Digging deep and going for it at the Boston Marathon 2016
I am finally ready to write about the Boston Marathon 2016! It is hard to believe that my experience of running the Boston Marathon with Team Stonyfield has come and gone. My training journey, Boston race weekend and running the 26.2 miles were such an important emotional journey for me this year.
I hadn’t run the marathon since 2014 where I had run after re-qualifying in 2013 the day that explosions rocked the marathon finish line. In 2014 I need to run for the simple reason of showing myself that I could do it again and I would be safe but emotionally I was not ready to actually race again. When I ran in 2014 I struggled with my emotions throughout the training and especially on race day where I felt almost as though I was running outside of my body. I was running but I just couldn’t “feel” the run. I was too wrapped up in feeling scared and just getting through the race. During the race I had several emotional breakdowns including at mile 8 upon spying several runners for TEAM MR8 (running for Martin Richards). I felt paralyzed when I saw them and had to break my stride to walk. Tears streamed down my face and I felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt overwhelmed by the crowds and the experience. The race continued on like this for miles. I felt like i could not control my breathing, my heart rate felt high and I just wanted the race to be over. Running down Boylston Street towards the finish line was exciting yet terrifying. I had completed the race but would everything be ok? After crossing the finish line that year I was quickly ushered into the med tent. I kept feeling like I might pass out from, the heat, and the exertion but also from the anxiety. My heart rate was high and I was dehydrated so I was given a cot to lay on and was checked out to see if I was ok. Most importantly a counselor who was on hand was there to speak with me who allowed me to sob and to let my grief flow out in gasping tears and sobs. The weight of 2013 finally releasing in a rush.
This year was a year for me take back the Boston Marathon. I was going to run and I was going to find joy in my run and I was going to celebrate the Boston Marathon for all that it is. After a solid training cycle where I ran mostly on my own I felt mentally stronger and physically stronger than I had felt in a long time. This year we made the Boston Marathon weekend a family affair. Rather than staying outside of the city we actually stayed right in Boston at the Copley Plaza Hotel right near the finish line and also the Marathon Host Hotel.
The kids loved staying in such a fancy hotel and especially love Catie Copley, the hotel black lab who greeted everyone coming in. I loved seeing all of the runners even some of the elites including Desi Linden who wasn’t racing but was there for the race. It was so convenient to be right near the finish line and also near the convention center for the Expo and Registration. I was actually happy this year to be close to all of the race festivities because it made it easy with our family as it gave Organic Runner Dad and the kids a home base that was close to the race and also because I was it made it easy to participate in the race festivities, to see friends and to get to the buses to get to the start of the race on race morning ( I will share some of the other cool moments of the race weekend in another post).
The night before the marathon we had a fun family evening with dinner (carbo loading for me) seeing The Wizard of Oz which was great because I was off my feet. The kids loved the show and it was fun and relaxing.
We got back to the hotel not too late and while I felt a little race jittery I was excited to run. We put the kids to bed, they snuggled their Boston Marathon Unicorns named Spike and after some typical sibling squawking, wished me good luck as I would be up before they would in the morning and then they quieted down.
Then I got my race day outfit ready, laid out my race bib and my race fuel and crawled into bed. My nerves weren’t too bad and I actually enjoyed a fantastic night of sleep. I didn’t need to get up too early since I was running with Team Stonyfield which put us in one of the last waves. Sarah and I (Run Far Girl and also Team Stonyfield) planned to meet up on the Common to ride the bus to the start together.
When I woke up I put on my race day out fit, pinned on my race bib and checked the weather one last time, the forecast was still warmer than desired but not much you can do about that. I had plenty of time to get breakfast at the hotel so I headed down to the restaurant expecting it to be crowded instead finding it quiet which was just perfect. I ate a hearty bowl of steel cut oats with fresh fruit and brown sugar, saving my banana and bagel for time in Athlete’s Village. After breakfast I head outside greeted by mild temperature and runners in all shapes and sizes making a pilgrimage to the buses. I got to the Common a little early, found a quiet bench overlooking the Swan Boats and sat for a few minutes and visualized my race. The sun was already beginning to feel warm.
I finally met up with Sarah and we got on the school bus (The last time we did so together was at the Eastern States 20 Miler). You could feel the nervous energy on the bus but I felt surprisingly calm. It was so nice to be with Sarah and our conversation kept my mind off of the upcoming miles. I felt like I was talking too much but I was feeling excited and ready to run.
The bus arrived at the Athlete’s Village and Sarah and I remarked how oddly similar the day and the surroundings felt to that at the start Eastern States. However when we stepped off the bus the temperature was shocking. It had gotten hot and the sky was clear blue. Hmmmm . . . definitely not ideal for running a marathon. Thankfully there was ample room in the shade under the tent where we waited, stretched and counted the ridiculous number of GU packets between both of us.
We also braved the porto-potty lines which never fail when you have a nervous stomach before a race. Being with a friend made the wait seem easy. While we waited I ate a bagel and had a Clif Organic Energy Food puch and drank some water. Sarah and I both had our race goals but keep our conversation light and sharing some laughs was the perfect pre-race plan. Finally it was time to
head to the start. We were both quieter now and getting prepped to run. Sarah and I exchanged one final hug wished each other good luck and I did my ritual shoe retying twice to make sure they were just the right tightness. It was hot, I was already starting to sweat.
The starting gun went off and we walked. There were so many people ahead of us, it took awhile to reach the starting mats. And then a chorus of watch beeps as we crossed the mats. I told Sarah good luck but then it took awhile for her to move away from me. Trying to settle into any kind of a pace that was part of the race plan was impossible. Being mixed in with the corporate runners and the charity runners meant that I was not necessarily running with runners who ran my pace. I tried running to the side of the course to move around runners which was also difficult due to the number of spectators. I decided to forgo looking at my watch for awhile and figured my pacing would get back on track soon. My original goal was to break 3:30 so I kept that in the back of my mind and focused on running.
Miles 1-4: 8:34, 8:28, 8:12, 7:59
I finally had a solid min/mile pace average for mile 4 but I was already starting to feel the heat and my legs felt heavy. Where was the light spring in my step that I had felt on most training runs. Hitting 7:59 min/mile pace felt hard whereas on most of my training runs that kind of pacing had felt effortless. By mile 4.5 I was ready to have a GU which was way earlier than usual. I was ready for some carbs and a caffeine boost. I had already been taking in water and gatorade at every station because with the stifling heat and humid air I knew it would be pretty easy for me to get dehydrated.
Miles 5-10: 8:03, 7:54, 8:01, 8:14, 8:09
These miles felt ok. My pacing was a little better but I just felt tight and the heat made my breathing feel somewhat labored. My legs were grateful for the gradual downhill and flatness of the course. I try to keep my energy up by focusing on the crowds. I listened to the cheering and high fived the little kids that I saw with their hands eagerly out. I tried to find someone to follow who looked as though their running was relaxed but it seemed as though many people were struggling. I could taste the salt on my face and was thankful for the orange slices, ice and wet cloths being handed out. I also made sure to grab some extra Clif Shots from the volunteers fearing that I might bonk later if i ran out of fuel because I seemed to be burning through everything very quickly. During mile 8 I remembered how emotionally challenging that mile had been for me in 2014 so I focused on each foot-strike and the cheers from the crowd. My legs were also grateful for the gradual downhill and flatness of the course.
Miles 11-15: 8:31, 8:13, 8:20, 8:30, 8:35
This is where the race started to get challenging. My legs were feeling heavy and it was so hot that I was taking water and gatorade at each stop and also dumping water on my head to try to stay cool. There was not much shade at all. Also, the wind was picking up and it was not a tailwind like so many runners hope for in a road race, it was a nasty headwind that while felt a little bit cooling was making it tough to keep fast forward motion. Now I felt like I was fighting my way through the run. I was so happy to finally reach the half marathon point in 1:48 which was still a decent time for halfway but at that point I knew that my goal of going for a sub 3:30 marathon time was probably not going to happen. For that to happen I was going to need a serious boost of energy. I started to feel negative at this point as the running did not feel smooth and light as it had at the Eastern States 20 Miler. During these miles I decided to forgo looking at my splits. I thought about elite runner Tina Muir who I got to meet at the Rise. Run. Retreat. in the fall who talked about how its good to run without looking at your watch all the time. Sometimes you need to just run by feel and let your body find the pace. I looked to the cheering from the crowds to get me through and they didn’t disappointing as I ran through the Wellesley College “Scream Tunnel.” It took my mind off of running and I had a good chuckle as I watched one runner try to kiss as many runners as he could as he ran by. The signs the girls held up were pretty hilarious too!
Miles 16-20: 8:16, 9:14, 9:08, 8:40, 8:50
Now the real work was beginning as we headed into the first real set of hills, the “Newton Hills.” These hills felt small in comparison to what I train on so I just focused on getting up and over. At this point I was just trying to run and enjoy the course. By this time I had consumed 3 packets of GU with caffeine and one Clif Shot, a banana, many orange slices and what seemed like gallons of water and gatorade. Even though my pacing wasn’t what I had originally planned on I kept chugging along. At this point I was feeling tired but was thankful for the newly gained strength from bootcamp training since the fall. This was the first time that lifting was really integrated into my training and now it was paying off because it gave me extra reserves to get through the tough moments. Somewhere during miles 19-20 I looked at my watch, my mileage and my splits and I began doing the math to do the complicated task, when your brain is totally fuzzy from running so many challenging miles, to figure out if I still had a shot at qualifying. After a few minutes I realized that THERE WAS STILL TIME! I still had tim to QUALIFY for next year!!!! Since I am turning 40 in October I am aging up into the next age group. I realized if I ran my a$$ off for the next 6.2 miles I could make it under the necessary qualifying time of 3:45. It was on. I mentally regrouped and decided that in order to do this I would need to “Run the mile I was in,” (best advice given by Dean Karnaszes at the North Face Endurance Trail Marathon in Utah).
I literally put my head down and pushed as hard as I could up heartbreak hill, surprised when Sarah suddenly appeared next to me grabbing my hand. She said,
“I’m having a rough time,” and I replied “This heat is killer. I’ve let go of all my goals.” Sarah said “Me too. Me too. We can do this together. We can finish.”
Miles 21-25: 9:22, 8:27, 8:26, 8:15, 8:05
I wanted badly to run with Sarah and to finish together and to pull her along but as we reached the top of Heartbreak Hill w separated. I was a few steps ahead and wanted so badly for her to be with me. The downhill energized me and as we ran down the back side if the hill I pulled away. I knew I needed to run my own race. I needed the crowd and looked for energy every place I could find it. I rallied the crowd to cheer the runners pumping my fist as I ran. Their voices uplifting me. I felt new energy. I told myself that this was a new race, this was the race where I would finish it off. I tried to shake the heaviness out of my legs and checked my form recovering from the slumping shoulders and head down that carried me up Heartbreak Hill. I ran and relied on my muscles. I dug into ever corner of myself to find every ounce of speed. It was hard and it hurt but I wanted that qualifier. When I least expected it I saw a college friend who cheered fiercely for me (thank you Lisa) and then a friend of my husband and his fiancee rallied me through 2 miles to go (thank you Lenny, you were the reason Jesse never came to the finish line of the race in 2013 and for that I am forever thankful!). Somewhere in the last miles I also spied my friend Chris from the podcast Run Run Live, a runner for Team Hoyt up ahead of me. I remembered his words during our podcast interview where we talked about how sometimes in running you just have to grit your teeth and “suck it up.” And that is just what I was doing. (You can give my episode of the podcast a listen HERE)
Mile 26-26.2: 8:27 + a little more
This was not my fastest mile but it was the most sweet. The turn onto Boylston seemed surreal but this time in a good way. I knew that my kids and husband were in the grandstands (Thank you so very much Team Stonyfield) and I could just imagine their loud cheerring, “Go Mommmmmmyyyyyyyy!” with cowbells ringing.
I pushed through the finish line without immediately knowing my time as the clock showed a time from an earlier wave. When I stopped my watch and saw my time I knew that I HAD DONE IT!!!! My time was 3:42.20, good enough to qualify and hopefully far enough under the time cut-off to get in next year! I crossed the finish line and felt my quads starting to cramp. I took a few steps, then hunched over hoping the cramps would stop, was asked if I was ok. I said, “yes” and tried walking ahead. I knew that moving was better than stopping so I walked ahead and got my hard earned medal, wondering where the water was. Finally there was water as I was so thirst and then elation as I called my husband, my parents and my coach! I was so relieved that race was over and so proud of my accomplishment.
After I called everyone and checked in with Sarah (read her recap here) I happily returned to the Copley Plaza Hotel to my family. Stopping only to refuel and celebrate with a little Stonyfield Yogurt in the family meeting area. I was proud and thankful that they had given me the awesome opportunity to race with their team! In the hotel room the kids told me about their day and how they had seen the wheelchair racers and the elite runners, and they were so proud to see my medal, wondering as usual, “Did you win.” For me this year the answer is decisively “Yes!” I did win. I went back this year to race my own Boston and to celebrate and to not let the demons of 2013 take hold of me again. I ran with all my heart and I feel like I regained a piece of myself.
The family celebration that night was the sweetest. We ate at the restaurant at the top of the Prudential Building overlooking the river where I used to row and looking out at the city the helped to rebuild me on my Boston Marathon 2016 run. I am so thankful for the support of my loving husband and kids who give me time to train and run!
This run had so many highs and so many lows. What was your highest or lowest point during a race?