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.
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.
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.
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.