Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Boston Marathon 2015 RR: A fairy tale ending

You know it's going to be long. So settle in, grab a cup of coffee, and conquer the blog post. I'll divide it into 3ish portions. The first part (and last) is all about the events leading up to (and slightly after) the race--and a bajillion photos. The second part is all about THE RACE. Read what you want. There won't be a test.

Adam and I get up early and catch our direct flight to Boston. I was mildly excited.
After a little minor confusion with the public transit system, we found ourselves at the Boston Common Hotel and the beginning of an overwhelming welcome to the weekend.
The concierge recommended a restaurant nearby the hotel (and the finish line!) to grab lunch and I was a little overwhelmed with everyone ready for Marathon Monday.

Though I hadn't really planned when I was going to the expo, it made sense to go grab my runner's passport back at the hotel and get the party started. Picking up my bib number and long-sleeved t-shirt was a breeze.

We even managed to score a post-race party ticket for $15 from another runner for Adam while standing in line to buy one for $20. Spoiler alert: Turned out to be a wasted $15 with the nasty weather conditions. Womp, womp....

The expo was INSANE. So many people, so many vendors, and so much RUNNING. It was both awesome and impossible. And this was FRIDAY. Sheesh. But I did manage to have a little fun.
Get inspired.
Inspire myself?
And work on my creeper picture skills. Thanks Bart Yasso!
And oh yeah, free beer!
We briefly met up with Sass and his DW for a few minutes and then Adam and I headed back to dump our goods at the hotel. The Boston Red Sox were waiting for us! We walked to Fenway on recommendation and it was a bit of a hike after a long day, but the weather was pleasant.

Fenway and the Red Sox did not disappoint. We saw a pitcher ejected, a home run over the Green Monstah, and a walk-off win. Plus, our seats were really, really good.

Our walk back was full of happy exhaustion. The city was bubbling with pre-race excitement already!

I got up early (for me) to spectate the B.A.A. 5K and meet with Sass and Lisa for a shakeout run. The race was in Boston Common and so I just followed the crowds to the start/finish line. Easy peasy. Finding Sass and Lisa amongst 10,000 people was a little tricky, but we got together right before the start. Watching a world-class 5K is stupid fun. They are SO FAST! Both the winners were Americans (Ben True/Molly Huddle) and both happen to set new American records!
We decided to begin our run once we watched the first 20ish minutes of the 5K and wandered over to use the port-a-potties. Guess who was leaving a port-a-potty as we walked up? Shalane frickin' Flanigan. More creepy photo opportunities!
Our shakeout run was perfectly slow and full of interruptions and stops. At one point, we saw Roger and Shanda on their way to the expo! Bumping into Loopsters on Boylston Street just sounds too good to be true. After 4 miles, we took a selfie and parted ways.
Adam and I spent the rest of the day hanging out, meandering around the blocks near our hotel, and enjoying a gorgeous day.

In the late afternoon, we headed to the Back Bay station around the corner and walked onto the T platform to find a small gaggle of Loopsters about to make the same journey to Cambridge Brewing Company. Meeting new friend and hugging old buddies, we ate and drank ourselves into happiness.

I slept very, very well.

With the race looming, it was time to take things easy (-ier?). We met for breakfast at a local coffee shop with a little bit different crowd of Loopsters.
Then we hung out at the hotel for a bit, resting and hydrating.
I wanted to get to the Marathon Maniac photo at noon at the finish line and Adam and I walked the few blocks over. Boylston was overflowing with runners. Adam took a picture while JJ and I squeezed in, but there were just too many people to get a great "group" shot.
JJ and her friend Ulrike were staying out at the airport so we decided to just hang out in the Westin lobby. Bangle and Corc (the amazing spectating team!) met up with all of us and eventually we all headed out for our Loop dinner.
Bangle, Corc, Mild Sauce, Adam, and I decided to check out Paul Revere's house and a bit of Little Italy. It was an interesting little side jaunt to say the least...

Once at Bertucci's, we all carbed up and tried to not fret too much about the impending weather.
There was a small group that hung out at the Westin bar after dinner which helped keep any pre-race jitters at bay. 

When I got back to the hotel room, I laid out my gear and made sure everything was in plain sight. No wrong shoes this time!
My dear friend Megan (who also watched the BTs while we were away) had the sweetest idea of getting my friends to write me good luck letters to be opened the night before. Most were silly, but a few lines brought me close to Lifetime channel kind of moments.
I tried to read a bit of Unbroken on my Kindle, but reading a WWII novel is not really uplifting. Eventually, I decided to try to sleep and just passed right out.


I woke up before my 6:30 alarm, but I felt fully rested and bursting with energetic excitement. I'll be the first to admit that I've felt intimidated about the distance before, but I was so ready to be racing. I grabbed a bagel from the continental breakfast area in my PJs and went back to my room to get ready.

Adam walked with me to meet Mild Sauce and the 3 of us made the short walk to Boston Common--the bus loading area. We met with JJ and Ulrike who were in the same wave.
I kissed Adam goodbye and the 4 of us climbed on a yellow school bus after having our bibs checked multiple times.

The ride to Hopkinton is about an hour, but the time flew by quickly. Mild Sauce and I sat together and talked about 12Ks, non-training plans, and how bad we had to pee. Once we all got off the bus, we fell in line with the cattle crawl to the athlete's village and port-a-potty lines. It was misty and cold and runners were huddled in the tent like a bunch of refugees wearing really expensive sportswear.

A few grabbed bagels and I grabbed a water and we sat by the fence on the hill waiting for our wave and corral to be called. It wasn't long before it was time for another cattle call type line to walk to the start. The sea of runners was unending. I ditched my sweatpants, but kept my orange fleece on. When the wind whipped up, it was painfully cold and I felt severely under-dressed.
We all made the half mile-ish walk to the starting corrals. The families of Hopkinton were out in abundance in their bath robes, rain coats, and huddled under umbrellas. I was amazed by the number of police and FBI lining the streets as we made our way from the athlete's village to the starting line. Mild Sauce was in corral 1 and I ran with JJ in corral 4. Once we got to where the corrals were split up, we gave Mild Sauce awkward hugs and wished each other good luck.

We huddled in the corral and dodged the rain. I sucked down an Espresso GU. I decided very, very last minute to ditch my orange fleece and whacked a lady in the face as I tried to fling it to the side. Oops. For future reference, fleece does not fly...I still had my water bottle, but I decided to just hold onto it given the sage advice I'd received about the first few water stops being crowded.

The gun shot off and we made our way to the starting mat.

The Race

My goals:
1) PR (beat 3:31:35)
2) Sub-3:30
3) JJ's PR (sub 3:28?)
4) Sub-3:25

I wanted to stay between 7:45-7:50 after the first 3 miles and then just give it what I had once I got to the Newton Hills. If I felt strong on the hills, I knew I could run the last 10K on Boston mojo. If I felt awful, hey, I was still running the Boston frickin' Marathon. JJ and I planned the same strategy and wanted to race together.

Mile 1: About 20 steps into the race, I looked around and appreciated being in the moment. Here it was, the race I had been dreaming about for so long. And I was running it! It was cold and wet and the dreariest of days, but it was Boston! I could see how the downhill stretch could easily tempt runners to fly from the beginning. However, it was really, really crowded. All the advice about not going out too fast was lost because there was nowhere to go! I tried not to panic too much when the first mile clicked at 8:28.

Mile 2: It still was crowded, but the downhill was less intense. My quads appreciated it. I knew we were getting a little faster, but I still felt like we were boxed in. 7:59

Mile 3: Finally I felt like I was getting into a comfortable racing pace. The streets were still narrow, but things had started to stretch a bit. I loved being able to see the huge crowd of runners ahead of me when there were small uphills. It was crazy to see them snaking around corners, heads bobbing up and down, filling the entire width of the road. 7:53

Mile 4: As we cruised into Ashland, I got my first real taste of the spectators of Boston. With my name plastered on my shirt, I heard shouts of Carissa! emanating from strangers in the crowd. When the streets widened at a major intersection and the spectators deepened, I was in awe of the noise. It was incredible! I took an Espresso GU. 7:36

Mile 5: Though I was feeling good and went out slower, I knew there were still many more miles to go. I let my effort dictate the pace. JJ and I would run elbow to elbow and then separate as we passed people. Each of us would lead for a bit and let the other one catch up. I ditched my water bottle at the water station. 7:56

Mile 6: As we headed into Framingham, the road started to flatten out a bit. I was kind of amazed that we were already so deep into the race. I was eying people to pick off as we cruised along. The jostling of the crowd distracted me quite a bit from the actual running. It wasn't until the later miles that I even really thought too much about my legs or feet. Plus, the rain came off and on and though never torrential, it was enough to thoroughly soak everything I was wearing. 7:45

Mile 7: Blissfully at a comfortable pace and more than a 1/4 of the way done, I just zoned out and rode the wave of people. 7:42

Mile 8: The miles were clicking along. I thought about my awful 20 miler in the rain back in January and my 2 most recent Greenway rain runs. I was so glad I had chosen to just gut it out on those days. I had never run so much in the rain during a training cycle and I kind of like to think it was for a reason. One Salted Watermelon GU down the hatch. 7:45

Mile 9: As we neared Natick, I noticed that despite the rain and cold, my feet were mostly still dry AND I was comfortably cold. Just enough to keep me running faster. The roar of the crowds continued to make me smile. 7:47

Mile 10: As we crept into the double digits, I noticed that JJ was falling back a bit ever so often. The worry that she wasn't having the race I was troubled me. We never really talked strategy if one of us started to feel bad. 7:47

Mile 11: The slight incline through Natick was barely noticeable. We were knocking off the miles at our desired pace and I was ready for the discerning sections up ahead--Wellesley, Newton, etc. 7:56

Mile 12: The desire to pee finally stopped so I started to make sure I was taking liquid at least at every other aid station. I didn't want to be the dummy that dehydrated in the rain. Besides it gave me a little break as I slowed down to grab a cup. Most races I stop to walk a few steps and drink, but I was already soaked anyway. I just through the liquid towards my face and hoped that some of it would get in my mouth. Espresso GU. 7:47

Mile 13: I could hear the roar of Wellesley before we got there. Knowing the legend and hearing it happening in real life brought the biggest smile to my face. They weren't the loudest or rowdiest crowd, but some things are just better when wrought with anticipation. I didn't stop for a kiss, but I did see a few runners go in for both cheek and mouth kisses. 7:58

Mile 14: At some point in Wellesley, I lost JJ. I looked around for her frantically and tried to keep a steady pace in case she dropped something or was boxed in somewhere. After about a quarter mile, I realized she probably wasn't coming back to join me. I panicked for a moment when I wondered if she would be mad that I kept going. Ugh! 7:44

Mile 15: I regrouped myself on the flat and got my emotional act together. I still had some big hills to conquer and the make-it-or-break-it final miles. Plus, people were tracking me at home! I had to put on a good performance! The good news was that I was feeling incredibly strong. Though my shoes had started to fill with water, I was pumping my legs hard and everything felt painless. 7:47

Mile 16: Wheeeeee! A huge downhill! I tried to not completely burn out my quads knowing the Newton Hills were around the corner, but man, it was tough. With people cramming the sidewalks and shouting my name, I was so ready to fly. Mandarin Orange GU 7:48

Mile 17: Oh, hello hill. It was long and low grade so while I felt like I was engaging different muscles, it never felt too hard. When I crested the top, the road started to roll a bit and I knew I was getting into the nitty-gritty section. 7:52

Mile 18: For some reason, the second hill seemed the worst to me. Perhaps it was steeper? Or I was thinking 8.2 miles is still a long way left? But once I got over it, I was ready to tackle those final beasts. 7:55

Mile 19: The steady decline was lovely. It didn't burn my quads and it didn't tire my lungs. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I approached the last section of the race. If I could hold onto these sub-8s for at least a few more miles, I was definitely in PR territory. The thought pushed my pace a little harder. 7:38

Mile 20: I was enamored by the crowds for most of the race, but I started to just keep my eyes focused ahead and let my legs do the work. When it started to feel tough, I tried to shorten my stride and increase my cadence. I suck down my last Espresso GU. 7:45

Mile 21: Ah Heartbreak Hill, this is you. I've certainly run up far worse hills, but not at such fast speeds and not with less than 10K left in a marathon. The positioning is key in this particular hill. It is about a half mile at a moderate grade, but very climbable. I didn't find it necessary to really try to slow my pace to conserve energy--I just kept the same effort and charged up that lil' puppy. 7:58

Mile 22: Helllllllllllloooo sweet downhill. And Boston College! Wow, the crowd at BC is the most intense thing before Boylston Street. College kids line the streets yelling at loud as they can. I was so amazed at the intensity even though nearly 8,000 other runners had passed. THIS is why you want to run Boston. 7:35

Mile 23: Adam, Bangle, and Corc planned to be at 23 and so I hugged the right side of the road for quite some time scanning the crowd. Every time I saw a guy with a navy rain jacket, I'd get super excited. Just knowing that they were out there gave me so much to look forward to in those final tough miles. Later I would find out they were on the left side and we missed each other. 7:42

Mile 24: Longest mile ever. I was disappointed that somehow I didn't see any of my spectators and now I had to chug out 2 more miles. It is indescribable how the tunnel of screaming people is both numbing and exhilarating all at once. I decided to just stick near the middle and run as fast as I thought I could manage to finish 2.2. miles. 7:48

Mile 25: All those stupid progression runs are now being put to work. All those stupid workouts where I make myself run all the way to the fence instead of stopping at the trail head are coming to fruition. I know how to hold steady even when it seems as though there isn't much gas left in the tank. I spotted the Citgo sign and I was like, ooooooohhhhhhh, that's what everyone describes. Yup, it's real! 7:44

Mile 26: That final mile truly is a blur of screaming people. I knew that a major PR was on the table and I would have to do something really dumb to screw it up. So I just tried to save a little bit for the final turn as I cruised towards the finish line. 7:45

Mile 26.4: Making the left from Hereford to Boylston is something that will be etched in my memory forever. The spectators, even on the rainy, windy, awful day were packed to the gills on the sidewalk. The noise was absolutely deafening. I felt like I was an elite runner. It made me swell with tremendous emotion as I sprinted down the street towards the finish line. Throwing my arms up into the air, I crossed the blue and yellow line with a huge smile on my face. I had just finished my first Boston AND PR'd. It doesn't get much better than that. 7:09

Post Race Stuff

After I had my medal and heat sheet poncho, I decided to forgo any other goodies and get back to the hotel. Though I was cold, I was in high spirits and knew I would feel great after a hot shower. Adam and I planned to meet in the hotel lobby, but he got caught in the crowd and wasn't there when I got there. I didn't have a room key, but the front desk clerk took pity on me and made me key. I used my Kindle's Wifi to Facebook message Adam (he had my phone) and tell him to meet me in the room.

Once I showered and donned all my shiny new Boston gear, Adam came back. I was still gleaming.
We met up with Brad and Roger and later Mild Sauce for dinner and beer at the Cheesecake Factory. The after party spilled over to the Westin room and soon we were joined by Sass and Missy, Lisa and Dana, Shanda, and all the Westin roomies.

2 beer runs, a trip to the hotel bar, and a trip to Dunkin' Donuts (complete with a free Boston creme pie donut!) meant that we all slept like babies when we crawled into bed. Now that's how you do Boston!

Tom was the only late flyer on Tuesday so we met up with him to go to Harpoon Brewery in the morning. Only none of us checked to see what time they opened. Oops. That would be noon. And we arrived at 10:00 a.m.

So we took the scenic route to the Sam Adam brewery and were reward with free pint glasses and cookies for runners and 21 ounces of free beer. Sweet!
We took the trolley thingie from Sam Adams to Doyle's for lunch and I finally got some frickin' clam chowder and lobstah.

When we got back to Back Bay, Tom bid us adieu and Adam and I decided to do a Boston Duck Tour.

It was a great way to see the city, hear some history, and get off my tired legs.

Our final dinner was at McGreevy's on Boylston and I took the opportunity to take a photo of the infamous Hereford turn and winner's circle.

It was hard to say goodbye to the end of this journey this morning. I loved every second of it. Marathon #14 will live in my heart for so many special reasons. I'm so lucky to have a mountain of fantastic memories associated with this accomplishment and I'm ready to take on whatever challenge comes across my path next.