Never, ever, did I think the day on which I ran my slowest marathon would be one of the happiest.
But Monday was exactly that: a new personal worst time and a new favorite marathon experience. I can honestly say I have never been as happy during or after a marathon as I was on Monday. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been this purely happy at a race since college. I think I’m still glowing from it (but more likely, it’s the sunburn).
It’s no secret: I like to run fast. I am internally competitive and incredibly driven by time goals. Sometimes I think a bit too much of my happiness depends on my running goals, but that’s a story for a different day. You all know Boston was my big race to break 3:00…believe I mentioned it in just about every post for the past two months. I thought I’d be heartbroken if I didn’t; what could possibly be wrong with me if I couldn’t pull it off in a race? For the 2nd time?
On Sunday before the race, I readjusted my expectations. Well shit, I likely wasn’t going to run under 3:00 or close to it. I didn’t want to be an idiot in this heat, run too fast, and suffer for it. Quite simply, I had to respect the weather and accept the fact I couldn’t control anything but my mindset. I could choose to soak in the experience and remain positive, or dwell in the disappointment and frustration. I chose the former.
We have to run the whole way back?
I met Alex and her friend Neal to board the buses to Hopkinton around 6:20 in the morning. My hotel was a quick 2 minute walk to Boston Common so I didn’t have to travel far. The bus ride was long, and I realized we’d soon be retracing our route by foot. The entire pre-race experience was so much more mellow than my experiences the last 2 years at NYC– the village was calm and non-herd-like, bag check was in close proximity to the waiting area, porta potties weren’t crazy, and we were just fine getting into our starting corral with 10 minutes ’til race time. The relaxed atmosphere certainly soothed any nerves pre-race.
Once we left our shady resting area in the starting village and hit the sun, I started getting hot and nervous. Before bag check, I made the last minute decision to race in a sports bra vs. my CPTC singlet. I’m aware that this sounds really vain, but I didn’t feel comfortable racing in sports bra. Despite being in my best marathon shape running-wise, I’ve gained about 8 pounds since I started this training cycle..and it’s not all muscle. I don’t worry about my weight too much as I always tend to gain during marathon training, and I’d rather be faster & stronger but a few lbs heavier, but this is the highest weight I’ve ever been at in my life. I’m not sure what’s going on (or it could simply be more drinking..ha), but probably warrants a separate post. Anyways, a soggy, heavy singlet felt like it’d be a burden so sports bra it was. And now, I hate every one of my race pictures but will post them on the Internet anyways.
I’m currently without the USB to plug in my watch to get all of my splits, so we’ll just have to go off the official race splits & pace at each of them for now. I’m also too lazy to calculate each individual 5K split so the paces are cumulative.
“Welcome to Hopkinton, It All Starts Here!”
- 5K- 21:36 (6:57 pace)
- 10K- 43:23 (6:59 pace overall)
The gun went off and as soon as we crossed the starting line, I started smiling. This was so cool. Seeing the packed crowd of runners ahead trail down the narrow street was so surreal. The streets/bridges are so much wider in New York City, I hadn’t ever witnessed anything like it. I was running the BOSTON MARATHON! Everything about it was so novel.
Alex and I decided to keep the early splits steady– with a few under 7. We clicked off mile after mile and I felt comfortable aerobically. It took a bit to shake dullness from my legs, and I noticed sweat starting to pour down very early on. We ran through Ashland and Framingham, simply taking in the sights and grabbing fluids at just about every stop. When people are already walking at mile 4, you know it’s going to be a long day.
- 15K- 1:05:30 (7:01 pace overall)
At mile 10, Alex told me she wasn’t feeling great and needed to back off a bit. I didn’t want to leave her since I wanted my running buddy, but she urged me to go ahead. So into the sun and heat I went solo: comfortable, confident, and happy. I knew I could continue to click off that pace easily, since we never really ‘red-lined’ the pace early. I wasn’t in the hole, I was cruising. My pace at 15K was pretty on par with the 5K and 10K marks.
Around mile 11, my stomach really started to bother me. I kinda had to pee when I started and the feeling hadn’t dissipated like it usually does. And the sugary Gatorade was not sitting well. I’m not used to taking in so much Gatorade and sugars while running, but I knew I needed the extra electrolytes to keep hydrated. I started to notice there weren’t very many portapotties along the course and hoped the feeling would pass.
“Kiss me I’m ________”
- 20K- 1:27:39 (7:03 pace overall)
- Half-Marathon- 1:32:59 (7:05 pace overall) – bathroom stop @ mile 13
As we approached the shady streets of Wellesley, someone said, “Can you hear it?” I tuned in and took in the deafening sounds from ahead. It was incredible. As we approached, I drew right and stuck out my hand, high-fiving the entire throng of girls with a ridiculous grin on my face. I actually think I was laughing at this point– were the signs really funny, was I having a blast, or was I already delirious? All three, probably.
After the deafening screams, I still couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling and had to stop to go to the bathroom right before mile 13. I have never stopped during a race before- it’s always been my biggest fear. I was a bit bummed that I lost around 45 seconds, but better to have a happier stomach on a non-PR day than one where time mattered.
Quads, meet hills.
- 25K- 1:53:33 (7:07 pace overall)
- 30K- 2:13:37 (7:10 pace overall)
As we wound through the downhills, my quads started to feel a bit off. I knew it was only going to be a matter of time until the steady pace started feeling a bit harder to maintain. I tried to stay controlled on the downhill to keep my quads intact, but my pace was slowing to around 7:15. I wanted so badly to cruise down the hills, but I knew it was smarter to hold back. There were hills ahead!
My mom was supposed to be stationed at mile 16, but we completely missed each other! I looked for her on the sidelines, but it was so packed and we had pretty poor planning. Once I hit the gel stations at 17, I knew I definitely missed her. My pace slowed as we climbed the Newton Hills, but I just focused on making it up and staying as relaxed as possible.
Hills are not my strength and never have been. Maybe it was the slower pace, but I didn’t think they were too bad. Yeah, they come at a sucky time in the race right after some steep downhills that kinda rip up your quads, but they’re relatively spaced out to allow enough recovery between. I was expecting more back-to-back hellacious climbs.
And all of the sudden, we were on Heartbreak Hill. People were stopping. Spectators shuffling alongside runners, offering water and ice. I just focused on powering up and passing people. Suddenly, I reached the top and broke into the BC crowds and instantly felt a wave of relief! The worst was over.
- 35K- 2:36:28 (7:11 pace overall)
- 40K- 2:59:22 (7:13 pace overall)
The crowds at BC were my absolute favorite. Heartbreak Hill was over and I powered down a sweet, steep downhill. The college kids made you feel like a rockstar. I high-fived and smiled this entire mile and recall clocking a 6:55 down it. I had a second wind!
But that spurt was a bit short-lived, as I continued to coast until I finally hit the wall around mile 23. My quads had been fading bit by bit up until that point, but 23 was where my body really started to shut down and feel the heat. My run felt like more of a shuffle. 7:20 and 7:30 pace was harder to maintain. I tried to grab a gel from my pocket, but my hands & shorts were all wet and it slipped from my hands…and I was too tired to stop and pick it up. I kept pushing forward bit by bit. I saw my CPTC teammates around mile 25 which gave me a boost. I felt myself trying to push the pace, but struggling in frustration to do so. I actually made the conscious decision to stop trying to push faster and simply relax and get to the finish. Time was out the window, so why make it stressful? Relax. Breathe. Enjoy the sights.
Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston…
The turn onto Hereford felt like an eternity, but I started smiling the moment I hit Boylston Street and saw the finish line– there’s my silly grin in the first picture up top. I did it. Here I was. I could still break 3:10? What’s happening? Why do we have to move to the left side? Why can’t I run in a straight line? Should I throw my hands up when I finish? How many guys can I outkick? Why is this the longest .2 miles ever?!
Finish. 3:09:28, 7:14 pace overall. 58th female finisher, 994th overall finisher.
My slowest marathon by 5 minutes. Off my PR by 6, and off my goal time by 10+. I know it could have gone much worse. Even now, I don’t know how I still managed to run this pace in the conditions. Without the stupid bathroom stop, it would have been in the 3:08s. I am proud to say that I ran a smart race. I started conservatively and kept my head on straight, focusing and soaking in the experience: something I don’t always do when I’m gunning for a PR. I’m also proud that my hard training paid off in some capacity.
In 2011, the 58th female finisher ran 2:54; In 2010, 2:56. I realize this comparison is unsubstantiated, but I wanted to see how my performance, relatively, would have fared on an average day. I am confident that a 3:09 in Monday’s conditions is easily a 2:59 or under. While it is a bit frustrating to not have been able to cash in my training and hit that time on Monday, it’s simultaneously very comforting. It confirms that I’m right there, just like I knew I was. I am fit now, and I can be fit again for Chicago in October. My confidence is actually boosted, given what I was able to achieve on Monday and what could have been achieved, speculatively, on a cooler day.
I suppose I only have my two experiences at NYC to compare to, but the crowds in Boston were incredible. Like no other. I preferred the atmosphere of Boston over NYC. Maybe it was the heat of the day, but I loved the throngs of supporters- from little kids with ice pops to the fire department’s cooling tunnels. Everyone came together to make it a race I’ll never forget. I couldn’t have done it without the incredible spectator support, offering ice cubes to stick down my sports bra and cold sponges to soak over my head. Their water was colder than the sun-soaked cups at the aid stations. For a really well-written description of the race atmosphere on Monday, check out this article on Boston.com that sums it up beautifully.
Thank you to those who cheered on Monday & spotted me, including Susan (who wins best spectator as she saw me in 3!!! spots!), Kelly, Lizzy, Lauren, Brenda, the CPTC gang, coworkers Kara and Emily, Erica, and I’m probably forgetting more. And reader Freddie who spotted me at the finish! I could not have done it without your support on the course. And everyone for tracking from afar, and texting, calling, Facebooking, Tweeting, Instagramming and any other method of communication. I felt very, very, very loved and supported before, during and especially after.
On Monday, I reminded my overly stubborn self that running is about so more than PRs; I run because I love it. That pure love and sheer enjoyment drew me into the sport and has kept me here for 11 years. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. I hope I haven’t become too robotic and numbers-driven to forget that. I am so proud of my 3:09, and happy to say it’s not always about the numbers. Sometimes, it’s simply about enjoying the run.
And of course, celebrating with drinks & friends after.
And now, decompressing for a week before jetting out to CA for the Big Sur Marathon as part of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. Big Sur’s hilly course is not conducive to a PR, so I won’t be gunning for sub-3 there as a redemption/’B’ race as a few friends suggested. Even if it was a flat, fast course, I’d still just run it relaxed. My body needs a break and I don’t care how slowly we run it. I probably won’t even run more than once or twice before the 29th. If I can steal a memorable quote from the BAA, “this is not a race, it is an experience.”
Thank you again for continuing to follow me along on this journey! While for a different reason than originally planned, Boston 2012 will have an incredibly special place in my heart.