On April 18, 2016 I ran the 120th Boston Marathon! It was a wonderful day, fabulous, amazing day, a true highlight of my life.
I did not have the run I was capable of or that I trained for but the experience was better than I could have imagined and exactly what I wanted. I finished in 4:05:30, in great spirits with tears of joy and pride in my eyes. The Boston Marathon is truly like runners’ heaven and in my opinion completely lives up to and surpasses all the hype around it. At this point I sometimes can’t think about running another marathon because I don’t think any other race will ever live up to Boston!
I will write a separate blog about the days leading up to the race and after the race in an attempt to keep this post manageable 🙂
And before I forget I want to say thank you to my mom for being my number 1 supporter, race sherpa, cheerer, and travel companion. Also my friends and family deserve a big thanks for putting up with me, especially Rob for doing all my long runs with me, even when he wasn’t training for a marathon. Thank you!!Race Morning
Boston has a totally civil start time with the elite women starting at 9:32am, followed by the elite men and then four waves. I was in wave three with a start time of 10:50am. My alarm went off around 6:30am. I had a great sleep and felt very rested and happy. On the TV all the Boston stations were reporting on the race, with reporters in Hopkinton and at the finish line. It was all very exciting! I got dressed (bright orange shorts!) and ate a bagel and my mom and I were out the door about 7:15am. The walk from the Sheraton to Boston Common took about 20 minutes. There were already a lot of spectators nabbing prime viewing spots on Boylston! At Boston Common there were about 100 school buses (a bit of an exaggeration but not much!) waiting to drive us out to Hopkinton. It was a very impressive set up and clearly the Boston Marathon people know how to organize a race! My wonderful friend Farida who came all the way from Calgary to see me for 2 seconds in the race met us at Boston Common as well. It was so awesome to see her! I have the most amazing friends. (My friend Liz was also planning to come to Boston but she had a passport mixup and unfortunately couldn’t make it.)
I said goodbye to my mom and Farida because I wouldn’t see them until the last turn onto Boylston later that afternoon. On the bus I sat beside a nice woman from California. The ride took about 1 hour and all I could think was this took 1 hour to drive here and now I have to run all the way back! Every day leading up to the race had been quite cold. Like around 2C in the mornings and warming up to less than 10C in the afternoons so it was chilly! Also I packed a little light so I would have room in my bag for all the Boston gear I knew I was gonna buy 🙂 This meant I was pretty cold in the days leading up to the race and I was SO worried about being cold in Hopkinton and during the race. Spoiler: I shouldn’t have wasted a single second worrying about being cold!
As we arrived in Hopkinton at the high school the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue. I immediately had to remove the garbage bag I was wearing because I was too hot and already sweating! There were race organizers with megaphones directing the athletes towards 2 large fields and the most porta potties I’ve ever seen. That also came with the longest line ups for porta potties I’ve ever seen. It was insanity. Here’s a tip: the line ups in the corners of the field are WAY shorter, like a quarter of the length. My stomach seemed to be working great and I got my stretches done on the grass. The air was buzzing with excitement and actual buzzing from 2 or 3 helicopters making circles above. The US Army did a fly-by with 2 BlackHawk helicopters and the US Coast Guard flew over as well. This race is the real deal!!It was already hot. Not unmanageably hot, but hotter than it had been. I had to ditch my nice new arm warmers and sweats before I even left the high school. The walk to the start corrals is a little less than a mile. It felt like a big parade. People were sitting on their front porches watching and cheering. There were tables set up with sunscreen (so thankful for that!) and for clothes drop. I wasn’t nervous just really excited to get running. On the way to the corrals I heard someone say my name behind me. Turns out it was Kristie from Calgary who I was “supposed” to run with at home because a mutual friend said we run about the same pace. We had never been able to meet in Calgary and the first time we met was right before the start of the Boston Marathon! That was awesome.
The starting gun went off for the start of wave 3 and we started moving towards the start line. Immediately I started bawling my eyes out. Oh boy, this was gonna be a long day if I was crying already! A lady was trying to talk to me, I have no idea what she was saying, but all I knew is I couldn’t believe I was actually at the start line of the Boston Marathon and it was too much for me to comprehend. There were TV cameras all over and apparently I made it onto race coverage waving at the camera!
The First 12km
I had been warned and read a lot about not starting off too fast. It’s a bad idea in any marathon but especially Boston because the first part of the race is downhill. The corrals are organized so everyone is your corral has a similar qualifying time so technically you should all be running the same pace. I just went with the flow, actually a little slower than the flow. Right from the first step whatever pace I was running felt harder than it should. Even if I slowed down I still felt like I was working too hard. I wasn’t that concerned because I had a long way to go and if I just kept running then likely things would turn around.The sidelines of the course were completely packed with people going crazy cheering for us. I ran on the side so I could high five all the people along the way. I ended up running pretty much the whole race with my hand up high fiving so no wonder my shoulders were so sore the next day! All along people were sitting in the front yards having barbeques and drinking beer. Jealous!
At about 2km I saw a girl wearing Canadian stuff and with an Ironman Canada tattoo. I came up beside her and said I had the same tattoo as her. We talked about Ironman and Boston and where we had qualified. It turns out we both qualified at CIM and finished within 1 minute of each other and we’re pretty sure we had this exact same conversation at CIM! And then to top it all off her name is Amy too! That was a really cool coincidence! I guess Canadian Amy’s stick together!
Not too long after meeting Amy I heard my name again, this time attached to “Betty!” It was my Team Betty teammate Ginny hauling ass through us all. She qualified for Boston in Kona (seriously!) and this was her first marathon. And she was going for it, running so fast! She said “come run with me!! You can do it!” I would have loved to, and I did for 1km or so (which was my fastest km all day!) before I had to tell her to go on her own badass way because I couldn’t hang on.
Unfortunately I continued to feel just off. I couldn’t get anything out of my legs. My pace dropped significantly after 12km (still a long way to go!) and it still felt like I was pushing too hard. But nothing was wrong. My stomach wasn’t hurting. My legs weren’t sore. I felt rested and excited. It was hot, yes, but not outrageously hot and I felt I was managing it well – although I was dumping water on me every aid station, ironman style, and putting ice down my top and in my hat and I would be dry by the next aid one mile down the road. It just didn’t feel like anything was wrong that I could fix. I chalked it up to sadly just having a bad day, because those happen. When you’re having a bad day for no specific reason there’s not much you can do except keep moving forward. The only thing I knew was that I wasn’t going to let a bad day ruin my Boston Marathon experience.
Somewhere in the middle
I continued to high five everyone who had their hand up. Through the course of 42.2km I probably high fived at least 1000 people. It was awesome. The energy from the crowds was so surprising. As runners, we were all saying “this is insane! There’s so many people!” and we could hear the spectators saying “this is crazy! There’s so many runners!” The crowds were 5-10 people deep in many spots!
I loved the Boston accent. Every mile I heard “wah-tah! I have wah-tah!” and it always made me giggle. In between the aid stations, random people (lots of them!) had set up their own aid stations: ibuprofen, oranges, water, freezies (I had 2! best freezies of my life!), and the weirdest thing people were handing out was wet paper towels. I grabbed one but it was too weird to use!
Two of the funniest signs I remember were: 1. a photo of Bernie Sanders, saying “feel the Bern!” and 2. a photo of Trump, saying “if he can run, so can you!”
I was running on the right side of the road and suddenly I saw a golden retriever up ahead on the left side. I can’t remember at which point this was but I needed a hug! I cut straight across and as I came up on the dog I saw he was wearing a service dog vest which typically means they’re working and you can’t pet them. I think his owners saw my face drop and said immediately “you can pet him!” I went right for the hug and he was so nice! I felt so much better!
There were a lot of Canadians in the race, all decked out in maple leafs so there were so many cheers of “Go Canada!” There were also seemingly a lot of Amy’s in the race so I felt like I was being cheered along the whole way! My Betty kit got a lot of love as usual so I also heard a lot “Go Betty!”There was a guy with a megaphone and a bunch of signs in front of his automotive shop telling us to “look right!” so we could see ourselves in the windows!
If you know anything about the Boston Marathon, one of the things everyone talks about is the girls at Wellesley College and their scream tunnel. I am here to confirm the rumors are true: you actually CAN hear them from a mile away! Never have I heard screaming like that before, even at a Backstreet Boys concert. They were all holding signs like “kiss me, I’m from Colorado” “Connecticut loves kisses” “kiss me if you love California.” A few men running in front of me bee-lined over to kiss a few girls. I didn’t want to feel left out of all this kissing a Wellesley girl fun, so I got a kiss too!
Another famous landmark (maybe the most famous?) of the Boston Marathon is Heartbreak Hill. The expo is filled with gear representing Heartbreak Hill so it’s hard to ignore!
You enter Newton and the Newton hills around mile 16. It’s a terrible place to insert hills into a marathon! The hills weren’t so terrible but they definitely take a bite out of your pace, so yes, I DID notice them! I did not walk up any hills but LOTS of people were walking. There are 4 hills and I found the first one to be the worst but the crowds here were some of the largest and loudest the whole day.
At about 30km a girl ran up to me and just started talking to me. I was not in the mood to talk, she even said she had tried to talk to someone else and they basically told her to stop talking or move on! I wasn’t so abrupt but it was a one-sided conversation. We were both looking for our friends who she thought might be coincidentally standing together! Luckily I saw a pink sign up ahead with my name on it held my by amazing friend Alyson. I got a human hug this time (sorry for the sweaty hug, Alyson!) and she gave me energy to keep going. I think I mentioned to her that I was having a tough day but everything was otherwise awesome.And then I had a beer. At the bottom of Heartbreak some college kids were handing out beer and I’m not really one to pass up a free beer, I didn’t think it would make me feel worse (it didn’t), and just why not?! The beer was delicious. Shortly after I ran up to the Betty cheering section of Alett and Lisa. They were wonderful and encouraging.
The sign that said “Top of Heartbreak Hill” was amazing but the breeze coming in off the ocean was not! I had been so hot, trying to keep cool with water and ice, but now the breeze cooled me down too much so I actually had goosebumps! There was just no winning on this day!
To the Finish
It didn’t seem possible but after Heartbreak the crowds grew even bigger. I was still high fiving and saying thank you to the volunteers. So many of them were saying thank you back to us for running
All the photographers are not-so-conveniently situated in the last 3 miles of the course. How the hell do you get good photos in the last 3 miles of a marathon! Those are the absolute worst miles!!
I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting to see the famous Citgo sign, which means 1 mile to go. However you can see it from about another mile away so really it seems like you’re never going to get there. The Red Sox game at Fenway had ended so there were lots of baseball fans cheering us on. The Citgo sign was still looming away in the distance and I had definitely slowed my pace yet again, but I didn’t have a complete meltdown, mental or physical, like I’ve had in the past. I *still* have yet to figure out how to properly run the last 3 miles of a marathon, 5 marathons and counting, so I’ll just have to keep trying.
As bad as I was feeling there were A LOT of people who were A LOT worse off than me. I actually can’t remember another race when I’ve seen so many people walking in the last 3 miles. That really surprised me. Boston is supposed to be the best of the best runners and still, there was massive carnage out there.
Finally I ran up alongside the Citgo sign, there’s a banner painted across the street stating “1 mile to go!” and there’s race photographers there! Of course! I knew there would be a couple dips and rises to negotiate (that feel like Mt Everest at 25 miles in) because my mom and I had walked the BAA 5km 2 days prior. The dip under the underpass came and went and I hardly noticed, and immediately we were making the “right on Hereford, left of Boylston.”I had asked my mom to stay at the left hand turn on the Boylston because it was easy access for her from the Sheraton and I would know where to look for her. Coming up the hill on Hereford I saw my mom jumping up and down and waving her pink sign like crazy. She was way over on the left, sort of off the course so I veered around a little barricade to give her a hug. I was in full-on tears. I don’t remember what we said to each other but my mom told me afterwards that a lady standing close to her got choked up seeing my hug my mom and her be so happy for me. I ran back around the barricade and heard my name again and it was Farida and Tae screaming at me! I blew them kisses, got some in return and turned to face the finish line. It’s probably a 400m straight shot down Boylston with huge crowds on both sides and eventually grandstands on the right. I ran the entire way down Boylston crying and waving my arms in the air. I tried to savour every second of that stretch and I felt like I didn’t want it to end! It was the most exciting and meaningful finish line I’ve experienced. Post-race
The top-notch organizing continued with people sitting up high megaphones directing us through water, food, medal lines and towards the family meeting area. Somewhere after the water and before the food I really wanted to lie down. Laying down after a race or a hard run is my thing. I am usually fine, I just want to stop moving and lay down for a few minutes. So I picked a nice curb and made my way down to the ground. Like 10 seconds after a nice EMS lady asked me if I needed a wheelchair (Boston accent). I thought to myself for a second that a wheelchair would be heavenly but then they’d probably wheel me into medical and I did NOT want to go there and there were probably lots of other runners who actually needed the wheelchair. I replied I didn’t need the wheelchair and she said she felt terrible but she couldn’t let me sit on the ground. Oh man. There needs to be a lay down area (that’s not medical) at the end of these races!
So I continued on. There were a ton more photographers and then there were dogs. The Boston Marathon has therapy dogs at the finish line. I almost started crying again! I gave a huge hug to the biggest St Bernard I’ve ever seen. For me, having dogs to hug at the finish line was a great service and I think more races should consider this. That was such a good puppy hug!They make you walk, not even joking, 1km after the finish line to the family meeting area. As soon as I got there and determined I was far away from medical and EMS I finally laid on the ground with my feet up the wall. And no one bothered me. My mom and Farida eventually showed up and my mom brought with her the thing I really wanted; the reason why I wanted to do Boston so much: the unicorn jacket! I wore my jacket to sleep that night (obviously) and pretty much all of the next week. The day after the race if you don’t wear your jacket AND your medal, you’re weird. So many people passing on the street offer their congratulations finally you can hit the pub for a beer and the North End for a pastry or Boston cream pie 🙂 Final Thoughts
Although I did not have the race I trained for, I had the experience I wanted and at the end of the day, I RAN THE BOSTON MARATHON! I still don’t know what made that day so hard, some weird combination of sun/heat/wind. While I was out there I thought I was the only one feeling so off. But back in the lobby and elevator at the Sheraton that was all everyone was talking about. There were stories of entire run clubs being 20+ minutes slower than expected. The online forums also reflected these same feelings. Of course there were lots of people who had a great day but my observation is the majority of runners were at least 20 minutes slower than what they trained for. 3:45 was very reasonable for me so I fit into this 20 minute slower phenomenon as well. Every step felt like an Ironman marathon. So my takeaway? If I can run 4:05 on day that felt like an Ironman marathon, then I should be able to get close to that in the real thing!
And I’ll get my chance this July (I got a late-entry spot) at Challenge Roth! Two epic, bucket list races in the same year – I’m very lucky!