While my quads have finally began to feel like they didn’t run a marathon less than two weeks ago, I still hold all the memories of my first Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 as if they were brand new. So without further ado…here’s how it went.
Race morning proceeded without a hitch. I arrived in Boston on Saturday, and it was nice to have an extra whole day to chill, since Saturday involved a lot of trains and walking, but it was starting to feel like a big waiting game – I wanted to get on with it! There was a free shuttle for runners from the hotel in Quincy to Boston Common. We all chatted off our nerves, and it was then that I received my first “small world moment” (of several) that day: two men on my van were members of the Raritan Valley Road Runners (somewhat local club) in New Jersey! This whole morning, pre-race, felt like I made several good friends only to walk off and not see them again: in bathroom lines, on the van, in Athlete’s Village, etc. I suppose that’s just a reflection of how friendly runners are, and the spirit we all shared toward this incredible day. Once at Boston Common, I found my friend Melissa, who had told me she’d be wearing a white sweatshirt. Yeah, I have skills like that, apparently. We boarded a bus together, where we shared stories with excitement and tried not to think about how we were a little too hydrated at the time. Athlete’s Village was just as epic as I’d imagined – hardly room to walk, with runners spread out on blankets and clothes all over the grass, a big white tent with hardly anyone underneath because the sun felt nice at the time, and porta-potties for days lining the sides of the huge area. In one bathroom line I spotted a friend I’d worked with at a cross country camp, here for the first time as well (she went on to run 3:07:04!), and in another I chatted it up with some strangers. As we were being called out of the Village by wave and corral, I started to look for my aunt after ditching my outer clothes, since we were only one corral apart. Sure enough, as was the pattern that day, I found her as soon as I started looking. We took the long walk to the starting line together, and it was really great to be able to wish each other good luck as we finally parted ways. As we were walking, I heard someone say my name. I turned around to see Lauren, who I had just been talking about because she helped me so much, who had guided me through 13 miles of the New Jersey Marathon last year! What a crazy thing – to find her among all these people, walking to the starting line (I ended up seeing her again around 10k I think)! I couldn’t help but be overcome by the magic surrounding this race at that moment. It was incredible.
Wave two took off, and my corral (5) ended up crossing the line about four minutes later. I focused on taking it all in and being really comfortable – hardly working – for the first six or seven miles. I could see why it was easier said than done – here were all these people in all these little towns, shoulder to shoulder on the curb, shouting for thirty thousand plus runners traversing through their neighborhoods, holding signs and clanging bells. Sitting on roofs, blasting music, and having parties. We were the show. How cool is that? I think I did a pretty good job of not working much yet, I felt really relaxed…though I realized it was a bit warm for my liking. Miles 1-6, Hopkinton & Ashland: 7:40, 7:38, 7:32, 7:33, 7:42, 7:32.
Once I got through 10k, I felt things somewhat level out; that is, I didn’t feel like I was doing downhill as much and I could open up a little more if it still felt easy. So I did. I took half of a Gu at mile 7 and finished it at the mile 8 water stop. Mile 7 was also the first water stop where I had water. The 15k had a timing mat and a camera, and was positioned right by a big body of water, which was nice. Every time I went over a timing mat I thought of all the people tracking me, and it made me stay strong, and also excited that things seemed to be going well. Excited for the rest of the race, too. Around mile 12 we passed a sign that said Entering Wellesley, and I thought immediately to keep an eye out for my college cross country and track coach, who had recently moved to the Boston area and was coaching the teams at Wellesley College. Sure enough, as soon as I thought to look for him, I saw him and his family cheering on the right side of the road. I yelled his name and waved, and he and his wife cheered back! that gave me an extra boost, just thinking back on how I was constantly injured in college and now I’m here, running the Boston Marathon and feeling strong and healthy. I honestly don’t know if I would have thought I’d be here, two or three years prior. I wanted to, yes, but like all other running goals of mine from college, it seemed but a dream. I think Wellesley might have been one of my favorite parts of the entire marathon. Not just for the entertaining signs along the road, i.e., all the reasons the runners should consider kissing the girls, but it was also when I started feeling even better. It was also in the shade, I realized later. It was a sunny day, and while it wasn’t “hot” by any means…after all the cold long runs I did this winter and spring, it certainly started to feel quite balmy as the race went on. Miles 7-12, Framingham & Wellesley: 7:26, 7:28, 7:28, 7:30, 7:29, 7:21.
I passed through the half marathon in 1:39:08, which I was content with. I knew it was far from being the real “halfway point” of the race, so I chose not to think of it like it was. I did another “Gu mile” from 13 to 14. By mile 15, I was starting to feel that awful feeling I’d experienced on every long run that I was really, really hoping to avoid during the race…the having-to-use-a-bathroom feeling. By mile 16, it was really bad. I felt really good otherwise, and so I weighed by options. I decided I would stop (and I really promised myself I wouldn’t) if and only if 1. if it would allow me to actually enjoy the rest of the race and run faster later, 2. it would only take seconds, and 3. if it wasn’t out of my way and there was no one in a porta-potty when I approached it. Mile 16 was a big downhill I didn’t anticipate, and because I was thinking so much about my emergency bathroom plan and not my pace, I dropped a 7:16. During mile 17, I spotted my opportunity in the distance and knew that I had just accidentally put some seconds in the bank anyway…so I took it. I got right back on pace and prayed that I didn’t loose too much time. I’m still not positive how long I was in there, but I ran a 7:44 17th mile, so I’m guessing twenty seconds tops. I’m pretty impressed with that, just saying…so it was probably worth it. Miles 13-18, Wellesley Hills, Woodland: 7:20, 7:25, 7:26, 7:16, 7:44 (bathroom!), 7:30.
I knew the Newton hills were coming, and all I could do was stay relaxed and hope that all the hills I did on every single long run would get me through them in one piece. The PowerGel station was during mile 17, but I didn’t want to take one just yet. I grabbed a vanilla gel and held it until well into mile 18. I was heating up quickly and the last thing I really wanted was to put anything sticky and sweet into my mouth. But I knew I should, because two gels probably would not be enough for the rest of the race. I sucked it up and ate it between miles 18 and 19, but I might have left some in there before tossing it aside at some point during mile 20. I had started taking some Gatorade too after the half marathon mark, I think. I knew my family would be at a point near the closest T station to mile 21, so I used that to get through this stretch mentally. The strangest thing happened as I approached this point…the thought that it was almost over popped into my head. Months and months of training and anticipating, and mile 21 was upon me already. Wow. Heartbreak Hill, as a standalone hill, is not that bad. Throw it into any of my long runs this year, and it would not be the toughest hill. Its location in the marathon is pretty cruel, however. I didn’t slow down horribly on it, but the main issue I had with it was its aftereffects…. Miles 19-22, Newton: 7:29, 7:40, 7:59, 7:26.
I thought I bounced back well and would feel fine, avoid the wall and such, since I ran 7:26 for the 22nd mile. Little did I know, sufferfest awaited me, in the form of a quad-bonking zombie march down Beacon Street. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, even on paper. But, it felt bad. Worse than anything I’ve ever felt on a run. I was also mentally concerned because I really didn’t think this would happen to me. I thought I did everything right! Trained my quads to be as strong as possible, went out easy, tried to be light on my feet on the downhills. Everything! Why did I still feel like this?! I felt like I had no control over my pace, but if I did, I would have been nervous to try to go any faster in fear of my quads just totally shutting down on me. I couldn’t walk. It would have been so, so easy to stop and walk. I already felt like I was hardly moving. But I couldn’t. I had to just keep moving. If this was the pace that would allow me to do so, I needed to just do it. Just get there. I tried embracing the cheers from the people yelling my name, which I wrote on my arm for this exact purpose. I smiled inside when I saw a guy holding up a sign that said, “MEB WON.” I watched the people encourage the physically impaired athletes rolling alongside me in their chairs. Tried to soak it all in. To keep moving forward. As I went up and over the overpass by Fenway I had walked over many times while cheering the past couple years, I tried to think about how much I wanted to be out here running in years past, how I couldn’t wait for my turn. And about the thousands of people to whom running Boston only seems like a dream right now. And I kept going, because I know that they wouldn’t want me to stop.
I saw a turn up ahead, and knew it was the turn onto Hereford. Almost there. The roaring crowds must have injected some more resistance to lactic acid in my quads, because I did apparently manage to pick up my pace as I turned right onto Hereford and left onto Boylston. I looked up to see it up ahead at last, the finish. It seemed far away but I kept my head up the whole time, for the first time since before that awful feeling overcame me. While it seemed far, I knew this moment, the time spent here on the final straightaway, was not a moment to just get through, but rather to live out as best I could. I crossed the line with a smile, or at least, what seemed like a smile in my mind. Miles 23-26.2, Chestnut Hill, Beacon Street, BOSTON: 7:54, 8:18, 8:23, 8:16, 3:09 (last 0.43).
Official time: 3:21:41.
After the finish line, I actually never felt so bad in my life. My body hated me in the most sincere way. However, I, like everyone else around me, embraced the unique, awful post-marathon feeling with each and every curb and crowded side street. I’ll spare the details.
I’ve had some time to process the race and put into words how I feel about it. Obviously, my goal was to run under 3:20, and I didn’t do that. I was on pace for 3:18 through 30k. I think I was in shape to run a sub-3:20 marathon in general; I know I was. Possibly 3:16-17. But not at Boston. I definitely underestimated the effect that the downhills would have on the last few miles – because honestly, who does a point-to-point 20+ miler in training with the first half all downhill to practice getting through this feeling? I don’t even know where I would do something like that. Which brings me to my next point: I really do think I ran a smart race. There isn’t anything I would change about my splits for the entire race before that bonk. This is slightly concerning, since I don’t know what to do to avoid it happening on that course again. I do have a year to figure it out, though….In the meantime, yes, I am happy with a PR, and I am also glad that I didn’t lose that much time during those last three to four miles (about three minutes I’d say). It definitely could’ve been worse. In the end, I’m 100% happy to have been able to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. In 2012, I ran five miles on the sidewalks along the course while spectating. I was getting over an ITB injury and that was my longest run since coming back. At one point, there was a guy who yelled at me, “next year!” referring to me actually running Boston the following year. I smiled and gave a thumbs up. In my mind, I said, “2014,” because I knew realistically that was my plan. I am so grateful that it actually happened: in 2014, I was running toward the city, on the roads, with over 30,000 other people.
I’ll conclude the “report” in pictures…