Forget the 26.2. I approached this race as a 20-mile training run. I knew I could run 15 miles on pace. Then if I could just hold it together for 5 more miles, my race would be over. I had no strategy for the last 6.2 miles. To me, it's a crapshoot. You either have something left in the tank or you don't. Twenty miles was all I set out to do.
Enough chit-chat. Let's break down the day.
I met virtual training partner Katie in the lobby of our hotel at 6:20 AM. Blair got us on the T and to the buses to Hopkinton. The wait to get on the buses offered an amazing site: picture 15,000 people standing in one of two lines to board traditional yellow school buses. Winds were gusting but temps promised to be good with a high of 56 and overcast skies. I spent most of the morning debating long vs. short sleeves. Any marathoner worth their salt would go with short, but I despise being cold and the wind cemented my decision: long-sleeves all the way, baby.
The coldest part of the day was waiting in line for the port-a-potties with wind gusts hitting us and trapped in the shade. Once we could move into the sun, we both felt much better.
We hung out a bit and tried to blend in (somehow we'd landed in what appeared to be teen central), snacked on bagels and bananas, then headed toward the start, about .7 miles away. There was a final parking lot full of port-a-potties that we made a last minute dash for, putting us at our corral exactly 1 minute before our 10:30 AM start time.
We separated soon after the gun, Katie running along at a good clip in front of me. The sun came out and I spent the first 4 miles regretting my long-sleeves decision. I was really warm and the race was just starting. Luckily, the sun went in and out and there was some light wind on the course, so I stayed pretty comfortable the majority of the time.
Minor drama at the mile 2 water stop when one runner stopped and another runner slammed into him. One of the two fell to the ground, hard, and there was a lot of yelling and cursing before everyone picked themselves up and carried on.
MILE BY MILE BREAKDOWN
Miles 1-5: I'm pre-occupied with wishing I'd worn short sleeves. Also manage to not get carried away with the downhill and hold my pace to an 8:30 for the first two miles, working up to an 8:20 (by my watch) by mile 5.
Miles 6-10: Gently rolling hills, emphasis on gently. Nowhere near as bad as I'd feared. It helped that I was in the midst of such a swarm of runners that it was often hard to tell if I was on an incline or not. I'm on pace at mile 10 which--in my mind--means I'm halfway done with my race.
Miles 11-13: This is Wellesley, where girls hold out signs asking for kisses from the male runners. I'd been told this mile tunnel was deafening and we'd be able to hear the cheers from half a mile away. Not so much. Didn't hear them until we were in the middle and they were loud and enthusiastic, but nothing like the mad throngs of kids that greeted us at Boston College.
Miles 13-17: My goal was to enter the hills of Newton with an 8:23 pace. When I entered Newton at mile 17, I was at an 8:21 and feeling tired, but hopeful. Only three more miles until I get to see Blair.
Miles 17-21: Newton. Heartbreak Hill. And somewhere... Blair. I didn't push on the hills. I hoped to slow down to no more than an 8:30 pace overall by the time I finished Heartbreak. I concentrated on taking baby steps and breathing. I kept my eyes down for the most part, not wanting to see how much more hill I had to climb. This worried me, as I was afraid I'd run by Blair and miss him.
There are 3 major hills at Newton but the truth is the hills there aren't bad at all, as far as hills go. The reason they're feared is simply because they come so late in the race. Since I'd been keeping my eyes down, I wasn't sure where I was. I thought I might be on Heartbreak, hoped I was on Heartbreak, but didn't know for sure until I looked up and saw a spectator holding a sign that said, "HEARTBREAK DIDN'T BREAK YOU! IT'S ALL DOWNHILL NOW!!"
That was an adrenalin rush for me. I had really, really, really wanted to run Heartbreak without stopping. Now the search for Blair began. I found him just over the crest of the hill, waving at me madly from behind the video camera. I shouted "I love you!" and he shouted the same in return. It's amazing how much better I felt after that brief 6-second encounter. There were only 5 miles between me and that finish line. My overall pace was--unbelievably to me--an 8:26. I still had gas in my tank. I was going to make it.
Miles 22-25: Ow. Ow. Ow. OW. OW.OW. OW. So much for the adrenalin rush. My legs freakin' HURT. Bad. My quads feel like someone replaced bone and muscle with steel bricks (no bend or give) and my calves are twitching, threatening to cramp. I really want to walk but I also really want to PR in Boston and it's within my grasp. I don't have to speed up, I just have to run steady. I stop looking at my watch as it doesn't matter what it says - I'm pretty much going as fast as I can, which isn't terribly fast. I start visualizing what it will feel/look like to cross the finish line at Boston with a PR. I offer myself bribes, the main one that I will never ever have to run again if I can just finish this race.
Mile 26: The crowds are INSANE. Screaming, waving, cheering, more screaming. Every runner feels like every roar of encouragement is meant for them. And just when you think the crowds can't get any louder, you make that last left onto Boylston Street and have less than a half-mile to go and people are losing their minds on both sides of the street, jumping up and down, screaming, waving you on. There was no more pain. I felt myself grinning, waving... and picking up the pace. I did a small sprint at the end and felt... there aren't words. I didn't burst into tears when I crossed the finish line, but I came close. Elation. Relief.
AFTER THE RACE
It's an assembly line where you receive your mylar sheet, tape for the sheet, your medal, food and water, then a quarter mile walk to the buses to pick up dry clothes, then another quarter mile walk to the family meet-up area. I arrived at the big letter "H" and looked around. No Blair. The trip back from Newton took longer than expected. I settled myself in on a curb and had a little picnic lunch until he arrived.
Overall, I felt MUCH better than I did after running Chicago. I was sore, but still upright. The real pain didn't set in until the next day and even today. My legs still feel like lumps of petrified wood. But it was all worth it. I took everyone's advice and managed to enjoy the race. While I never had the "Yes! I am nailing it," confidence I experienced in Chicago, I felt cautiously good for most of the race. Or maybe it was an absence of feeling bad.
Once Blair found me, we hobbled toward our hotel, which was connected with the expo center and a mall. As we're walking inside the mall, I'm moaning about the deep ache in my legs right as we pass a Tiffany's.
"Would a diamond make it hurt less?" asked Blair.
I burst out laughing. "It might," I said, but settled instead for a granola bar and some cookies. Shoot! Totally missed my chance to score some bling.
STICKING CLOSE TO HOME
Even though this race requalifies me for Boston, I've no plans to return. The town was great, the people amazing, and the course was fun, but for the moment I feel a "been there, done that" ambivalence about returning. It was not a cheap trip and I prefer races without quite so many logistics involved in getting to the start line. My plans for this summer are a bunch of local 5k, 10k, and half-marathons. I plan to work on speed and improving my PR's in some of these races.
Still, I'm thrilled to be able to say, "I ran the Boston Marathon. And I had fun doing it."
Recaps of Prior Marathons: