Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Boston Joy

What is pure joy? Can it be bottled and preserved forever?
Maybe not.
But pure joy can be found at the Boston Marathon.

(Note: I am waiting for my parents to send me pictures - those will come in a later post)

I'll start at the beginning, before I even got to Hopkinton – I don't want to forget anything.
I got into Boston late Saturday night, and when I got off the plane, the Boston Marathon banners were up everywhere, even at baggage claim. How exciting! I was able to stay at my friend Pam's house. Pam was my choir director in college, and was a significant influence during my college years. Now, she is a dear friend – and now has a beautiful two year old daughter, Lucia. Lots of fun with them, and definitely loosened me up and put me in a relaxed mood on Sunday morning. Did a shake out run, even saw the famous Citgo sign (which means 1.2 miles to go), and had to just harness that excitement.

Then my parents came on Sunday, and we were off to the expo. Picked up my number fast – what a relief to get that. The expo was huge – two huge rooms of vendors, so we walked around, looking at the booths. After some searching, it was exciting to arrive at the Marathon Tours booth, because Roger Robinson (running historian) and Kathy Switzer (one of my running role models and author of Marathon Woman) were there, who I have only met once. But the welcome they gave me was like one from long-lost friends. Hugs from both, and they got to meet my parents too. Kathy and Roger are just good people: they love this sport and they are so supportive of everyone who enters into this arena. They were talking my parents, telling them about our interactions, and it was almost like when parents meet the teacher. Kathy hasn't necessarily been my teacher, but her writing and story has served as some inspiration, so it was just a wonderful moment. She signed my book again, which now says,
And now you're here! Big Boston debut, and you will soar! Go for it!
With that, we headed out of the expo. Even though it was still the afternoon, I was tired and hungry – time for a big dinner. We went out to Uno's, and while most of my comrades probably had a pasta dish, I did not – chicken stuffed with vegetables and cheese. Very delicious. Nervous chatter with my parents – it's sort of hard to block out the 26.2 mile run looming ahead. Got back to the hotel, got one final pep talk from my friend Jenny, and then it was time for bed. Yes, it was 8:00, and I was asleep by 8:20. I was tired, and knew that I needed the sleep for the day ahead. Woke up twice in the middle of the night, but fell right back asleep.

And then it was marathon morning. Had breakfast at the hotel, and then headed to the bus-loading area. The volunteers were excellent, and because of them the loading process went smoothly. Got hugs and kisses from my parents, and then I was off. Sat next to a lovely woman named Terrie, and talking to her distracted me from the fact that we were driving 26 miles. Finally unloaded at the Athlete's Village, and by the time I had gotten settled, it was time to check my bag and head off to the start. “I've got a feeling” was playing, and that set the tone for the day...
At that point, it slowly started to really settle in, as I entered my coral, that I was about to run the Boston Marathon. I was in my coral, and barely had time to think, and then the gun went off. Walked and walked, and then I was at the starting line!

I always think that marathon spectators are wonderful. But those who are at the Boston Marathon are at another level. From mile 1, they are out there every step of the way, and they are wonderful. They have signs, they make their own water stations, and they are just excited. My first 2 miles were slow, just fighting my way, but then things started to pick up. In the Boston Marathon, you travel through 8 towns and cities. Each town is great, because each one has its own storied history and pride associated with the marathon. So as I entered Ashland, Framingham, Natick, there is just a change – each town brings a new level of excitement, and they take pride in welcoming you into their town. At one point, there was a group of children along the road bouncing on trampolines – how funny. Kids were standing out giving high fives, offering water, and just cheering. There are half a million spectators and each one helps to carry the marathoners along the way. God Bless those who set up their own stations and handed me wet cloths and popsicles - theyere excellent. The first 10 miles clicked off really fast. Then I knew the next big thing was Wellsley and the tunnel of love at mile 12. You can hear them in the distance, and when you get there, you can literally feel their screams. They are insane, and it was such a boost. Before I knew it, they were echoing in the distance, and I had hit the halfway point. I felt focused and good, and happy with my pace. The volunteers throoughout the course were wonderful - the water and gatorade stops went really well. The next few miles clicked along, and all of a sudden, it was mile 17. You don't make any turns until that point, and once you do, you know the Newton Hills are in store. Climbed one, and regrouped. Climbed the second, and did the same. I knew that Heartbreak Hill was next...and suddenly I was at the top. When you reach the top, you are at Boston College, and they are as crazy and enthusiastic, if not more so, than the Wellsely girls. The hills are not that steep (I practiced on much harder), it really is their placement in the course that makes them tough. Coming down Heartbreak hill was harder, but thankfully the BC people were going crazy and that helped to pull me along. Then 5 miles to go. At that point, thoughts are not as focused as they were, and they become more phrases than fully-formed coherent thoughts. Then 4 miles. I am close, but still far. Then 3. Then 2, and I am in Brookline. At this point, the intensity of the crowd starts to pick up. I know I can finish, but it feels hard. The Citgo sign was looming in the distance, but I put my head down and just ignored it. Then I hit mile 25. People start to yell “One mile to go”, but those who do don't consider the .2. But, then there is a sign when there is really just one mile to go. There, I could really believe that I was going to finish and finish strong. People were walking, bending over, but I didn't. I knew that the final turn was on Boylston St., so I just kept waiting for that sign. The people were just shouting, screaming and going nuts. Finally, I made the famous turn – 385 yards to go. All I could think was “Oh my God, I am going to finish the Boston Marathon.” I could see the finish line looming in the distance – big blue beautiful sign – seemed so close, yet there were still so many steps to take in Kenmore Square. But the people were going nuts - there was no stopping at that point. Come on, come on, then 100 yards, and then...well, I spread my hands and crossed the finish line.

Time: 3:38:51
Pace: 8:21
Overall: 9723/22540
Out of women: 2480/9468
Out of age group (18-39): 1826/4951

What joy. And then...what pain. The body can run a marathon, but once it's over...that's hard. I was taking 6 inch steps, shuffling my way down the street. Finally got my cape and medal – that was a proud moment for me.

Found my parents, and there were such big hugs from them. They were at the finish line for so many hours, just waiting for me, and it was so great to see them. Was just so happy at that point. At that point, they handed me the famous Boston Celebration jacket - something I was working for, and could not wait to don. We went back to the hotel, and along the way, on the T, in the hotel lobby, everyone just wished me congratulations. That is the beautiful thing about the Boston Marathon - everyone is a Bostonian on that day. After I showered at the hotel, got a few phone calls from friends and family and got rehash the race. Just lying in a big bed, going over it again and again was great. Then it was time for celebration. My parents took me out to a steakhouse. Steak never tastes so good as it does after a marathon. The post-race dinner is turning into one of my favorite parts of the marathon, because it is just quality time with my mom and dad. We also went out to a bar downtown to meet up with some other racers, which was fun to hear how their races went. Started to feel tired at that point, so it was time to head back. Got back to the hotel in time to catch the late news, which meant long recaps of the race. Very exciting to hear about the new course record and the successes of the elite runners. Perfect way to end the day.

Woke up on Tuesday and had breakfast at the hotel, and got to read the highlights in the Boston Globe (and they list all of the finishers!). Made it on time to the airport, and then had to bid my parents farewell. I am so happy that they came and could share this with me - it wouldn't have been as exciting if they weren't there. A lot of people were flying out, and we all had our marathon jackets on. On the plane, the flight attendant announced all of our names and people clapped for us - felt like, well Olympians and that my finisher's medal was a gold medal. And that's the beautiful thing about the Boston Marathon - everyone is a winner, and Boston treats the runners like winners. What a beautiful feeling. On the flight, I just kept thinking about it, and was so happy.
I got in in time for my afternoon medieval class, and was just beaming. My professor asked if there was a way to bottle that. I am not sure, but I'll be holding onto my Boston joy for a long time. It was certainly a victory lap, and definitely felt like I was soaring.


  1. Great recap. It's nice to say that I know exactly what you speak of. It is beyond words though but you did a good job describing it. So are you ready to do it again in 2011?

  2. Way to go Vanessa, thank you for sharing your recap.

  3. Wonderful account. I feel like I was right there with you.

  4. Great recap, and congrats for re-qualifying! Your report makes me want to work that much harder to qualify