Well it’s been over 48 hours since I finished THE Boston Marathon. So many words, so many emotions. The entire day I keep asking my husband “Did I really just finish Boston?!” And not only did I just finish Boston, I finished it in some of the most epic weather conditions yet. I have so many thoughts swirling through my head about this whole experience. Warning: this will be a LONG post, so I hope you have your popcorn ready.
Getting Into The Race
It would be unjust for me to write this blog post pretending that I ran this race as a Boston qualifier. While this was marathon #13 for me, I am not fast. In order to hit my standard for my AG, I would need a sub 3:35 marathon. I am still trying to crack 4:15! I also did not run for charity. Which leads everyone to ask me, how the heck did I get to run Boston?
I happened to connect with another runner who was unable to use her invitational slot due to a horrible injury. She was able to transfer the link to register over to another runner, and she wanted to offer a one-in-a-lifetime chance to someone who wanted to complete all the marathon majors, but would never BQ. I told her my story. I had recently lost my father last April very suddenly and tragically, who I was very close with. My father had the opportunity to run 8 Bostons in a row, not because he was a qualifier (genes, guys) but because he sat on a medical board (the only member who was a PT and not a MD) that presented every year along side the race. It was an incredible honor for him not only as a runner, but as PT, too. As I struggled to make sense of the loss, I thought that an opportunity to run Boston this year, just days before the anniversary of the one year mark, would be an incredibly way to honor him. She immediately offered me the slot, and I was in disbelief. This was going to happen! Training had been rough, but I was determined to run my heart out for my dad, no matter what.
Expo and Pre-Race
Since my husband and I only live about 2.5-3 hours from Boston (pending traffic), we didn’t head up there until Sunday morning. We left CT around 8:30, and it was a pretty uneventful drive. The weather had called for some snow and ice, but the reality was that the weather seemed not nearly as bad as it was called for. I tried to stay optimistic that this would be a sign that the conditions for Monday wouldn’t be nearly as bad, either! We got the city, dumped the car at the hotel, and headed straight to expo.
When we got the there. I was expecting huge lines for bib pickup, but it was actually pretty quiet. It was a little surreal having a Boston bib handed to me. Shit just got real. I was going to run Boston, and no rain was going to stop me!
After some expo shopping on a very crowded expo floor, we had a relaxing lunch at the seaport, and got a notification that our hotel room was ready. We decided to head back so he could take a quick nap while I got my stuff together for the race the next morning. Then we headed back out for some more pre-race festivities, shopping and dinner.
Later that afternoon, we got the news that the Red Sox had cancelled their game for Monday already. This was the first time the Sox have cancelled a Patriot’s Day Game since 1984, so the fact that they were calling this game so early, made me even more nervous for the impending weather. We were in for it!
We eventually headed to dinner, where I ate all the obligatory carbs. I even treated myself to a glass of wine to try and calm my nerves a bit. I tried to stay as positive as I could be – the weather is what it is, and I was determined more than ever to finish this race. If it takes me all day, so be it.
This was it – the big day! My alarm went off at 8 am (so late for a marathon, it was freaking me out!). The first thing I did was to check the weather to see if there was any last minute shifts – nope, still 100% chance of rain all of the day, and headwinds gusting over 40 mph. Accuweather described the day as “very windy, pouring rain”. Fantastic.
I ate a larger than normal pre-race breakfast because of my late 11:15 start. After hemming and hoeing all weekend over to wear, I got dressed in my final decision – capris, tank top, water resistant fleece lined arm warmers, and a water/wind resistant jacket on top. I also had a baseball cap and photochromic sunglasses to hopefully keep the water out of my eyes, and my throwaway clothes for the start village. As a safeguard, I put together a bag of clothes for my husband to have on him. He was planning on catching me at mile 17 in Newton, and I wanted him to have some dry top layers, just in case I was dying. I gave him a kiss goodbye, and I headed over to the Boston Commons to catch my bus to the start area in Hopkinton.
I boarded a bus a little before 9:30, since the race guide suggested 8:55-9:30 for my wave. In a very dramatic fashion, our bus realized our bus driver missed the exit to Hopkinton, and we were now almost 45 minutes out of the way! Although I was super stressed out that we would miss the start, it ended up working out. We got to the village at about 11:05 – which means we skipped the start village and went straight to the corrals. It was already raining pretty moderately, so I was not sad to miss time standing around in the cold rain. The rain was not a complete downpour yet, so I prayed that if the rain would just stay like this, it wouldn’t be so bad.
It was a little surreal, lining up to start the Boston Marathon, in this rain storm. Oh well, time to start running! The first few miles were just as downhill as everyone says they are. I ticked off the first mile in 9:45 or so, then tried to real it back in. I didn’t want to start out too fast, but hey if I was feeling good, maybe it would work out. It did in Dopey, right? I hit the 5K mat in 31:31, and felt like I was sending a signal back home to everyone who was tracking me – hey, I got this, I’m going to be okay! At mile 4, I took my first round of Cliff Shot Bloks. At Dopey, I alternated my blocks and Gatorade every other station (each station was 2 miles apart) so I tried to replicate this fueling plan again since it worked out so well for me. I had also taken in salt pills at Dopey, but already it was so wet and cold, I was having trouble getting my salt pills out of my belt, so I made the game time decision of “screw it” and skipped the pills.
As we ran through each of the towns, I was surprised to see how many people were still out cheering for us in this chilling, cold rain. The rain started to pick up some, but at least the winds weren’t so bad – yet. I started to need a bathroom, but I wanted to wait until I passed some with no lines. 10K in 1:04:26. I was starting to slow down a bit, but the first few miles were so downhill, of course I would. No problem, I got this. Not soon after, I found a bathroom to run in and out of, and I was on my way.
After that first bathroom break, I had trouble getting my pace back down to the 10:15ish pace I was averaging those first few miles. The wind starting to pick up, the rain got a bit thicker, and for the first time that day, I admitted to myself that this might be much harder than I anticipated. I tried to keep myself positive by breaking it up by 5K splits, only thinking about the next segment at a time. I took my second set of fuel at mile 7 (a little early, but I felt like I needed it) and it was already getting increasingly difficult to get the stuff out of my belt. I tried to let the crowd distract me, but this cold wind and rain was absolutely starting to take its toll on me. I hit the 15K mark (I did not get a split here as the match glitched out) and started thinking, how the heck am I going to finish this thing?
I only let myself consider a DNF for a few seconds – not only were tons of people tracking me back home, if I don’t finish, I don’t get to keep the damn jacket, and everything else I bought! I tried to keep the optimism going. One more 5K, and then it’s the 20K. 20K is steps away from the half marathon mark. After that, it’s 4 miles to Mike and dry clothes. Come on, you can run 4 miles in anything!
I had to take another pit stop at mile 11 – a bit unusual – but at this point, I was just doing everything I could to keep myself as comfortable as possible. Clearly this race was going to be difficult, and times goal were out the window. One step at a time, I kept telling myself.
I saw a sign that said “welcome to Wesley’ and my spirits perked up. Hey, isn’t that where the famous scream tunnel is? So far all the spectators had been fantastic, so I was excited to see what all the hype was. I have run lots of amazing races through the years, but I must say – the scream tunnel lived up its name. I could hear those girls a half mile away! “Halfway there! Halfway there!” they chanted at us. I felt my spirits rose, and despite hitting the halfway park at 2:22:32, I did my best to stay positive. Okay, so 4:30 clearly isn’t happening. But surely you can salvage sub 5 easy-peasy!
At mile 14, I needed a bathroom, AGAIN. Okay fine, but please, no more, I begged myself. 3 more miles, and then I should find my husband. At this point there was no question in mind whether I was stopping for those dry clothes. I needed those clothes. I was barely running under a 11mm, which is unusually slow for me. I think it was a combination of my legs feeling the effects of the cold, the increasingly forceful headwinds in my face, and my clothes were just so waterlogged and heavy. Water resistant is not water proof, and I was just soaked to the bone. 25K in 2:52:03.
Mile 16 – welcome to Newton! I knew this was where the hills would really begin, but at this point, it was the conditions that were my biggest concern. I was just so cold and so wet. But still pushing forward. I started keeping my eyes peeled for Newton Hospital, which is where we said our meeting point would be. I started to see it appear on my right side, and quickly moved over so I wouldn’t miss him. I started scanning the crowd, but no one looked familiar. Where is he? Omg, did he screw this up? Did I miss him? Omg, how am I going to make it in these clothes for another 9 and change miles. And just as I was about to reach near panic levels, I saw the mile 17 marker – and my incredible husband with that beautiful, beautiful bag of dry clothes.
I quickly pulled over the side, and he asked if I wanted clothes. Oh god yes. I stripped off my jacket, arm sleeves, and tank on the side of the course (this was no time to be self-conscious!) and pulled out my dry long sleeve tee, and my water and another jacket. I knew I wouldn’t stay dry for long, but for that second, those clothes felt so damn good. As I was getting changed, he told me Desi had won, and that immediately lifted my spirits. USA!! I told him I loved him, I would see him in Boston, and I was on my way. It was a good 3-4 minutes wasted, but so well worth it.
A few minutes after I left him, the skies really started to open up. Now don’t get me wrong – it has been cold and a steady rain all race course – but this was a true, Florida style, downpour, with the strongest wind gusts yet. Shit. I am going to make it to Boston? I started to really second guess myself, but I was determined to keep pushing through. 30K in 3:31 even. Slowing down but making forward progress still.
At around mile 19.5, I heard someone scream my name. I looked up, and it was my sister in law! She lives in Newton, but with the weather, she wasn’t sure if she would make it on the course. I was SO happy to see her. I gave her a huge, wet huge and screamed “I love you!” on the way past. The crowd chanted back “we love you too!” . These Boston spectators are incredible.
Now here is the part where I am supposed to be talking about the famous Newton hills. They are supposed to unforgivable in their placement, and Heartbeak Hill, incredibly restless. While I obviously noticed when I was running uphill, I was just so cold and wet, the uphills were the least of my concern. When I heard a spectator scream “100m left of Heartbreak!” I vaguely thought “ah….so that’s Heartbreak”. At this point I was having a really hard time running, and was doing everything I could to stay under a 12mm. I don’t think I’ve ever actually run this slow – normally when I am this pace, it’s because I am run/walking.
Mile 21 – Newton hills are over. 5 miles to Boston. Normally at this point in the marathon I start to feel like “the end is near” but I was honestly just wondering how the hell I was going to manage another 5 miles. Everything was hurting. I was cramping in all sorts of places I never cramped. I felt so cold, so wet. I tried to take a walk break. I got even colder. I tried to run. I barely felt like I was moving. The headwinds were so strong. “Is it just me, or do I feel like I am running in place?” another runner called at me. Oh good, so at least it’s not just me. Okay, let’s do this. I hit the 35K in 4:09:04.
One foot in front of the other. My pace was awful. On a downhill, I could maybe stay at a 11:30ish pace, but on a flat or even a slight incline? I was struggling to maintain a 13mm. I had to remind myself to keep fueling, but it was all such an effort. My belt was a soaking mess, my hands frozen numb. I thought sub 5 was out the window, and I was worried it was going to take hours to cover these last miles. I was trying to do any sort of mental math, but I think I was getting a bit delirious at this point. Keep pushing forward.
Mile 22ish. Keep going. I remember the course getting pretty downhill, but instead of “yippee a downhill” my legs just felt so trashed and in so much pain. I allowed myself another walk break through an aid station, but then remembered why walking was a bad idea. So cold. Must keep running. I will myself to start moving, and sternly told myself no more walking. Let’s do this. I hit mile 23, and looked at my watch. Sub 5 was a very slim possibility, but just keep trying to run. Either way, the more you run, the sooner you’ll be done. I distracted myself by starting to look for my brother in law who I knew would be in the area. Sure enough, after a few minutes I found him! And my sister in law was able to join him and catch me a second time, too. This time, I didn’t stop for any hugs. “Do you want dry socks?” he screamed at me. “No, I want to finish this f*ckin race!” I screamed back. I was so soaking wet, the idea of dry socks seemed laughable. And I was afraid if I stopped to take off my shoes and socks, I wouldn’t be able to start running again. Better to keep pressing forward.
Then, in the distance. I saw it. That famous, large Citgo sign. Boston was near. I was going to do this. I really was going to make it. I normally don’t cry at races, but I let out a full on, ugly cry. at this point. And if I could keep moving forward, I might just be able to eek out sub 5 by the skin of my teeth.
Mile 25. This is it. One. More. Mile. Just a few more minutes, and you’ll be making that first turn on Hereford to finish this race. “Where is Hereford?!” I kept screaming in my head. Every step felt like an enternity. And then finally, finally. the course was turning. This is it. I told myself. Soak it all in.
Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. This is the moment every marathoner dreams about. Suddenly all the coldness, all the wetness didn’t matter. I was gunning it to the finish. The street was littered with ponchos (runners who had kept them on all race didn’t want them in their finish line picture was my guess) and I just kept saying to myself “don’t fall, don’t fall, not now, not now”.
And then, finally, I saw it. The FINISH! I had heard other runners say the finish line is deceptively further down Boylston then it appears when you first turn down that street, and they weren’t kidding. Why is it so far away? I thought. “Just keep running hard!”. Mile 26 came up ahead. Run harder, run harder. Almost there. Was I going to make it?” And right before I approached that gorgeous sight, I thought “THIS is your moment. Take it all in. Savor it. And for the love of God, do NOT stop your watch while you cross the finish line”.
And then it was all over. I stopped my watch at exactly 4:59:59. Eeek – it’s going to be close, but I should be fine. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. I FINISHED. I kept moving forward in the chute. This was a long chute, I thought. So cold. But so worth it. A volunteer draped my medal over me, and I started to cry again. There were so many times where I thought I wouldn’t make it. But, I did! My official time was 4:59:53.
Out of 13 marathons I have done, this was undoubtedly the hardest marathon. I would take 80 degree heat any day over the cold driving ran and unforgiving headwinds. Looking back on the experience, I do believe I was experiencing some hypothermic symptoms. I’m not sure if my dad would have been incredibly proud of me, or have yelled at me for being incredibly stupid for pushing through. Probably a mixture of both – he always one to tell it exactly how it is.
However, this was also, the best marathon I have ever run and certainly the most unique experience. The crowd support was unbelievable, and the race lived up to every inch of its famed reputation. Best and worst marathon, ever!