Getting to Boston Common
I was asleep by 10:00 p.m. on race eve, but I jolted awake around 12:30 a.m., convinced I had overslept. From there, I slept in fits and starts until my alarm went off at 4:00 a.m.. I hit snooze a couple of times, and then decided to eat my two English muffins (brought all the way from Chicago) and hope that the digestion process would move along before I had to catch the shuttle bus to Boston Common. Miraculously, it did.
I can't say I was really in the mood to race, however. The weather forecast seemed to be rounding into shape. Many weather apps were showing just mid-60s at the start line in Hopkinton, with it cooling down from there as we headed into Boston. Even so, my competitive, PR-chasing side had left the hotel. My coach texted me about the great (well, okay, better) weather forecast, and I told her about my current emotional state. She immediately told me I was conserving energy.
I had forgotten this nugget of wisdom: My coach had told me a few weeks before that I might experience some tiredness on race morning, and to just go with it. Somehow, a marathoner's body often seems to know that the person is about to do something epic, and goes into "hibernation mode" to conserve energy. I told her that she may be right, and that I would find out for sure in Hopkinton.
I shuffled out of the bathroom, quickly got dressed, and made sure my fanny pack and my gallon-size Ziploc bag were both ready to go. Due to security measures put in place since the 2013 bombings, the marathon only allowed runners to bring (1) a fanny pack no larger than 5x15x5 inches and (2) a one gallon clear plastic bag to store extra food or sports drink on the bus ride to Hopkinton. I wish I had gotten a picture of my truly rad kid's fanny pack (purchased at my local Goodwill) that said "Kelly" in glittery letters. Of course, no one could see it under my throwaway sweatpants and hooded sweatshirts (yes, I brought two, as I hate being cold at start lines, and it wasn't supposed to warm up immediately).
|Picture this, but way, way cooler.|
My wave 3 was supposed to board the buses in Boston Common between 7:45 and 8:09, but the big question marks in my race-day schedule were: How long would I have to wait for the shuttle to take me from my hotel to the Common, and how long the ride to the Common would take. I was reluctant to leave the comfort of my hotel room (and private bathroom), but in order to be safe, I arrived in the hotel lobby at around 6:40. A shuttle bus (more like a van, which seemed to hold around 10 people) was just leaving, and the line for the next one was about 10 people long.
I hopped in the line, and was quickly very glad that I did, since the line started growing very quickly behind me. Except for a few people traveling together, everyone was pretty quiet. I took note that there were cabs waiting if the shuttle took forever, and fell into a semi-sleepy state (remember, I was still hibernating). After about 15 minutes, the next shuttle arrived, and I hopped on with no problems.
Boston Common and the Bus to Hopkinton
The shuttle ride was uneventful, except for the tour of the city it afforded out the window! Once I got off the shuttle bus, it was a quick walk to the Boston Common. It was at this moment that it all started to get real: Little old me -- yes, me! -- was about to board one of the famous buses to Hopkinton! After a quick body check to make sure I didn't have to visit one of the plentiful port-a-potties in the Common (amazingly, I did not), I hopped in the line for the buses. It was there that I had my one-and-only conversation with anyone on race morning (I'm an introvert by nature, and an introvert x infinity on race days). Some friendly girls were chatting in back of me, and one mentioned that she qualified at Chicago 2014. Sensing a potential kindred spirit, I said that is where I had qualified, as well. It turned out that she was only 25 (Holy speedy qualifying standard, Batman!), and running had helped her keep her sanity as she went through grad school.
I know I sounded like an old lady with my reply, but I couldn't help myself: "I really wish I would have taken up running when I was in school. I would have been much more sane!" We chatted for a little while longer about the mental health benefits of running, and how much the running scene has exploded since the days of my youth. The line was moving super-quickly though, and soon we were getting our bibs and Ziploc bags checked and funneled onto the buses.
A note about race security: I forgot to take off my fanny pack from around my waist, and they did not bother to check what the noticeable bulge was. Throughout the day, I noticed a definite police presence, but a more relaxed attitude toward security than there probably was in 2014 (the year after the bombings).
|My new friends and I got separated when we were funneled into different lines. I didn't take any pics in the Boston Common, so I swiped this pic from this site.|
Being an Athlete in the Village
We exited the bus and walked a short distance down a sandy path, and then I saw the entrance to Athlete's Village, marked clear as day! When do you ever get to pass through a start/finish arch in order to reach the start line of a race?? I regret that I didn't snap a pic, but I found another photo here.
My Athlete's Village plan was as follows: Wait in the port-a-potty line; go to the back of the line for another port-a-potty trip; drink my Generation UCan drink 45 minutes before heading to the start line (before I got to the front of the second port-a-potty line); head to the start line. This left no time for waiting in another long line for a photo at the Hopkinton sign, which I now regret, because that would have been cool.
|I didn't get a picture, but this person did.|
I made it to the front of the port-a-potty line, did my business, and went to the back of the line again. By this time, the back of the line was in the shade of the large tents, and I started to feel a bit chilly when the occasional breeze kicked up. Gosh darn it! Then I remembered that I had packed some black garbage bags in my fanny pack. I read online that I should bring them to sit on in case the ground was wet. I ripped a hole the bottom of a bag for my head, and made my own windbreaker.
|I wasn't super-jazzed about posing in a port-a-potty line in a garbage bag, but what can you do...|
It was time for my UCan, so I got my bottle out of my gallon Ziploc bag. I used to start most of my long runs in a fasted state, but I started using Generation UCan before my medium-long and long runs this training cycle. I have really felt the difference in my energy! The second port-a-potty trip was as productive as the first, and I found I still had some time left before heading to the start at 10:05am. I took another garbage bag out of my fanny pack, found an empty spot under the tents, and took a load off for a few moments. When Wave 2 was called to the start line, I was sick of sitting, and I moseyed over to where the announcer was keeping everyone very informed about when to head to the start. I had fun people-watching, and before long it was my turn to make the 0.7-mile walk.
|Hopkinton is such a pleasant little town, for reals. Image found here.|
Right before the entrance to the corrals, I spied a ton of port-a-potties with very short lines. I couldn't resist one last trip.
|Would I lie to you? That there in the distance is a crazy amount of port-a-potties. Image found here.|
|Let's do this! (That visor blew off my head around Mile 2...)|
Miles 1-4, the Start Line & Ashland: 8:19, 8:06, 8:07, 8:01
I wasn't prepared for how blown my mind would be as I took my first steps off the start line, and saw the sea of humanity streaming downhill in front of me, enthusiastic crowds lining either side. All the months (years!) of waiting since I qualified in 2014, not to mention the entire winter of training I endured, had all come down to these next few hours. It was now or never!
|This isn't from this year's Boston, but is a good approximation of what I saw.|
Let's check in with my race goals for a second: During my final pow-wow with my coach at the marathon expo the day before the race, she asked me what I felt I could run in my heart of hearts, given the weather forecast. I told her that I still wanted to shoot for a 3:35, because given my training, anything less than a PR (sub-3:38) would feel inadequate, and I wanted to have a cushion since I knew I probably wouldn't run perfect tangents. The pace for a 3:35 marathon was 8:12/mile, so I had that number in the back of my head, as well as a pace band showing those splits.
Seeing an 8:19 for the first mile didn't bother me, since I knew it would probably be better that I held back during the first mile. However, I didn't want to linger at that pace, so my passing continued. The steep downhill levels out during Mile 2, but I was quickly realizing that almost nothing in this race was going to be completely flat. Rolling hills were the name of the game during this stretch, as we went through the town of Ashland. Even though I was feeling all right, I knew it was time to start implementing my hydration strategy, which was to drink early and often, at least a sip at every aid station.
Everything about Ashland was so quaint, the crowds were as American as apple pie and so enthusiastic, the cluster of runners had thinned out, my pace was humming along nicely, and pretty much everything was right with the world!
Miles 4-8, Framingham & Natick: 8:13, 8:07, 8:01, 8:14
Somewhere between miles 4 and 5, I took my second Gu Roctane gel (I had taken the first at the start line). This fact, as well as the fact that this was the first mile of the race that gains elevation, took my pace down a bit. Fortunately, everything righted itself during the next two miles. I was hitting up the aid stations, both official and unofficial, like it was my job (which it kind of was for these next few hours!). I alternated drinking water and Gatorade at every aid station, plus I started grabbing another cup of water to pour over my head and neck, plus I availed myself of the numerous cups and bottles of water offered by spectators.
I was so impressed at the crowd support I encountered in these little towns. At the Chicago Marathon, the crowds are plentiful along most of the course, but I've always had the impression that most of the spectators were waiting for one particular person to run by. Sometimes it is made obvious by the huge signs featuring a loved one's giant head, but even if people didn't have signs, they weren't cheering enthusiastically (or at all) for all the other runners on the course. Some sections of Lincoln Park and the Loop looked like they should be full of raucous cheering, but were actually kind of quiet.
Contrast this with Boston: To me, it seemed very few were cheering for an actual friend or relative. It is just something that one does in Natick on Marathon Monday: Cheer for complete strangers with your family, and (more often than not) bring something to hand out to the crowd: Bottles of water, ice pops, and (OMG, the HOLY GRAIL) baggies of ice. Someone was handing them out as we entered Natick, and the (expletive deleted) girl just ahead of me grabbed the last one. I hoped that wouldn't be the last bag I would see!
Miles 8-12, Natick & Wellesley: 8:07, 8:10, 8:21, 8:05.
The first two miles of this stretch were pretty flat, and there weren't as many spectators. During Mile 10, however, we entered downtown Natick with a ton of crowds, more water bottles, and (thank you, sweet baby Jesus) more baggies of ice! This time, I snatched one right in front of a lady behind me (sorrynotsorry), and immediately stuffed it down my sports bra. It was heavenly, and I could feel my core temperature cooling down; I give it a lot of credit for my race performance! It was definitely eating time off the clock with all the water and Gatorade at each aid station, but I knew that it was time well spent in these temps!
|Not a half-bad photo of my Eye-of-the-Tiger stare. I cropped out as much of a random lady's armpit as I could...|
Miles 12-15, Wellesley: 7:59, 8:02, 8:18.
Aw yeah, the scream tunnel lived up to the hype! I had read online that you were able to hear the girls long before you could see them, and this was definitely true, even through my headphones! I kept trying to catch the eyes of runners around me, so we could share a smile of anticipation, but everyone was businesslike and staring straight ahead. Perhaps they were too consumed with thoughts of the kisses they would be getting? Either way, I was alone in my amusement.
I wasn't interested in getting any kisses, so I started moving my way over to the left-hand side of the road (I had been hanging out on the right-hand side up until that point). The online folks had informed me that most of the girls were on the right-hand side, and I didn't want to block anyone from getting their rightful kiss. As you can see from my splits, my pace definitely picked up with the excitement of reading all the signs. There were a few guys around me who went in for kisses, but not as many as I was expecting.
|What's with the dude standing there, though -- is he keeping tabs on his girlfriend? Image found here.|
|The blogger said they weren't actually naked behind the signs, in case you were wondering.|
Mile 14-15 was the calm before the storm, and mostly flat. I found myself becoming overwhelmed with the thought of the nine miles of undulating course to come, and I intentionally decided to pump the brakes during this mile in order to conserve some energy. I must also confess that I was reaching my mid-marathon boredom with both the course and my hydrating/fueling/cooling rituals. The promised headwind was beginning to pick up, and was taking away some of the warmth. On the other hand, it was adding the element of, you know, running against a headwind. I took my third gel a tad early, just for something to jolt me out of my reverie.
Miles 15-21, Newton Lower Falls and the Newton Hills: 8:01, 8:19, 8:46, 8:44, 7:43, 8:21.
Mile 15-16 started out with a small climb, and then it was flat again. Then suddenly, it was on like Donkey Kong, and by the time the mile ended, I had descended more than 100 feet into Newton Lower Falls. WHEEE!! I was happy to see my pace bounce back, and happy to be feeling so good at mile 16 of a marathon! 10 miles was nothing but a Wednesday training run. Let's finish this!
Of course, the race was really just starting during this stretch. Mile 16-17 started with the "Entering Newton" sign, and an almost half-mile climb over an overpass. I was a bit surprised at how tenacious the hill was -- as it turns out, this is not one of the infamous Newton hills, but my legs and breathing told me otherwise! Once I crested that hill, I was definitely glad it was over, but I was also happy to have had a taste of what was to come. Now I knew that I could withstand it.
Mile 17-18 started with the famous "turn by the Newton firehouse." The firehouse set up an awesome inflatable run-though spray tunnel for the runners. No way was I going to turn that down, and it felt heavenly!
|Leading a pack of extremely smart runners out of the spray tunnel.|
I liked the mental exercise that the hills were giving my brain. I felt like the Newton hills were tough but fair, like a much-feared but fondly remembered schoolteacher. They tested you on the way up, but then compensated for the pain by giving you a generous downhill and plenty of recovery time before the next one. I remembered to pump my arms at the base of each hill, again in the middle of the hill, and a third time at the top of the hill. I did not look at my watch at all during this stretch, as I was afraid of what my reaction to the splits would be. I told myself to accept the fact that I would lose time during this stretch, and just try to keep an even effort until the top of Heartbreak Hill.
|Why did they put the big MarathonFoto glamour shot overpass thingie in Newton? Kind of sadistic, no?...|
If I had seen that 7:43 split, I know I wouldn't have slowed down, however. Hitting your fastest mile at Mile 19 of a marathon, in the middle of the Newton Freaking Hills? Just go with it, baby, and thank the Lord for it, I would have thought! But should I have been holding back just a tad? (Spoiler alert!) Perhaps...
Now, finally, I gazed upon the base of Heartbreak at the beginning of mile 20. The crowds were amazing; several deep on both sides of the street and cheering loudly. I was as ready as I was going to be.
|There is no picture of me climbing Heartbreak Hill, so I had to search Google Images for a photo that captures how I remember the hill. This one isn't from this year's marathon, but it comes closest.|
I snuck a look at my split at the beginning of Mile 21, just to see what the damage of Heartbreak had been. 8:21. I'll take it. Now let's cruise it on in, I thought -- my coach said to pick it up at this stretch and finish strong!
Miles 21-26, Brookline & Boston: 8:01, 8:13, 8:31, 8:24, 8:39.
Helllloooo, Boston College guys! They were very loud and very drunk, and their cheers provided a great soundtrack to my celebration during the nearly half-mile downhill in Mile 21-22. The downhill continued in Mile 22-23; many people feel this mile in their quads, and the almost-constant declining becomes no longer fun. Put a lampshade on my head, because I was still partying on. I saw my mile 23 split and it was 8:13?? Are you kidding me? I couldn't believe I was feeling so strong at Mile 22 of a marathon, and I was very proud of my performance thus far.
But it became immediately clear that the celebration needed to be postponed a bit. As we continued along Beacon Street, my legs were feeling noticeably heavier; a familiar feeling from previous marathons. I was glad that I had avoided feeling this sensation until there were just three miles left to go (a personal record by a long shot), but I knew that the time had come to dig deep.
|I know I'm riding the pain train here, but an outside observer might call it "steely determination."|
I was stressing about my pace, however, especially when I saw my Mile 23-24 split of 8:31. This is not what I thought I would be doing when I "picked it up," and I was worried that my splits would only get worse from here. The famed "Citgo Sign" taunted me for most of Mile 24-25, and never seemed to get any closer. And then when it finally arrived, it was on top of a hill. I had read Shalane Flanagan's course tour where she talks about "Citgo Hill," but I wasn't anticipating it being quite as soul-sucking. At least I was able to stop the bleeding during that mile, with an 8:24.
|Smelling the barn...|
|...But still managing to mug for the photographer!|
Mile 26-26.2, Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston: 7:18.
The right on Hereford is uphill, more narrow than the previous miles, and filled with crowds.
|Making a right turn is clearly very serious business.|
|I wish this were more in focus, because I think it is one of the best running photos of me, and captures such an important moment.|
|Entering PR City.|
Finish Time: 3:36:45 (A marathon-distance PR by 1 minute, 24 seconds; an improvement of 5 minutes, 43 seconds over Chicago Marathon 2015; a BQ for 2017 by 8 minutes, 14 seconds)
Age Group Place (40-44): 370/1939 (Top 19%)
Gender Place: 2638/12168 (Top 22%)
Overall Place: 9770/26639 (Top 37%)
|Smiling in the land of happy runners.|
After quickly hopping on the B.A.A. tracking app to confirm my PR, I sent quick "WOO HOO" texts to my coach and my husband, and began the long walk through the finisher's chute. We got a water bottle, bag of food, medal, and heat sheet. I made it through the medal station before the leg cramps set in. I knew from experience that the only cure was to keep moving, but I wanted to sit down with every fiber of my being. The pain was real, but I tried to keep my emotions under control so I didn't end up in the medical tent.
I knew I needed to catch the T near Boston Common, so I kept walking east. I had to ask a friendly police officer for directions at a fork in the road, and then it took me a bit to find the station entrance. I lost count of the times that non-runners told me "congratulations" or "great job" as I passed by. After I entered the T station, my marathon-fogged brain took forever to find the correct track for my train, and I took a wonderful self-guided tour of the station (including flights of stairs. Ugh.). Once on the train, I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner and his family, which passed the time until I had to transfer to a different train line. Once I finally reached the stop closest to my hotel, the forecasted "back door cold front" had hit with a vengeance, and my sweat had thoroughly dried. I was cold. A few cloudy and lonely blocks later, I was at my hotel. I made a beeline for my room and couldn't wait to strip off my clothes and jump in a hot shower. But first, a selfie:
What Does It All Mean?
As you probably already know by now, 2016 has been dubbed the year of the "Sneaky Boston Heat." The vast majority of the runners I know personally and follow online were at least a few minutes off their goal times, and some were off the mark substantially. Only 33.6 of 2016 Boston finishers qualified for Boston 2017 (48% did it in 2015's rain and headwind). Various theories have been floated as explanation: Some believe that it was simply a matter of northerners having no time to train in anything close to the race day temperatures (in Boston, it was literally the warmest day of 2016). Others blamed the meteorologists, who adjusted the forecasts as race day approached to more favorable temperatures. These forecasts proved wrong, but people may have believed them anyway instead of paying attention to how they felt in Hopkinton, and thus failed to adjust their goal times.
As for my own performance: I told my coach that I would not be happy with anything less than a PR, and a PR I got. My former PR was set on the much flatter Chicago course, in perfect running weather, which makes me even more proud of my accomplishment. I believe that in perfect weather, I could have run about 3-4 minutes faster in Boston, given my training, but that is not a guarantee. My mental game (or lack thereof) could have prevented that from happening, or any number of other obstacles could have been thrown my way on a different race day. I believe I ran a smart and consistent race, and although I faded at the end, my fade started much later than any of my previous marathons, and was also the least dramatic fade since my first marathon.
So what does it all mean? It means that I learned a lot from the challenges thrown at me in Boston (start-line logistics, hillier course, less-than-ideal weather), and I did not let them break me. In other words: I'M BACK from my lost year of plateauing, and I can't wait to get back to the flat-and-fast terrain of Chicago in October to see what I can do!
A Final Piece of Advice...
As I found out on Tuesday morning...fail to put sunscreen on your face at your peril. On a side note, it looks like my headband was on crooked... ;)