Event: Boston Marathon
When & Where: 10:30 a.m. Monday, April 21, Hopkinton to Boston, Mass.
Results: 4:00:05 (9:10 pace). 14,568 of 21,963 finishers, 5,008 of 8,935 female finishers, 3,167 of 4,908 of female finishers ages 18-39.
After a night of sound sleep interrupted only by a couple of pre-marathon hydration–induced bathroom trips, I woke to two alarms at 6 a.m. and got busy with race morning rituals: making oatmeal in the hotel coffee maker, getting coffee, guzzling Gatorade, dressing, and packing gear bags.
Every marathon, I experience considerable worry about pre-race potty issues, and so far it has always been unfounded, so I was, er, relieved. It was time for my companion Lloyd and I to get on the shuttle to Hopkinton. The ride out was the only not entirely pleasant experience of the day. We were told the shuttle would cut down the 1 hour race-sponsored bus trip from Boston to the start, so we estimated arriving at the pre-race staging area by 8:30 a.m. with plenty of time to loosen up for Lloyd’s 10 a.m. first wave start. Unfortunately, it still took more than an hour due to backed-up traffic, but we passed dozens of official race buses even at that. We made the best of the long ride by listening to Lloyd’s iPod and talking over plans for our respective races. I felt some waves of nervousness on the shuttle, and consciously relaxed myself when they hit.
When we finally got to the shuttle drop-off in Hopkinton, we still had to walk almost a mile to the pre-race waiting area. We would have maybe 30 minutes for Lloyd to do final preparations before he would walk another ¾ mile to his Start. To save time, we begged a Hopkinton greenhouse business for use of a port-a-john I spied on the property, then continued on. The quaint town was almost silent and sleepy, except for runners making their way to the race. I thought that it would be the last calm atmosphere I would experience for hours, and enjoyed the soothing and peaceful feeling before a day of excitement.
At the Athlete’s Village area, Lloyd got busy stretching and putting on his shoes. While he was getting ready, we both noticed a runner nearby chain smoking as part of his warm up. It turns out he had qualified for Boston in the same race where Lloyd ran his qualifying time, and was maybe 24 years old. We remarked that only a fit kid could jog and puff before running a fast marathon.
Lloyd left to get in the starting corrall, and I got in the shortest looking port-a-john line I could find. The wait was still 30 minutes, making me extra glad I had spotted the “secret” potty earlier. While I waited, I had some time to think about my race plan, and at 10 a.m. sent out thoughts for Lloyd to have a good day. Even though I had been nervous about Boston’s difficult course during training, I had no nervousness anymore, only happy anticipation of what I was about to experience. I felt more like I was going to see a performance I’d been wanting tickets to forever than run a race. Only I’d get to be part of the show.
Despite my lack of jitters, I had a few race goals. The best case goal was to keep an 8:45 min/mile average pace which would get me to the Finish in about 3:50, a time I’d be thrilled with on such a hard course. My “B” goal was sub-4 hours. My “no matter what” goal was to run how I felt, smile, take everything in, and enjoy the 26.2 mile trip in to Boston. My training had been consistent and included the most 50 mile weeks I’ve ever done before a marathon, but slightly less speed work than my previous race. I didn’t feel quite fresh enough to set a new personal record, but knew my body was loaded up with stamina to run strong and finish well.
It was shaping up to be a gorgeous day for a road trip. The early cloud cover cleared to a bright blue sky. Temperatures were in the 50s and projected to reach about 60. I was happy I’d put on sunscreen and a hat, and that I’d already done some runs in 70-80 degrees. It would be a warm day for Northern dwellers.
After getting my turn in the port-a-john I did my own final preparations, sent Lloyd a congratulations text message he would get while I was still running, checked my bag, and started slowly walking to the corrall area for the 10:30 second wave start. Along the way I noticed two women, one with “Monticello, Wisconsin” written on her shirt. My mom’s side of the family is from this tiny town, so I spent a couple minutes chatting with them about that while we strolled.
I got to the start area with just two minutes until the gun and an unmoving crowd between myself and my corrall, which was all the way up a hill. I spied an “alternate route” around the corrall and started my run early to get lined up in the right spot. I made it in with less than a minute to spare, only to get in the way of a runner loudly arguing with a race official to let him in to the corrall, which was a faster seeded starting place than his race number dictated. I was just glad I didn’t get caught in the middle and shoved to the ground before starting the marathon!
The gun sounded and I did my best to be present and take in the excitement of starting. Boston’s corralls and seeding system work very well. There was no agonizing 15 minutes of standing around. Before long we were walking, waving our hands in the air with excitement, and starting to run as we approached the timing mats. We were off!
Looking at the course elevation profile and hearing stories, I expected a downhill skiing type steep slope for the first several, downhill miles. Instead, they all felt runnable, very fun, and not one bit hard on my legs. I focused on “flowing” downhill with upright posture and good leg turnover, rather than “hammering” (running hard) or using my heels to brake all the way down. With next to no downhill training, I was surprised how in control and good I felt. I was right on a pace I wanted to be.
Mile 1 (8:54) What a sendoff! The roads were thick with cheering spectators. I felt like a rock star and high five’d and smiled at every kid I could, especially the girls, telling a couple “You can do this someday!”
Mile 2 (8:47) I saw Jen, a Kickrunners.com friend, here. Her volunteer job was to make sure nothing happened to the Mile 2 race clock.
Mile 3 (8:49) Lloyd’s tip to carry a water bottle the first several miles and avoid water stops was so helpful. The stations were chaotic and clogged with runners suddenly veering in and out. I tried not to slip on discarded paper cups as I skated through the aid areas, coming out of each one with sticky shoes from spilled Gatorade. I wondered to myself if that would affect my finish time.
Around Miles 4 (8:35) and 5 (8:49) the course flattens out through the town of Ashland. I pick my pace up slightly because I know I can run harder on flats without trashing my quads. I came to Mile 5 just a few seconds behind pace for a 3:50 finish and feeling great.
I like to repeat mantras to myself in races. The chant in my head on this day included a lot of “Oh My God! I am running the Boston Marathon!! Oh My God! I am running the Boston Marathon!!” I didn’t need extra motivation at any point, but also encouraged myself on with reminders that I had helped raise over $1,000 for two good causes, was healthy and happy and blessed, and was sharing the day with several of the most special people in my life. What could be better?
Mile 6 – 11 continue along Rt. 135, looking for a few landmarks I’d read about in the book “26.2 Miles To Boston.” I spied the train station in Framingham, clear blue Lake Cochituate, and town common in Natick. All were lined with cheering spectators hollering, holding signs, ringing cowbells, and clapping. Massachusetts’ good Red Sox fans put out makeshift scoreboards so runners could keep up with the ball game, and there was even a pudgy crooner singing a Neal Diamond song on a small stage near Mile 8. Occasionally I got so engrossed in the surroundings I momentarily forgot I was racing. I felt like I was running through a carnival, and it was impossible to not feel pumped up! My splits for these fairly flat miles were 8:39, 8:48, 8:47, 8:55, 8:51 and 9:06.
At Mile 12 (8:58), I arrived at a famous area of the course, Wellesley College. This women’s school is known for its throngs of screaming co-eds, many of whom offer kisses to the men who run past. Again I felt myself distracted and wanting to slow down a tiny bit to really absorb the atmosphere. It was as loud as I’d been forwarned, and made every hair on my body stand on end.
After the estrogen-fest, I was looking forward to seeing my family as I entered the town of Wellesley. My cousin Ann lives here, and she and my parents would be waiting for me in front of the City Hall building. I was so excited to see them and began scanning the crowd before Mile 13 (9:05). I thought about how when I first started running as a hobby, my parents seemed to think it was a little silly, but how now they loved to brag about their daughter running Boston. It felt great to make my family proud and do something through running that would allow us all to have a memorable day. Mostly I was grateful for parents who came all the way from Minnesota to be part of one of the most special days of my life so far.
I spied my Dad right after the Half point (1:56:03) before he saw me. Stopping at the side of the course, I took about a minute to give some sweaty hugs and get a few pictures taken with my Mom and Dad, Ann, and her baby daughter Marley. “Sorry we’re wrecking your time,” my Dad said, and I replied that they were doing nothing of the sort. The huge boost to see them was well worth any time added to the clock, and I felt full of energy as I continued through Miles 14 (9:40 including stop) and 15 (9:13).
I would need every ounce of mojo as I approached the hills of Newton. I was coming into the most challenging segment of the course by far, five miles of long, steep inclines and declines culminating with the famous Heartbreak Hill in the 20th mile. Lloyd had helped me prepare by telling me where exactly the hills occur and suggesting I write those miles on my race Bib. I kept looking down to check my bib and anticipate the first ascent. Soon I would have a very good idea of how much or little doing repeats on local highway overpasses helps as Boston-specific training.
Midway through Mile 15, I was on my way up. Immediately, I realized that I would have needed a steeper, 5-6 times longer overpass to simulate the Newton Hills. No matter. I calmly set my mind to steadily climbing each hill and again flowing down. I was definitely erring on the side of caution in my approach because my legs already felt more sore and heavy than they had at the end of the last (flat) marathon I ran. I’d also heard so many stories of runners expending all their energy on the hills and having nothing left over for the remaining five miles after Heartbreak, and didn’t want to finish that way. My conservative approach showed in my Mile 16-18 splits: (8:58 ) (9:38 ) (10:05). In the 18th mile I again briefly stopped to gulp three Advils, attmempting to mask the increasing aching in my quads. I was definitely disheartened to see a “10:” anything since that is considerably slower than my easy training pace, but was wary of pushing the speed too much with already fatigued legs.
I had one more peak to scale, Heartbreak Hill from much of Mile 20 (10:07) to 21(10:19). At its base, I looked up … and up … and wondered where the top was. It was thrilling to be on such a famous marathoning landmark, and oddly I felt my energy rebound as I ran the sponge-littered street toward the top. “This has to be Heartbreak Hill!” I heard someone near me exclaim. Maybe because it is the final one, I didn’t think Heartbreak was the hardest of the Newton hills. At the top, I remembered advice to save my quads and not charge all-out down the backside. Again I rolled down, knowing the course was downhill to the Finish and feeling relieved that I was “leaving Heartbreak behind.”
In the 21st mile, runners find themself the VIP guests of a huge bash at Boston College. Cheering students crowd the course five deep, hang out of dorm windows, and shout encouragement from rooftops. The frat party atmosphere was infectious and I finally felt my speed come back and legs stop hurting. It wouldn’t be a day for a 3:50, but I felt good enough to push hard for a Sub-4:00 finish. Will, momentum, and Advil took over, my turnover increased, and I felt like my body was a machine that could work through the fatigue. I started weaving through the wave of runners in Miles 22 (9:35) and 23 (9:30).
At Mile 24 (8:55), I passed my hotel. Now I knew how close I was to the Finish, because Lloyd and I had run there two days earlier. I could visualize the rest of the way and that immensely boosted my confidence. I was feeling absolutely great and high and pushed even more, helped by cheering spectators. The course was still crowded with runners, and it was difficult to get by everyone I wanted to pass. I wanted to go even harder, and finally let myself, knowing I was finishing very strong and being thrilled about how great it felt. Before long I was through Mile 25 (9:06) and came to the “1 Mile To Go” sign with just over 8 minutes to break sub-4:00. With so little distance left, I decided to give a 3:59 my all and sped up more. What a contrast it was from the fatigue I’d left five miles back. I felt so good that part of me wished the race was a longer distance!
Alas, I was running out of course. From Beacon Street, I hit the turn to Hereford and knew I would soon turn left on Boylston Street and see the blue Finish banner half a mile ahead. Unlike Saturday evening’s quiet closed street, Boylston now resembled a ticker tape parade with screaming spectators ringing cowbells and applauding the finishers. I was conflicted. I wanted to speed up, but I wanted to ease off and prolongue the immeasurable feeling of exhilaration, fulfillment, completion, and realization of a dream. My time goal won out and I surged forward, hearing a few spectators yell for me as I sped past the others. It was going to be devastatingly close on either side of 4 hours. I pushed on, not breaking rhythm to check my watch. I would be in suspense, too. My split from Mile 25 to Mile 26.2 was 10:14.
The Finish! I smiled big for the camera and shouted “Yes!” I was only mildly disappointed with a time of 4:00:05. I had finished my first Boston Marathon, raised more than $1,000 for two good causes, was healthy and uninjured, and sharing the day with some of the most special people in my life. Stopping to spend a moment with two of them, my parents, had added time on the race clock, but I was satisfied knowing that my running time on the course was less than four hours even though the official results were six seconds over 3:59:59.
Quickly I learned that the Boston course doesn’t exactly end at the finish. Now runners straggled through a drink station, space blanket station, food station, and finally had beautiful medals hung around their necks after volunteers removed timing chips from their shoes. The next task was to search out the right bus to recollect my gear bag. I felt a little lonely here and was anxious to connect with friends to compare our journeys. Before long Lloyd and I got in touch, found each other again in the crowd, and started sharing our respective experiences as we switched gears from racing to recovery and celebration.
I am still processing the truly awesome experience of running Boston, with much more I want to relive about the entire, incredible weekend. My early conclusions are that I am thrilled and grateful for having a great time during the race and finishing strong and healthy. Yet I can start to pinpoint areas where I can improve my performance physically and mentally if I want to make another attempt. I believe I could be even more pleased with my running result if I was awarded another good day on the course. As I qualified for 2008 and 2009, I am excited by that challenge. But first and foremost on my agenda is to smartly recover, take a breather, and always appreciate and smile about one of the most significant days of my life so far.