While this was the third time running the Boston Marathon, I wanted this to be my best one. I ran the marathon in 1996 and 2000, so it had been 11-years since I had been back, and I wanted “revenge” on my two bad days there those years.
The weather was perfect — beautiful blue skies, upper 40’s to 50’s with a strong tail wind – just what I had visualized. My brother-in-law drove me into Boston to get the bus out to Hopkinton, and when I got there, the line was about ½ mile long to get on the bus. It weaved in and around the Boston Common, it was crazy! As I walked by a coffee shop, I had the brilliant idea of hanging out inside. I mean, it made more sense to wait inside a warm place instead of standing in a long line, and who cares if I was the last one on the bus? So I went inside, bought a $1.70 cup of coffee (I figured if I sat there, I’d at least give them money though I didn’t drink one sip of it), and I looked out the window, watching people standing in line freezing cold. A few other runners joined me, and we sat there and talked. When the end of the line went by, we went outside, found port-a-potties, and then boarded the bus. I was fortunate to run into two other Atlanta friends (Yvette & Corona) while waiting to get on the bus, so we got to hang out a little together.
The ride to Hopkinton was over an hour long, mostly because of the traffic as we got closer to the town. We were dropped off at the school at about 9:15, headed to the port-a-potties yet again, then walked into the “Athletes Village” which is at Hopkinton High School, and just a massive crowd of people. By this time, it was 9:45 and we had to leave at 10:00 to head to our corral for the start of the race. So the sleeping bag and tarp I brought for lying on the ground never got used – perfectly fine by my standards. In past years I had got to the school early and had to wait outside in the cold, this year the coffee shop and bus kept me warm. So I spent a few minutes going through the clothing bag, gathered what I needed for the race, kept on my throw-away clothes, and handed in my clothing bag to the bag drop.
As I walked to the starting corral, I realized my running gloves were in the pocket of my jacket – which was now on the bus. Ugg. Luckily, as we walked to the start (a ¾ mile walk), plenty of people were discarding clothing so I found some gloves and took them. The race officials stopped us on the street, as the wave prior to mine was still taking off. The clock said 10:33am, and my wave was supposed to start at 10:40. Finally, they let us go and we all had less than 7 minutes to get to our corral. I was in Corral 2, so by the time I got there, I literally had about 2 minutes to spare, not enough time to get nervous, so I guess that was good. It was actually warmer than I thought, so I discarded my throw-away shirt right away, and boom, the gun went off and off we went!
In the days/weeks leading up to the race, I was studying the elevation chart and reading tips about the race. In my two prior Boston’s, I had just bonked badly the last four miles – my legs were incredibly sore and I just slogged along, and I did not want that to happen this year. I wanted a strong finish, I wanted to feel good the whole way, I wanted to enjoy the fans, I wanted to have fun, and I still wanted to break four hours. Deep down, I wanted to go faster than 3:55, and I thought I could, if I ran smart. So, I took quick steps on all those downhills, didn’t slam my feet, didn’t break myself. A-lot of positive self-talk went into the race, and I was having fun.
I was keeping track of all my splits and felt I was right where I should be. At the 25k mark (about 15.5 miles) I was at an 8:51 pace, yet was getting ready to hit the hills. I felt good, though I was getting side stitches, but some deep heavy coughs sort of took care of that (more on that later).
The crowd was amazing as usual. Sure there were some points where there were no or few fans, but for the most part, the place was packed, sometimes 5+ people deep. It was awesome. At Wellesley College (the “screech tunnel”) the girls were screaming so loudly for about ¼ mile, it was almost deafening. People were everywhere throughout the course.
At the 16.8 mile mark or so, I saw my family – a big boost. Both my sisters, nieces, nephew, my husband and son were there, it was so cool to see them. I stopped long enough to give my son a kiss, high five them all, and off I went again.
Enter Newton and the hills. No one really likes hills, especially when they start at that point in a race, but that’s what makes Boston so hard, is the downhill start and then long uphills late in the race. Of course they slowed me down, but I had enough cushion room so it shouldn’t be a problem – or so I thought. Heartbreak Hill (the longest, last uphill at mile 21) was harder than I remember and when I reached the top I was relieved. The crowds were crazy here, as it’s right at Boston College so the fans were going nuts, yelling loud, drinking beer, offering beer to us, cheering us along. It was a steep downhill after this, and I kept talking to myself about how to run downhill and stay strong.
At mile 23 I realized I had slowed down a lot (to about a 9:30 average pace), and only had 30 minutes to run the last 3.2 miles. Normally wouldn’t be a problem, but my quads were feeling it – though not nearly as bad as they had in the past. I actually felt good and strong, so that was the most important to me, so I did a lot of positive self talk to get me through. My Garmin watch was off, beeping I was at the mile marker before I had actually reached it, and I don’t really know how that was possible. I tried to run the tangents, stay on the inner part of corner’s, I should not be that far off. At the end it said I ran 26.4 miles…. 0.2 miles longer than the race course, and I have no idea where that came from. I have to believe the Garmin is off, because it seems impossible to run that much further on this course.
Finally I saw the Citgo sign, the famous sign near Fenway Park – one of my favorite places. The crowds were packed as we ran by Fenway, the game had just finished (or was close to finishing??), and Red Sox fans came out to cheer us on. It was so cool. I then came up to the “1-mile to go” mark and looked at my watch. I only had 9:40 minutes to go to break four hours. Maybe I felt good because I had let myself slow down so much? I couldn’t figure it out. OK, I can run a mile in 9:40 no problem — right? This was probably the worst part of the race, as I turned down Boylston Street and saw the finish line almost ½ mile away. Instead of enjoying it, I had to focus and push myself if I wanted to break four hours. There was a sign that showed us which clock was the clock based on our starting wave, and I watched it as it approached the four-hour mark, and then went over. I was crushed, as I was a few yards away and didn’t hit my mark – or so I thought. When I crossed the finish line and looked down at my watch, I forgot it had taken me about 30-seconds just to cross the starting line, so I had done it – I did break four hours.
I had forgotten to give a fist up or smile as I crossed the line, so who knows what that finish line photo will look like – probably not a good one as I’m sure I looked disappointed.
So, let’s see, my goals: 1) Finish without totally bonking = I feel I accomplished that. While I did slow down, it didn’t feel horrible and I felt pretty good. 2) Have fun & enjoy the fans = I did that, as I gave lots of high fives to little kids, looked at the crowds to see who was there, looked for my family (maybe all that crowd gazing slowed me down). 3) Break 4 hours = official time 3:59:42 so barely did that (yet qualified for Boston again!). 4) Run 3:55 or less = didn’t do that.
I came into this marathon in good shape. I had trained harder than other races, my training was really strong and I was running well, I had my race-day nutrition figured out. I was getting massaged every week so my legs were ready and I was getting adjusted weekly as well. The one thing that I had no control over was my cough. The past 6-weeks I had been fighting a cough, yet I trained though it and figured if I could run with it, I could race with it. So a few points during the marathon I had that deep hacking cough, which was good to get the diaphragm moving and get rid of the side stitch, but maybe it slowed me down???
The day after the race, with a sunburn and two black toenails, my cough got worse.By Wednesday, it has moved to a massive headache, congestion, and I could barely breathe or move. I was in Vermont with my sister, who took me to a walk in medical clinic and after 2 hours and many tests, the MD said I had bronchitis and a sinus infection and gave me antibiotics. I had ignored and tried to suppress most of the problem for so long, now it finally got me. And for me, a healthy natural-oriented chiropractor, to succumb to antibiotics, it means I was sick. I haven’t been on antibiotics in 18+ years, yikes. Let’s hope they work.
So I just wonder how much faster I could have run if I was feeling healthier. Maybe I could have broke 3:55? I guess I’ll never know. For now, I’ll be happy with my race as it’s time to look forward to triathlons again, and say goodbye to the marathon world.10 marathons, 5-time Boston qualifier, six of them under four hours. I can retire with that.
(side note: this article is being posted 4 days after writing it. I don’t think the antibiotics have helped at all. What has helped is sleep, and allowing the body to heal on its own).