There is something so incredibly special about the Boston Marathon. Perhaps it is its storied history, the qualifying time, the competition, or the quest to set afoot upon sacred ground, that brings pilgrims from all 50 states, and 93 countries together for one day. But the trip was more about the race itself, so time to go back to the beginning.
I stayed with my best friend in Providence Saturday night, which was so much fun! She got married in March, and I hadn’t seen her since. Very relaxing and we even did a 3 mile shakeout run together Sunday morning. Those final runs always frighten me – they are at a slow pace, and I often wonder how I’ll put out a much faster pace for 26.2 miles. But, we had a wonderful time – Kathleen is very important to me and it was good that she was able to be a part of my Boston journey.
On Sunday, I headed out to Boston to meet up with my parents and go to the expo. My first stop was to meet Kathrine Switzer – my running role model. Gracious as always, and her husband (Roger Robinson) was too – they are very nice people. I also met Sara Hall (Ryan Hall’s wife) – she is an elite middle distance runner. I didn’t know she was going to be at the expo, so I was a bit surprised to see her. She was very nice – signed an autograph and took a picture with me. I had my Pacers gear on, and she also had very nice things to say about the store. Picked up my number, which is always so exciting – the final thing you need before you can run.
I then had dinner with my parents and a few friends from the Marine Corps Marathon and their families. Lots of fun at Maggiano’s, a delicious restaurant that was close to the convention center. We were eating by 4:30, which was good as I think we were all set for bed after that! The waiter was very nice and brought over 3 tiramisu desserts for the table, so my parents had that and I got ice cream after. A couple of phone calls, and then it was back to the hotel for bed.
I am pretty good about falling asleep the night before a marathon, and did a pretty good job Sunday night. I felt at peace with everything – relaxed and ready to go. Woke up in the middle of the night once, and then it was 4:30 on Marathon Monday Morning.
I had half of my breakfast in the hotel, and my parents and I took the T downtown. My parents “put me on the bus” – it really feels like the first day of school again. I rode on the bus with a MCM buddy, Bettina, which was excellent. We had fun and swapped running stories, almost oblivious that we were driving 26 miles.
Time in the Athletes’ Village flew by, and before we knew it, they called us to the start. I made a last minute game change and opted for the tank top, no arm warmers. Bright orange, so I could be fiery fast. Bettina and I walked to the start, hugged, and then headed for our respective corrals. And then the gun went off!
And so I waited, then we started to move forward, and then FINALLY cross the starting line. 2 minutes into the race, I realize that I did not hit start on my watch. Silly me! Hmm – how am I going to figure out my time? I decided I would start my watch at the 1 mile mark, and then use the “lap” function on my watch for every mile, ignore the pace band, and just go according to pace. Went through my first timed mile 7:25. Whoa, easy girl. No need to make up for lost time yet. Within a few miles, I had evened out to 7:45 pace, and was at 7:46 pace by the half.
At this point, I should note that I met with my training coach, Sarah, a week before Boston, and she said I should aim to go beyond clearing 3:30 and be a bit more ambitious, even though the pace would feel fast.
Anyways, the support on the course was as wonderful as I remembered. There was a surge of energy as you moved form town to town: each place with its individual mix of excitement. I gave some little kids high fives, but other than that, just tried to focus on relaxing and taking it all in. People were great with setting up “water stops” outside their front lawns, or handing out wipes (all of the Gatorade makes you sticky). It was hot! I kept dumping water on my head and rubbing it on my arms too. I also grabbed water or Gatorade at almost every stop, which normally I would only take something about every 5 miles. Not on Monday. I figured it was best to be overcautious this time. So again, I have no idea what my overall time is, but I keep averaging 7:45 pace or so, and my thoughts keep going back and forth from “Is this too fast?” to “I could totally go faster, but I won’t.” I was really hoping I wouldn’t crash and burn, because then I wouldn’t be courageous, just stupid. But the first 10 miles clicked off really quickly.
The screams from Wellseley started to rumble in the distance. Brace yourself, listen to them, and harness their energy for later. You could actually feel their screams – so incredible.
And then we hit the halfway point. Alright, halfway to go. The next few miles click off quite quickly, and I am still hoping I am doing the right thing. Maybe I can pick it up after Heartbreak, but you can’t press the pace until then.
A few more miles go by, and then mile 16. Okay, 10 miles to go isn’t too bad, but I am starting to feel a little tired. Reel yourself in, and get ready for Newton. Bam! The first turn of the course, and the spectators are out and ready to help get us ready to climb these hills. At this point, after climbing the first hill, I have my first splits with an 8 on it. That’s okay, that’s okay, these hills are hard, you need to go easy. And then things evened out again: mini sigh of relief.
But with 9 miles to go, that is a long time to still feel tired. It felt hot at this point too, so I just kept focusing on taking in liquids whenever possible. Another hill, another 8. But then I popped a 7:45 split. Then, time for Heartbreak Hill. I had trained on harder hills, I was ready for this. It is a long climb, and patience is absolutely a necessity – the top will come at some point. And when I finally made it, the frat boys of Boston College were waiting and cheering. I had an easier time this year than last year going down Heartbreak Hill – I think because I was ready for it. 5 miles to go, which I figured would take about 40 minutes, especially since I could just feel my energy dropping.
My mind is just swirling with thoughts and images at this point. Then 4 miles. Get down to 3, that would be less than half an hour. We then are in Brookline, next to trolley tracks, and people on the trolleys are taking pictures of us. We’re dying and they’re photographing it? Then someone by me is carrying an American flag. People are chanting USA! USA! USA! My heart surges a little. Then back to the hazy swirly feelings. My legs hurt so much. Then, the crowd’s intensity picked up again. People are shouting “Ole, ole ole ole,” and I feel myself feeling excited again. My heart is pounding. 2 miles to go. You can get through another mile, and then it’s just one to go. Keep your head down, ignore the Citgo sign, and just keep going. How are there more hills? Mile 25. Wait for it. Then, the 1 mile to go sign. You can do this, you can do this. Then, 2 turns to go. Then, the final turn.
So spectacular to get onto Boylston Street. The blue finish arch hangs like a glimmering beacon of hope. And oh my gosh, the crowds are phenomenal, indescribable. I am running and running, and feel happy again – this is going to happen. I know my parents are somewhere, I look to my left with 100 yards to go, and there they are – I joyfully wave and continue on. And as I lift my hands with joy and relief, I cross the finish line. I have done it.
And I have no idea what time I finished in.
I got my cape and medal. I called my friend Jenny, who had been tracking me but didn't know my final time, but was so excited. Then, I called my parents who gleefully reported to me my time:
7:54 per mile
almost a 9 minute PR and almost 12 minute Boston PR
Oh my God, I actually did it. The diet, the cross training, all paid off. I went sub 3:30 with room to spare.
My other stats
Age Group (18-39): 850/5202
I could barely walk, so I shuffled to the curb by a church and sat down while I waited for my parents. I was wrapped in my cape and on top of the world We headed back quickly, got cleaned up, had some celebratory phone calls, then went out to dinner. That is always one of my favorite parts: we always have a lot of fun. Went to Outback (very good GF menu): had steak and potatoes and Redbridge GF beer. All so delicious, and I packed it all away, and ice cream too. A few more phone calls, and then time for bed, blissfully happy about the course of the day.
Tuesday at the airport, there was no swagger, but certainly a wide stride in each runner, trying to navigate and make the legs do what is normal, after having done something completely abnormal. But again, just like upon arrival, the jackets are donned, and now the medals are worn, and we all know that we shared in something special.
More is to come: my parents took lots of pictures. Here is a preview: I took this back at the hotel afterwards.
This was the race that mattered so much to me, for so many reasons. It was more than a triumph, it was the victory I had sought after – I answered Boston’s call, ran with joy and courage, and found so many blessings along the way.