(This one’s a little long, but it’s hard to describe a 26 mile race in one paragraph.)
The start to the race had a few hiccups, such as getting lost on the way to the parking garage in the Back Bay (remember it has been ten+ years since I lived in Boston and I couldn’t remember every exact route, including the correct way to get on the Mass Pike from Storrow Drive). When we finally did park our car, we had about a mile to walk to the Boston Commons, where we caught our bus to Hopkinton. This meant no time for coffee, only a minor glitch in the grand scheme of things. Though we made it to the buses on time, Jodi and I were indeed among the last to leave downtown Boston for the Burbs.
After arriving in Hopkinton about an hour later, we both needed to go to the bathroom. The lines were longer than imaginable, and though I joked about it taking us till the start-time to earn our turn at the port-o-john, this is indeed what happened. It was well after 10 as we raced over to the buses to drop off our bags. Then we had about another ½ mile walk to the start (Did I mention how cold and windy it was? We were freezing and wearing giant garbage bags over our clothes to stay warm).
When we arrived at Rt. 135 where the runners lined up, we looked up to see there was just over one minute until the race started. And we had not even arrived at our corral yet. When we did sneak in, the race officially began (though we probably stood in line 15 minutes before we crossed the start line).
I ran Boston twice in the nineties – 1996 and 1998 – by raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and I didn’t remember there being as many participants as there was this year. I believe there were 25,000 participants in total. That’s a lot of folks for a narrow road through Hopkinton and Ashland. The first few miles were largely spent weaving in and out of people, trying not to get stuck behind someone too slow, but also trying to avoid a crash (which almost happened to me twice later in the race).
But back to the cold and wind. A photographer had warned me Friday at the expo that a head wind was predicted on race day. And for those of you not familiar with the Boston marathon course, a head wind is a bad thing because the course runs West-East for the entire 26-mile distance. So yep! The prediction came true and the winds were estimated at 10-20 mph gusts during the entire race. But I’m not complaining too much because the rain held out till after we were finished. And for that I am very thankful!
The first 6 miles was predominantly downhill, so I had decided to stick an 8:30 pace to take advantage of it, despite the thick crowds (my goal was an average 8:45 pace). My strategy was to speed up a bit on the downhills, slow down for the uphills, and walk a bit more than usual – all in order to maximize how much oxygen I would intake. I think the strategy worked, as it was the first time I didn’t hit a wall at mile 20. But more on that later.
It was all very strange not to remember the race course and scenery much at all, as I could scarcely remember what town would come next on the route. It certainly gets prettier and prettier as you get closer to Boston. And it’s fun when you see a man on the side of the road with a chalk board telling runners the score of the Red Sox game which was taking place during the marathon.
One real drag (other than losing Jodi at mile 6) was that somewhere around mile 8 or 9, I accidentally turned my Garmin watch off. I happened to notice it wasn’t running, but I didn’t know how long it had been off. And I also didn’t take note (when it actually was working) of the time differential between the race clock and my watch. The net of all this is that I had NO idea what my time was. Not till after I called my husband after the race to see how I did.
I also couldn’t seem to add the minutes and seconds at each mile to monitor my pace. Apparently, my brain turned off and I was not able to add numbers. Not to mention, around mile 10, I started to glance at my Garmin to see what pace I was running at that moment. I remember looking down and seeing 10.5 and thinking, “Wow, I really slowed down after the first 10K. But that’s ok. I’ll run what I can and if it’s 10:00 miles, then so be it. At least I qualified to get here.”
Concurrent with the disappointment of my slow pace was the lackluster feeling I had while running. I wasn’t about to pass out or anything, but I simply wasn’t having a “feel good” run. When we ran by the Wellesley gals at Mile 12, the loudest screams, I didn’t get the usual adrenaline rush. And at this point, I just figured I’d run when I felt like running and if I needed to walk, I’d simply do so.
I also kept eating gels. One at mile 6, another at 10, then around 13, then about 16 just before the hills. Another thing I did differently in this race was walk every time I ate one of my seven gels. I’d wash it down, drink some more water and even walk a little more till I caught my breath. (I’ve also learned to choke down the gel like it’s a pill; it’s less nauseating that way. Appetizing? I know.). I even walked a few times when I drank water without the gel accompaniment; so in total, I probably walked 9-10 times. Did that make a difference at the end? I’m not sure.
Before I got to the hills, I think it was around mile 13-14 as we were starting to leave Wellesley, there was a big, unexpected (and unremembered) downhill. For some reason, I started doing my usual “take advantage of the downhill and speed up a bit” and suddenly I felt a little better. Maybe it was the gel or maybe I just had a new wave of energy, but I felt better. I looked down at my watch and saw a pace of 13.5 and thought, “OK. Now something is wrong with my watch because I know I’m not running this slowly.” (I also couldn’t figure out why Jodi wasn’t passing me, so I started thinking perhaps she had done so earlier and I had not seen her because of the crowds). And then it dawned on me. I was looking at the total miles and not the pace on my watch. Does that tell you a bit about how you start losing your mental capacity on long runs when you train religiously with this watch all winter?
We finally turned off Rt. 135 onto Rt. 16 (took longer than I remembered to get there) and passed the T-station at Woodland Hills. I had a pleasant memory rush of all those Thursday nights running with my dog Shelby and other Dana Farber volunteers into the Back Bay (and into the Elliott Lounge, where Shelby was promptly the first to be served with water). Wow. What fun times those were and what an amazing organization! The good news was, “OK, only 8-9 miles to go. I could do this easily years ago. So I’m almost there.” Someone running beside me was saying, “Now we can start counting down.” And so mentally I started thinking the race was going by pretty fast, even though it wasn’t my best run on record. I’d been counting in two mile increments since the start, saying, “OK, two more.” And “OK, two more.” Believe me, you’ll create a lot of mind games along the route of a marathon to get through it.
Just before turning onto Comm Ave in Newton (gel down the hatch), I turned on my music. It was hard to hear it, however, over the crowds of people lining the street. I was pretty overwhelmed by the crowd support for the rest of the run. There were folks everywhere, cheering people on, handing out food, water and vasoline. Maybe it was like this years ago and I’ve learned to appreciate it more in my old age or since I’ve moved away from the area. The race has such tradition and people support the runners with amazing enthusiasm, regardless of how crummy the weather is. It is AMAZING!
The first hill was long. Not so much steep, but it lasted longer than I remember. And it has a second little blip I almost mistook as the second hill. The crowd helped the climb. Amazing what adrenaline will do when you’re body and mind are fatigued. And the subsequent downhill was a nice sight and a good way to recover.
The second hill did not seem that bad to me at all, and when I finished, all I could think was, “One more hill to go and I’m home free.” I ate another gel anyway, in case I needed a boost up Heartbreak. The Newton Hills are actually spread over about 3 miles, so you have time to recuperate in between. In addition, the crowds seemed to get louder and louder as we got closer to Boston College. Maybe I was running in the middle of lots of BC students, but they were amazing, even louder than the Wellesley girls.
I thought the last hill would be harder than it was and when I got to the top, I thought, “There must be another one.” But then I saw the little town square near BC and knew the hills were behind me. YIPPEE! Downhill the rest of the way, just like coming out of a long, hilly run near Boise.
Before I left Newton, though, I heard the loudest screams of the day. At first I assumed it was some really hot BC gals running beside me and the boys were showing their support. But I decided to turn and look (which I rarely do, because I am usually so focused) and saw Dick Hoyt pushing his crippled son. He was walking, in fact, and looked very old. Thinking back on previous races where he had passed me, I was saddened at this sight and got tears in my eyes. I was so excited to see the crowd supporting him. What an amazing man and unbelievable tradition.
Just before I turned onto Chestnut Hill Ave, I decided to blast my music and focus on my tunes for the remainder of the race. About that time, my random selection played the Dixie Chicks, “I Never Follow.” Given this is my theme song, and reminds me of why/how I ever lived in Boston anyway, I sang out loud, bad voice and all (I knew no one would hear me anyway) and got another charge of adrenaline. Your inhibitions definitely decline with fatigue!
Even though I didn’t know how long my watch had been off, I started making a guess that it had been about 10 minutes. And when doing the math (much easier when you are counting backwards from 4 hours), I started becoming aware that I might indeed qualify for next year’s Boston. This also contributed to an energy surge!
Once onto Beacon, I was counting the miles till I would see my friend Marcia in Coolidge Corner. In between, I could see the Prudential and Hancock Towers near the finish and knew the end was in reach. Though my legs hurt and I was tired, I still had my wherewithal. I can’t describe it. It’s the first time in 11 marathons that I was coherent at this point in the race.
When I saw Marcia and her daughter Caroline at mile 24, I got another charge. It was SO good to see a familiar face and get a friendly hug. I couldn’t believe how good it made me feel!
Then there it was. The Citgo sign! I knew I was close and that I would qualify for next year’s race, and I was thrilled to see the scenery in front of me. I really wanted to run the last two miles listening to Coldplay, because this had been my marathon training CD. I couldn’t find Viva la Vida on my iPOD to save my life, so I stopped to walk again, for what felt like a minute, till I found the darn thing.
From there, it was sweet sailing. Between the crowds screaming and giving high fives, my music blaring and the notion I was going to qualify again, I knew nothing was going to stop me. I also couldn’t believe how coherent I was – what an amazing thing to notice the scenery at the end. AND not get passed by 700 runners in the last stretch like I usually do.
With a mile left, if my “watch off” calculations had been correct, I was going to finish the race in under 3:50. So I started really pushing myself. I couldn’t believe it. I kept looking at my watch and seeing an 8:00 pace and thinking, “I am really doing this and not about to pass out.” (Bear in mind my last mile is usually a 12:00 pace!). The scenery was amazing. Newbury Street, the crowds, the cheering. I was beside myself. Just before I turned onto Bolyston, “Strawberry Swing” was playing. It was the first time I really listened to the words, specifically the chorus, “it’s such a perfect day,” and thinking to myself, “How appropriate, even with the head winds.” (“…wouldn’t want to change a thing…”) It was so great to be in Boston, and I felt so blessed to be able to run this race. I definitely had an out of body experience, and I just kept saying prayers because I felt so incredibly fortunate and blessed.
After catching a glimpse of the finish line (and although it was bit further away than I’d hoped), I caught a deep breath and took in the sights. Saying “thanks” to the Sky about 10 times, I finally took off my ear phones so I could soak in the sounds.
I finished! Though my watch arithmetic was off by five minutes and I didn’t break 3:50, I ran a 3:54 and qualified for Boston again. It was great to have a wonderful finish (if feeling like crap could be considered wonderful!).
I can’t explain why I do these crazy races and put myself through such rigor and pain, but I also can’t describe how it feels during last ½ mile and after crossing the finish line. What seeing the people and hearing the crowds does for me. What a feeling of accomplishment comes over me.
And I love Boston! My time living there will always hold a special place in my heart and life. As will my friends who still live there.