No matter how many times you cover the distance, toeing the starting line of a 26.2 mile journey is always epic. Toeing the line of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon, well that’s just off the charts.
The 2017 Boston Marathon was my third Boston; I ran it in 2013 and then again in 2014. This year was extra special because I experienced it with my sister, who qualified for her first Boston Marathon. As we hopped in our car and started driving the 900 miles east towards Boston, it was as though it was my first time running this amazing race. It was a trip I’ll never forget.
#BeBoston: Part 1. Pre-Race
For me, the days leading up to the Boston Marathon are just as much a part of the experience as the race itself. Arriving at packet pick-up and walking among thousands of “my own people” felt very much like some sort of pilgrimage. It’s impossible to not feel a kindred spirit with others that know the hard work and discipline needed to run a qualifying time. No sideways looks from these people as I wore my running shoes with my street clothes, or wondered how much sodium is a packet of gel. These were my people, and I felt at home.
My sister and I really wanted to get the most out of our “Boston Experience;” we took two extra trips to the runner’s expo to make sure we didn’t miss anything. After buying our official race swag and taking photos in all the spots that people do, we hoped to attend the official pre-race pasta dinner. One look at the line changed our minds. Instead we enjoyed a nice pasta dinner in a local restaurant with friends. Afterward, we headed back to our room to begin our pre-race preparations. We read the runner’s passport front to back; packed our post-race bags, our athlete’s village bags, laid out our race-day clothes, filled our water bottles, rolled out our tight muscles, set our alarms and fell asleep ready to become finishers of the 121st Boston Marathon.
As the sun rose over Boston around 6am on Monday morning (race day), we headed out to the Green line T station near our Airbnb. I was struck by the strange mixture of race bibs and business attire; it’s not something you typically see in West Michigan. When we got off at the Arlington T stop – just west of Boston Common – the area was already crawling with people. Runners, family members, policemen, volunteers; the area was filled with so many people, all moving quickly, and with purpose. After snapping a quick photo together we dropped off our gear and headed to the buses already lined up along Charles Street. We chose a bus and sat toward the back in a seat together. One thing about riding a bus to the start of race…it ALWAYS seems long! The 26 miles felt like 100.
While we chatted about our anticipations for the day, I took one more look at the forecast on my phone. Like anyone preparing for a race, we had been watching the forecast closely. Renewing the page on my phone every hour or so to see if it had changed. The 10:00 am forecast: Sunny, RealFeel of 70. W wind 13 mph (at our backs). Race day for me would begin at 10:25 am (10:50 for my sister) and I knew it would be warmer than an early morning race. We did what we could to prepare ourselves for the heat. We put on sunscreen, wore visors, dressed lightly and carried a sponge on a bungee around our wrists.
To my amazement, as we parked in front of the Hopkinton High School and began to roll off the bus, I spotted my teammate and friend, Nancy. What a joy it is to see someone you know in the enormous sea of over 27,000 runners. Glad to have found each other, Nancy, my sister and I walked together toward the Athlete’s Village to grab a spot of grass, visit the port-a-potties and prepare for the road ahead. My good fortune in runner-friend reunions was not over. I was once again surprised and happy to be spotted by a runner-friend and competitor from the Detroit area. She beat me at the Kalamazoo Marathon, but we became friends that day and continued our friendship on Facebook. After getting a nice hug and giving good luck wishes to each other, we went our own ways. But it wasn’t long before I spotted two more friends. My old running coach and his wife who live in Indiana. What a small world!
At the Boston Marathon, the start is broken down by type of running group and then into waves of 7,500 runners each. There are 9 different start times between 8:50am and 11:15am for 30,000 runners. I was in Wave 2, my sister was in Wave 3. When you are waiting in the Athlete’s Village, you are summoned to the start line by your Wave. The 1-mile walk from the high school can be a little nerve wracking. When my wave was announced, my sister and I said our goodbyes, and I began walking down the starting chute toward the corrals. What great fortune as I came upon my dear friend Cynthia and that long walk went by a lot quicker. We wouldn’t be running together since she would be running much faster than me, but it was still nice to stand next to her as the gun went off.
#BeBoston: Part 2. The Race
“Stay conservative early, smart downhills will allow energy and strength to pass runners on Newton uphills going into mile 21…follow the plan, have fun, surprise yourself, feel awesome in late miles & run a neg split!” My coach laid out a well thought-out plan for me. I was to run an 8:20-8:30 min/mile pace.
Although I have run the Boston Maraton before, I had forgotten just how much downhill running there is at the beginning. The first six miles are net downhill. They are fast miles and I was very alarmed when my first mile split was a 7:31. I knew I needed to slow down. My mile 2 was 7:48. Darn! I needed to slow down even more. Mile 3 was a 7:57. I started to worry. I needed to control my pace in order to finish the race upright. Also, I had begun to feel the heat by the end of mile one. Not a good sign!
By mile five I found my sweet spot. For the next 15 miles I held steady between 8:20 and 8:40. Other than feeling hot and gross, I felt strong and confident. Even though I carried a handheld water bottle, I took Gatorade at every aid station. I had a system: grab a Gatorade, take a sip, toss the cup, grab a water, grab another water, pour the second water into the first. Dip my sponge into the water, pour water over my head, down my shoulders and drink what’s left in the cup. I did this at every aid station for the entire race which were placed a mile apart along the course. My clothes were soaked, but it helped.
The Newton hills were the most challenging part of the course for me. I had my two slowest miles on them. Making it to the top of Heartbreak Hill was a big relief.
A few highlights for me along the course:
- The little girl on the opposite of the road dumping ice out of her cooler; she let me scoop handfuls of ice into my sports bra.
- The spectators handing out Twizzlers and flavor-ice.
- Seeing a poster that said GHRC on it and looking up to see a smiling Alana and then hearing Kevin shout my name.
- Seeing two other friends out on the course cheering for me.
- Seeing the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square and knowing I only had about a mile to go.
- Seeing the Finish Line as I took a left onto Boylston.
Other moments that stand out were seeing the guided runners. They are always an inspiration to me. Whether it’s a blind runner or an amputee, I instantly feel humbled by their stamina and perseverance. A testament to the strength of the human spirit.
#BeBoston: Part 3. Post-race
After finishing the race, I picked up my race food and blanket and headed straight to the med tent. I had never before visited a med tent at a race, but after stopping running, I knew I had a problem. By throwing all that water on my body, I had caused my shorts to chafe my backside. OUCH! The backs of my thighs were swollen and bright red like I’d been attacked by jelly fish. Once I had slathered on Vaseline, I was ready to walk again. A medic gave me my medal and sent me on my way. I gathered up my gear bag from where I had dropped it off in the morning and headed to the women’s changing tent to put on some dry clothes.
I couldn’t help but see the irony of the weather change. After running in 70+ degree temps with the sun beating down on me for 26.2 miles, when I got into Boston, the sky was overcast, the temperature had dropped, it was windy and I was freezing! Where was this weather when I was running? Since I had packed my post race clothing based on the warm forecast, I did not pack pants! After changing, I still had an hour of waiting for my sister to finish, so I grabbed coffee from the Starbucks across the street and warmed myself with the exhaust from the local TV News van.
Since I was tracking my sister on my phone I knew when she was about to finish, so I met her at the finisher’s chute. We took care of all of her post-race needs and when we were both ready we got our picture taken and headed off on our way to hobble back to our room near Boston University.
By the time we showered and felt like we could move again, we had no energy or desire to join in the post-race celebration at Fenway Park as we had originally planned. A quick trip down the block to Chipotle was about all the excitement we could handle. It had been a long day; a long weekend. And we were exhausted.
Tackling the Boston Marathon. Old dog. New tricks.
Preparing for this race was different than marathons I had previously run. For one thing, I am currently in the middle of a training plan that is triathlon focused. I balance my week with a blend of swimming, biking and running only 3 days a week. The most mileage I ran leading up to Marathon Monday was just under 40 miles. In the past, I had focused on high mileage weeks with little to no days off. With this different approach, I honestly wasn’t positive how my body was going to react.
My goal time was 3:37-42; I finished in 3:45. I’m not disappointed, I feel good about my effort. My Garmin had my mileage at 26.57 and that averages to 8:30 pace. In addition, I am pleasantly surprised that I could cover the distance given how completely different my training plan approached the race. I’m finding that old dogs really can learn new tricks.
I think every runner would agree that every long distance run is a journey of self-discovery and, for me, the 2017 Boston Marathon was no different. There are lots of good people. They are strong. They are determined. And they amaze me. Boston is also strong and resilient. Also, the world is small. It is such a big place in size, but in reality, our connections make it small. The more we are connected to community, the smaller the world becomes. The running community is just one way we connect to others and make the world a smaller place. This year the social media hashtag was #BeBoston. I think I know now what it means to ‘BeBoston’. Be strong. Be resilient. Be together.
Photos from my trip can be viewed on Google Plus.