve got left. I know I did.
I knew the photographers were up above, so when I came around the corner, I unzipped my vest and tried to keep the sides behind my elbows so they could see my bib. I managed to flick my eyes left as I passed The Pour House, a bar/restaurant my father-in-law used to stand in front of when he went out to cheer the runners. He and my mother-in-law weren’t able to make it to Boston, but I knew they were sending me good vibes and I wanted to acknowledge that. I started that smiling/crying/effort thing again, and tried to keep my head up as I moved forward. I raised my arms a few times, or tried anyway (they didn’t get up that far) as I approached the area where I knew – from seeing other photos – they’d start snapping. I looked up, smiled, crossed the mat and went under the arch. Then I stopped my Garmin and walked forward.
AFTER THE FINISH
The finish volunteers were great. I was so overcome people kept asking me if I was ok (I was almost crying) and I just kept nodding saying, “my first Boston” and they’d congratulate me. I probably also looked a little cold. My lips can go kind of purple when I’ve been very cold for a long time.
First you get water, then you go longer than you think you would until you get that beautiful medal. There are a LOT of volunteers giving them out…I got a lovely woman in a Canada hat who gave me lots of hugs when I said it was my first. She said, “but not your last, right?” She volunteers while her husband runs – this year was his 15th Boston. I said I was coming back next year and she should wear the same hat, I’d look for her.
Then you go further to get the “heatsheets” which – in a lovely touch – the volunteers actually put ON you, requiring very little effort. One woman rushed over to me saying, “you look so cold” and I was. She asked if I had gloves (I’d shoved my soaking wet gloves in pockets, seemed colder to have them on) and when I told her they were wet, she said, “I bought dress socks and I have an extra pair in my pocket, do you want them?” I took them. So wonderful how nice people are. I know Boston’s a big race and a big deal, but the sheer number of volunteers, all of whom seemed pleasant and well trained/equipped to deal with runners, is impressive and appreciated.
Then I headed back to hotel, basically asking every little way – “can I get out of the runner area this way” and then “where is my hotel”. A few of us begged to cut through the hotel’s restaurant entrance and staff let us in even though they weren’t supposed to. Then there were (no kidding) 40 people in line for elevators, and some security guy took the 3 of us in our heat sheets into a service elevator to get us to our rooms quickly. Kudos.
I got back to the room where DH helped me get out of some of the wet cold clothes. I started drinking my Ultragen while telling him everything I could think of from the race, putting it in his memory so he could remind me. He’d gone out and watched the race, so had only gotten back to the hotel shortly before I arrived. He had a great vantage point at the turn onto Boylston but didn’t see me (of course, I was dressed differently than when I left the room).
Garmin geek moment: I ran only 0.29 extra miles, not bad especially given it includes the walk off the course to/from the portajohn – so I’m getting better at tangents and not weaving. More race experience helps I guess.
As time has passed since the race, and given I seem to have fared relatively well in terms of stiffness/soreness, it’s become easy to think that maybe I didn’t push hard enough. That’s when DH reminds me that the day before race, I’d started to have GI and (sorry guys) female issues. These weren’t caused by – but were not helped by – a more “al dente” chicken and veggie dish at PF Chang’s than ordered. (the server also put his thumb in the rice bowl when serving it – 3x they’ve screwed up my food pre-race, done with them)
These issues did affect me during the race, which I haven’t had happen before. I know there were times when I consciously pulled back my pace to see if I could get various GI/tummy pains to stop, and I’m sure there were times when I adjusted my pace without being aware I was doing so. I think those issues combined with getting very cold pre-race and possibly being down on fuel contributed to my pace slowing. Also, I lost ~4 minutes to the urgent portajohn stop. The GI issues have continued post-race but have gotten better in the days since.
We managed to find me on the finish line camera. DH watched the replay a couple of times and asked “were you raising your arms?” I replied, “I was trying to”. He said that watching me finish, he could tell I’d given it everything I had. He also saw me relatively shortly (20 minutes) post-race and knew how I was doing at that point.
I’m not saying the GI/female issues were the sole cause of my time being what it was but I do believe the GI stuff had more than a minor impact. There’s no way to know how much other situations (fatigue/poor sleep especially the week before the race, eating bars for meals most of Fri/Sat, standing in the bus line and in the Village, how the training cycle had gone) contributed, but they certainly may have. I plan to assess food strategies (I don’t think in-race fueling was a problem, will look at pre-race and day before) but I also know that sometimes things just happen, and certainly that’s the case with female hormones. One does what one can, but one is still not in control of them and when they go awry, it can be unpleasant.
I liked this quote from Shalane post-race: “Despite a rough race, I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to race the best in the world on the most storied marathon course. Races that don’t go well always make me appreciate even more the ones that do. Success is not linear. Time to keep pushing on.” I’m also encouraged by similar perspectives expressed by Andrea Duke in her recap and Kris Law in hers. One “bad” race is just one day, it doesn’t mean more than that. I love the Kenyan approach that you’re as good as your best race, even if you haven’t had it yet. They shake off bad days/races very quickly, from what I’ve read, and move on.
I don’t know that I’d put this race in the “bad” category – I don’t like my finishing time, but there was a lot of good on the day. I RAN & FINISHED BOSTON! I ran every step, I kept my head and achieved my main goals, I did better on the hills than I expected, better on the hills than I would have thought, and I didn’t do anything to set myself back. I learned some things about myself as a person and a runner too, and that’s always good. I can draw on the race in the future, and I plan to.
I had some near-perfect races last year that got me BQs and PRs. I happened to have a less-than-perfect day physically for my first Boston, but you know what? It was still a pretty terrific experience – even with the weather that so scared me before the race, which now I know I can handle!
I plan more posts on the weekend’s events (pictures!), the day after the race, and recovery once we returned home. If you have questions I didn’t answer above, or on those other topics – or anything related to my Boston experience – please get in touch.
May I always remember what a gift this race day was, and be grateful for it as well for as all the hard work and support and luck that got me to it. I am so lucky to have been able to do this once in my lifetime. That I have a BQ for 2016 and thus the opportunity to run it again, and do better, is very precious to me. I intend to work hard to do honor and justice to the legendary race that I’ve fallen for. I can see it being a race I do as many times as I earn the privilege to stand on the starting line.
Boston, love ya, mean it! I’ll be back……and yes, IT WAS ALL WORTH IT!