Friday, April 19, 2019

Boston Marathon Weekend 2019

The short version posted from my Instagram:

Boston, you are unlike any other. 🦄
Every part of this weekend is so special. Picking up your number feels momentous. The people walking around Boston in their jackets from years past is captivating. Riding on a school bus to Hopkinton, holding your pee and trying not to sandbag your race is nerve-wracking. Sitting in the Athlete's Village amongst 20,000+ runners about to embark on the same journey is electrifying. 💙
The half mile walk to start feels like the last day of school and the first day of a new job. The minutes waiting in the corral stretch for eternity and yet, go by way too fast. 💛
The gun goes off. Thousands burst onto the street, hoping it is their day. We race the steep downhills to Ashland. We high-five the swollen crowds in Framingham. We settle into race mode in Natick. The Wellesley girls taunt us with their enthusiasm. The Newton hills challenge our spirit. The Boston College kids revive our hearts. 💙
As we navigate the final miles of the streets of Boston, the crowds cheer unwaveringly. Shutting them out is impossible. When you think it can't get any louder, you make the right turn on Hereford and the left on Boylston. You. Have. Arrived. 38 marathons later (including 5 Bostons), I am humbled to be a finisher.

The longer version:

Boston, Boston, Boston. What to say? Chances are, if you are reading this, you know me and you know the outcome anyway. But if you want all the juicy details of what was swirling around in my head (or at least that I can recall), it's time to dig in.
I last left off with the story of running 70+ miles over crazy terrain, completing the Georgia Death Race on March 30th. Recovery was B-R-U-T-A-L. Large in part because I developed food poisoning of some variety the Monday after the race and couldn't eat anything for nearly 3 days. I should have been getting plenty of sleep and consuming calories and I couldn't do either. Anyone who knows me well knows I am always warm and I was wearing 3 jackets at work Monday afternoon! By the time the weekend rolled around, I was still feeling the lack of energy, but I had signed up to volunteer at Umstead 100 and made the 6-hour trek to Raleigh.
Midway through last week, I finally was feeling like me again and went out for a few short runs per my coach to get the legs moving again. Just some easy 3 milers, but it felt good to get the legs moving again!
Adam and I flew to Boston on Friday morning, hit up the expo Friday afternoon, and were zombies by the time Brad arrived at our Airbnb that night. I had the B.A.A. 5k in the morning, but had signed up as something to do and well, truth be told, I love the extra Boston swag.
Brad and I jogged a mile or so to and around Boston Common. It started raining a bit heavier so we took refuge under an awning for about 20 minutes before I lined up in my corral. I stood in the 7:00-7:59 pace area, without really thinking too much about my race strategy. The first mile was the usual dodge-the-walkers game and while it was kind of annoying, I was actually okay with being forced to just chill for a bit. I was able to get into a comfy pace in the second mile and once we reached Boylston, I was ready to lay on the gas for the final mile. Splits: 8:19, 7:18, 6:19, last 0.2 (cause of the weaving) was at a 5:52 pace.
Brad and I then went walked back to the Airbnb so he could get ready for the expo and I could relax a bit with Adam. We then met back up to go the Red Sox game and enjoyed seats right above the bullpen. The batting coach even tossed us a couple of baseballs! Though the home team lost, we still had a fun time and I enjoyed a chance to be off my feet.
Photo cred: Brad
For dinner, we met up with Ken and Glenn at the Five Horses Tavern for a little Loopster meet and greet.
Photo cred: Adam
Sunday was my birthday, but I enjoyed such a low-key day last year the day before the race that I really wanted to duplicate the calm again. We went to brunch near Boylston and then headed back to our place for the Masters Tournament and naps. I got a solid 2 hour nap and then went out to grab ingredients to make a pasta dinner at our place. Eating in our little apartment with a great friend and Adam was the perfect birthday evening and the perfect pre-race meal.
Photo cred: Brad
I laid out my flat girl, read a little bit, and slept like a champ!

Brad and I headed out just after 7 a.m. and the sky OPENED UP. We were wearing ponchos, but it was raining so hard it was comical. We just laughed and stomped through the puddles as we made our way to Starbucks (pitstop #1), bag check (pitstop #2), and finally got onto a bus to Hopkinton.
Sharing the bus ride with a friend was great and we talked about anything and everything on our way to the Athlete's Village. I was hoping to find Stephen when we got off so I suggested we beeline to our meeting spot when we got off the bus. However, the first wave was leaving by the time we arrived so we missed him. However, we got to see Ken for a minute before we hopped in the porta-potty line.
It was time for me to leave shortly thereafter so Brad and I said our good lucks and I made the half mile walk to the corral by myself. Luckily, Ken and I were in the same corral and he spotted me so we stood shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for the gun to go off.
I really had zero idea as to how my body would react. I've run ultras, I've run marathons. But I've never run arguably one of my hardest races ever 2 weeks before running a marathon in which everyone is tracking me. I had nothing to lose by going fast - I already had a BQ for 2020 and if I blew up, I was confident that I would just walk it in, ultra-style, and wear that medal proudly after running for 18 hours just 2 weeks prior. As Ken said, I was playing with house money.
My coach suggested I start with 8:15-8:45 pace and I thought he knew me well enough to know that I'd translate that to 7:45-8:00 pace. When the gun went off, I resolved to just try to run by feel as much as possible and really just not look at my watch except at when it beeped for a mile. From the gun, I felt good. Unreasonably good. My legs had pop. My heart was happy. I was really, truly, authentically happy to be there.
I looked down at the first mile and saw it was too fast for either plan, but I was so relaxed, I just stuck with what felt good and decided to see what would happen. The miles ticked off as we cruised through Ashland and I knew I was racing, but I also felt arguably the best I had since the Jacksonville Marathon in 2017. Everything felt controlled.

As I rolled into Framingham, I remembered that if my day was going to fall apart later, I was at least going to make it fun. I high-fived the crap out of so many hands that I must have run with a cheesy grin for at least a few miles. I searched out the smallest little hands. The ones attached to shy little girls. I specifically remember seeing an older man's hand (before high-fiving it) that was caked in grime, seeing his tattered jacket, and thinking how it incredible it was that the Boston spectators spanned all walks of life.
The day warmed up quickly and I took water at every stop, dumping some into my mouth and some over my head. I read a book more recently about the physiological effects of splashing water on your face (lowering your heart rate) and dumped a bit in hand before throwing it on my face. I got a little overzealous at one point and doused myself good enough to blow out one of my earbuds. I stayed on track with my nutrition the entire race, consuming a GU Roctane every 4 miles through mile 20.
Last year, the wheels started to fall off in the second half with my boot to Boston race and I was bracing myself to feel the energy evaporate. But my legs felt strong and my mental game was stronger. I remember glancing at my watch around the hour and a half mark and thought, if I can run for 18+ hours 2 weeks ago, I sure as hell can push it for 2 more hours.

So I pushed it into Wellesley, past the screaming wall of girls shaking their posters wildly and pursing their lips for kisses. I high-fived their extended hands and smiled at their reckless enthusiasm.
The sun crept out behind the clouds as I made my way through the last sweet downhill before reaching Newton. I love and hate mile 15. The grade is just perfect enough to feel fast without ruining your quads, but I knew the climbs were awaiting me on the other side.

I attacked the first of the four Newton hills with fervor, picking runners off and as I made my way to the top. A few of them would catch me on the downs, but I’ll admit I felt a bit smug thinking about all the elevation I had tackled during GDR.

The second hill always feels the hardest and according to the elevation map, it is certainly the steepest. I knew I’d be rewarded with a nice bit of down afterwards so I held on until cresting the top. It was somewhere in this section that I somehow spotted Ken running not too far ahead of me. I knew his goal was 3:15 and I had been running pretty close to that myself so it wasn’t too surprising to see him given that we started in the same corral. He was moving well and I gave him a fist bump after following near him for about half a mile.

As I made my way to the third Newton hill and finally, Heartbreak Hill, I was still kind of in awe that I was still feeling reasonably okay. I was warm and definitely feeling the 19 or so miles on my legs, but I was still pushing. I didn’t look at my watch for a few miles and tried to run by feel. Good, bad, or otherwise, running 38 marathons has given me a good gauge of what I’m capable of in the final 10k.

Once I reached the roaring crowds of drunk Boston College kids, I allowed myself to do a bit of runner math. If I stayed on pace, I could stay under 3:20. The pain cave was trying to close in on me. My music sputtered and died and the crowd noise grew overwhelming. I tried to block out their deafening cheers, but they were relentless and the weight of their screams inched me in mile by mile.

I caught a glimpse of the Citgo sign and inwardly groaned as it looked still so far away. I hit the 40k mat and though so close to the finish, I desperately wanted water. I took the final cup at mile 25 and trudged up the hill. I tried to keep pace with the few runners who were still moving strong, staying far to the right and as much in the shade as possible. I flashed a smile for the Citgo sign photographers, relieved that there was just over a mile to go and it was going to be a sub-3:20 day.

As the course connected to the 5k route, I shouted a loud and lonely woo! inside the tunnel, a nod to myself to remember to keep it fun even when it gets hard as hell. Making the right on Hereford is arguably as good as the finish for me because I knew Adam would be waiting at the top. I started searching madly as the crowd along Boylston came into view.

When I heard him shout my name, I immediately spotted him and threw my hands in the air. I beelined directly to the side and gave him a quick kiss, my heart full and the finish line in sight.

I took off down Boylston, soaking in the cheers.

A runner who had collapsed had found her legs again and the crowd erupted as she started moving forward. I pushed as hard as I could, finding that final gear as I cruised through the final meters.

I. Was. Back. 3:18:28.

A few steps after the finish, I was overcome with emotion. I’d had some really great races (and some eh ones) since becoming injured last year and I was so unsure I’d ever be the runner I had been. And while it wasn’t a PR, it was the 4th fastest marathon I’ve ever run and only 4 minutes and 34 seconds slower than my PR. And only 2 weeks after I completed 74ish miles. I really, truly didn’t think I was capable of holding that kind of pace for 26.2 miles with such a short recovery time and I wasn’t really sure if I could go under 3:20 again.

But now knowing that I could do it on a muggy day with tired legs, it makes me excited to see what a healthy, marathon-specific training cycle could net me if I decided to attack a marathon the “right” way. I’ve got no immediate plans as Everest (!!!) is next on the list and then I promised myself I’d take a few weeks to really figure out what I want to do for fall.

It’s very likely that the next blog will be all about EVEREST!!