I did it! What a RUSH! Every year, the entire Boston Marathon weekend is a huge whirlwind. From the time I leave the house to getting to the expo, meeting up with friends and trying desperately to find time to get off of your feet and actually rest for the race, it is insane. This year might have been the craziest from start to finish, but most fun year yet.
I finished in race in 3:14:13 and was thrilled with my time. It’s a far cry from a marathon PR (3:06) but a four minute PR for the Boston course from last year (3:18). When I began training, my original goal was to be sub-3 hours. But I spent most of the winter months not actually running. Instead, I was in physical therapy for a jacked up left Achilles. It still wasn’t completely healed by Marathon Monday and I knew it was entirely possible that the race could take me anywhere from three hours to five hours to complete.
I was fine with reassessing my goal and was happy that I was able to toe the line at all. Above all, I really didn’t want to miss a Boston year. This would be my 5th consecutive year running the race. I’d only gotten about six weeks of training in (and two of those were just attempting to run whatever miles I could), so I was unsure of what kind of shape I was in for that race. As the race grew closer and I thought about what kind of pace to run, I had five scenarios in my head:
- Goal 1: 3:05 – this would be a PR and my reach goal. I didn’t think trying for sub-3 would be smart based on what happened during my training, but I did get in a solid 22 mile run that indicated that there was some sort of endurance there. If I were to try for the 3:05, I would need make sure I went out extremely conservative in case I realized early on that I wasn’t in that kind of shape.
- Goal 2: 3:15 – This would bring me in faster than last season so it would mean a PR for the course. If I started conservative, I would have a shot at running the 3:05. If I couldn’t, and had this as my backup goal, my legs might have a chance at being relatively unscathed by Heartbreak Hill. (Since I already told you my time, you know it was a Goal 2 kind of day!)
- Goal 3: 3:18:17 – Hitting somewhere around here would at least put me in the same kind of shape as last season at this time.
- Goal 4: Sub-3:35 – the race would still be a Boston Qualifier (I qualified for next year with a 3:08 at Chicago but it was just another possible goal to keep in mind for the day).
- Goal 5: To just FINISH! Ultimately, my goal for this race was not a time goal at all. It was to just feel comfortable running and enjoy the race. I had such a bad race in Arizona about two months back that what I needed most was to simply enjoy the sport again. If that meant throwing paces out the window and turning off my watch, I was prepared to do that.
The weather forecast was another concerning factor. On Marathon Monday, I left my aunt’s house in Brookline around 5:30am and headed for the T. It was chilly, cloudy, and already breezy. I forgot my gloves and my [second] cup of coffee when I locked myself out, so I really thought I was going to be in for a long day. Not only did I have an impending sense of fear of running marathons in general because of my last race, but the weather forecast for the day started out bad and progressed to worse as the day went on. If I were going to be walking this one in like I did back in February, I would be miserable in the cold, wind, and rain.
I met Cassie in Boston Common and checked our gear bags before boarding the buses to Hopkinton. I love that part of the day. You meet so many interesting people on the bus, and everyone wants to talk. We chatted with a guy from Oklahoma and another from Denver – both running Boston for the first time. As we pulled into the staging area in Hopkinton and got off of the buses, the cold air chilled me and I was shivering. Since you had to check your gear bag with your post race clothing in Boston Common before you boarded the bus to Hopkinton, I wore throw away clothes to the start, which are all collected and donated. Everyone walks around looking completely ridiculous – some people go all out and get hilarious outfits from thrift stores, like onesie pajamas and bathrobes. I was pretty bundled up with my own throw away clothing, but I was still freezing. Cassie and I joked about how I looked homeless, so we had fun taking some pictures to pass the time!
We grabbed Mylar blankets, found some coffee, and a place to camp out under one of the large tents. Since we were in the first wave, we got there before the masses and were able to secure a dry spot under the tent. As we waited, it began to rain. It was a moderate, steady rain and it just looked UGLY. I considered just not running at that point. Not because I wouldn’t want to run in those conditions – I was scared for what it would be like if I had to walk it in and was wet and freezing. But it’s Boston – you don’t make it to Hopkinton and then just turn around! That thought really only lasted for less than a minute.
After about two hours of waiting around, it was time to get moving to the starting corrals. Being in the first wave this year meant I got to start in the same wave as the elite men, which went off at 10 a.m. I was Wave 1, Corral 7. I was hesitant to part with my throw away clothing but as it grew closer to 10 a.m., everyone started to strip down and get ready to run. As we crossed the starting line, I started my Garmin and began clock watching like a hawk. Regardless of whether it took me 3:05 or 5:05 to finish that day, I didn’t want to ruin the day by going out too quickly. I wanted to run at a pace that would allow me to enjoy the Boston experience from start to finish. Mission accomplished!
To try for the 3:05, I decided to go out at a 7:30 pace to warm up and drop five seconds per mile for the first five miles. By the time I got to mile 5, I wanted to be clicking off 7:10s through the half marathon point. While I didn’t stick exactly to that and did go a bit faster, I did hold back a LOT. Most people were flying by me, easily doing a 6:30 pace. That’s what I did in Arizona and it really backfired, and this time, I had the advantage of knowing the course. I kept a close eye on my Garmin and hit the first mile in 7:19. A little fast but it felt fine. I hit the 5K mark slightly fast but pretty close to where I wanted to be, in 22:23, averaging 7:12/mile overall.
The first 10 miles of the course are fun simply because you are running the Boston Marathon, but there are several points that I look forward to that break up the course. My first favorite segment is hitting the 10K in Framingham, mostly because it’s packed with people. I hit the 10K in 44:32, and was averaging a 7:09 pace overall at this point. But around the 10K, I started to get a little side sticker and my stomach felt slightly off. This happened to me at this same point in past years, and I’ve ignored it and pushed through. In the past, that resulted in a long day on the course, so I knew I needed to back off to avoid disaster. I had no margin for any errors this year so I had to be smart. My legs felt great, but I knew my body was saying today was not the day to keep pushing for a 3:05. I backed off just a little through the 15K point in Natick. I hit the 15K point in 1:06:58 and was averaging 7:11/mile, which was actually still on pace with my original 3:05 goal plan. I having such a blast and was sort of indifferent on finish times at that point, and decided to just continue to go with it.
Next up was Wellesley, which is exciting for several reasons. Even though it was a steady rain at this point, the girls at Wellesley College were out and ready to kiss the runners as we ran by. After passing the college, the crowds get insane because you’ve reached the half marathon point. I reached the half marathon in 1:35:01, a 7:14/mile pace. When I’d calculated my splits, I’d hoped to reach the half marathon point in 1:34:37, or a 7:13/mile average up to that point. I was pretty close to being right where I wanted to be. I felt really good, but if I wanted to achieve a 3:05 I knew my next move was to drop my pace to a 7:00/mile for the remainder of the race.
It was raining pretty steadily at this point, and my stomach was feeling better so I was open to the idea of speeding up but I knew that I had some hills to battle ahead. I made the choice to just relax and enjoy the second half of the race. It was the conservative option, but I had a lot of things to consider. I was lucky to even be running at all, let alone considering to run a 7:00 pace. Just over a month ago, I began running after my disaster in AZ and couldn’t even run a quarter mile without extreme pain in my Achilles. I walked back to my car in tears that day. Another factor to consider was that I felt great at that moment, and I didn’t want that to change later in the race. I felt horrible during my entire last marathon and I didn’t want to risk feeling that way again – not just yet. Maybe when I’ve completely forgotten about the Arizona disaster, I’ll take the riskier option. But not in Boston. I knew my splits were pretty even up through that point and I knew the hills were still to come. I didn’t want to hate the last 10K – that’s the part I look forward to the most. So I abandoned my 3:05 goal and went for Goal #2, to bring it in under 3:15.
I reached the 25K and entered the hills of Newton in 1:52:40, and was still averaging a 7:15 overall pace. This is usually where I can tell if I went out too quickly because you start climbing. If my quads feel like they have nothing left at that point I know it will be a tough 10-ish miles ahead. I was thrilled to find that I still felt surprisingly good. I knew I still had a long way to go so I kept my same attitude about my pace – just relax, enjoy, and bring in under 3:15.
By the time I hit the 30K mark in 2:16:09, and I was averaging 7:18 overall pace . I’d hit some of the hills but hadn’t slowed down too much. I resolved to run the hills comfortably and to enjoy the crowds, because this is where I feel like the course goes from being super fun to a huge party scene. Somewhere in this 5K, there were a bunch of guys handing out beer (I think it was around mile 17 or 18), so I grabbed a beer, stopped for a quick second to say cheers and clink my cup with the guy that gave it to me, drank it and moved along. By that point in a marathon, I’ve had so much Gu and Gatorade that I’m usually sick of sweets anyway.
The next 5K is where you wrap up the last of the seven Newton hills with the infamous Heartbreak Hill. The 35K mark is in that segment of the course, and I hit that at 2:40:20 and was averaging 7:22/mile overall. Around mile 20, my friend Missy was cheering with the Boston Hash House Harriers, so I stopped and gave her a huge hug. I was so excited to see her. I started to run again but the hashers got disappointed that I didn’t grab a beer, so naturally I had to take a quick break to grab a beer from them! Heartbreak Hill was my slowest mile of the day (7:59) but I felt strong as I got to the top of the hill and saw the sign at Boston College that reads “The Heartbreak is Over”. Even though I felt good climbing, that mile was one place where I added time on my overall average pace. I was fine with it because I still didn’t feel like I was dragging and was having a blast.
After Heartbreak Hill, my splits stayed pretty consistent. My 40K split was recorded as a 7:23 pace and I hit that at 3:03:48. I continued to run comfortable and started to keep my eyes open for my friend Ashley, my coach, Kenrick, and his wife, Jodi. I knew that I was not going to be anywhere near PR and staying with the pace I was running would get me to the finish line a little under 3:15. I was perfectly content with that just kept moving, enjoying the crowd and the energy. I found Ashley and my coach at mile 24, which was really exciting. As I turned the corner on to Hereford and made the final turn on to Boyleston, I was still smiling from ear to ear. It was the first marathon that I’ve run where I was running towards the finish thinking, I don’t want it to be over! No matter how good I feel, I am always ready to cross the finish line.
The worst part of the whole day came after crossing the finish line and having to walk really far to get your gear bag. I felt good as I walked – I grabbed my medal and my poncho to keep warm, and then booked it over to the gear check. I was freezing and soaking wet, and the wind was really whipping at this point. Once I got my stuff, I made my way into the women’s changing tent. I think it took me longer to get my arm sleeves and compression socks off than it took me to run the last 5K of the race. My hands were NUMB! Somehow, Cassie and my friend Angela ended up making their way into the changing tent when I was there struggling to get dressed, and they were in the same boat. Freezing cold, yet stuck in their wet clothes. But once I was changed, I felt good.
I also couldn’t be more thankful to the supportive people in my life that helped make even getting to the starting line possible. Although scheduling and work issues made it impossible for my husband and family to come up and spectate, they supported me through this entire horrendous season of training. My friends spent pretty much every single day listening to me whine about being injured and put up with me being flaky from my time being spread too thin. There’s no way I could have gotten through this weekend without Ashley, who said yes to coming to Boston without a single ounce of hesitation when I found out right before race weekend that my husband had to stay back because of work. She came up and supported me all weekend long, including standing for hours in the freezing cold rain just waiting for the five seconds she would get to see me run by at mile 24. My coach and his wife left their kids home and made the trek up to Boston to do the exact same thing. My coach also had to deal with my stupid injury and the mood swings that came along with it, but continued to help me anyway.
As I reflect on the race and how I ran, I wouldn’t change a thing. Could I have pushed harder? I think so, but I can’t really be sure. One thing I can be completely sure of is that I wasn’t willing to risk ruining my day. I was also not willing to risk setting back my recovery on my Achilles. I usually like to get out of my comfort zone and push my limits, but this Marathon Monday was not the time for me to do that. I needed to run a marathon and truly just enjoy the simple act of running again. I needed a race that left me with that runner’s high, not completely defeated, discouraged and broken. I didn’t hear too much from my Achilles on Monday – it left me alone until about mile 25. It ached a little, but it still didn’t feel as awful as it felt in the weeks leading up to the race. I am so thankful for that. I am also thankful that I was able to listen to my body and run a smart race. Now, I’m not saying that running the race was easy by any means – a marathon never is – but it was FUN. I felt GREAT, and I feel great now. I can finally say that I can’t wait for my next race!