The Boston Marathon is a unique experience for anyone and to try to put the details that create the experience into words will always fall short of the real thing, but how can I not at least try?
I'll start by saying that this was my first Boston Marathon and I was determined to soak it up without adding pressures of paces or expectations on my performance and I couldn't be more pleased with the result. That mindset started in my training (or lack thereof) because if you know m history at all, my love for running has been slightly infringed upon by circuit training and more strength-based workouts over the past year. As Boston approached and most people were diving into their 20 week training cycles, I was doing very little differently than I had been in regards to my workouts. I have personally seen the benefits of strength training and I also enjoy the diversity of them more than strictly running at this point, so I stuck with them while adding in 10 mile runs once a week that were primarily longer speed workouts....and that was about it. I ran 2-4 miles a few times a week as a warm-up before a normal workout, but really didn't get into higher mileage than that which is unorthodox to say the least. But I trust the circuit training that I do and I know the workouts are building muscle and paired with plyometrics and high intensity bouts of cardio I was creating both anaeriobc (muscular) and aerobic (cardiovascular) strength. I can honestly say that I did not run more than 10-11 miles as my longest run in training for Boston because it just wasn't my favorite way to exercise at the time and I'm a big proponent of enjoying the way you move and I did. Ok, so with that being said-- Boston was going to be tough, I knew that....it's tough whether you've trained or not. Every runner's training should include strength, I'm more convinced of it than ever in creating a stronger and faster runner, BUT if your PRIMARY performance-related goals are running-specific, I do recommend more long runs than I was doing, but again---that's determined by your goals and mine currently are less running related.
As the race got closer and closer, people would ask me if I was getting ready and excited and I was, but it also kind of snuck up on me as I had been pretty busy creating workouts and content for Tighter Together, teaching school and traveling for Spring Break. I guess you could say that I had diversified a little bit prior to this point and no longer felt the tunnel vision of Boston that some runners have because their passions are so strictly running-related (and I absolutely respect that, it just wasn't this year for me). So yes, I was excited to visit a new city, excited that my parents and Drew's parents were coming, excited to experience the hype, excited that I would get to run in such a prestigious race, and excited to celebrate the fact that I had qualified to be there. There were some nerves that this might not go well and for one reason or another (marathon distance leaves a lot of room for variables) I wouldn't be able to finish, but I also consider myself a pretty determined individual and I knew it would take a lot before that happened.
Before I knew it, the weekend leading up to Boston had come and gone-- we had gone to a Red Sox game, walked parts of the city, gone to church, eaten delicious food, shopped for extra layers and tried to avoid listening to the weather reports that promised miserably cold, rainy and windy conditions for Monday. Before I knew it, I was going to bed the night before the Boston Marathon and really not knowing what the next day would hold, but at the same time, I had a feeling it would be memorable...just a hunch. The day feels like the three days in one-- the first is all pre-race and kind of a wet frenzied blur as a followed poncho-clad runners into lines, the lines into busses (where I met the nicest Charity runner Sean who made those 40 minutes fly by and I'm so thankful), from busses into a very muddy Athletes Village, and then somehow a porta potty and all the sudden we were getting into our corrals. I had been told that you would wait at Athletes Village for a while, and maybe it was all longer than I felt because I was overwhelmed with the mud and rain and trying to decide what to wear and what to throw away, but I never felt I had extra time.
The best description I can give to the .7 mile walk from Athletes Village to my start wave at 10:50 was that it seemed like we were all walking to some form of punsihment-- nobody really talked, instead, everyone kind of kept their heads down as the rain pelted our faces. It was almost a coming to terms with our new reality and how the next few hours were actually going to be. I will say that the excitement grew as we got to the start and as we actually started running--we were doing what we had come to do and as I got into that motion and people started lining the streets and cheering it become much more tolerable and even exciting--and it grew and grew from there. When a big gust of wind would come, a runner or two would cheer loudly as if to remind the others that we're tough and this is still Boston, so buck up! I wasn't running with ear phones in at this point so I caught all the cheers, the cow bells, the stereo systems set up under tarps along the route and enjoyed it all. I also haven't mentioned that my watch and phone hadn't fully finished upating from the night before and despite Drew's best attempt in a short amount of time, I had no way to track paces whatsoever. Normally this would throw me off, but if there was one day that I was truly going to try to run based on feel, it was this one. Drew had made me promise to 1) not go out too fast with excitement 2) drink at almost if not every aid station and I was determined to stick to the plan. I even drank so much in the first 7 miles that I stopped to use the bathroom (never done that during a race). Things were going fine, the miles were clicking by and I estimated I was running below a 9 minute mile but not by too much and with the elements what they were, I was happy with that.
I fumbled my phone out of my pocket underneath my poncho around mile 10 and Drew had texted me saying that my cheering squad (my parents who flew up for the day, Drew's parents who were with us the whole weekend and of course, Drew) would be at mile 13 on the right side of the road past a big American flag-- I was so excited, but I told myself not to speed up, but just enjoy Wellsley and keep my eyes peeled for them. I can't explain my excitement to see them and I don't think I have to because you can see below, but just to know that they were standing out there for the 30 seconds I would pass by just to hop in the car and get to another spot meant so much. I wanted to thank them with enthusiasm. It was heartwarming to see fellow runners connect with their loved ones along the course. There's such a support system behind these runners and many of them would never be toeing the line in Boston without many people in their corner. Drew informed me later that he takes credit for the next 3-4 miles because my pace increased to about 8 minute mile after seeing them-- it was the perfect boost!
Around mile 14 I decided I would try to break things up before the Newton Hills and the time I would see them next, so I put on a podcast...and I know that sounds like a snooze fest, but it was nice to hear something else for a change and was a welcomed distraction (my Spotify also wasn't synched on my new phone, so the technological issues persisted, but I really didn't care). I saw a few signs that notified me we were heading into Newton, so I mentally prepared myself for hills, and I'm sure there were some, but honestly it was nothing menacing or too difficult. Even at the end of "heartbreak hill" I remember thinking that it was really just a hill and nothing more. I felt strong and consistent through the whole race and I attribute that to strength training. In fact, when I saw my family for the second time, around mile 20 I really didn't know if I had gotten to them, passed them or was in the Newton Hills. I just knew that I was going to be fine and that this crazy day would end well despite the factors that could have caused many different outcomes.
Des Lidden (winner of the Boston Marathon) said it best, "the marathon doesn't start until Mile 20," and it's true. There's a world of difference between a 20 mile run and a 26.2 mile run and I can't explain it, but if you've done one then you know. You just have to find a way to keep going even though those last six can seem longer than all the previous. For me, it was miles 21-23-- they seemed unending, but by 24 it was just getting so close I could hear the crowds getting thicker and louder. Then the things you've heard about start HAPPENING. You SEE the Citgo sign and it's the prettiest thing to you in that moment and when the rain really picked up in those last two miles, it seemed to add to the drama of it all. Then before you know it you are MAKING THE TURN that everyone talks about.....but this time I was actually turning and I picked up speed, right and then left and the a straightaway to the finish and i just ran what felt like a freeing sprint (really only about 7'30 pace, but you know how that's different given your legs condition) all the way to the end passing people and it seemed like everyone was cheering for me....and then it was over. I smiled so big and had a twinge of sadness that it actually had to end, but it was all I could have hoped for and more. As I walked towards the capes the volunteers give you to keep warm, I realized how cold I actually was-- I couldn't really lift my arms up to find the arm hole and clumsily tried without success, but the elderly man volunteering just smiled and helped me until it was on, then turned me around and velcroed the top and didn't let me leave until I was situated. I just looked at him and for the first time the emotions of the day and all the people who stood out there for hours in the cold and rain for US with outstretched amrs, encouraging words, water and aid culminated in that man and holding back tears I just said "thank you, thank you so much."
The rest is a very cold blur until I found my family and then a very cold eurphoria set in until we made it back to the Airbnb for a hot shower, Italian food at Bricco, chocolate cake at Mike's Pastries and a very warm bed. I knew waking up on Monday morning that I would go to bed the same place I had woken up, and at that point I didn't know how the day would go, but I hoped there would be at least 26.2 miles in between and there were that many and each one filled with memories of a lifetime. God knit the love for movement deep inside my heart, and I consider the Boston Marathon another gift from Him.