“This year’s race will have special significance for all of us because of the tragedy that occurred last year. I am honored to be amongst the 36,000 runners that are running the 2014 Boston Marathon to demonstrate the spirit of the marathon. I am training hard and smart to be healthy and fit enough to compete for a victory. Let’s visualize our goals in our months of training and race with a united purpose on April 21st.”
– Meb Keflezghi
Since last year’s Boston, everyone talked about how the 2014 race was going to be a significant event in distance running. The field would be bigger and faster, the spectators would outnumber previous years, and the volunteers/security would exceed our expectations. After crossing the finish line on Marathon Monday, I can assure you that everyone was right. What an incredible event to have the opportunity to be part of. For me, getting into the 2014 race was close. I was a squeaker when I registered and could easily have been turned away. Last year, my training kept getting interrupted by injury so I was only a Boston qualifier by three minutes and eight seconds. I’m extremely grateful that I was able to participate and made it to the starting line relatively healthy.
I knew things would be different this year as soon as I got off the Mass Pike and into Boston. We pulled up to the expo late Saturday afternoon, and had difficulty parking at the Prudential Center. Parking isn’t usually much of an issue, but I struggled to find a spot in the enormous garage. Oh yeah, and be warned: the fee to park in that lot is outrageous. If you hit the two hour mark, expect to pay $38! I always forget about that each year. Next year, I’m going to drive right to my aunt and uncle’s house in Brookline, drop of the car and take the train into the city.
Hynes Convention Center is located inside the Prudential Center, which is a shopping mall. Once inside the mall, getting to the Hynes Convention Center inside was another story. This was my fourth consecutive year there, and I’ve never seen this many people just dominating an entire city. 10,000 more runners (in addition to the usual 26,000) means 10,000+ spectators (I heard there were one million people in the city for the race!) that traveled along with them. It means that many more people wandering the mall, expo, Boylston Street, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. The atmosphere is always incredible in Boston, but just the sheer amount of people this year took things to a whole new level.
The increased security measures began as you entered the convention center. Security guards searched bags as you entered the area and sent you off to pick up your bib. It’s always well-organized, but this year everything was more spread out and easier to navigate. To get your bib, runners had to go all the way to the third floor, and then back down to the second floor to browse the expo. Besides a stop at the Adidas display to purchase the jacket (because you can’t run Boston and not get the jacket!) and a stop at the Runner’s World Display, I didn’t stay too long.
After the expo, we stayed in the city a little longer to have dinner at Maggiano’s with Mark and Robin. The streets and the restaurant were packed with runners preparing for the race. As it turns out, another group of runners from the Lehigh Valley were at a restaurant across the street. After we were done eating, we stopped in and hung out for a few minutes and wished everyone luck. It was really cool to see familiar faces in Boston and share this experience with people who love the sport as much as I do.
I usually stay in Brookline on Sunday and avoid the city, but I needed to get a CharlieCard for the train on Monday morning. I take the train to Boston Common and then the busses provided by the BAA to Hopkinton with the majority of the runners. My family cheers for me around mile 24 on Beacon Street and doesn’t get to see the finish line, so I took my mom with me. I’m glad I went back downtown this year to be part of the pre-race celebrations. Such excitement everywhere, with runners posing for pictures, talking to each other and wishing each other luck. Even though we were all total strangers, it felt like one giant family as you wandered along Boylston, stopped to pay tribute to the victims from last year at the memorial, take a photo at the finish line, and take in the surroundings.
Race Day – Monday, April 21
There were lots of changes to the way things went down on race morning. In the past, you hauled your stuff up to Hopkinton and checked your bags there. Not this year. If you wanted to check a bag, you did it in Boston Common before loading the bus. Tents were set up by bib color/number. Instead of moving the bags to the finish line, you had to walk to Boston Common after finishing. I didn’t really think about that too much beforehand, and it was kind of far walk after the race. It ended up being a good thing because it forced you to cool down and not just stop abruptly.
The bus procedures were relatively similar to previous years, but you weren’t allowed any bags on the bus. They allowed clear zip lock bags – I had my bagel and bottled water in a ziplock bag to bring to the start. To get on the bus, you had to go through a security checkpoint and show your bib. The bus ride to Hopkinton was the same as past years, but we entered Athlete’s Village a little differently. Instead of pulling over on the road in Hopkinton, we actually entered the parking lot of the middle school- where the bag check busses used to be lined up. As we arrived, there were a whole fleet of busses parked in the lot of the middle school that read, “Massachusetts Correctional Facility.” Officers with orange vests were getting off the bus and walking in lines to their designated areas and almost looked like an army. To enter Athlete’s Village, runners had to flash the officers their race bibs.
Once in Athlete’s Village, it was almost like every other year (only with many more people!). Go to the bathroom, set up shop in the grass, eat some breakfast, drink some water, and make some new friends. They always have food at the start, but it seemed like they had more amenities than usual. They had coffee from Dunkin Donuts, bagels, fruit, etc. I still ate my own pre-race foods, but if you don’t have a sensitive stomach you could pretty much plan to eat their food for breakfast. I met and spoke to people from all over – everywhere from Pennsylvania, Toronto, Seattle, and Minnesota, just to name a few. I was unsuccessful at locating most of the people I knew, but one of my friends from the Lehigh Valley, Kari (we met doing a segment for WFMZ before Boston), found me as she was walking through the village. It was so awesome to see a familiar face in the crowd.
Getting to the start was slightly different than past years, and I made it with seconds to spare. Instead of just calling your wave to go to the start, they called you by wave and corral. We were sent off to the start one corral at a time. In the village, the announcer kept saying there were no bathrooms on the way to the start, which they had in past years. I’m not sure why he said that because there was a whole huge area of bathrooms right before the start corrals. I got in line for the bathroom at Athlete’s Village at 9:15 am – my wave wasn’t even supposed to start walking to the start until 9:50 and my wave didn’t start until 10:25. I JUST made it to the start as the gun was going off for my wave. Not that it matters, I could have started with a different corral – but it was close. It was a little frustrating, but it’s understandable – there were 10,000 extra runners. They were as organized as they could possibly be.
Finally, we were off. It was crazy how many people were running, of course, but the spectators on the sidelines at the start were out in the masses. Usually, the first few miles of the marathon is a little packed but the field eventually thins out a little bit. This year, it felt like we were running as a huge pack from Hopkinton to Boston, and the course only thinned out a little bit. We really did all run together.
The first 16ish miles are a net downhill. It looks easy on paper, but it’s the hardest course I’ve run. The 16 miles of downhill really do a number on your quads if you aren’t prepared for it and go out too fast. I was prepared for it, but I went out a little too fast. My goal was a 3:15, and I was on pace for it until about mile 19. My goal was to run the first 5 miles around a 7:30 pace and then pick it up to a 7:25, and then progress to a 7:20 if I felt good in the last six miles. I ran around a 7:30 for the first five miles, as planned. But from 6-14, I ran sub 7:20. One was even a 7:09, most were about a 7:16. It was too fast, and I should have slowed myself down but I felt SO good. Even when I ran a 3:18:46 in Columbia I didn’t feel that good so I thought I had it. Amidst the miles of excitement, I believed I had the training to back that pace up. I still think I had the training to pull it off, but the one thing I didn’t really factor in was the heat.
Around mile 15, temperatures were climbing and I started to get a side sticker. My legs still felt great and I knew I was well hydrated because I hadn’t missed taking water or Gatorade from a single water stop. Back in 2012 (the super hot year), a side sticker was the warning sign that I ignored that ended up making it a long day. So when that happened at mile 15 on Monday, I knew I needed to slow down and listen to my body or I’d be walking it in. I ditched the idea of cruising a 7:16 in to the finish line and slowed my pace. Until mile 19, I was able to keep the pace between 7:35-7:39, and one mile was even a 7:24 because I started to feel better. With the amount of time I banked from 6-14, I still had a decent shot at reaching the 3:15 goal.
Then Heartbreak Hill happened, and things got a little ugly. I thought about the four people who lost their lives. I thought of the 260+ people who were injured and affected by last year’s tragedy. I had seven miles left. That’s not even an hour of running. I could suffer for an hour of my life. I could suck it up and run hard for one more hour for those people whose lives were ended or changed forever. I hung in there and still ran harder than I ever had at that point in the past, but miles 19-21 were some of the miles that took the 3:15 off the table. 7:44, 7:56, and an 8:08. Those miles, coupled with a few of the 7:35 miles and the fact that my Garmin was off from weaving around people resulted in a 3:18:17 finish. I’m not even a little disappointed. I’ll be completely honest: I was shooting for 3:15, but wasn’t convinced it would happen in Boston. I had a feeling I could PR, and I did (even though it was only by 29 seconds!) but I knew 3:15 was aggressive for the course and the conditions.
But most of all, I wasn’t disappointed because this year was not about the time on a clock. It was about strength. Running strong for the victims of 2013, for the city of Boston, and for our country. It was about taking back the city and the finish line of the most prestigious road race. As Meb said before running the race, it was about running with a united purpose. As we ran the race, spectators were thanking runners for helping “take back the city” and “take back the finish line”. It gives me chills just thinking about it. So many amazing things happened that day: there is the story about the runners that carried the guy down Boylston Street so he could finish the race, and Meb became the first American man to win the race in 31 years. But most importantly, everyone finished the race.