An Experience of a Lifetime ~ My Trip to the Boston Marathon

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Apr 23

Ready to run Boston

It’s hard to believe that the race is over.  It has been over 5 years and close to 15,000 miles since I first qualified for Boston in 2008.  Now I can say I have ran my first (but not last) Boston Marathon. I can also say that I am fairly sure I will be losing my first toenail in 18 years of running. (Just in time for summer sandals, perfect!)  That one little toe hurts worse than anything on my body today! I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to this trip. The truth is that my memories started before I even got here.  The overwhelming support I have gotten from friends and family has meant more to me than words could ever explain.  The kind messages, texts, and special gift bags I got from friends are honestly what actually made me realize what an accomplishment Monday was. The pride and excitement I have seen in them is unexplainably touching. As I ran I got text after text, I couldn’t read them but seeing them pop up was amazing. I am also so proud of my husband for actually finding me in the midst of the chaos at mile 25!

Before I talk about the race, let me talk about this great city of Boston. As we walked the streets you can see the pride and the strength this city has. Storefront after storefront you see “Boston Strong” and ” We Are Boston” signs everywhere, and you feel it from the people.  Marathon Monday, which is Patriot’s Day here, and is always the 3rd Monday in April has always been special in Boston. After the tragedies of the last marathon, you can tell it means 100 times more to the city and all of the people, runners or not. From the moment we got on the flight to Boston, people were talking about the marathon and wishing all the runners well. When we arrived it was as if the people of the city were so proud, thankful, and excited to have us here for the race. It really was amazing, which by the way don’t be surprised if I overuse the word “amazing” in this blog, I just can’t help it!  Every meal we ate was delicious and everywhere we went people we didn’t even know were wishing runners good luck and eventually congratulations. They even gave free subway rides home after the race to all of the runners! It is glaringly obvious that the 2013 bombings strengthened this city and the pride of the people that live here. It was truly touching.

Saturday we went to the expo to pick up my bib number and the Adidas official Boston Marathon gear was already picked over.  There was some left but sizes were slim and some things were just gone.  The next day we went back because I wanted another sweatshirt to wear to the Red Sox game, and they were literally wiped out. (No way was my husband leaving without a trip to Fenway Park!) They told us that they did plan for more people but clearly still did not have enough. They sold twice as much as they planned for.  I think everyone in the city wanted to show their support and their pride.

bostonBoston stephanie

So now on to the race.  My first prideful moment came when I managed to get my logistically challenged self to Boston Commons on the subway (all by myself) without getting lost! I was actually an hour early to board the bus, which was probably a bit much considering that even after I boarded the bus to Hopkinstown (which was a 45 minute bus ride) I still had two and a half hours until the race started. Although I have run a dozen full marathons, I always get nervous. Sitting for three plus hours in the park and Athlete’s Village gave me even more time to let my nerves set in, which gave me a bit of stomach ache.  Finding a balance of the right amount of nutrition and hydration during this time was tough. The time did pass fairly quickly and at 10:30 I began the race, the energy was unexplainable. By the time I started it was in the high 50′s and I was stripped down to my tank top. There was full sun, not a cloud in the sky, which is not favorable for me at all.  It quickly rose into the 60′s and there wasn’t a second of shade.  Since I run so early every day, I rarely see daylight, let alone full sun. (Which may explain why I broke 3:30 last year in Nashville in the pouring rain) My body is not at all acclimated to distance running in sunny weather.  In retrospect, knowing that the start time was so late here, I should have done at least some of my runs later in the day to get used to a delayed start and running in the sun.

If you know anything about the race then you may have heard of what they call “Heartbreak Hill”.  Well they call it that for a reason.  Not only does it have a steady and fairly steep incline, it is the longest hill I have ever ran in a marathon. (Did I mention you hit it about mile 20 when you are already asking yourself why the heck you are doing a 26.2 mile run and questioning your own judgement?) The worst part was that somewhere around mile 18 there was another big hill that I thought may have been Heartbreak Hill, but no it wasn’t. (Major blow to my mentality at the moment) It was the first marathon where I have ever had to take a break and walk parts of the hills. I stopped at more water stops than I usually do because the sun was dehydrating me.  Not to mention that I saw two girls around my age completely unconscious on the ground and surrounded by medics. I figured better to catch my breath than pass out. Then I saw a lady walking that had lost a leg in last year’s bombings. That was so incredibly motivating! Two people were helping her walk and I thought, just run Stephanie…you raced to get here now enjoy it.  Like they say, “Tough runs don’t last, tough runners do.”

The crowds, oh man the crowds were unbelievable! Not only was the number of people amazing, but the energy and the volume were like nothing I have ever experienced! You could see how truly excited they were for these runners they didn’t even know. There were high fives going on like you wouldn’t believe.  You would be surprised how high fiving a spectator can be motivating, especially from the children. I try never to miss high fiving a child with their hand out.  It was a palpable energy that I am not sure you could find anywhere else.  Boston is after all, the Super Bowl of all marathons and the city was filled with more pride than you can imagine.

I was happy with what I chose to wear. My Nike Tempo shorts were perfect, and so was my lightweight Nike tank. My dry fit Nike hat helped to keep the sun off of my face. I ended up choosing my Brooks Glycerin over my Saucony Triumphs which is a decision I will always question. I love them both but I am normally a Saucony loyalist. It was honestly such a hard decision because they are two of the best running shoes so I let the fact that my Brooks matched so perfectly be the tie breaker! I had originally been worried about being cold but the temperature warmed up before I even started so a tank and shorts was perfect.

That evening was the icing on the cake for me.  I got to see the incredible woman that coached me for my first several marathons, Michelle. She used to map out our runs and our training plans, cross train us, and even had us in the pool on Sundays for recovery.  Four years ago she moved to Boston and there was no way I was leaving without a hug from her. She taught me so much and inspired me to stick with running.  In addition to the Country Music Marathon we even ventured to the Chicago Marathon together, I have such great memories of those days.  The best part is how she so lovingly reminded me about all of the times I would randomly trip on our training runs.  (Hey I never claimed to be graceful!) We got a really good laugh out of that.

Boston friend

 

So here is what I would have done differently training wise for Boston to have been better prepared.  I should have done some of my longer runs late morning, knowing that the start time was so much later for this race.  Most marathons start at 7, 8 at the latest, so I finish around 10:30 or 11:30 which is when this one started. Practicing a later start time would have given me exposure to sun and allowed me to experiment with my nutrition.  It’s hard to do though with all of our kid’s Saturday sporting events, but even a few would have helped. I also should have done more hills, and even placed them towards the end of my run. Running a hill at mile 8 or even 12 of a marathon is nothing like running one at mile 20. When I run marathons I am very competitive with myself. I am hard on myself and I know it but it keeps me motivated and lets me roll from one goal right into the next.  I am definitely my worst critic but it gives me the drive to be better. If I am being honest I wasn’t feeling nearly as physically strong as I expected during the run and I was kind of bummed with my time. It was actually my slowest marathon in almost 8 or 9 years, still sub 4 hours but not near where I wanted to finish.  It was of course an amazing accomplishment and an unforgettable experience and I am more than proud.  Am I done though?  Not a chance. I will do Boston again.  I will have to qualify again first which is what I will work on next.  Since registration for 2015 is this September, I probably won’t be able to go until 2016. I would have to find a marathon to run before mid September and summer is not a popular time of year for marathons.  I will probably do Memphis in December and Nashville next April which will give me two more chances and a lot of time to train for both sun and hills. I hope next time to take my kids and let them experience the magic of the most prestigious marathon in the country, and possibly the world.

I leave Boston feeling proud and accomplished, yet motivated to return and do better. The good thing is that motivation is what keeps us all going, and mine is in high gear. (After a week or so of rest of course!) Like the banner I saw at the expo said, “You start as a runner, you finish as a Boston Marathoner.” Regardless of what my future in running holds, I can now say that I am a Boston Marathoner, and that is just plain fabulous.

Boston 2Boston welcome

 

The thirst you feel in your throat and lungs will be gone in minutes after the race is over, the pain in your legs within days. But the glory of your finish will last forever.
- Unknown

 

Preparing for the Boston Marathon

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Apr 17

Set a goal so big you can’t achieve it, until you grow into the person who can.”- Unknown

Boston Strong

Less than a week is left before the Boston Marathon!  I am excited, yet nervous. I get nervous before any marathon, but this one even more so.  The later start time and the logistics of running in a new and very big city contribute most to my nerves this time.  I have also never done an out of town marathon without a friend that is also running. Let’s just say I am not the best when it comes to logistics and directions.  I think I have read so much about the race that it is overwhelming!  Thankfully I have gotten advice from a friend who has run the race before (thank you David!). With the hilliest part more towards the end of the course, holding back a bit in the first half is going to be crucial for me because I am definitely a first half runner. I am excited because I know this is going to be such an emotional, amazing, and inspiring run, and I love to be inspired.  I am hoping that will give all of us running it a little extra energy.  I am counting on some really great pictures and some amazing memories.

I have put in the training miles, yet there is a lot still to factor in.  There’s the weather and what to wear, the travel time to the actual race and the logistics, the food and hydration, getting to the expo to pick up my packet, and many other things as well.  It is always different to run an out of town race because you don’t have the comfort of your own home and your own things to get ready with.  Food for example can be tricky when you travel to run.  I always pack what I know I am going to want to eat because when staying in a hotel, you may not have access to all that you need.  What I have always eaten before a full marathon is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (heavy on the peanut butter) and a banana. I usually carry a banana with me to the start line in case I need a bite or two right before we run.  Although I normally am not a Gatorade fan, I do sip on it the morning before a marathon, and water too of course! I have already bought my GU’s and Sport Beans that I will take with me to the actual race.

I do have to say the weather is looking borderline perfect for a marathon.  (Knock on wood!) The high for the day should be in the upper 50’s with temps around 40 when we wake up! (Rain unlikely, could not ask for better weather!)  I will definitely bring a throw away sweatshirt for the start line.  The good thing is that all of the items thrown down will be collected and donated.  So…. what to wear is the question.  I am on the fence between running shorts and my all time favorite Asics running capris.  I will be wearing my favorite Nike tank (VERY bright yellow) and have yet to decide if I will be wearing anything over it.  My biggest decision right now is my shoes.  I have two pairs that I love so much that it makes it hard to choose.  I have a pair of Saucony Rides and a pair of Brooks Glycerin.  Both are amazing.

                                                                       Stephanie in Saucony Stephanie in  Brooks

The bright yellow Brooks match my favorite tank (shouldn’t matter but somehow it does!), it’s just that I am usually a Saucony loyalist.

So I am taking it easy this week and trying to stay hydrated, eliminate sugar (hardest thing EVER!), and a lot of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and good carbs such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, granola, and more. By Thursday I will cut out anything high in fiber to eliminate my chances for any digestive issues!  I am as prepared as I am going to be, I feel like I have been preparing for 5 straight years, which is whyI can’t believe it is finally here, I get excited every time I think about it. I am looking forward to the amazing crowds there to cheer everyone on, I have heard that the sheer volume of the crowds alone will send chills up your spine!  Cannot wait…..Boston here I come!

Check back next week to hear how it went.  Hopefully I will get pictures and updates sent quickly through the Sport Seasons Facebook page.

GoTime

 

The Richland Creek Run and My Addiction to Distance

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Apr 08

In it for the long run Richland Ready

This past weekend I ran the Richland creek 5 mile run. The timing seemed perfect because I am tapering for Boston and I thought a 5 mile race would be a nice, fast speed training day as well. I first have to say I was way overdressed.  With this crazy weather in Nashville it is hard to predict and the 40’s can feel colder some days than others.  I wore my Asics Half Zip and a tank, but would have been better off in a good long sleeve running shirt…I was a little warm!  The good thing though about half zips is that you can unzip them and let a little air in! The Richland Creek run benefits Nashville’s Greenways, which as a city we are fortunate to have and need to maintain. The race was small but very well run, with under 300 finishers. I would definitely recommend it.  I think it’s great when we can participate in a race and support our community at the same time.

I tried to find a balance of pushing to get some fast miles in but not pushing so hard that I ended up too sore (since Boston is two weeks away). As usual I started way too fast by running a 6:20 first mile. So I slowed it down and averaged a 7:05 at the end which won me 1st place in my age group and 3rd place for overall women. (I was ok with that although it wasn’t my best 5 mile run….and the bonus was that I won a cool mug!). The thing about Saturday was that I am not used to running just 5 miles on a Saturday.  For well over a decade Saturday has been my “long run” day. It was especially odd for me right now because I am training for my 4th full marathon in less than two years. I am addicted to distance running, and I admit it. Just ask my husband about my mood when I don’t get my long runs in….he will be happy to share that with anyone. (Hey, there are worse things to be addicted to right?!)

 

Military Veterans Benefit from Operation Hat Trick Tennessee Vols Caps

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Apr 07

Sport Seasons is proud to support Operation Hat Trick with ’47 Brand hat styles in the University of Alabama and Tennessee Volunteers. ‘47 Brand is supporting Operation Hat Trick (OHT). When you make a purchase of an OHT hat, a portion of a purchase goes to the Operation Hat Trick organization who select organizations that provide direct services to wounded soldiers. Their mission is to benefit the recovery, education, and future employment of wounded servicemen and women and veterans.

OHTvols (1)

Operation Hat Trick began at the University of New Hampshire and was simply the donation of a hat after two hats were sold, playing on the idea of three consecutive successes during a game period. The lady behind the idea was UNH Senior Associate Athletic Director Dot Sheehan. She decided after the tragic death of two fellow UNH’s professors that the OHT would be dedicated to the memory of their son Nate Hardy and his friend Mike Koch, Navy SEALS who died while fighting together in 2008.

 

Bring on the Rain

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Apr 03

Chance for a Run

Finally we are seeing real signs of spring. I think we can all agree we are ready for it. The sunshine and nice weather seems to improve everyone’s mood. For me it is also a guarantee of a few things…soccer and baseball game cancellations for my kids, and a LOT of rainy runs.

I admit that up until a year ago I shied away from running in the rain. Normally I would opt to go to the gym and make the miles up another day. I was ok with getting caught in it mid run, but I had a tough time making myself start in it. That is until the Country Music Marathon last April when it poured the whole 26.2 miles! That day I ended up running my fastest time, by a long shot. Now, I am ok to face the rain on most any day, bring it on Mother Nature!

One price you will pay after a rainy run is the very soggy shoes you come home with. Most rainy runs I have had old shoes on so I just set them on the porch to dry….and it took days. After a 23 mile run this past Saturday in my new Saucony Triumphs and nonstop rain, my shoes were soaked.  I decided I better ask Barry (who is a wealth of shoe knowledge) what I needed to do to dry them quickly and without sacrificing the condition of my new shoes. Here is what he instructed me to do, which by the way worked like a charm and within hours I might add:

  • Loosen the laces.
  • Remove the soles.
  • Stuff the shoes with paper towels to absorb the extra moisture
  • Place the shoes and the soles in front of a fan.  (Air only, NO heat)

Drying the Shoes

By the time I went to bed my shoes were completely dry.  (After 20 years of running I finally learned how to dry my running shoes out the right way!)

Here are a few other things that help when you know there is a chance it may rain during your run.

  • Wear a hat to keep your head dry and to keep the rain out of your eyes.
  • Be sure to use a body glide or Vaseline in any place you may possibly chafe. The constant rubbing with the added wetness is a brutal combination if you aren’t prepared! Trust me you will feel it when you get in the shower!
  • Be sure you wear light weight clothing because the rain will weigh them down.
  • Remember that even though it may be wet outside, you still need to stay hydrated. (You may not feel quite as thirsty but you still need it.)
  • One of the most important things for me is to place my iPhone in a Ziploc bag.  It protects it 100% from the rain and you can still control your music through the bag. It has truly saved me because I need my music to run.

 Stephanie Nicely Done

When you are prepared to run in the rain it can actually end up being a very liberating, relaxing, and peaceful run.  This last Saturday in the rain ended up being my fastest long run in over a month.  (This also may have had something to do with my speed work that week….See the previous blog, “Need for Speed”)  There are actually a few benefits to running in the rain.  When you run in the rain you don’t have to fight heat exhaustion so you can often have a more intense workout.  This can help develop your leg muscles and build endurance.  Running in the rain can also develop mental toughness, which is a key component of becoming a better runner.  It makes you realize that you don’t have to wait for the perfect conditions to run.  You know what they say….. “If you wait for the perfect conditions, you will never get anything done!”

So lace up, grab a hat, some body glide and get your miles in this Spring!

Feel the Rain