It’s taken me a bit to reflect on this race and summarize the experience, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find the right words. Simply put, Boston marathon weekend was the experience of a lifetime. You just had to be there, and I’m so thankful that I was.
After my ongoing saga of injuries, I knew the race wasn’t going to be a PR attempt or even close to it. In fact, I kind of preferred it that way. It allowed me to soak in the entire weekend as I wanted, without the inevitable pit of nerves in my stomach and serious anxiety that hits before most major races. I felt happy, free, go-with-the-flow.
The Boston Marathon has held a special place in my heart since I first ran it in 2012, despite the ‘speed can kill’ heatwave. That was the first marathon I ran without a specific time goal– the first time I just allowed myself to relax and enjoy the experience. It was amazing. After this year, that space in my heart has grown even larger.
I didn’t truly have a specific time goal going in, but knew that if I was able to handle 20 miles at 8:00 pace the week before, I could probably run that pace for a full 26.2. 3:30– an arbitrary goal– sounded reasonable. I didn’t have a specific plan except to start conservatively and monitor my foot to be sure the tendinitis didn’t creep back in.
I made the rookie mistake of wearing this new pair of sneakers for the race. I know, I know ….what was I thinking?!? But I really, really loved the limited edition New Balance Boston 890v4, and knew the 890v3 had worked for me in the past. Unfortunately, they took about 2 weeks to ship, meaning I only received them the Wednesday before the race, without much time to break in. Well, turns out I hate the 890v4s and they tore up my feet with massive blisters the size of a silver dollar on my arches, and I’ve now lost a toenail (which has never happened to me before…surprisingly.) Needless to say, I’ve returned them and my feet are just now starting to forgive me.
So, onto the race!
The entire morning was so well-executed considering the heightened security and new baggage/gear-check rules. The volunteers were incredibly friendly, and loading onto the buses went seamlessly. We hung out in the starting village for a while, pretty much living on the loooong portapotty lines. Before we knew it, it was time to head to the start. I knew it was going to be a warm day, as I stripped all my throwaway layers on the walk to the corrals. Unfortunately we underestimated how long it’d take to get to the start, and pee one last time, and I found myself jogging into my corral as they counted down 10 seconds to start. Whoops!
Honestly, I thought the start of the race may have been more somber or emotional. Instead, everyone was full of energy and enthusiasm! We were running the Boston Marathon. We were doing this!
It’s tough for me to give a mile-by-mile recap of the race since I wasn’t really executing any specific race strategy, so I’ll let the splits above tell the story.
My pace was a bit faster than I’d like at the start, due to the rolling downhills and energy of the crowds. The beginning miles are one of my favorite parts of the course. Everyone is still packed up and you can see the crowds of people ahead of you as the hills roll up and down. The crowds are high-fiving and screaming, making you feel like a rockstar. You’re still feeling good enough to appreciate their energy. I couldn’t help myself from laughing at this point as I took it all in.
When I felt settled around miles 7 or 8, I consciously tried to reign my pace back from consistent 7:30s (or faster), into more comfortable 7:40s. I wanted to relax, feel good, and keep a steady pace. Once I hit the halfway mark in 1:40:33, I realized I felt good. So good. While my quads were starting to go a bit, my foot felt good and I was very comfortable aerobically. I knew I was well ahead of my “goal”, and started to get a bit competitive with myself…as I always do. My half time indicated I was on pace for a 3:21. Time was irrelevant for me, but I sure love outdoing my arbitrary goals. With that, I decided to pay a bit more attention to my effort and pace, dropping it a bit if I could. And so, I worked to get things down a bit.
It was all sunshine and rainbows until I hit the wave of hills. Maybe I was delusional due to the heat in 2012, but I did NOT remember the hills being as bad as they felt this go around. They just kept coming and coming. Each time I crested the top of one, I swore it was the end of Heartbreak Hill. Sure fooled me. I tried to keep my effort steady up the hills, but my quads were really fading at this point and I just couldn’t make up the time going down the hills as I usually can. With an 8:14 mile split on Heartbreak Hill, I thought the worst was over. I just had to cruise on home and soak in the crowds!
…But I was wrong. Those damn aforementioned shoes were starting to kill my feet. The bottom of my soles felt like they were on FIRE. The final three miles, they felt like they had gone numb. Like blocks. Pain with every step. I actually wanted to cry they hurt so badly, but I’m also a wimp. I felt fine aerobically still, but just couldn’t will my legs to go any faster because my shoes were not cooperating.
And then I reminded myself that I really didn’t care about my time. I did, but I didn’t. It’d be around 20 minutes off my PR, so there was no point in pushing things. In retrospect, I’m kinda mad at myself because the last few miles of the course were the ones I wanted to enjoy the most. Instead, I found myself cursing my shoes and wishing away the last 2 miles. 1000 meters to go felt like an eternity. And that damn incline after the underpass…
And then we turned right on Hereford, Left on Boylston, and all was right in the world. I could see the finish.
I took some time to remind myself about all the effort I put in to make it to this point over the past year. I reminded myself that today was a celebration of strength, unity, resilience, and more. I won’t ever be able to identify with the experience of the Boston bombing victims and their families, and I wasn’t even there in 2013. I cannot begin to empathize with those who were. There aren’t words or actions that will ever fix or change what happened last year. Finishing the race is just a small act. And there I was, medal draped around my neck at last.
Thankfully, I found my friend Meredith right at the finish and we hobbled back to Boston Common together. First, I untied those damn shoes to relieve some pressure on my feet. The walk seemed looooong but finally I reunited with friends. All in all, the race was hot– particularly after training through the polar vortex. The hills all seemed harder than we last recalled. We were all just happy to be done.
And so, we celebrated!
Here is the mile-by-mile playback, too. I always race marathons with autolap turned off, so I manually split by watch at every mile marker. It drives me NUTS to hear the beep before I hit the mile mark, and I only missed one marker around 4/5.
Overall, I’m really, really happy with how it went. 3:23:41 is 20 minutes and 4 seconds off of my PR, and my second slowest marathon ever (but not far behind my slowest of 3:24 at Big Sur.) I was just happy to be out there.
In the month of March, I only ran 7 times– averaging 12 and 25 miles the weeks that I ran. April wasn’t much better, with only 11 runs before the race and a long run of 20 miles only 9 days before the race. Reverse taper? I also did no speedwork or tempos of any type. But my foot felt amazing and I’m pretty sure the tendinitis is finally at bay. Considering that lack of training coming off the injury, I’m really happy knowing that 3:23 is a pretty ‘baseline’ marathon time. That leaves me motivated and encouraged to get in consistent training this summer to take a crack at sub-3:00 again this fall in Chicago.
Beyond times, the weekend was just perfect. I can’t even describe the crowds and energy of the race. There was never a dull moment. The signs were amazing, and I’m pretty sure I high-fived at least a hundred kids on the sidelines. The screaming girls at Wellesley were even better than I remembered and I high-fived nearly each and every one of them with a smile plastered on my face. The crowds at BC after Heartbreak Hill still made you feel like a rockstar. I remember seeing a sign saying “MEB WON! YES, REALLY!” and getting an extra boost. I still stand firm that the crowds at Boston are like no other, even better than NYC. Families cheering in their front yards is authentic, homey, all-American.
The only time I teared up a bit was after the finish, as we exited the chute to walk towards Boston Common. A man was shaking the hands of everyone that exited, saying firmly, ‘Thank YOU for running today.’ It was so genuine and emotional. Boston needed this race to go on, and being a part of it was something I will always remember.