The 123rd Boston Marathon.
April 15, 2019. Six years to-the-day since the Marathon bombing. The 123rd Boston Marathon. My 5th Boston Marathon. So much build up to the event. It’s always historic. It’s always exciting. I went into this one hoping for a PR. Boston is a tough course to PR on, I’ve heard so many people say. But, I’ve done it twice. Why not make it three times? I know I'm fit. The weather looked okay. Plus, I made some promises that I would push this race, no matter what. I was ready to go for it.
Marathon Monday. Normal pre-race routine. Get dressed. Eat. Pack on extra layers for Athlete’s Village. Made a last minute decision to wear throw-away shoes because of the rain starting to come down. Walked to the bus loading in a torrential downpour with gusting winds. It let up a bit by the time I actually got on the bus, but the parts of me not covered by my poncho were soaked. At least it wasn’t cold!! Bus ride was uneventful. Unloaded at the Village and, thankfully, it had stopped raining. There will still some strong wind gusts, but the weather seemed to be coming around nicely. Cool and overcast. Near perfect racing conditions for me.
On the walk to the start line, I decided to start with arm sleeves and gloves. It was between cool and comfortable, depending on the wind and if the sun was peeking out of the clouds. I started in the second wave, corral 1. So I could actually see the official start tower as we lined up! Right on time, the gun went off. I headed out of Hopkinton with 8,000 or so of my closest wave-2 friends. I’d set an ambitious A goal of 3:05. That works out to about 7:05 pace. As we started out down the course, I focused on that pace. Knowing that I may be a little fast the first few miles because of the downhill stretch.
It always takes a bit to really settle in to a marathon. Even more so with Boston, I think, because there are so many runners. So many spectators. And, that initial downhill makes it easy to get swept up. The first mile at 7:03 (on pace) felt a little tougher than it should’ve. I tried to settle in to a comfortably hard pace. 6:50 for the next few miles. A bit fast, but mostly downhill. Still, I didn’t feel quite right. Nothing was wrong, it was just feeling like more effort than the first few miles of a marathon should. I was already sweating. It wasn’t hot or sunny. But, it was humid. Humidity can be a killer. That’s okay. Keep hydrated. Hit every aid station. And stay fueled. Took my first gel around mile 4. I’d vowed to push through this race. Keep on it all the way. See what I can do. If I have a shot at a PR, I can’t back off the pace. This course only gets tougher as it goes.
The conversation in my head kept on that way for the next few miles. Have to keep this pace. It feels hard. But truly racing a marathon should feel hard. Shouldn’t it? Sure, but this hard? This early? I didn’t think so. But, I remembered one marathon during the 5 in 5 days where I inexplicably felt way better at mile 16 than I did at mile 6. In a marathon, anything is possible. As long as you keep your head in it. That’s it. Just keep my head in it. I’ve read a couple of books that describe the power of the mind in endurance sports. Athletes pushing their bodies beyond what the physically “should” be able to do. And, those that self-sabotage by doubt and “can’t-do” attitudes. Not me, not today. Miles 5-9 stayed on pace, averaging 7:02.
Mile 10 is where the course starts to level out. I didn’t realize how much I was gaining from the downhills until then. 7:12. Alright, need to push this pace back down. Work for it. 7:09. Better, but that A goal is slipping away. I’m not even to the hard part of the course. The girls from Wellesley College come out every year to cheer on the marathoners. You can hear them from nearly a mile away. It’s known as the scream tunnel. I high-fived nearly every single one of those young ladies as I ran through there. A much-needed pick-me-up! (And it’s a little downhill.) 6:57. Alright. May be back in this. Focus on the basics. Still hitting the aid stations for fluid. Took a second gel around mile 12. Keep pushing. 7:13. And, I am working. I have never felt so zapped at the halfway point of a marathon. The sun had been peeking in and out of the clouds. Now, it was full sun. Getting really warm. And still humid. You’re supposed to still feel strong at halfway. Especially at Boston. I wasn’t. I’m not even to Newton yet. Home of all the hills.
Time to regroup. Get my sh*t together. My A goal is no longer realistic. But that doesn’t mean give up. My biggest promise to myself was to push. No matter. And, I was. 7:20. A merciful downhill stretch into Newton. 6:57. These next few miles are the toughest of the course. My legs already felt like I was at mile 26, not mile 17. For the first time ever, I really questioned if my legs were going to hold out for the rest of the race. I’ve trained on tired legs for this reason. Trust in that. Keep pushing. Up the hill at mile 18. Head down. One foot in front of the other. Don’t let up. So hard to breathe. Finally to the top! 7:34. And, Heartbreak Hill is still to come. That’s all I could think about for the next couple of miles. Need to push now before Heartbreak. It took a bit to recover. Still felt like I was working hard. Really hard. 7:31, 7:43.
Onto Heartbreak. The crowds are so great there. Cheering. Cowbells. Encouragement. It’s an epic hill because of its location on the course. And its history. This year I witnessed the epitome of why it is legendary. How it can make or break a race. I’m struggling. But focused. Determined. A lady passes me, literally all smiles and nearly skipping. Then, another lady just ahead of me drops a gel. As she bends over to pick it up, she bursts into tears. Spectators encourage even more. You got this! Don’t give up! I just keep putting one foot in front of the other increasingly shaky foot. Relief at the top. 8:12. Tried to enjoy the downhill, but had to recover. Still, kept pushing.
The hard part is over. It’s mostly downhill from here to Boylston. A few seemingly minor uphills. I felt okay for the next few miles, relatively speaking. But, the splits didn’t show it. 7:18, 7:30, 7:27. I started doing the math at each mile. If I run 7:30s, I can still finish at whatever time. I caught myself slipping into comfortable, and started to push again. Kept myself to the edge of not-sure-I-can-keep-this-up. I quit with calculating the times. I was to my C goal. Which, for the first time ever, was not a time-based goal. As long as I pressed, I would be happy. Raced the whole thing. Never got comfortable. Never let up. That was my goal. And, my promise to a friend. The crowds through Brookline are always fantastic. But, this time, I couldn’t focus on them. I felt disconnected. Like I was watching from afar. The cheers and cowbells sounded distant. My hands and arms were tingling. The lack of confidence in my legs was growing. But, I kept on. 7:32. Into Boston. Past the Citgo sign. Down and up under Massachusetts Ave. And, finally, the right onto Hereford and the uphill that comes with it. Then, the left onto Boylston. 7:57.
Still, the crowd noise felt distant. Surreal. I tried to pick up the pace for the last surge to the finish line. Fist pump in the air as I crossed. I did it! A five-time Boston Marathoner. And, this time, I knew I left it all on the course. I took everything my body had to give on that day. A few wobbly steps across the finish line, I bent over. Hands on knees. Uncertain if I was going to puke. Or, fall down. Or, both. The medical staff at the finish line is great. One lady gave me a few seconds then asked if I was okay. I nodded and wobbled a few more feet. Repeated the process. Then, I was okay. Went on to collect my water, medal, and heat blanket. Paused for a picture and on to the Gatorade table. I downed four cups and felt better. Wandered off to find my husband. On the way, it finally occurred to me that I should check my watch. 3:11:33. My second fastest marathon. On a warm day. On a challenging course. The Boston Marathon course.