Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Boston Marathon #9: Wait, what? A PR? A PR!


Going into the 9th one, I don’t know what to feel. I had the first one (2015), the mopey one (2016), the PR one (2017), the one with the freezing rain/boot (2018), the one post-GDR (2019), the virtual one (2020), the return to real racing (2021), the return to April real racing/first masters (2022), and now, this one. I’ve had a slew of really great races, but now I’m afraid that I’ve gotten in my own head about being superstitious that I’m due for a not-so-great one.

The thing about Boston is that EVERYONE is watching and tracking. And it’s so hard to tamper the excitement to let it flow through the entire race and not just burn all my matches in the beginning. 

I want to act as though I don’t care, to allow myself some grace, to give myself the safety net if it doesn’t go well. 

But I do care. I want to perform well. 

I want to feel the crowds screaming loudly deep in my bones. I want to enter a flow state at mile 23, latching onto someone who still has the fight left in their legs. I want to forget about everything else happening in the world for a few short hours as I make the journey from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. 



Our weekend was relatively quiet by Boston Marathon standards. We went to the PACKED expo Friday and out to dinner Saturday, but otherwise my mom and Adam hunkered down in the hotel room. I did the BAA 5k on Saturday morning and went out that afternoon for a trip to the rabbit store, but laid pretty low myself. 

5K fun

Dinner at Buttermilk & Bourbon

Sunday, I did a short shakeout near the hotel in the chilly fog. I felt slow, but have learned to cherish this pre-race ritual of gathering my thoughts for the day to come. 20 minutes felt too short for all the feelings.

The rest of the day was spent eating carbs (Mike’s pastries, brioche rolls) and drinking electrolytes (Nuun and Skratch) between meals. I felt bloated and peed a thousand times. The weather forecast was increasing the chance for rain and I was trying to not get in my own head about my support system staying at the hotel for their own safety. Cold rain is miserable to spectate in when you're healthy. Cold rain when you're just getting over pneumonia (mom) and have to use a scooter (Adam) is potentially dangerous.

Mike's lobster claw


I took a late afternoon nap which made it hard to fall asleep at 9pm so I laid there for a while before dozing off for good. I woke up a few times, but slept well overall and got up at 6am.

I ate most of a HUGE muffin, drank a can of Nitro cold brew, donned my race outfit, and got goodbye hugs and kisses. 

Race day readying

My scheduled Lyft was right on time and I had no trouble getting to Boston Common with minimal steps even after dropping a gear bag. I was super early to meet my local friend John at our scheduled time so I plunked myself on a curb and soaked up the madness.

John found me easily and we made the walk to the busses with his wife and daughter. After a few pics, we stood in line for the busses, catching up on everything, including quizzing him about Antarctica to get all the insider tips. On the bus, I ate a banana and a Snickers bar and took sips of Skratch, cotton-mouthed despite all my hydrating.

Bus ride with John

At the Athlete's Village, we went to the last set of porta potties and waited maybe 10 minutes or so. After we exited, we had only 5 minutes to wait before they called our wave. 

I love the walk to the corrals. It feels good to get moving and a bit like the first climb of a rollercoaster. You know what's coming, and ready or not, it's about to happen. I slurped on a gel during our walk, topping off my calories. John was in corral 6 and I was in 5 so I wished him well as we parted. 

Athlete's Village with John

I wore a poncho up until I got in the start corral and then tossed it in a garbage bag. It was very chilly standing there and I was grateful for my arm warmers and gloves, though I didn't really need either for racing. It had started to rain very, very gently and everyone was anxious to get moving.

I truly had no plan for my race. In my head, I wanted a 3:2x. Something respectable and consistent with my recent marathoning. But I had done very few marathon workouts since Rocky Raccoon aside from racing another marathon. It's really easy to go fast in the beginning and I knew that the excitement, downhills, and other runners would carry me through at least the first 10k quickly. And by then, I'd know what kind of day I was having. 

The race

When the gun went off, the corral shuffled forward and as we neared the crest of the hill and the start line, everyone broke into a jog. I mashed the start button on my watch and began my 9th Boston Marathon. 

The first few miles of the race always feel a bit like a track race. You have to trust the person ahead of you will keep pace as you are often stepping into their kick. Every person in your corral has raced a marathon in the last 18 months within in minutes of each other. There are elbows and sorrys and people weaving into free pockets. I love looking down the first few hills and seeing the sea of runners fanned out in front of me, each one embarking on a 26.2 mile journey.

The first couple of miles felt easy and controlled. I warmed up quickly, pulling my arm warmers down around the mile 2 marker. It was at that time that I decided to just run blind and cover my watch with my arm warmers. If I wanted to peek, it would be very conscious as I would have to peel them back. The gloves came off shortly thereafter, literally and figuratively. (7:42, 7:28)

Looking back, maybe I knew I needed to get out of my own way and not look at my watch. My watch died during my first BQ at Rehoboth at mile 11 and had a GPS error at mile 18 of Boston 2017, my last PR.

From the onset, I made sure to high five kids, pump my fist at the people rocking out in their front lawns, and point at people screaming my name. If my race didn’t go the way I wanted in terms of time, I didn’t want it to mar my overall experience. If the only thing I cared about was the outcome, I might be sad when I finished. But if I could soak in the energy of the day and the crowds and remember how freaking cool it was to be there, it would soften the blow. (7:14, 7:11)

The miles ticked off in the single digits and I diligently was taking a gel (pineapple Roctane) every 4 miles, trying to time it close to a water stop as much as possible. The rain had kept away a bit more of the crowds in some of the more sparse sections, but it was still plenty packed and plenty loud. (7:11, 7:07, 7:07)

At 15K

As I neared the double digits, I knew I was working pretty hard, but it felt good. I wasn't just aiming to finish a marathon, I was racing a marathon. It was a bit of a gamble to go so hard in the beginning knowing that I might completely fizzle at the end. But last year, I pushed and pushed and it paid off with a really great time. (7:14, 7:11)

Into the double digits, I had a few moments of feeling like I wanted to back off the pace. It was starting to get tougher and there were still so many miles left to go. But I told myself to at least hang on until the Newton hills and let them properly destroy me. It was too early to wimp out. (7:15)

Usually I really like those early single digit miles as it's a bit flatter and you can just fall into a rhythm. I was definitely fighting through a few demons in that patch though. I think it was partially because it had stopped raining and the air, thick with humidity, felt warm. I even threw a few cups of water over my head during this section. (7:21)

Fighting demons face

I went into the Wellesley tunnel still in that rough patch and veered to the left to stay out of the chaos. But towards the end of the tunnel, I left my pity party and ran alongside the gate, soaking up their screams and excitement. (7:13)

After that, I felt back in business. As I neared the 13.1 mat, I took note of the time clock (set to the wave 1 start time) and tried to do runner math on the fly. I wasn't really sure what time I started so I estimated I was on a 3:20 pace with a 1:40 split. (Spoiler, I came through at 1:35:54.) 1:40 is where I'd hoped to be so I felt pretty good about it and pushed on into the second half. (7:11)

Things really starting clicking and strangely, I almost got a little sad that it was going to be over soon. It feels hard to comprehend that you must earn a qualifying time at a minimum 8 months prior with many months of training, train for THIS race for many months, to spend all the time and money and travel to get there, and all for a few short hours. So I tried to embrace all the things I love about the race and be thankful that I was right there, running the damn thing. (7:13, 7:25)

The best downhill in the whole race is right after mile 15, a quad burner that drops you down to the beginning of the Newton hills. I had a shit-eating grin on my face that whole hill. (7:11)

I actually like the Newton hills. For all the ups, there are plenty of downs. And I've found myself more often than not feeling really great in this section. My pace always slows a bit, but knowing that there are just 5.2 more miles after the top of Heartbreak Hill gives me motivation to push through them. (7:26, 7:27, 7:17, 7:32) 


At some point as I was nearing Heartbreak hill the sky opened up. I just smiled. Running the Boston Marathon in cold rain feels a bit crazy and I loved that it was exactly where I wanted to be. (7:40)

Once past the hills, I was ready to give it what I had. The last 5.2 miles always feel electric. 

The Boston College kids yelling so loud you'll know they'll be hoarse and hungover in the morning. (7:15, 7:10) 

The tight streets of Brookline pushing the field of runners back into tighter packs. (7:15) 

The concrete jungle of Boston that seems to stretch on forever until the Citgo sign comes into sight. (7:06)
Coolidge Corner

Citgo sign (duh)

I mostly drink water during races, but decided that since my last gel was at mile 20, I should grab a little bit of Gatorade for liquid calories. I pinched the cup to pour some out and then went to drink it, splashing some on my chest. I promptly discovered a very angry chafe spot along the top of my sports bra. Fuuuuuuuck. The salty drink stung so badly that I actually yelped. My drinking-while-racing skills were absolutely abhorrent at the end of the race and I'd go on to screech twice more before the end.

Coming down Commonwealth, I started to visualize my support crew waiting for me in their spot even though they were warm and dry at the hotel. It helped to give me something to work for in that mile. Climbing the hill of the underpass, I still scanned the crowd, thinking that maybe they decided to come anyway. But then I was turning on Hereford and it was almost over. (6:57)

John's family was planning to be near the Hereford/Boylston corner so I continued searching the crowd for them as I made the turn. The crowds were so deep despite the weather and it was impossible to pick out a face in the crowd without knowing exactly where they were standing. 

I gave up my search and turned to face the finish line to see, wait, what? On the wave 2 clock it says 3:13? My PR is 3:13:54, from Boston 2017. If I started a few minutes after gun time, I'm gonna PR!

I took off like a wild woman, taking no chances that I'd leave a few seconds on the table. 

As I neared the finish, my arms were pumping in the air and I was grinning ear to ear. 


I was immediately overcome with emotion. Holy hell. What just happened? I did what? I looked down at my watch to confirm it and just stared. Another runner who was equally ecstatic met my eyes and she and I, perfect strangers, embraced in a sweaty, rain-soaked hug just past the finish line. 

50th marathon. 41 years old. PR? PR!


Hell. Yeah.


  1. Love your race write-ups! They are so cool to read. So proud of you!

  2. So happy for you! PR?!?! Keep being your awesome self. Great write up.

  3. Anonymous? Yeah that was me. Bangle

  4. Very impressive run, Carissa! I’m very happy for you. And the writeup with photos was excellent.

  5. Congratulations! Your race recaps are always well written. For some reason I'm not surprised that you pulled off a new PR.

  6. Wahoo for the PR! Not looking at your watch is the way to go!