Sunday, May 4, 2014

On the Run: Boston Marathon 2014

My fingers have hovered over they keyboard for long enough now that I may as well just start typing.  There are so many things to write about the Boston Marathon that I hardly know where to start!  It was an amazing experience from start to finish.  And by start I don't just mean the start of the race to when I crossed the finish line.  I mean from the time Brian and I boarded the plane in Detroit filled with Boston jacket-clad runners to when we were offered pre-boarding back to Detroit simply because I ran the marathon. The race was unbelievable but so was the city and the people and the stories.  Those are the things that I want to describe but I don't know if I can find the right words.  Not in this post at least.  


Let me set the stage for you.  We got into Boston Saturday morning, after an amazingly easy and short flight.  I was able to sleep for the whole thing.  I had been up early for my last run before the race (3 miles) so the nap was needed.  After checking in we walked to Fenway Park for the Red Sox game.  On the way we walked past Copley Square and just happened to pass by right when the B.A.A. Invitational Mile was starting.  We saw the women's race and the winner finished in 4:44.0.  Amazing!   

Then it was on to the game.  We had fantastic seats right next to the Green Monster.  The Red Sox pulled out a win against the Orioles.  Big Papi hit a home run, there was nearly a benches-clearing brawl, and I didn't get hit with a foul ball.  We left in the 9th so we could beat the crowds and get a move on to the expo.

Oh my - THE EXPO!  This was the biggest race expo I have ever seen!  I was overwhelmed. First I got my race bib, runner passport, and shirt.  My shirt was too big so they let me exchange for a smaller size.  This rarely happens at expos and I think I told the shirt lady I loved her for it!   
Then we moved onto the vendor part of the expo.  So many shoes and shirts and samples.  The Adidas booth was enormous! And very crowded.  Thankfully I already had my Boston jacket because they were out of my size. (And because I'm superstitious, it was still unopened in my suitcase, where it would remain until after the marathon!)  Since Brian had given me a gift card to Marathon Sports for my birthday back in October I didn't want to buy anything at the expo.  We were just going to go to the store tomorrow so I could use the card there.  I did see some cool shirts but nothing that I felt I I HAD to buy.  It was fun just to look around.  I was excited to see VEGA Sport was there with some of their products.  Years ago I was a big fan of their regular protein powder but never tried their Sport line.  I had no idea how much it's expanded!  I spoke with one of the reps and she gave me a couple of their gels to try, which I didn't even know they had. The gels are made with dates, so they are much more natural than the CLIF Shots that I'm used to using.  I'm excited to try them out and give a report.

After the expo we walked to dinner and then finally got back to the hotel.  By that point we'd walked probably 6 miles.  No biggie, right?  


Wrong.  I woke up Sunday with shin splints.  Okay, not going to panic.  We walked to the Boston Duck Tour - gingerly - me coughing the whole way.  Yes, I guess this would be a good time to mention that I had a horrible cough going on 2 weeks now.  Perfect timing, right?  haha.  A few days before the race I got a steroid shot and started on an oral steroid taper (unfortunately NOT the kind to make me run faster - I asked!).  It wasn't working fast enough.  So Sunday would be a day of rest and hydration.  We did the Duck Tour, which was so much fun.  We walked around a little but not much.  Then it was back to the hotel to ice my shins and take a nap.  Brian was kind to go out and get my usual pre-race dinner - Subway veggie on Italian and Baked Lays - so I didn't have to walk any extra.  Then it was bedtime and I actually slept pretty well.

Marathon Monday

Our wake-up call came at 5:30am.  My alarm went off at the same time, just to be safe. This was it!  Race day!! 

At the Hotel

The first thing I did was get dressed and pin on my bib.  While I got ready Brian went out and got Starbucks for me.  This was my first gamble of the day - and kind of a big one at that. 

First of all, I've never eaten oatmeal before a race or a long run.  I always eat chia pudding. However, my start time wasn't until 10:25 whereas my other marathons have been at 7-7:30am.  I figured if I was eating at 6am I would be okay.  I also knew that for such an intense course, chia pudding just wasn't going to cut it.  I would need more carbs. The other part of the gamble was the coffee.  I've never had coffee before a race either but again, with so many hours before the start I figured (hoped, prayed) I would be okay. I still had sore shins so I took an Aleve, plus my cough prescription and a Mucinex.  Oy vey.

In the lobby there was a huge table set up with piles of bananas on it and bottles of water.  I already had a race-day banana in hand but was able to find an even better one - probably THE best banana ever!  All the hotel staff wished me luck on my way out.  


Our hotel was in a great location for the race.  We had less than a 5-minute walk to the Boston Common, which is where all the school buses were lined up waiting to take runners to the start in Hopkinton.  I got there just after 7am and some of the red wave runners were still loading up.  I was too excited to wait around so I said good-bye to Brian, gave him a huge hug, and found the bus with the shortest line.  I immediately made friends with Donna, a girl who had run her first Boston last year.  We sat together on the bus and she told me all about her experience last year - Athletes Village, the race, the bombs, and her emotions surrounding this year's race.   We also talked about non-race things and just generally got to know each other.  She was super cool and I was grateful for the company.  

Athletes Village

Athletes Village is located at the Hopkinton High/Middle School.  It's a huge grassy field filled with runners lounging on the grass or lined up for port-a-potties or water.
Announcements are made as to when you leave the Athletes Village to walk to the start, which is about a mile away.  From the time we got to the Village to the time my wave/corral was called, I think I had about an hour and a half, most of which was spent standing in line for port-a-potties.  Twice.  Just to be safe.  I ate my perfect race day banana in between those stops.  

At 9:51, four Apache helicopters took off from Hopkinton to begin their flyover of the course. That was also the time I heard the announcement for me to begin my walk to the start line.  Donna was in a later corral so we hugged good-bye and wished each other luck. I dropped my sweat pants in a donation bag and headed off with the other white bibs.  

Partway through the walk I started to jog for a warm-up, maybe getting about half a mile in.  I wasn't too concerned, however, because I didn't want to start the race too strong anyway.  I was more worried about trying to hold myself back, given all the adrenaline and excitement! Just before I got to the starting corrals I stopped to retie and secure my laces.  Some law enforcement officers complemented me on my shoes, noting that they looked brand new.  I laughed and said, "They've seen a couple of races." Nothing more than 13.1 miles, however.  Another gamble, I thought, but they should be fine.

The Race

The Start

I got into my corral with less than 10 minutes to go.  I ditched my jacket, rechecked my laces, turned on my watch, and started my iPod.  (I knew I would only hear it about 1/4 of the time but it was my safety blanket.)  I talked to a few people while we waited to start and next thing I knew the air horn sounded and we were off.  The race had started! The 118th running of the Boston Marathon had begun and I was a part of it!  I'm pretty sure I shouted out, "This is happening!  We're running the Boston Marathon!" to no one in particular.  I'd been training for this day since before I even qualified so to actually be running the race . . . indescribable.  

Hopkinton - The first mile of the race takes you on a 130-foot downhill ride.  I was worried that the combination of gravity, crowd support, and adrenaline was going to send me careening down the road way too fast but managed to rein it in and stuck to my 7:15 pace as planned.

And then I didn't see a 7:15 pace again until mile 20.  Another gamble.  Probably my biggest one yet.

Ashland - Before I knew it one mile had gone by and we were to Ashland!  The crowd swelled near the "Ashland" banners that welcomed runners to town.  I looked at my watch and was ticking off 7:05's.  I tried to rein it in, slow it down, get back to that 7:15 planned pace.  After all, the race had only just begun.  I was still getting warmed up.  By miles 3-4 I was running sub-7's.  Too fast.

Framingham - Just before mile 5 I entered Framingham.  My favorite part of this town was the train station on the left.  There was a huge crowd stretching the whole length of it and the people-watching was amazing!  Signs, costumes, and custom tee shirts gave me a lot of good laughs.  I also passed the 10k mark in Framinghan.  Even though I was still running faster than I planned, I was relieved to see that I wasn't running my 10k pace. [Official 10k split was 7:04/mile.]

Natick - Near the beginning of town is a rare quiet moment along a peaceful lake. Then you run past beautiful old homes and into the center of town, past a big church and fire station.  The crowds were huge here!  Back in Framingham I had picked a girl to run with who was around my pace and I was still sticking with her.  We'll call her White Tank Top. She was often just a little ahead but close.  I wasn't able to hold a consistent pace, fluctuating between a 7:03-7:09.  I was struggling with wanting to slow down but wanting to keep up my pace. And keep up with White Tank Top, because my competitive nature was kicking in.  So in the end I kept up with her.  

Wellesley - I knew Wellesley was coming.  Hang on, let me back up.  I knew Wellesley College was coming.  You hear Wellesley before you see it!  It's definitely the most interesting crowd on the course.  The women of Wellesley are known for their mouths - both their lungs and their lips.  Their mission is to get kissed by a runner and many runners will stop for a kiss during the race.  I loved reading all their signs as I ran past, most of which had convincing reasons for the runner to kiss the bearer of the sign.  My favorite, however, was Fly, You Fools!  I didn't stop for a kiss but fly I did.

After you pass Wellesley College you run through downtown Wellesley, another amazing area.  The crowds here were also incredible.  It seemed like the whole town was out lining the streets!  I heard someone shout out my bib number, I was doing fist pumps to the crowds, high-fiving kids.  I was just soaking it up!  You also pass the halfway point here in Wellesley, which is pretty cool.  [Official 1/2 split was 7:04/mile.]

I'd been clocking sub-7's for the last 3 miles, keeping up with White Tank Top.  I looked at my overall time and saw I'd been running for about 1:33.  Even though I was running faster than planned this wasn't anywhere near my last half marathon pace, so I felt comfort in that.  I was feeling great and if I was going to blow up I'd already screwed myself by running too fast in the first half.  Nothing I could change now.  I would drop to a 7:05ish pace (that sub-7 stuff had to go!) and I would push as hard as I could on the hills, knowing those would slow my pace but hopefully not to more than a 7:15.  Okay, new goal established at the halfway point of the Boston Marathon.  Have you decided never to take me to Vegas with you?  ha ha!
Newton - The only thing I knew about Newton was the hills.  The famous Newton hills.  I knew they started after making the turn at the Newton fire station.  Thankfully I also knew about the one that came before those.  The pre-Newton hill. (Although it's also in Newton.)  This first one is a good one.  It's about half a mile long and definitely steep enough.  To me it seemed that this hill separated those who were ready for Newton and those who weren't.  I was ready.  White Tank Top?  Not ready.  I powered up that hill and never saw her again.  I passed countless runners at this point and actually made up some time on the hill.  I caught up to a girl at the top, laughed and said, "I hope that counts as one of the hills!"  Unfortunately she didn't realize I was joking.  The next few hills weren't too bad - at least not on their own - but I started to feel the cumulative effect in my quads.  My pace was starting to slow a bit with each mile and by the time I neared mile 20 I was down to a 7:14.  Not bad, considering that was my original goal pace, but still slower than I'd been running.

At mile 20 I had my second gel and some water. Then without warning, my legs seemed to turn to lead.  I hadn't hit the wall in my previous marathons but could this be what it feels like? There was another hill that seemed to go on forever.  Was this Heartbreak Hill?  No.  Not yet.  It was awful.  My body just wasn't working right.  I couldn't pick up the pace.  I needed to chill out and refocus.  I thought of family and friends wishing me luck and soaked up the cheering crowds.  I heard someone shout out, "Go green!" and knew it was for me.  That was enough to help me get back on track.  I may not have been moving faster but I was okay with that.  Heartbreak was coming and it was going to take everything I had.

I sort of expected some "Welcome to Heartbreak Hill" sign but there wasn't one.  I'd watched the course preview video a couple of times so I knew the landmarks.  The crowd swelled. I could feel a good incline and my pace slowed to a 7:30.  But there had been so many hills in the race that I honestly wasn't convinced it was Heartbreak until about halfway up the hill!  What makes Heartbreak so challenging is not the half-mile incline in and of itself (although that is tough!) but it's that it comes 20.5 miles into the race - after all the other hills.  I was still able to push myself a bit but not at all like I did when I first came blazing into Newton.

After Heartbreak I picked up the pace, happy to have crested the hill and put that last BIG hill behind me!  I also had the roaring crowds of Boston College to give me a boost and managed to knock out a sub-7 mile 22.  And then I started to slow down.  

Brookline - All I remember about Brookline is starting to get tired.  I was holding a 7:13 pace.  At this point there are about 3 miles to go.  I was doing a lot of talking to myself. 3 miles.  That's just a 5k. That's about 22 minutes of running.  I can keep running for 22 more minutes.  The crowds were huge all down Beacon Street so that was a big help but it was starting to not be enough.  My legs never wanted to stop but I was just getting tired.  Then I saw it in the distance - the Citgo sign.  Like the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, it watches over the city of Boston, and lets runners know they have one more mile left.  I was so happy to see that sign!  

Boston You don't actually enter Boston until mile 24.8.  I saw the Citgo sign in front of me.  The Boston banners were welcoming me to the city.  House of Pain's "Jump Around" was just starting to play on my iPod.  1.4 more miles to go.  I checked my pace.  Right at goal.  Just jog it in.  You can do this.  But that last mile seemed to stretch on longer than a normal mile.  How about a 10-minute mile?  I can do that.  No shame.  My quads were screaming at me.  I settled in around a 7:40 pace.  Just jog it in.  And then suddenly, the runners ahead of me were turning.  They were turning right!  

RIGHT on HEREFORD!  The first of the two famous turns.  The crowd was getting bigger. And louder.  There's an incline on Hereford but I hardly noticed because then I was turning left onto Boylston.  My smile was huge as I ran the final stretch.  I was turning my head from side to side, trying to see everything, enjoy every second of those last few blocks. The crowds were incredible.  And then before I knew it the finish line was right in front of me.

The Finish - As I crossed the finish line I raised my arms above my head and smiled for the cameras.  Of my three marathons this was the best I've felt crossing the finish line - physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I ran a better race than I could have hoped for.  I was handed my medal, a heat cape, and water.  I was congratulated many times over by race volunteers.  I couldn't thank them enough!  

I wanted to find Brian right away and went straight to the Family Meeting Area.  It didn't take him long to get there from his spot on Boylston Street.  I'd met some great guys from Portland who took our picture and then we headed back to the hotel, which was only a mile walk.  

When all was said and done, I ended up finishing in 3:07:38.  I was 3680 overall and 277 out of all women.  Best of all I beat my goal of 3:10:00 and set a new PR by over 7 minutes!  All the gambles I took worked out in my favor.  Looking back at those last two miles, I wonder if I could have run faster. Should I have pushed harder at the end?  I think about Rita Jeptoo running a 4:48 mile 24 and think Maybe I should have run just a little bit faster.  But I can't think that way.  No regrets. I ran an amazing race and I most importantly I loved every moment.   



Starbucks fruit and nut oatmeal, Tall Pike Place coffee, banana (pre-race)
2 vanilla CLIF Shots (miles 12 and 20)

Boston / Auguestana
Fast in My Car / Paramore
Shut Up and Drive / Paramore
Dear Rosemary / Foo Fighters
Cruise [remix] (feat. Nelly) / Florida Georgia Line
Birth in Reverse / St. Vincent
Boom Boom Pow / Black Eyed Peas
The Innocent / Mayer Hawthorne
The Monster / Eminem ft. Rihanna
Big Girls You Are Beautiful / Mika
Mountain Sound / Of Monsters and Men
So What / Pink
Don't Stop Me Now / Queen
Rattlesnake / St. Vincent
Race for the Prize / The Flaming Lips
Anklebiters / Paramore
Perfect Situation / Weezer
Sweet Emotion / Aerosmith
Mallie Chan /Otto Vector
Man / Neko Case
Uprising / Muse
Chop and Change / The Black Keys
Just Stand Up! / Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie
50 Ways to Say Goodbye / Train
Lose Yourself / Eminem
Everything Will Change / Gavin DeGraw
After the Disco / Broken Bells
Locked Out of Heaven / Bruno Mars
Mercy / Duffy
Gonna Leave You / Queens of the Stone Age
Demons / Imagine Dragons
Don't Save You / Haim
Discipline / Nine Inch Nails
What Makes You Beautiful / One Direction
Change / Churchill
Blurred Lines / Robin Thick
Radioactive / Imagine Dragons
Eye of the Tiger / Survivor
Instant Karma! / John Lennon
The Walker / Fitz & the Tantrums
Blood for Poppies / Garbage
Supermassive Black Hole / Muse
Bulletproof / La Roux
Machu Picchu / The Strokes
Digital Witness / St. Vincent
Brave / Sara Bareilles 
I Won't Give Up (feat. Jason Mraz) / Straight No Chaser
Bruises (feat. Ashley Monroe) / Train
Jump Around / House of Pain
Story of My Life / Bon Jovi

*I didn't put a lot of time into my playlist, knowing I would keep the volume low to hear the crowds.  I used as many climb/hill/mountain songs as possible, many of which happened to come on at key points.  A good chunk of the songs came from my running friend Sarah, who also ran Boston.  Thanks, Sarah!   


Back at the hotel I was greeted by cheerleaders and received a free 5-minute massage. Ahhh!  After I showered and changed we walked a couple of blocks to a tiny sushi place where I had a couple of veggie rolls.  Then we took the T to the athlete Open House at Fenway Park.  We had an amazing view of the field and I got to meet Wally the Green Monster! 

Next we headed across the street to the "Mile 27" post-race party at the House of Blues. It wasn't the, uh, hippest crowd, but I really wanted to see the elites get their awards and give their speeches.  Listening to the details of the women's race left me open-mouthed. A 5k pace - for a marathon.  Course records for the top three women. Rita Jeptoo with her lightning fast mile 24.  Shalane Flanagan setting a US women's course record and a PR yet still placing 7th.  Unbelievable.  And I ran in the same race they did.  A little slower of course.  (wink wink)

Speaking of the elites, here are some are some amazing photos that Brian took of them as they made their turn onto Boylston Street:

Rita Jeptoo
Shalane Flanagan
Meb Keflezighi

After the awards were handed out the party continued but Brian and I were exhausted.  It had been a long day for us both so we walked back to the T and headed to the hotel. 

Will I be back next year?  You bet I will be!