Saturday, April 22, 2017

Boston #3: Forever Chasing the Unicorn

The crowd around me is quiet. Idle chatter subsides and nervous energy begins to pulse. I know nothing and everything about this feeling. The anticipation of how the next few hours will play out is largely not in the ability of my body, but in the ability of my mind.

Chancing fate and rebelling against my own superstitions, 3 of my 5 gels are new flavors. My bib number is odd when I prefer even. I'm wearing "strongly discouraged" headphones. The tank I am wearing was a gift I received Friday morning--it's generously sized and I have it safety pinned under my arms. I didn't have any calories planned after breakfast and I ate a bag of discarded trail mix Matt left in the Athlete's Village. My shoes have at least 1,000 miles on them. I clocked my fastest marathon time by 6 minutes 6 weeks prior.  I have to pee.

I stand in the second row behind the rope of wave 2, corral 3. As the volunteers drop the rope, we walk forward. My heart is racing. I put in my earbuds.

The gun goes off.

The pack surges forward and we all move from walk to shuffle to run in seconds. It is a tremendous thing to watch if you can focus on something outside of your mind. A sea of runners begin to snake down the hills of Hopkinton. I stay calm, avoid checking my Garmin, and just run at what feels like a comfortable pace to sustain. 7:34

I want to stay atop being cool and hydrated and though I normally scoff at the first hydration stop of any race, I dump a cup of water over my head. Remembering that I lost a bit of speed last year to weaving, I made the conscious effort to just stay to the left as much as possible in the early miles to hit the second set of tables. The next 3 miles, I look at my watch on occasion as the course descends quickly towards Ashland. I pull back as I see myself drop into the low 7s and reign in the speed. 7:18, 7:18, 7:18

Ashland is the first treat of the iconic crowds of Boston. People are lined half a dozen deep and it. is. LOUD. Even through my earbuds, I can feel the rumble and I get caught up in the excitement of grabbing high fives and reading silly signs. 7:16

The course has a slight up in mile 5 (where I eat my first gross Tutti Frutti GU) and then a nice down heading through 10K mark and into Framingham. 7:16, 7:13

Framingham is louder still and while my pace seems great, I want to make sure I am still having fun in case things go south. Going in for high-fives takes a little extra effort, but it is incredibly worth it. I am riding high on the adrenaline from the crowd when I hear my name being shouted. I see Gwen's friends Cathy and Nicole frantically waving right next to me!

Fresh with vigor from the crowds, I knock off the next miles without really thinking too much about pace or effort and head for the 15K mat. 7:14, 7:15, 7:13

I decide to go ahead and try to keep the calories in and try the Gingerade GU just after the mile 9 marker. It was better than the Tutti Frutti GU, but that's about as rave as the review gets. Gatorade has sometimes not settled well with my stomach in hot races so I decided to just stick with mostly water.

Natick has a gradual incline through a little past the mile 11 mark and then a nice decline to mile 12. 7:13, 7:17, 7:14

Heading towards the halfway mark, I start battling the demons. It starts to feel harder and I allow myself to pull back my effort a tad to feel comfortable. There are sections in the direct sun that I feel uncomfortably warm. Later, I'd appreciate the tailwind, but the feeling of lack of air movement coupled with the blazing sun was tough. I was taking 2 cups of water when I could at each stop. One to drink a few sips from and one to dump on my head/face/neck/back. 7:18

My spirits started to lift as we headed into the Wellesley scream tunnel. I ate second Tutti Frutti gel and reaffirmed that is was not palatable. I watched as girls made faces when runners kissed their cheeks and read their ridiculous posters. I contemplated how we needed to make this a 21st century version and have a male version. Then I decided that was dumb because kissing an 18 year old boy sounds pretty gross actually. 7:16

The funk returned again in mile 15, but I also knew that conserving my energy for the Newton Hills was a smart move. That gnarly downhill in mile 16 only works if you know what to expect when you reach the bottom. 7:27, 7:13

A blast from an open fire hydrant somewhere in the bottom of the Newton Hills changed my experience over the next few miles. The cold blast caused me to shriek and I felt pleasantly cool for the next few minutes. I ran a conservative first half in 2015 and felt pretty good as I tackled the hills. Last year, I went out hard and paid for it somewhere along Commonwealth Avenue. This year, I felt incredibly capable as I climbed up the first set of hills. 7:21

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), my Garmin went haywire after that. It was registering an extra mile all of a sudden. I tried to set a lap pace, but then got confused when it buzzed for the next mile. So, much like my very first BQ in 2013, I just put my head down and ran. This was far from my first marathon. I didn't need my watch to tell me how to run 8.2 more miles.

I had my first delicious GU of the day, pineapple! My stomach was starting to feel a bit queasy, but forcing those calories down helped keep me out of the bonk zone. There were lots of runners now walking on the Newton Hills. A few people were still charging up with me and I tried to catch those that hadn't paid the stiff price of going out too fast.

Heartbreak Hill was as delightfully sinful as always. I now see it as the marker in the sand of getting to the finish. Once you get to the top, it is (almost) all downhill. There is less than an hour of running left and the crowds are so intense that it is impossible not to feel how special this race is.

I definitely know my pace has slowed down, but I am passing a ton of people. I begin to look for the familiar sights and work to click off the mile markers. The train tracks, the first peeks of the Citgo sign, and finally I see the last little incline on the highway overpass. I know that the dip under Massachusetts Avenue is coming and I start to get excited.

As I cross under the bridge, someone taps me on my shoulder. Mr. Bacon comes up on my left side and I yank out my earbuds. I exclaim how I am so happy to see him and immediately realize my blunder when that means he has not had a great day. He takes it gracefully and urges me to run on ahead and I continue the push.

At Hereford, I turn right and the crowd is electric with energy. I make a beeline for the far right side of Boylston, knowing Adam is standing somewhere along the 3rd flower bed. I look for his blue hat, exhausted from 26 miles, and hungry to give us redemption. We finally see each other for the first time as runner/spectator at Boston and both erupt into excited cheers.

Seconds after I pass him, I look at my watch and see 3:12:XX with the knowledge that Boylston is a much longer stretch than it appears. This is it. A PR is seconds on the table. Every stupid fast finish training run is being called into play. Every extra .2 miles I sprint from the last boardwalk to the gravel is for this moment.

Spectators roar as I maneuver to run along the far right. I glance at my watch every 15 seconds. As I approach the finish line, I see that I am just under my PR from 6 weeks ago.

Sweet, sweet victory!



  1. You, my friend, have quite the PR streak going -- and the warm weather wasn't going to stop you! Keep on keepin' on!