I know that no one has been holding their breath for two weeks for the marathon recap and I do realize that this is lengthy. However, part of marathon closure is being able to get down in writing what happened. Plus, this is probably my only Boston so it gets all the words it wants in its telling. How on earth does one even begin to recap the Boston marathon? Particularly when it is run during “memorable” weather? This year was the antithesis of the year the temperatures were in the 80’s and runners were dropping like flies. This will be the year all the runners recall the 20 mph winds in their face and the hypothermia. Cloudy and 44 degrees would have been lovely running weather. Combined with wind and rain… not so much.
So where does the marathon recap begin? Perhaps when we missed our flight by 4 minutes (snow in Denver, had to visit multiple parking lots to park our van, got bad directions and got lost, etc.) which meant not only did we get to fly down to Kansas City, MO, but that we also arrived at 11:30 pm rather than 5:30. We exited the T (Boston subway station) at our destination as they were locking the gates behind us. So much for that first good night of sleep!
Five days in a new setting is not what you really want pre-marathon. Boston is a walking city. We were probably close to a mile’s walk from where we were staying to the T station. Then throw in finding a place to eat, the Freedom trail, and searching for coffee shops and we were racking up the miles! Then there was the added factor of being in someone else’s home. When we got in I discovered that our hosts (who were the greatest couple!) were mostly vegetarian and had almost no carbs in the house. I promptly bought my own load of white bread from CVS to snuggle as a security blanket because I NEED CARBS. I get a little cranky pre-marathon so the new environment and food situation and walking all over had me just a little stressed. The only thing I had complete control over was fluid intake. I rocked that and I was massively hydrated for the marathon. I will say for the record though, that sleeping without any children around is BLISS.
The marathon expo was fun and crazy. I was so excited to get to meet Katherine Switzer (the first woman to run Boston before women were actually allowed to run it) and Bart Yasso of Yasso 800 fame.
Probably the only time I teared up was when we watched a video of the course with narration. It hit me: I’m here! I’m in Boston! I get to run the Boston Marathon!
Before we flew out, race day looked like it would be sunny with a high of 55 or so. I packed accordingly. As the day got closer, the weather progressively changed. It changed so much that on Sunday I found myself buying used clothes at the nearby Goodwill to wear before the marathon. Whenever we encountered other runners we would discuss the weather. Will it change? Could the winds at least change direction? Do you think the rain will hold off? The answer to it all was a resounding no. Went to bed with clear skies on Sunday and awoke to grey clouds and wind on Monday.
I must throw in that my favorite “advice” came from a friend who texted: “I want to give you some really sage advice but I don’t know any for running! Take the best of what you know and pretend it’s from me!” The last text I received before the run came from a friend who, in response to my whining about the wind, remarked: “You had 3 children naturally, you can handle headwind.” I love my friends.
The events leading up to the actual running of the Boston marathon are unlike any I have ever encountered. I woke up at 6:15, drank some coffee, at part of a pbj, and got dressed. Then I put on my bag lady clothes. At 7:15 we left the house to walk to the T station so that I could get to Boston Commons.
Upon arriving, we saw the most massive convoy of school buses ever, parked 3 deep. Because the race begins 26.2 miles away in Hopkinton, it is necessary to bus the runners to the start. Boarding was a little behind, so husband kept me company as I expended too much energy shivering both from nerves and cold.
Eventually wave three boarded our buses and the convoy was off. I never actually saw the drive because all of us were busy chatting to our neighbor about running, qualifying times, injuries, the weather, and within about 2 minutes every single window of the bus had fogged up. I sat next to a very nice lady from Georgia who had run Boston a decade ago and who had done 2 ten mile runs as her long runs. I really hope that worked out for her!
The buses spat us out at the Athlete’s Village. I am sure in nice weather this is a fun place to be. When it is 40 degrees and windy under ominous skies and you are stuck outside in a large grassy area it is simply very cold. There were porta potties around the entire perimeter and yet there still managed to be long lines. So I waited, amused to see that we looked like a vast village of homeless people (I was not the only one with clothes to discard at the beginning of the race) with brightly colored and very expensive shoes.
By the time I had waited my turn they were calling wave three. This meant another 0.7 mile walk to the start of the corrals, and the last stop porta potties. I figured that I walked almost three miles… before the marathon even began. It was an absolute zoo. I was disoriented and had no idea where my corral actually was. And that was when it began to rain. I discarded my sweat pants before the start and then began walking to the corral.
But it was a longer walk than I anticipated (and they started earlier than listed) so I got to the back of my corral roughly a minute before gun time.
There were so many people pressed together and the excitement was electric. It occurred to me that Boston would not be a good event for anyone with any type of sensory processing disorder. It is well-coordinated chaos and noise from the time you begin until the time you finish. Everyone was yelling and cheering and then we were all shuffling forward and crossing the mat that told us the race had begun. Unfortunately, my Garmin had gone on standby so it didn’t coincide with the actual start of the race. Technology fail there.
What is it like to be sandwiched together with thousands of other runners on a little two lane road? It’s a little claustrophobic and it (literally) stinks. Think body odor and dirty running sock smell for the first two miles. There was no way to pass anyone and there was no way to actually try to run at pace (first mile was 8:12). You couldn’t even dodge the puddles! Part of the problem was that my qualifying time was 3:34 (you are placed in waves by your time) but I was hoping to run a 3:20 in the best of all possible worlds. Mile three was the first that was actually on pace as the crowd had lightened somewhat. The rain was also falling hard by then and I had ditched my thrift store hat and sweatshirt.
It was somewhere around the 3K mark (miles and kilometers are marked throughout the course) that I realized that there are something close to 1,500,432 kilometers per marathon and they were all going to be counted. down. slowly. It is bad enough to see all the mile markers! I also started to notice discarded pace bracelets, presumably because these were not auspicious PR conditions.
By mile 9 my two layers of gloves were drenched and my fingers were frozen. Because the wind at this point was hitting my right side I could no longer feel my right hand. I also couldn’t feel my legs from about mile 6 on, and usually I am fine in shorts in the cold. My feet were drenched from the puddles at the start. Squish, squish, squish.
In terms of hydration, I grabbed Gatorade starting at mile 5 every few stations and took a Gu at miles 6, 11, 17, and 21. I really think they should have handed out salted oysters with lemon juice around mile 22.
I loved the people. Seriously, Bostonians get a huge gold star in my book. There were so many people and families lined up and cheering in the cold and rain. You would run down the main streets of little towns like Hopkinton and Natick and feel so much energy from the crowds. A very powerful experience! There were two particularly memorable spectators; one, a woman yelling “This is MY road and no one ever stops on my road.” (Oddly enough, this was my first marathon in which I took no walking breaks, mostly because I was afraid the crowd might hurt me.). The second spectator was almost at the top of Heartbreak Hill. I don’t know how this happened, but there were no people on the west side of the road for about 70-100 feet. In this gap stands one little Asian woman almost whispering “Go! Go! Go!”. I am pretty sure she thought she was yelling. I pinned my name to my race bib and it was fun to hear people yell specifically for me. I am also sure I heard several people yell “Ingy” (NOT COOL.) and one person called me “Gerta” (?). I often get called Greta when people forget my name but I had my name on my shirt!
The Women of Wellsley are just as loud as everyone says, only louder.
There are many signs, of course. Plenty of people took the inclement weather and made use of innuendos that could only be used in the rain. My favorite signs read :”Pain is just the French word for bread”. My second favorite (as a fan of The Office) was a duo held by two people at the last turn that read: “That was really hard.” “That’s what she said.” Of course there were the classic: “Hurry up the Kenyans are drinking your beer” signs and you couldn’t laugh too hard because the next sign might read: “Smile if you’ve peed your pants”. Though with all the rain it would have been an okay day for that.
So the hills. Most people know about Heartbreak Hill. Most people who go to Boston know that there are actually a set of four hills called the Newton Hills, none of them terrible, but coming when they do in the race (miles 16 through 21) they can completely derail a runner. The first 6-10 miles (everyone says something different) is downhill. But what anyone running Boston should know (I did not) is that this means you drop 60 feet and then go up 30. Then you go down 70 and go up 40, that sort of thing. This isn’t a straight downhill. Also, they don’t label the Newton hills. But some kind soul really should because I must have counted a little blip in the course as a hill and then thought (and fervently hoped), that the third hill was actually Heartbreak. Nope. That was sad. So I will jump on the bandwagon and warn everyone, DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE HILLS!!!
It is said that running negative splits is the sign of a good race. I did not run negative splits. Because the course ran into the wind the closer we came to the finish, because of the hills, because I was just plain tired, I was much slower the second half. Adding to this, my Garmin at 2:52 registered “low battery”. This piece of technology is fairly new to me and I didn’t know how to make the message go away! From that point on I couldn’t see my mile splits or the time that had elapsed. Second technology fail. I actually felt like I was racing my watch for the last 6 miles. Was my Garmin going to die? I had no idea. Now that I can consult my Garmin via computer it tells me that I held my pace until (shocker) mile 16, when the hills began.
I am going to confess, I spent most of the Boston marathon counting down to the finish. I feel bad about that, like I should have eked out every bit of enjoyment from the run. But I was so cold. So. Cold. An introvert already, it was easy to find my place in the middle and people watch. I don’t think I talked to anyone the entire time. No one was really talking, it was not that sort of day. The crowds, the other runners, the scenery; there was so much to see, but oh, I was COLD. It seemed like runners were all over the road and it was almost impossible to find someone to draft off of. By the time I hit 19 miles I was playing mind games, telling myself that it was just another nasty, windy rainy day in Sterling and I just had a seven mile run to get through. It is not the stuff that epic runs are made of, but it worked. The last few miles were crowded with spectators and seemed to stretch forever. The official photos show me smiling throughout the race, and I am sure I was, but the finish line was such a welcome sight! (Yes, I realize these next two photos are proofs but please know that I will be shelling out a ridiculous sum of money to this website for a couple of prints from the marathon. Because the Boston experience doesn’t cost enough on its own…)
I turned onto Boylston and could see the finish. Clint, my devoted spectator, was in place and waved and cheered as I finally finished up the run. The official clock for the third wave read 3:30 something by then, it wasn’t until later that I learned I was just a little under.
The worst part of the run was when we stopped running and we had to receive our medals and water bottles before they handed us a thermal wrap. In hindsight, I should have gone to a med tent to try to warm up since my clothes were soaked and I hadn’t brought anything to change into. I couldn’t move my fingers, I couldn’t stop shivering, and I was so cold that I was crying. We took no pictures of the end of the race and I didn’t stop shivering until roughly an hour later after we were home and I’d had a chance to shower and change.
After the race I was pleased to have no chafing. My quads and one toe on my right foot hurt but there were no war injuries to speak of and no lost toe nails. I ran a creaky three miles that Thursday and didn’t feel horrible and have no post marathon pains or injuries.
Summing up a marathon like this is confusing. People ask how it was and I immediately respond, “It was great! Well, but no, it wasn’t…” To wax Dickensian, I could say that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” with a lot of screaming people and cold and exertion thrown in from 7:15 am until 3:30 pm. That about sums it up. Do I want to run Boston again?
Nope! Next time I go back I get to see all the history without worrying that I am walking too much and not eating enough carbs. :-)