Okay, I think I’m ready to talk about the Boston Marathon now. I’ve been recovering since Monday, and I’m still not 100% – I won’t be for awhile yet. But it’s also taken me a few days to stew in the aftermath of the run, to let the awesomeness come to me. Unlike a lot of people, I was not overtaken by the greatness of running Boston. I was simply in survival mode, trying to get the course behind me. I did not relish in the moment, or cry at the finish line. In fact, I was hardly aware of what was happening around me. But, as the moments pass since Monday afternoon, it’s coming to me in little waves, like an amnesia stricken patient getting her memories back. I’m looking back on the run with complete awe.
I can’t believe I did that.
I had a really tough time sleeping the night before. I had horrible dreams of getting lost and going the wrong way. I wanted to sleep in as long as possible, but couldn’t even make it to 6 am. I lounged in bed, drinking some horrible hotel coffee and watching the news. As expected the local station was all about the marathon, the insane weather, and the stories of various athletes that would be running in a few hours. There was a story about a group of runners driving all night from Toronto because their flight had been canceled. There was another group from Minnesota in the same boat. Suddenly my drive in the day before didn’t seem so bad.
I got dressed and applied my Vaseline. Ate my oatmeal, drank my sports’ drink (“a bottle in the belly!”) I sort of felt like I was preparing myself for a battle, like I was headed off into some unknown. I wrote my final Facebook post – a farewell to my former non-Boston Marathoner self I suppose – and packed up the room.
Being in the second wave (corral three), I didn’t start until 10:25. This meant I could take the 9am shuttle bus from the hotel to the South Street bussing area where I could take the official shuttle bus to the Athlete’s Village. I was assured the whole trip would take less than 30 minutes, giving me ample time in the village to get to the starting line. However, with the extreme weather and long lines of cars trying to get off the highway, my shuttle from the hotel was delayed. The official bus filled quickly and we were on our way within a few minutes. But most of us on the bus were Wave 2 runners and we nervously checked our watches. The bus creeped along in nearly stalled traffic and we inched our way to the Athletes’ Village. We weren’t going to make it!
The bus let us off at 10:20. We jogged, panic mounting, into the Village, while an intercom was directing Wave 2 runners to the start line. It’s nearly three-quarters of a mile from the Village to the start line – I had to move! I started running through the crowd, avoiding mud when possible, tearing through it when inevitable. Runners were packed in like sardines and the dense throng of people plus the need to get to the starting line ended up being just the right seeds for a panic attack. I needed to get to a space away from the crowd and the noise where I could sit for a moment and calm myself down, but there wasn’t time for that. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t see straight. Fear was beginning to take over. I was stripping warm up gear as I went, trying to focus on the yellow poncho in front of me. The guy was big and tall and making a path through the crowd to the start line, so I stayed tucked in behind him. Suddenly a gust of wind knocked his ball cap off and he stopped to turn and grab it. It was like plowing into a brick wall. I didn’t have anything to focus on now. I tried to stay calm, but it was disorienting in the rain, the crowd. I pulled off to the edge of the crowd and changed my shoes. Changing shoes in the rain while trying to keep your socks dry is an interesting exercise in futility. I kissed the old New Balance Vazee Paces goodbye and looped the laces together. These shoes carried me through Toronto, the race that qualified me for Boston. I was going to miss them, but I hoped that they would be donated to someone who could use them for a few more miles. The New Balance 1400v5s felt like gloves; warm, dry, snug.
I frantically crossed the start at 10:31 – 6 minutes late.
Now, of course it doesn’t matter when you cross the start line because it’s all CHIP timing, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was flustered. I was starting in the back of corral 8. Gary from Halifax was at my elbow, calmly talking to me. I don’t know if he could tell I was having an anxiety attack or if he was just friendly, but focusing on the conversation with him was incredibly helpful. That distraction was exactly what I needed to calm myself down and get my brain in order to tackle the mission ahead. Unfortunately I lost him by the 5k mark, but by then I was okay and able to trudge on alone.
My first 3 miles were very, very slow since I started with a slower group and muscled with an anxiety attack. I tried to make my way through the crowd, but didn’t want to spend too much energy weaving in and out, so I made peace with the conservative start. There were plenty of miles ahead of me to make up for it. I clicked into the pace around mile 4 and actually held on fairly consistently. The aid stations were slow, but I had no choice but to use them. I could not open my fuel pouches due to frozen, numb fingers and had to rely on the Gatorade being handed out as both fuel and hydration.
I knew that my husband would be at the Ashland station near mile 6, so I stayed to the left hand side. Sure enough, he was there, looking in the wrong direction! I shouted several times to get his attention & he caught a glimpse as I sped by. Sadly, because I started late, I was “behind schedule” (even though I was on pace) and this meant that he missed the train to the next stopping point. It was two hours for the next train, and I’d be done by then, so he and a fellow spectator shared a Lyft to the finish. Running, I had a feeling I probably wouldn’t see him again until Boylston Street, but couldn’t help by scan the sides the rest of the way into Boston.
I kept feeling the sensation that my shoes were coming untied, but every time I checked, they were fine. Thankfully my shoes did not hold on to water too much and my feet felt light the whole way. Unfortunately, racing shoes were not the best option in the rain or the down hills as my feet slammed to the front of my shoe repeatedly. By the end of mile 16 I was in agonizing pain. I could feel the blood squishing between my toes and tried to convince myself not to think about it.
The rain pelted down hard and fast. There were moments where it let up a bit, but it never fully stopped. I struggled with a headwind almost the entire way and gusts that nearly knocked me over. There were moments where the rain came so hard that it felt like stinging needles and there was no option but to put your head down and push on.
Large white medical tents with warming blankets and EMTs tempted me from the sidelines. “Come in, stop, and it can all be over” they beckoned. It was becoming harder and harder to pass by them. I began talking to myself and counting down the miles out loud to distract myself. I whooped with glee when the rain fell in sheets – not because I enjoyed the rain, but because I wanted to trick myself that I was.
The spectators were loud and dense. They lined the streets nearly the entire course, despite the freezing, awful wet. High fives, ponchos, food, dry socks and gloves were being handed out the whole way. I saw people opening Gu packets for runners and tying their shoes. Medical staff and police officers dotted the crowd as well. It was all a controlled chaos. It was all so intense.
Word spread to us in the pack that Desi Linden had won the women’s race. Elation erupted from us as we all celebrated her victory from our places on the course. I think the joy of her win helped give us all a little second wind and motivate us to keep trying for a little bit longer.
I made it to the Newton hills and that’s where it all nearly came undone. The going up was fine, it was the going down that wasn’t. My feet screamed at me at the slightest down hill and I felt relief when the elevation increased. I started to wonder if my foot was broken. I got through Heart Break Hill okay, but actually cried in agony when I slowly came back down the other side. There was plenty of more down hill through mile 24 and I wasn’t sure if I could make it. I passed a man running barefoot and it struck me as a great idea. I wanted nothing more than to rip my shoes off. But I knew the ground would be icy and if I had broken my foot, I would need all the cushioning I could get. Not much mattered now except getting to the finish line.
I always thought I’d be emotional once I’d see the Citgo sign. It’s the iconic moment when you know you are nearly there. But I was cold, I was in pain, I was dizzy. I didn’t even have the energy to cry anymore. The only thing that kept my body running was knowing that walking would take longer. I was also afraid that if I stopped, I might never start again and not finishing Boston was not an option. Time didn’t matter – finishing did. But with a mile and a half to go I glanced at my watch. I was behind pace. This was slightly crushing, but I kind of knew I was behind for awhile due to those hills. I had trained for a 3:15, but readjusted my goal to a 3:20 once I knew the weather would be awful. Now I wasn’t even on track for that. I did some quick math. If I really pushed it I just might make it in with enough to beat my qualifying time. I didn’t have much left in the tank, but I figured I might as well empty it and see just how close to the finish I could get.
It wasn’t pretty. I pushed. It wasn’t good enough. I pushed harder. I needed to get to the finish line faster, but I couldn’t. My body wouldn’t. I turned right on Hereford and gritted my teeth. I wanted to scream. I wanted to never run a marathon again. I turned left on Boylston and smacked into a wall of sound. The crowds were screaming frantically. I was running frantically. I wasn’t going to make it, no matter how I tried. My soul was collapsing in on itself. I pushed more. The finish line loomed ahead, big and blue in the grey. I was never going to make it.
I dug down into the last little bit and found a wee kernel left in the bottom of myself. Strava data tells me I peaked at a 4:46 per mile pace. I don’t recall it, but the race photos reveal me crossing the finish with my arms wide and a smile on my face. My official CHIP time came through at 3:17:30. That’s a personal record by 47 seconds. I did that.
I ripped my shoes off and the release of pressure gave immediate relief. I staggered along, sock footed, as volunteers draped a cape around me, slung a finisher’s medal around my neck, and handed me water bottles and food. I began shaking violently and had to stop every three steps to muster the strength to go three more. The nearly quarter of a mile walk to the family meeting area seemed to stretch out in front of me for impossible miles. Medical staff kept asking if I needed a wheelchair, but I knew a trip to the med-tent could take awhile and my husband was waiting in the cold with my warm clothes. I had come this far already, what was a short walk to the end of the block?
Sure enough, he was standing there on the corner, waiting for me. He was wet, but solid and warm. He helped me into the John Hancock Building where a warming center had been set up for the hypothermic athletes. Using my cape as a personal privacy tent, I stripped off my wet clothes and pulled on the dry ones. My feet were a rainbow of colors and blood seeped from under the toe nails. My right foot was quite swollen and tender to the touch. But there were so many runners in much worse shape and I felt that I was taking up valuable space on the carpet, so after I was changed I cleared out. Walking was difficult due to the pain in my foot (and quads!), but mostly because I was shivering so violently. The rain continued to pour as we made our way to the train station.
I shivered on the train for an hour. I shivered as we waited for a taxi to take us back to the hotel. I shivered on the two and half hour drive back home. I shivered in my sleep. It took a very long time to warm up again. But after lots of hot beverage and good food, the numbness is lifting and memories of the race are coming back to me. There aren’t any pictures because we were afraid the camera might get ruined in the rain, but I am able to replay it all in my mind like a movie, and it’s fantastic. Looking at some of the info the BAA has posted, I’m amazed at what we all did on Marathon Monday.
Boston Marathon 2018 was indeed the Most Epic Run. I don’t even know if anything else will ever compare. It was a battle and a half, it was both exhilarating and humbling. It showed me just what kind of grit I’m made of and man, oh man am I okay with that. While I swore off running at mile 24, now, a few days later, I really cannot wait for the next gun to go off.
Official Time: 3:17:30
Overall Place: 4749…………..top 18%
Gender Place: 624……………..top 5%
Age Division (18-39): 564……top 10%
Race day statistics from the BAA
My Strava Data