I’m just going to lead with this: no, I did not run a PR. And I’m okay with it! Let’s just get this out of the way so we can get to the storytelling, shall we?
3:11:28. A far cry from the 3:05 I’ve been going on and on about. But based on the conditions, I am more than happy with it. Also, I never ran a 3:11 before. I’ve run a 3:10 and a 3:12, but now I’ve completed the trifecta. #itsTheLittleThings
You can train harder than you’ve ever trained before, and try your best to simulate race day conditions for a race. There are always unpredictable variables. It’s the nature of the beast. The marathon – that distance – is no joke and demands respect. Each year, Boston always reminds me of that. Even in perfect conditions, I never seem to remember how hard that course is until I’m running it. Even now, sitting here and reflecting on it I find myself thinking, well there’s so much downhilll…But there’s also uphill, and the late start. The New England weather always proves to be unpredictable, and it’s a crowded course.
It was a hot day, and I just didn’t have it. The heat got to me about a third of the way through the race and I backed off immediately. I know how long of a day it can be on that course if you don’t listen to your body. I was there in 2012 (90 degrees that day) and was happy to come in under the five hour mark that day. So without further adieu, here is my recap!
Saturday, April 16 – The Expo
We shipped up to Boston around 7am, and headed right to the expo. I quickly found my bib and a free 26.2 Brew at the Sam Adams tent. My parents had given me the obligatory jacket as a birthday gift this year, so I didn’t have any other shopping to do.
I headed over to the Runner’s World tent to see Bart and Kathleen (friends and neighbors of mine since RW is published in my hometown). I also found Bill, someone Bart had introduced us to when we all traveled to the Marshall Marathon together a few years back.
Quick side note about Bill: he was incarcerated for most of his life and running saved him. I’m not going to get into all the details but he is easily one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met through running. He ran his first 5K in shorts and a polo shirt, and with help and encouragement from Yasso he qualified for Boston just a few years after his release. Bill is an amazing person, and just published a book about his story, called Behind the Wall to the Boston Marathon 2016. If you are looking for a quick read, support him and check out his book!
The expo seemed much crazier than usual this year, so as soon as I found my friends and snapped a few pictures, we headed out. We went to my aunt and uncle’s house in Brookline, who generously open their home to us each year. We hung out with them until it was time to meet some more Lehigh Valley friends out for dinner at a restaurant in Brookline called Hops ‘N Scotch. The restaurant was just okay, but the company was great!
Sunday, April 17
We woke up when we felt like it, and I headed out around the Charles River for a three mile shakeout run. It was a beautiful day.
I grabbed a coffee at Starbucks on my way back and got cleaned up for church. After mass, my aunt had brunch for us and we just hung out around her house. I took a nap in the afternoon and stayed off my feet as much as possible. We met my cousin for dinner at Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant in Brookline. I filled up on pasta and bread, and we were back at my aunt’s house and in bed before 9pm.
Marathon Monday, April 18
I woke up with my alarm at 4:30am and had a tiny headache. That worried me, but I ignored it as I made my coffee and got myself together. I went to the bathroom (always a stressful part of the morning. What if I can’t poop?) and refilled my coffee for the road. My husband walked me around the corner to the train stop near my aunt’s house. I take the green line into the city from Brookline – it’s super easy. As we arrived at the train stop, the train was pulling into the station so I was able to get right on.
I still had a slight headache as I got off the T. I took the train to Boyleston, as usual – only to find that I didn’t do my homework. They moved bag check a few blocks closer to the finish line so that you didn’t have to walk to Boston Common after the race. I hadn’t heard this and didn’t read my packet carefully enough to catch it, and got flustered. I was early for the bus and had plenty of time, but I had to walk about a quarter of a mile to drop off my bag. I walked with a guy from Indiana who made the same mistake, and chatting with him eased my anxiety. Bags were checked, and it was time to go back to Boston Common to load the busses.
Everyone looks homeless in Boston because they don’t allow you to bring your gear to the start since the bombing in 2013. The outfits are pretty awesome and most people try to get something outrageous at a thrift store. All of the clothing at the start gets donated. If you don’t want to wear it racing, you are never going to see it again so you don’t want to wear something that you want back at the finish line. I raid my closet and find something I was going to donate to wear to Hopkinton.
I got on the bus and sat in the first seat next to a guy from New Zealand. One of the many things I love about this race is the chance to meet people from all over the world. His name was Aaron, and this was his first time in the US. Boston was going to be his third of the marathon majors since he already did London and Berlin. It’s a long bus ride from the city to Hopkinton, and sitting with him made it fly by.
We reached Athlete’s Village and I headed directly to a porta pot. Once the rest of the busses show up, the lines for the bathrooms are out of control. They have tons of bathrooms, but there are 30,000 runners hydrating for a marathon. It was 8am, two hours before the start of the race. I took a garbage bag that I brought with me and laid it out on the grass. I ate my breakfast (my homemade sweet potato waffles, Just Great Stuff powdered chocolate peanut butter, and a banana) and drank my water with a Lemon Tea Nuun tablet, and dozed off for about 45 minutes. I hit the bathrooms again since the lines didn’t look to horrible, and grabbed a small cup of coffee. I sat back down and got everything together: put on my iPod, got my watch ready, and stuffed my bra with my GU (one of these days, I will review the Lululemon Race Pack bra :). I stood in line one more time for the bathroom, and then it was time to start heading towards our corrals.
I walked to the start with a guy named Tom from Illinois. He was shooting for about a 3:10 (he ended up running a 3:22), but was worried about the heat. I was starting to get worried about the heat myself. In 2012, when the temps reached the 90s, I remember sweating before the gun went off. Not only did I shed my throw away clothing pretty early this year, but I was starting to sweat on the walk over to the starting line. It’s about .7 of a mile walk from Athlete’s Village to the start. If I was sweating while walking at a leisurely pace, what was going to happen while running 26.2 miles?
Tom and I weren’t the only one concerned about the heat. We were in wave 1, corral 8 and lined up next to a woman named Emily from Scotland. She’d run a 3:07 in Tokyo but was injured. Like Aaron from the bus ride, she also wanted to run all of the marathon majors. She was hoping to qualify for Chicago (sub- 3:45) since she battling an injury and lucky to be running at all. She told me she trained all winter in crazy Scottish weather, like hail storms, and was a ball of nerves.
I repeated what Megan told me. Don’t breathe. Whether that meant a 6:50 pace or a 7:50 pace, I needed to be mindful of the conditions. After six years, I know this course well. The first time you get shade on the Boston course is when you make that left turn onto Boyleston Street – at mile 26. I was not abandoning my plan for a PR, but I was certainly preparing myself for a different race than I’d trained for. I know what it’s like to bonk on the Boston course, and ultimately that was what I wanted to avoid.
The gun went off, and I kept repeating my mantra: Don’t breathe. I also told myself that I was not going to go faster than a 6:50 pace. I suppose I should tell you my goals and thought process for the race. As the weather forecast developed, I had quite a few numbers to prevent me breaking down mentally if things didn’t go my way. It really helps take my mind off of the marks I missed if I still have something to shoot for.
- Goal A: Sub 3:05- I’d trained for a 3:05. I also felt really strong and thought a sub-3 could be possible depending how I felt at the start of the race. That’s how my PRs always happen: I line up at the start and go for it. It was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t willing to blow the whole race for a sub-3. The theme of the race this year was #RunBold, so I had to at least try.
- Goal B: Sub 3:09- I might be able to get into wave one for next year if I could bring it in under 3:09.
- Goal C: Sub 3:12 – This would be my fastest marathon since 2014.
- Goal D: Sub 3:14 – This would be a course PR.
- Goal E: Sub 3:35 – A Boston Qualifier
- Goal F: Drink all the beer on the course and finish. If this were a 2012 repeat, I was determined to have a fun day and drink my face off with the Boston College kids.
My first mile was a 6:47 and it felt like I was walking. But that’s the name of the game in Boston – there’s so much adrenaline and it’s a net downhill at the start that unreasonable paces feel reasonable. I checked in with my breathing – don’t breathe. I wasn’t. I felt great. These miles felt really good, even though I could feel the sun really heating up. I thought, Holy shit. This might be the day. I took a GU at mile 5, and drank at every single water stop. I was taking in mostly Gatorade. I wanted to try to stay on top of my hydration. Miles 1-6: 6:47, 6:49, 6:46, 6:47, 6:51, 6:45.
I started feel a bit warm and uncomfortable, but my legs still felt good. I told myself to relax, and to make sure I wasn’t breathing. I slowed down a little, but as I approached the 15K mark I noticed that the effort was creeping in. I was worried I went out too fast because 9.3 miles into a marathon isn’t when you should be feeling effort. I didn’t panic, I told myself to relax and back off. Goal A was still not off the table if I backed off for a few miles, and I know the last 10K is a fast 10K if I can pace myself accordingly. Back off. Miles 7-9: 6:48, 6:53. 6:54.
That was the end of my sub-7 minute streak, but I still held on nicely and felt really good through these miles. I had a good sweat going by this point, and the sun was relentless. My legs felt good, but I felt some general fatigue in my body, likely due to the rising temperatures. We hadn’t hit the hills yet, and I didn’t want to walk up Heartbreak. I took a GU at mile 10 and noticed it didn’t go down too easily. That normally doesn’t happen to me until after mile 20, so I knew something wasn’t quite right.
These are the miles where I think the course gets super exciting. The first 10 miles are great because there are quite a few spectators and the 10K is huge. When you hit mile 12 and see the Wellesley girls out in the masses kissing the runners, the energy is high. These were my favorite girls in Wellesley:
I didn’t take that shot but I’m still laughing at how cute they were. For the record, they had on strapless shirts and little shorts and weren’t naked.
I think the course has some uphill grades in these miles because I always seem to lose some steam here, even with the crowds. Miles 10-13: 7:04, 7:04, 7:07, 7:09.
I came through the halfway point and it’s hard to explain what I was feeling. My legs felt like they wanted to just GO, but my body didn’t agree. I started to feel nauseous and didn’t want to drink anything, even though I was forcing myself to take at least one sip of something at every single water station. Around 14.5, I saw a sign that I vaguely remembered from my Facebook news feed that morning – it was Susan! I’d been following her blog since early fall and met her very briefly at the Runner’s World Half Marathon. I was so excited to see a familiar face on the course and yelled to her. It took my mind off of running for a bit.
I choked down another GU at mile 15. Part of the problem were my flavors: I LOVE the chocolate peanut butter and caramel macchiato, but I wanted something more refreshing since we were being baked alive. Not only was I feeling nauseous and a bit dizzy, but I realized something. I had to go to the bathroom. And it wasn’t just pee, or I would have just peed my pants (wouldn’t be the first time I did that – totally peed my pants on purpose during the bike segment of a half ironman once).
I wasn’t having stomach cramping or anything like that, I just had to go. I’d gone before the race started so I thought that if I ignored it, it would go away. It didn’t. I cruised through mile 17 and it was the first mile where I thought my pace was noticeably slower and I felt uncomfortable. I told myself I would stop at the next porta potty, which ended up being around mile 18. It was good timing, because it was just before I would hit the hills of Newton. I ducked into a porta pot and was out in record time. Miles 14-18: 7:05, 7:23, 7:09, 7:34, 8:03 (bathroom stop).
At this point, I could have achieved that 3:05 but I knew it would mean that the last seven miles had to be perfect. My legs felt like it was a possibility, but my body disagreed. I took the focus off my pace and knew I was likely looking at a Goal B or C kind of day, depending on how my body handled the heat and the hills over the next few miles.
These are the hilliest miles of the race. It feels like you start climbing, and it just keeps coming. One after the other, until finally you reach the top of Heartbreak Hill. At that point it really is all [mostly] downhill from there. While these miles are often not the easiest, the crowds make them so much fun. The amount of people that line this course to cheer on the runners is nothing short of amazing, and each time it keeps me moving up the hill. These were not my fastest miles, but I refused to walk and continued to pass other runners as I looked forward to cresting the hill.
I always think it’s the last 10K that’s fast. In reality, Heartbreak Hill isn’t over until you reach the huge blow up sign at Boston College that tells you The Heartbreak is Over (photo cred: Boston Globe). I look forward to that sight each year!
Even though these are often the hardest miles in a marathon, these are my most favorite miles of this race. While the weather was not ideal for running, it was perfect for a bunch of college kids to be out drinking their faces off and cheering. That certainly makes it all a whole lot more fun for the runners in the last miles of the marathon. I begrudgingly took a GU at mile 20 even though it was the last thing I wanted. What I really wanted was a beer – and there are usually people handing it out on that course – and I couldn’t FIND ONE! I drink beer around that point every year and with the way I felt, it would have been a welcomed change from the sugary drinks and GU. Miles 19-21: 7:25, 7:46, 8:08 (the top of Heartbreak – whew!).
I came around mile 22 and I heard someone scream, “GO ALLISON!” It took me a few seconds to realize I was Allison, and they were cheering for me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a familiar face and yelled back to them. It was my friend Missy’s sister, Julie, and her husband Tom. They live up there and somehow picked me out. It took my marathon brain about a mile to figure out who it actually was.
My legs were still moving and weren’t too fatigued (thank you, HANSONS!) but my body was tired. The best way to explain how I felt was almost like I was in a fog. I was aware of everything going on around me and I was enjoying the crowds, but it was like I was watching it on TV or something. It was the strangest feeling. I continued to feel nauseous and dizzy, so I took a GU at 20 and again at 23 to help me through that final push down Beacon street. I came through mile 24 and saw my husband, Ashley and Mike out cheering.
I knew they were standing on the left side of the course. I can never remember exactly what mile they are positioned at, so I usually start running down the left side and focusing on the crowds after mile 22. Since I was feeling foggy and dizzy, having something to focus on really helped keep me moving. I spotted them, and it perked me up. About a half mile later, I saw my Uncle Dennis cheering for me. I was almost passed him when it registered: oh hey, I know him!
That last mile and a half was really like a blur. I crested the last “hill” (really just an incline on an overpass) and passed the infamous Citgo sign. I felt like I was going to pass out but knew the finish line was so close. I spotted the “One Mile to Go” sign, put my head down and focused on just putting one foot in front of the other without tripping. Miles 22-26: 7:26, 7:24, 7:48, 8:00.
The thing about Boston is, when you make that right onto Hereford and turn left onto Boyleston, it doesn’t matter what you feel like. I glanced at my watch and knew today, the only PR I would run was a course PR. It was good enough for me. I turned the corner and, oh, could that finish line be any further away? It didn’t matter. As much as I wanted to reach it, I also didn’t want it to be over. This is the moment I wait all year for. This is my happy place. My runner’s high. There was nowhere else in the whole world I’d rather be. Even in less than favorable conditions, I was sad that it was about to be over. Last .2: 7:12 pace.
I crossed the finish line and walked out of the way, off to the right side and squatted down. There are medics everywhere waiting to help the runners, so one of them (Jamie) made a beeline over to me and asked if I was okay. I told her I just needed a minute, but as I stood up I started to fall over so she grabbed my arm. She wanted me to get in a wheelchair but I said I just needed to walk, so she held my arm and walked me to the medical tent. I sat for a few minutes because I really thought I was going to puke. A few minutes earlier, I was finishing the race and unbelievably hot, but now I felt extremely chilled and had goosebumps.
She got me a water (the last thing I wanted) and made me drink a bit of it while asking me questions to get me to talk and see if I was coherent. I really think I just needed a minute because I stood up again and still felt foggy but I could walk. She walked me over to get my medal, and I grabbed a Mylar blanket. She finally felt satisfied that I could handle it on my own, so I headed to gear check. I changed into some dry clothes, but I was still chilled. I was chilled for the whole train ride back to Brookline and until I got into a hot shower. Not sure what that was all about since it was so freaking warm all day long.
I am extremely proud of this race. It wasn’t the race I trained for, but it also wasn’t the conditions I’d hoped for. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to marathon running. You spend months training and hope that every variable works in your favor. There are so many variables you can’t control and can go wrong. I might be good enough to run a 3:05 or faster when the conditions are favorable. I am not good enough (yet) to run it when something is not going my way.
I don’t say that to sound negative, because really I mean it to be positive. While the past 18 weeks of training were focused on a specific pace that I did not run, I can say that it undoubtedly prepared me for less than ideal race conditions. There was a time where those conditions would have caused me to finish the race in whatever I could manage, and simply dream of the day I could run a 3:11 in good conditions.
Despite my best efforts to run a PR, this still ended up being my fastest marathon in two years, and my fastest time I’ve ever run in Boston. A lot of people asked me if I was okay, but how can I be unhappy with it? I am beyond grateful that I was healthy and able to make that trek from Hopkinton to Boston for my sixth consecutive year. Being part of that field is a privilege and something that I will never take for granted. A PR would have just been icing on the cake. I left Boston on Monday after the race, and my heart was full of joy.
For most people in Boston this year, the race was a struggle. It was a hard day for everyone – not just me. Is it bad that I take some solace in knowing that we all struggled? It’s not that I want to see anyone struggle, but I’m glad we all struggled together. It demonstrates the strength and resilience of our incredible running community, something we take pride in. We are bold. We are strong. Boston Strong!
Any good stories from Marathon Monday?