Boston Marathon 2015: “no place I’d rather be”

NOTE: This has been sitting as an almost-complete draft since June…going to drop this one here and get on to the present! 

Race morning began much the same as it did last year: shuttle van from the hotel to Boston Common, shuttle school bus from Boston Common to Hopkinton. Unlike last year, I knew no one on either shuttle, so I ended up talking about running and the Boston Marathon in general with two middle-aged men who had each ran Boston at least ten times, which made for interesting conversation. I did most of the listening. It was quite nice to be inside a vehicle for as long as possible because…it was going to rain. It was all anyone could talk about at first, yet it was what no one wanted to talk about. The sky was overcast but not dark, and I still believed there to be hope in the rain holding out, or at least keeping to a minimum.

The rain got worse. I found a dry spot in a white tent in Athlete’s Village and huddled there…for two hours. It was a long two hours, let me tell you. I was desperately looking around for someone I knew, because I’d rather talk for two hours to shake away my own thoughts, but I knew it would be best to stay out and remain somewhat dry and warm. So, i sat/laid down for two hours, taking in some calories and water periodically. Finally it was time to leave, but we just walked down to the next area before the start, where we did more waiting. It was very different from last year. I somehow missed the announcement about my corral walking to the start despite all the waiting, so I had to run and jump into the back of the corral. I didn’t realize this until hours after the race, but my watch didn’t even have a satellite yet, so it was just estimating my first five miles based on cadence (I think). Oops. I knew starting at about 9:00 that I did not feel 100%. Aside from my feet being absolutely numb from being damp and cold, acid reflux had started growling in my chest. I may have mentioned it a few times before, but I have been having major issues with this off and on for the past seven years. I have suspected a hiatal hernia, but then I always equate it to stress and stop running at night and it goes away. Regardless, it was happening at the start. The start of the Boston Marathon. It has never affected me in a morning race from the very beginning, so I was terrified starting this race. I have turned back after two miles on normal training runs due to this problem. This was the Boston Marathon.

My pace hovered in the 7:30s and 7:40s for awhile. My legs didn’t really want to go faster and my chest was getting tighter and tighter. Not good. During mile six I decided I really needed to pee and it would change my life if I stopped to do so. Yes, mile six at Boston I went into a porta potty just to pee. Who does that? The good news: I have a new bathroom PR. I think I ran around 7:22. Eventually I recognized that my legs did in fact feel pretty good, so I tried desperately to focus on that fact and not the awful feeling in my chest I had felt so many times before. I tried two times to make small talk with runners around me and failed. Before Wellesley, there was a poster stuck to a telephone pole that read: “Congrats [name], you’re halfway there!” I said, “I don’t like that poster!” jokingly, since we were running the eleventh mile…hardly halfway in a marathon! The guy next to me just replied, “Well, don’t believe everything you read” not in a very amicable tone. What? Okay. I passed him and moved along.

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This was somewhere mid-race; my soaked cotton gloves were still on. I did not dress (actually, pack) properly for this race, even by my standards.

Until I decided to go to the bathroom again in the next mile. Come on Meghan, I scolded myself. Really? Twice for non-emergencies? Despite feeling like I never wanted to ingest anything in the near future, I stuck with my plan. I was not about to feel like this and bonk. At least leave me a little hope, body. I had Gatorade at every water stop except for the ones I just didn’t feel like grabbing anything (just a couple) until mile 18 or so, and had gels about 60 minutes in and at mile 14. Let’s just say I did not look forward to them. During and after Heartbreak Hill, I ditched the half of the PowerGel I picked up and switched to water.

At some point near Heartbreak, some people were under a tent blasting the song “No Place I’d Rather Be” by Clean Bandit. When the song came out months before, I remembered liking the beat and all, but like so many other songs about love and relationships, not loving it because I couldn’t relate to the lyrics. Now that it was playing during the race, I made it context appropriate and just adapted it to being about running. I was certainly feeling “a thousand miles from comfort,” dry-heaving every five minutes, wondering if or when my quads would die, and getting totally pounded by the rain. Playing the chorus repeatedly in my head the rest of the race, I took consolation in reminding myself I loved running and I trained hard for this, therefore this will be fine. There is no place I’d rather be. It was a little comical, thinking back at the scene, how the lyrics contrasted the race. And also they might have simultaneously fit.

Desperately searching for my family to have something to look forward to...surprised I didn't have a sore neck, after looking at this picture!

Desperately searching for my family to have something to look forward to…surprised I didn’t have a sore neck, after looking at this picture!

From mile 20 to 22, I desperately searched for my family. The same crew was all back again: my mom, dad, two youngest brothers, and my grandmother, who was never a runner but is the biggest track and marathon fangirl you ever did see. I needed something else to focus on. They ended up getting to their spot just in time from the T, around mile 22.5. It worked out that they were farther up than I thought, because it got me through the hills on a mission. Something else happened right after Heartbreak…I started to feel better. I was no longer dry heaving out of necessity every five minutes (half Ironman deja-vu but I didn’t stop…oh wait I didn’t write about that…). The best part: my legs were fine. I was a little nervous my glutes were about to lock up like my quads did last year after Heartbreak on the downhill, but they stayed in check.

So, the game changed. No more acid reflux/dry-heaving awfulness + relatively fresh-feeling legs = go time. I waited twenty-one miles to start running the marathon I knew I could run. Not what I expected, but I’d take it over the whole thing falling apart. It still could, I thought.  But let’s run with this feeling and see what happens. Suddenly, everyone running in front of me was in my way. This was a stark contrast to the year before, when I felt like I wasn’t moving at all and was utterly jealous of how fast others could manage to move. I figured that if I could keep up the increased pace through the finish, I could still break 3:20. I saw Steve cheering with his friends at mile 24.5 for another boost, and kept rolling to Boylston St. It was a great feeling to finish feeling relatively strong at Boston, but the rain and the smaller crowds still made Boston 2014 a happier moment in my book. Not to mention the hypothermia after the race due to not getting warm clothes until over an hour after I stopped moving. I won’t write much about that. Shivering in damp, tight clothes after running 26.2 miles was truly awful. I promised myself to do bag check next time, regardless of the weather.

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I ended up finishing in 3:19:28, which was a two minute, thirteen second PR from the previous year. But, I had trained harder and I was stronger, and I knew had I not felt so sick I would have run much faster. The main reason I wasn’t pleased with the race, though, was that I didn’t have fun. I wanted to have fun, and I tried, I really did! But I didn’t have fun. The acid reflux felt horrible – as in, if it was a normal run I would have had to lay down for hours to feel better, yet it was during a marathon. Even when I tried to focus on my legs and the atmosphere, people around me were negative. When I did in fact finish strong, I immediately went into survival mode from the cold rain and nearly forgot all about it. My family was slow to get to me, and then plans were complicated after and I didn’t even have a place to take a shower, all the while feeling nauseous. I really tried to have fun. Sometimes, it doesn’t work.

Faking it. Though I guess I was happy in between finishing and getting cold - short window!

Faking it. Though I guess I was happy in between finishing and getting cold – short window!

Boston results

So that was that, Boston 2015.

I’m publishing this now so I can write a race recap that is much the opposite. 🙂

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New Jersey Marathon Race Report

Have you ever had a dream in which you are running your first marathon, and you’re getting towards the end when it should start feeling rough…when you realize you actually feel great? Then, you pick up the pace and still feel great, and you fly in towards the finish line, crush your goals, and feel on top of the world?

This is the story of when that dream happened to me in real life, at the New Jersey Marathon on Sunday. Pop some Nuun and take a bathroom break, this might will be a lengthy one.

I slept well the night before the race. Mainly because sleeping is one of my favorite things and I am pretty good at it. Anyway, Brennan was picking me up at 5:30 AM, so I had my alarm my three alarms set for 4:30-4:45 (call me paranoid but I do this daily…refer to sleeping comment). I had a little oatmeal. My stomach was feeling a little off; I wasn’t hungry when I woke up and I would have preferred to be, just to avoid the chances of feeling full or bloated. So, I think I only had a few bites. Before all my long runs in training, I’d had just one or two gels for “breakfast,” but I wanted more in me before the marathon, so I thought my old go-to, oatmeal, was a good choice. Martin was riding with us, so he met us at my house, and we were on our way at 5:30. I was so glad Brennan was driving me, not just so I didn’t have to drive back, but so I could stay motivated and excited by my biggest fan. 🙂 The three of us chatted all the way to the shore, and “nervous” was not a feeling that ran through me at all. No quickened heart rate, no sweating, no panicking. I had the unfamiliar sensation that all I needed I would find out there on the course right within me. That was ridiculously corny and deep, but it’s the only way to describe it.

We hit no traffic, and parked at the Monmouth Park Racetrack without a hitch. We hit up the porta potties and then said goodbye to Brennan. “See you at mile eleven!” she called, frantically trying to get her uncooperative phone to connect to Twitter so she could meet up with Jocelyn (spoiler: she never did, unfortunately). Martin and I walked to the parking lot, which was where the bag check trucks were parked and the starting corrals were accessed. It was really empty, but then again, it was a huge lot and an hour before the

How convenient!

start. And it was cold! This was much, much better than it being hot, but my toes were starting to go numb. We wanted to check our bags before lines appeared at the trucks, but we didn’t want to take off our warm clothes. I had made tube-sock arm warmers, but they weren’t going to cut it with this temperature…and they were much shorter than I thought. Solution: go shopping in the dozens of trashbags full of the half marathoners’ discarded clothes! We asked some volunteers if

How’s this for pre-race style?

it was okay, and they said sure. Ingenious. Iscored a Johns Hopkins sweatshirt and Old Navy sweatpants, and Martin snagged a Delta sweatshirt and a big blue blanket with “Happy Holidays 2003” embroidered in the corner. They were perfect, and very warm and cozy. We checked our bags, and were a step closer to getting this thing started! The fact that we could go into the corrals now without a care made me relieved and excited. We weaved our way through people into Corral B. Martin headed farther up in search of the 3:15 pacer, and I found fellow Running Company employee Alex introducing himself to the 3:25 pacer. The guys holding the 3:30 flags were to my right, and the 3:25 guy was slightly behind me to my left. I was next to a group of women who looked around my age, maybe a little older. I ended up talking to the group of runners trying to stick with the 3:25 pacer, even though I had decided not to do that. I have a confession: I was really, really terrified of going out to fast. Everyone told me not to do it – there was no way I wasn’t listening to them. I get really caught up in races, really competitive, and really non-complacent when I’m not running as fast as I think I can. But, this was a marathon, uncharted territory. If experienced marathoners were all giving me this warning, I was going to listen. “So are you running with us?” one woman asked me. “Um…I think I want to start a little behind, I want to not go out too fast so I want to see an eight on my watch the first few miles,” I said. “Then we’re going to go too fast, you should go back.” I explained to her that the 3:30 pacer was currently in front of the 3:25 pacer, so I was just going to start right here. All of this happened before 8:00 AM, mind you. Things sorted themselves out. “Sweet Caroline” played before the start. It may have had something to do with Boston? I’m not sure. We were encouraged to sing the chorus. Then the race began. We shuffled out feet with our fingers hovered on our watches’ “start” buttons for a moment until we crossed the starting line. There was a series of beeps and then we were off! I was able to settle into a normal pace immediately, and I realized I wouldn’t be running this marathon alone; I was with so many runners! I just had to keep it that way the whole time. When I crossed the starting line and the marathon officially began, the strangest thing happened. I almost cried. This was really happening. After all this time, I was here starting my first marathon. And I felt great. I held back the emotions, telling myself to save them for the end when I needed motivation.

The first five or so miles were on residential streets. Some families had set up camp in their driveways, playing music, cheering, and holding signs. Some people were even playing instruments! We fist-pumped and smiled at them, and cheered back! These miles flew by and felt ridiculously effortless. I was holding back the entire time and keeping my pace in check. There was a bridge before mile 6, which was one of the only uphills on the course. It was super short though, and made no difference in my pace. Getting a glimpse of the water was nice. I had been chatting with an older guy for a couple miles, hovering just ahead of the 3:30 pace group, but lost him soon after a water stop. I had an important decision to make when I realized a girl wearing annoyingly loud headphones was running exactly the pace I wanted to run…at first I hung back, but then I passed her…not sure when. I also plotted an escape from a guy with a continuously beeping Garmin.

Miles 1-6: 7:52, 7:46, 7:56, 7:50, 7:37, 7:44. 

One of the guys who comes to our store group runs every week, Patrick, gave me great advice for the marathon: 1.) Make sure you’re always having fun, and 2.) Make a friend out there. Around six miles, I realized I was running alone, but there were two women running just a few steps behind me. Since I had just dropped a 7:37 accidentally, I reeled it in for a few seconds and caught their stride. “I was running all alone – there’s no reason for that when you’re right here!” I exclaimed. The two women, Lauren and Gretchen, ended up

Brennan in all her banana glory (taken from her blog).

being my running buddies for the next thirteen miles. Lauren was wearing a 2013 Boston shirt, and both were from Massachusetts, in their forties. We chatted periodically throughout the race, and the miles clicked by. Lauren told me nutrition is key, and I should take a Gu really soon. I listened to her and had little bites throughout mile eight, even though my energy seemed fine. The next water stop was the first time I took water, just to wash it down. I was really bad at getting the water in my mouth at first…then I learned to fold the cup and was a master. Duh. Approaching mile 10 I heard my name, and turned to see Nick and Hyde (Nick & Kate’s dog)! When we passed the eleventh mile marker, I warned the ladies that we would soon be approached by a rather enthusiastic banana. My mind developed banana-yellow radar, and I could spot Brennan in her suit from really far away. And Amy, ringing the cowbell and holding those awesome signs like a champ. I wasn’t expecting a video, let alone interview, but that’s what I got! It went something like this:

Brennan: “How do you feel?”

Me: “This is so much fun, I feel great!”

Brennan: “You feel great? Can you do this for 15 more miles?”

Me: “Only 15 more miles? Of course!”

Brennan: “See you at mile 24!”

Me: “Okay!”

Miles 7-13: 7:46, 7:48, 7:55, 7:54, 7:45, 7:41

Before the half marathon mark, we went around this little pond thing (see map). When we were running on the far side, two things happened. We picked up two more runners for our little group, a guy, and a girl who looked like she was pushing hard. She was doing well, obviously, but I made it a point to always stay feeling more relaxed than she looked. At the time, I was still feeling comfortable. It wasn’t time, mentally, for me to be uncomfortable, at mile 12. The other thing that happened was I saw the big 3:30 pace group all the way across the lake, entering the loop as we were on our way out. Behind me. I went over to the right to cross over the half marathon timing mat, but apparently the timing system didn’t pick up my time! This is kind of annoying, because the people tracking me were concerned until 30k, and I’d really like to know what it was. My watch was beeping about 0.2-0.3 before the actual mile markers at this point. I realized that I crossed the mat within a second of Lauren and Gretchen, so I just looked up their official 13.1 splits…both 1:43:50. So, I’m going to claim that as mine too if that’s alright. I can’t imagine running alone down this straight stretch of road. The sun finally felt like it was beating on us, and the wind was intermittently blowing…but I hardly noticed, keeping in a rhythm with everyone else.

Little body of water 1.

Then came two other weird little bodies of water to run around. The lead men were passing us on the other side of the road as we approached the first, and somewhere in there I saw Brian (he ended up finishing 18th)! I cheered for him and he gave me two thumbs up. Apparently that’s a runner’s instinct while running, as is further suggested by my video screenshots.

Little body of water 2.

There was an out-and-back to the turnaround in Asbury Park (or Ocean Grove?), during which we had a flurry of crowd support, which was nice! I was still smiling. After little body of water #1, my right hip started to tighten a bit. It felt like my ITB, possibly. It made me want to massage right over the bone, and do pigeon pose. I did the first as best I could while running, but obviously not the second. It never hurt or caused me to slow down though. Ironically, this happened right after I made the announcement to my little running group: “The last time I saw the ocean was when I had a stress fracture in my hip, and was sad, so I came to the shore alone for the day. I’m glad I’m seeing it again now like this!” For a second I thought I jinxed myself, then quickly reminded myself how stupid that was and got over it.

Miles 14-19: 7:49, 7:50, 7:50, 7:45, 7:42, 7:45

The water stop just before coming back to body of water #2 on the way in was a game changer. Not because of water, or Gatorade, or Gu, but because KATE was there! I was so surprised to see her there waiting to run along with me, because she was supposed to run 7:15 pace with Martin for miles 13-23. It turned out that he was off pace at mile 13, so after running with him for awhile, she returned to this spot to run with me. The little bodies of water on the map are throwing me off a bit, but I think that was where I met Kate. I took my last Gu around there, making a total of three, exactly as I expected. She started mentioning “pretending I didn’t run 20 miles and making it a 10k tempo” once we reached 20. I was scared to death of this idea. Was that normal? Is that what people do? Is that what Kate does and her secret to 3:11 marathons?! I wasn’t sure what to do. I assessed the situation: The 7:45ish pace felt good, I’d been holding it for awhile and still felt like I was holding back. My stomach…had not felt good since mile seven, but I wasn’t sure if running faster would have any effect on it. It just felt a little too early to start dropping the pace. I wasn’t sure what would happen. I didn’t want to go crazy and then all of a sudden hit the wall. This was new territory, from 20 miles on….I gradually accepted this idea that I could stand to go a little faster if I was feeling this good. And so it began.

Miles 20-24: 7:38, 7:39, 7:38, 7:39, 7:37

We chatted about random things to pass the miles away, and Kate did a really good job of convincing me that I would be okay and I shouldn’t stop at a porta potty before the one that would be waiting after the finish. We saw Anne cheering somewhere along the 23rd mile, and it made me really happy to see her look so happy to see me! At around 24.5 there was a right turn, which put me on the road closest to where the boardwalk used to be (or maybe it was a temporary paved boardwalk?). As soon as I made the turn I felt okay with pushing even more. Glancing at my watch, I saw I was now running 7:20s. Kate let me go on alone then, and pretty soon I was approaching Brennan the banana and Amy again! They seemed to not expect me coming, as they weren’t looking in my direction and I took them by surprised when I waved at them. Brennan jumped right in and started running next to me. Video interview Part Two happened…and apparently the first thing I said to her was an expression of my fear involving my current porta potty desires. You can watch the video to experience this firsthand (secondhand?), I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I was still having fun and smiling! Brennan asked, “you’re running kind of fast now, aren’t you?” It was true, about thirty seconds per mile faster than the last time she saw me! She stayed with me for almost a mile, and got lots of hoots and hollers for her banana suit! She also yelled lots of things about mermaids and told me the story of her haircut the other day. It was seriously exactly what I needed at that moment. Anything to keep me strong enough to distract me from the fact that my watch was approaching 26.2 far quicker than the finish line was appearing in sight! Basically, I didn’t want to think it was closer than it was, which at this point was significant after apparently not running tangents well enough. If that makes sense. Brennan dropped off to the side, and I was now running on a wide, brick path, which I recognized was definitely where the finish line was! The crowd was off to the left and the ocean to my right, and no one seemed to be running around me. I finally saw the big yellow finish and ran as fast as I could with a huge smile on my face. I heard Brian yelling my name really loudly, and then heard and saw my family finally. I crossed the line, got my medal and water, almost puked, and started walking at last. My family took some pictures of me immediately after I finished, and I think the look on my face says it all.

Miles 25, 26, 0.57 (grr): 7:23, 7:19, 3:55 (6:53 pace)I ran 3:25:02, qualified for Boston by almost ten minutes, never once felt bad, and negative-splitted the race (1:43:50 + 1:41:12) as if I planned it that way. This moment could not have felt better.

I want to reflect on the race much more in a separate post, as this one with “just” the race details is plenty long enough! There is so much more to write, contrary to what you might think. Here are a few more pictures…the running ones to come, since I don’t have any yet (people seemed to like to just take videos of me)!

First, the stats:

How to finish a marathon smiling.

Running Company!

Definitely the best spectator/cheerleader/ runner support crew at the race! Hello, banana suit?! (Don’t worry, there is an official race photo out there with the banana on.)

WHAT A DAY!