Boston Marathon 2017
Up ahead, an open fire hydrant. Could it be or was it a mirage? The cool water streaming over me as I ran through was immediately refreshing. I could feel my body temperature dropping and the sweat and salt wash from my face. I didn’t even care that my running shoes were now wet and my running skirt was so heavy with water that I could wring it out. This was going to be one of the things that would rescue me from the heat on Boston Marathon Monday.
By now you’ve probably read many descriptions and race reports about the heat on Boston Marathon Monday 2017. For spectating the sun and seventy degree temperatures were amazing. The crowds were large; kids, adults, crazy beer drinking and kiss demanding college students. It was the crowd that you want to have cheering you on as you attempt to run your best 26.2 miles. For runners however, especially those of us who had been training the winter temperatures, snow, and ice all winter long, the change in forecast from a runners dream of 5o’s and overcast with a tailwind that changed to sunny with no cloud cover and really no wind with temperatures reaching into the mid-seventies was anxiety producing.
My alarm went off on marathon Monday and I peeled myself quietly from my bed. The first thing I did was to check the weather forecast. What I saw was not great! It was going to be hot. The front that was supposed to move through overnight never happened. I snuck into the bathroom hoping to wake no one and put on my race day outfit that I had carefully laid out the night before. I decided to ditch the tall compression socks in favor of sleeves and low socks (only later to ditch the calf sleeves in athletes village before the race even started for fear of overheating).
My daughter quietly knocked on the door wanting to wish me good luck and gave me a sweet note which I would carry in the front of my sports bra for good luck. The great thing about the big marathons is that they usually start later so it is easy to get a big breakfast before hitting the road. The hotel restaurant was busy with runners and the buffet was just what I wanted.
I have an iron stomach and like to load up before I run a marathon so I had a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, bananas and milk and scrambled eggs (with extra salt!). The day before I had grabbed a bagel and an extra banana to take to the race start along with a Clif Organic Energy Food Oatmeal Pouch that I would nibble on about 1.5 hours before the race. I ate the banana with 30 minutes to go. People were already talking about the heat and strategies for using Base Salts and anything to deal with the heat we knew that we would be facing.
As I headed out the door I immediately started talking with another woman who was headed to the bus. She was going for a Sub 3 Hour marathon but had been battling with Peroneal Tendonitis which I am familiar with and was also worried about the heat. We only had a short walk to the Boston Gardens to get to the bus but it was nice to have someone to talk with (we connected after the race on Instagram too which was cool). On the bus ride I sat with a sweet woman from Texas who was running her first Boston. We shared stories about running marathons and how we qualified for Boston. The ride felt like it went quickly and before we knew it we had pulled up to Athlete’s Village.
I desperately needed to use the bathroom so immediately darted to the porta-potty lines and found some short ones in a corner. I spent the rest of the time relaxing under a tent and contemplating my race. The biggest buzz was about the heat of the day. People were worried. I tried not to focus on it. Sipped on my water and some Skratch Labs, ate my pre-race food and then hopped into the Porta-potties for that one last important before you get to the starting line stop when the nerves are beginning to kick in. Time seemed to be in fast motion and quickly they were calling my wave.
I could feel the sweat already starting on my forehead as we walked through the chutes to the starting corrals. As we walked I ran through my race strategy. I knew I would be adjusting my pacing due to the heat. This race was not going to feel easy like it had at the Eastern States 20 Miler. With 8 minutes to go I was in my corral. I did my ritual shoe re-tying (2 times for luck) and then made a quick decision to move my race bib to my running skirt. I had a feeling I would be ditching my tank top soon. It was HOT!
Suddenly it was time and the starting gun went off. We walked until a few feet before the starting timing mats due to the throngs of runners up ahead and then we were off and running. I felt super calm and focused. I was ready to run my own race. I felt more mentally prepared to run the Boston Marathon than I had been in 2014 and 2016. Even though I still struggle some with the PTSD from my experience in 2013 I have done a lot of work to strengthen my mind and my mental toughness. I felt very present for this race whereas in the past I had felt scared, overwhelmed and a little lost. Today on the starting line I felt emotionally charged but in a good way. I was going to run a strong race no matter what!
My First 3 miles were nice and easy. This is where you don’t want to go too crazy in Boston because the downhill grade may feel good in the beginning but your quads and calves will hate you later if you crush the pace here. I tried to keep my heart rate relaxed here and ran focusing on the easy gait of others. I kept reminding myself to relax and to not force a speedy pace. I was already feeling the effects of the heat and was feeling annoyed by the fabric of the tank top touching my hot and sweaty skin so sadly I ditched my nice new Skirt Sports Wonder Girl Tank somewhere around mile three. I did not regret this decision at all. Bare skin in the heat felt so much better and I was proud of my bare skinned, strong mom belly. Ditching the tank probably saved me from nasty chafing too! I was also already ready for my first GU which was way sooner than usual. I had opted for GU ROCTANE because I love the caffeine boost and today I needed it more than ever.
After the first 3 miles I knew I would need to start bringing my pace down if I wanted to get my BQ. Dropping the pace in the heat was not easy. The sub 8 minute miles splits that I had seen at Eastern States were not there and wouldn’t be attainable today, that was obvious. Rather than fixating on this I focused on running strong sub-8:20 pace. I wanted to sustain that if I could. I found my pace and tried to run with people who were running my pace and running relaxed. I sang songs to myself (a running soundtrack of Chainsmokers with Coldplay and Halsey and Katy Perry was on repeat in my head . . . these were the songs that boosted me through marathon training). I kept reminding myself about what my coach Denise had said and that was to not focus on the thins that were out of my control like the heat and instead to focus on what I could control. So that is what I did.
I knew that in order to avoid dehydration during the race I would need to be drinking a lot of fluids today and especially gatorade. The electrolytes were my best friend. In the past I have had too much water to drink over the course of a marathon which resulted in flushing my kidneys too much. This time I took small sips of water and drank full cups at each station. I drank full cups of water when I downed my energy fuel. Much of the water that I took I poured over my head, down my front and back in attempts to reduce my body temperature. I was also burning through my fuel and was happy for the packets of CLIF Gels that were being handed out. My body was working so hard to maintain its energy because my cooling system was in overdrive. As long as my pace felt even and my heart rate did’t feel out of control I tried to not look at my watch and run by feel. After 6 miles I felt psyched because I knew now there were 20 miles left . . . this sounds crazy but to keep it positive I told myself that I was starting one of my 20 mile training runs. When I run a marathon I never focus on the entire 26.2 miles all at once, it’s these little mind tricks that can help you accomplish the distance! Another significant mile for me was mile 8. In 2014 when I ran mile 8 my emotions from 2013 came crashing down and my race fell apart. Today I owned miles 8 and 9 and ran them strong. I ran them for Martin Richard. I ran with my heart.
After that I knew I needed to make it to the Half Marathon point. The scream tunnel through mile 12 at Wellesley College was an emotional uplift. The screams cause a surge of adrenaline and then you must remind yourself to carry through once the screams subside at the end.
I was in through the Half Marathon in 1:49.12. Things were getting rugged! People were struggling around me and every water and gatorade station seemed like a fight to get in to get the cups. The sheer number of discarded cups on the ground was an indication of the toll that the heat was having on runners. I was downing Gatorade like it was my job. I grabbed ice from spectators to stuff down my sports bra, anything to stay cool. I grabbed orange slices, watermelon slices, bananas, pretzels, and ice pops (so good). I ran through every open fire hydrant and hose that was available. I did not want to let this day beat me.
The second half of the Boston Marathon is a beast! The hills can bring your pace to a near standstill if you if you are not ready for them and if you went out too fast early on. Even with the crazy heat today was my day to own the hills. When my legs became tired and heavy I focused on the strength in my upper body and my strong core (strengthened by hours of lifting and time in the pool over the winter). Magically on this day, friends who knew me were placed at perfect intervals on the course providing me with high fives and encouraging words at just the right times. A surprise high five and screams of, “you are owning the Newton Hills Sandra,” from my friend Doug gave me a boost to push harder. You can see from my splits where the hills came into play. Somehow I started to feel fresher again as I ran through the hills. I owned them! The hills of the Boston Marathon would not eat me alive today!
Up and over Heartbreak Hill and it was time to bring it home. It was time to do some serious work! I did some math in my head and knew it would be close and just like last year if I ran my ass off I could get that BQ. This is where the crowds were essential. I picked up my pace and went for it! I lifted my right arm up and encouraged the spectators to cheer for the runners. Come on everyone! We need you and your voices! For me this is where the adrenaline really began to take over.
And so I ran! It hurt like hell. But I ran. I dug deep and found that strength inside me. The Citgo sign was beautiful. A glowing red beacon pulling me closer to the finish. The T rolling by with its energy made me think I runners who sometimes race the trains or race the T as a workout. I imagined myself doing that and beating the train. The face of a friend to the right yelling for me pushed me on. Suddenly we were passing under “Boston Strong” The sign affixed on the road overpass where runners had been stopped in 2013. A huge surge of emotion and tears welled up in my eyes spilling down my cheeks.
Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston.
The voices of my family yelling for me, “Go Mommy, go!”
The crowd was a blur. I picked it up even further. My last miles the fastest of the entire day.
Nothing sweeter and more painful than crossing that finish line. You can do anything!
A moment in front of a crowd of thousands all to myself.
Today this race was mine. I wasn’t going to let Boston beat me.
And, I just squeaked a BQ (Boston Marathon qualifying time)!!!!! Official Finish time in the Women’s age group 40-45: 3:44.29
And that was really freaking hard!!!!!!!
I don’t know where my Boston Marathon journey will lead me next as even though I totally earned that Boston Qualifier (BQ) my time may still not be good enough to get into next years race because so many amazing qualified runners register to run every year. I have many big goals ahead of me and my Boston Marathon story is one of memories both tear and joy filled. I am so thankful for these days that I get to run like this and for all of you cheering me on and supporting me in my every stride. This race showed me that I am strong of mind, heart and body and I am PROUD.
What is your favorite accomplishment in your life? Are you hoping to run the Boston Marathon someday?