I don’t know where to begin with the retelling of my Boston Marathon story. I feel like my words just won’t give it justice. It was such an amazing experience and such an honor to be part of Boston’s day. There are really two stories to tell here: one about being a part of the 2014 Boston Marathon and another about actually running the race.
I qualified for Boston back in March of 2013 sort of on accident. I wasn’t trying for a BQ…but once I was at mile 21 that day and saw it was a real possibility – I went for it. I didn’t know back then how meaningful this year’s race would be. But I knew I was meant to be there.
I arrived in Boston the day before the race (I know, not ideal). I headed straight to the hotel to drop off my bags and then to the Expo. The expo was unlike any expo I’ve ever seen.
The locals were so happy and proud to celebrate their marathon and the runners were so honored to be a part of it. I picked up my bib and then went to look at the infamous Boston Finisher jackets. I hesitated buying one ahead of time for fear I’d jinx my finish. I tried one on and yep, I had to have it. I purchased it telling myself that I would donate it if I didn’t finish the race. After the expo, I walked to the nearby finish line and walked up and down Boylston.
Bombing Site Memorial.
I stood in front of a memorial for one of the explosions and I just started crying. The pain I felt for everyone who was there last year surfaced. I wasn’t alone. Everyone around me was sobbing and taking it all in. It was truly amazing to see people lean on each other and strangers hug each other and shout “we’re going to take back Boston tomorrow!”
I made my way back to the hotel where I spent about 2.5 hours figuring out what I was going to order for dinner while I ate my snacks (a bagel, banana, chips – I take my carbs seriously).
Dinner of champions.
I laid out my race clothes, my throwaway clothes, made sure my Garmin and iPod were charged. I pulled out my race strategy and course map to review one last time. Everything was set. Now, it was just time to sleep.
All of the clothes I wore to Boston Commons.
I woke up and got dressed and made my way to Boston Commons. I looked homeless wearing 6 layers of throw away clothes. I got lost on the 2 block walk of course and had to ask for directions. Luckily people understood I wasn’t homeless and that I was trying to get to the buses to get to Hopkinton. Once on the buses, it all started to become real. Everything was so organized and right on target. I watched about a dozen other buses pull away before ours did and one of the buses had the pictures of all 4 victims on the windows and signs that said “we run to honor them”. I lost it again. This race was more than about running. It was about healing. It was about being a part of something bigger than you. We made the 40 minute drive to Hopkinton. It was amazing how locals were cheering us on from the sides of the roads, how drivers honked in support, how local police stopped traffic to allow the motorcade of buses pass through. Once in the athlete’s village, I quickly found 6 foot by 8 foot spot to put down a throw away towel and set up camp. We had to arrive in the athlete’s village hours before our start time. I was starting at 11am and had about 2 plus hours to wait. I was focused on staying off of my feet. After all, I had already done a fair amount of walking this morning to and from the buses. I looked up at one point and noticed multiple helicopters and snipers on the rooftops. I couldn’t have felt safer. I got in line for the bathroom and grabbed some coffee. The bathroom lines were really long but I made some awesome new friends. Most gave me advice about the course and about the finish. Very grateful for them; they kept my nerves calm. The time flew and all of a sudden I heard the announcer calling my wave. I ate the last of my food, grabbed water, removed some of the layers and made my way to the start. It was another long walk. And soon I realized I was late for my corral. I did a quick jog – not ideal before starting 26.2 miles but I wanted to start in my wave and corral. As soon as I got in my corral the gun went off. I hit start on my Garmin and I was off.
The first few miles were a blur. I was taking in everything: the massive crowds, the cheers, the snipers, the army reservists, the police, and the signs of encouragement. Around mile 6 I started to feel thirsty. That was not a good sign. I usually take in my first round of fluids around mile 8 and I don’t like to feel thirsty; that means it’s too late to hydrate. I knew there were water stops every mile. So I had to redo my race strategy to incorporate more stops. I can’t run through a water stop. I’m that girl that throws water on herself. To actually consume fluid, I need to stop, grab the cup, and walk and chug, then go. Yes, it’s annoying because it costs me time. I plan to attend running clinics this summer on how to effectively run through water stops.
I was feeling good, I was right on target for my pace. I looked forward to the timing mats because I knew family and friends were tracking me. I knew every time I crossed the mat they got a text or email update and would be proud. Then mile 11 hit me. It hit me hard. The sun was out and it was about 68 degrees. A lot warmer than I anticipated. The sun was wiping me out. I was really dehydrated. I had a twisted pain in my left calf. My quads were on fire from the consecutive downhill miles. I knew the Wellesley College scream tunnel was coming up at the half way point. I just needed to get to them. And then I’d figure out what to do once I got there. I found myself stopping at every water stop. And not just drinking one cup and walking; but taking 3-4 cups and walking for a few minutes. My paces started to drop. I could feel it. I had to make a decision. I had to let go of making my goal time (plan A). I was now on plan B – finish the race. The doubt started to enter my mind. I was hot, I was getting sunburned, and I didn’t feel I was well trained for this race. I knew my training wasn’t on point and I let it get to me mentally. My body was trained for this race, my mind wasn’t. And I knew the hardest part of the race was ahead of me – the hills. The second half of the race was a mental fight with myself. I walked every water stop. I struggled. But I ran up every hill. That was not going to beat me.
I don’t remember much about miles 14 to 24 except that I was always thirsty and I felt the sunburn and I felt every pain in my calf and my quads. Around mile 25 I met a nice woman who shouted words of encouragement to everyone as she ran (yep – she ran and cheered at the same time!). She was great and if she could do that; I felt someone should do that for her. So we started talking and pushing each other along. She would say “ok you’re going to pick it up now….its time”. I would then pick it up. And then I would tell her we’re going to charge the hill together. And we did. This stranger got me through those last 2 miles. And then I made the famous right on Hereford Street and left on Boylston. And it was truly amazing. The crowds and volunteers were amazing. I drew from them and ran across the finish line in 3:35; so happy to be a part of something so big that meant so much to not just runners but to the city of Boston.
I’m not thrilled with the race I ran. I’m a stronger runner than what I ran. But I learned some things that I need to do differently next time. I took away lessons from this race that I will use to make me a better runner. And in the end, this race wasn’t about me; it was about Boston. I encourage every runner to participate in the Boston Marathon – either as a runner or a volunteer or a crowd supporter. It’s definitely something you’ll never forget.