The morning of the Boston Marathon, we awoke early, but not as early as we have had to for past marathons since the race didn’t start until 9:30. Clint was the first one up and moving since he had to catch his bus and hour before I did–he was in corral one, wave one because he is so speedy. (I was in wave 3, corral 3. There were four waves and 8 corrals in all. Your placement in each wave/corral was based on your qualification time–fastest to slowest.) We were lucky enough to score a mini fridge and a microwave for our room (you have to ask for them in advance) so we used the microwave to warm our oatmeal.
It looked cold and ominous outside, but it hadn’t started to rain yet, so I crossed my fingers and hoped that it would hold off. I wouldn’t have been near as nervous about the race if the predicted weather conditions had been more favorable. They were predicting rain and a 20 mph head wind.
I continued to prepare for the race, tucking my cell phone in my pocket. (I typically don’t run with my cell phone, but decided to for this race so I could easily get to my family/hotel after or in case of an emergency.) I found these great Lululemon Shorts that I love for running marathons because of the two deep pockets on the sides of the shorts. They can house gels, a phone, food, a mini water bottle, and they stay put. My shorts that day had 5 gels–one for 15 minutes before and one for miles 5,10,15, and 20– my cell phone sealed in a ziplock bag, and $20 just in case I needed it.
We said goodbye to Clint, and then it was my turn to start getting ready. Stephen went with me to the subway and to the gear drop off and bus loading area.
Since you drop off your gear bag before you board the bus, I had on my Walmart, juvenile-section sweatshirt and pants to keep me warm until the start of the race. I had approximately 2 hours to wait outside in the cold. I was allowed one small clear bag–that they give you–which housed my space blanket, my bagel (for two hours before the race), a Clif bar (for an hour before the race) and a bottle of water. I ate my cup of oatmeal and orange juice back at the hotel before we left.
Stephen gave me hug, took this picture and left me at the bus with my little food bag and my juvenile clothes. I felt just like a little kid on my first day of school. Sort of.
I boarded the bus and sat by a cool girl a little younger than me with kids the same ages as me. She was going for a 3:40. She told me she paces by monitoring her heart rate–she just tries to keep it constant the whole time. I thought this was an interesting strategy. It takes about 45 minutes (to an hour) to get to Hopkinton so use the porta potty before you board the bus.
THE ATHLETE VILLAGE
Once we arrived at the athlete village, I wrapped my space blanket around me and headed for the porta potty lines. They had tents up and everyone was congregated under them or in the lines for the many porta potties. They had coffee stands that some athletes were visiting and the general atmosphere was one of excitement.
When it was time for me to line up with my corral/wave, a guy over a loud speaker announced it. I walked up, flashing my race bib for entrance into the corral. Everywhere you looked there were volunteers helping out. About every 12 feet there was a volunteer holding a bag for you to deposit your clothing in before the race started. Along the course, but especially in the beginning, there were volunteers with bags. I wonder how many items of clothing they ended up with that day for donation.
Right before we started to run, it started to rain and didn’t stop for the rest of the day.
READY, SET, GO!
The announcer counted down the time we had before the race start and I felt the excitement start to build inside me. It still seemed so surreal that I was actually running the Boston Marathon. Then, we were off!
I kept on my arm warmers, sweatshirt, and gloves and just discarded my sweatpants for the race start. I figured as I warmed up, I could shed the other layers on the course–this is allowed and many do it. Once my stuff was wet, I knew it wasn’t helping me so I discarded it. From what we had read, the best way to run in the rain is with as little as possible on you. You should let your body heat you. Wearing wet clothing on top of your skin only makes you colder and weighs you down.
The first four miles were tricky because there were so many people crowded around me. It was really hard for me to stay at my pace goal for those miles and I basically was not able to. I would try weaving in and out of people as best as I could when I would see a hole, or running on the edge of the masses, but it was really quite challenging.
I was shocked at how many Bostonians were lining the course despite the rainy conditions. They were everywhere! And so energetic. This was the first race that I had run with spectators that lined the entire course. It was such a rush to hear them cheering the whole way to the finish. They had noisemakers, signs, candy, and outstretched hands for high fives. It was really quite an amazing thing to witness.
I had read about the “scream tunnel” at mile thirteen in Wellesley, but I was not prepared for how those screaming women from Wellesley College would affect me. My eyes started to fill with tears. It really was an amazing thing to see/take part of. Half way there.
Considering the constant rain, it was surprising that I actually never felt cold while I was running. The most annoying thing was that my earbuds kept falling out because of how wet I was. (Next time I need to wear a headband over them.) Around mile 16 I went to put them back in and noticed I had lost quite a bit of mobility in my fingers–it took forever to get them back in. That was when I realized I was probably colder than I realized.
Just around mile 16 you start to hit the infamous Newton hills and the notorious “Heartbreak Hill.” Because we had biked the course on Friday, I knew what to expect so I wasn’t that nervous. I started looking for my husband and my friend Natalie because they were supposed to be waiting at Heartbreak Hill. There were so many spectators there that I am not surprised that I never saw them and that they never saw me. As I reached the summit of Heartbreak Hill, and still felt power in my legs, I knew that I wasn’t going to hit the wall today and I let out a big breath. There was much celebration at the top of Heartbreak Hill. It is almost as if you can feel a collective outake of air from all the athletes as the hardest part of the course is behind them. Some started dancing while they were running. Jumping. Smiles were everywhere. And the crowds? The crowds were amazing. 6 miles to go.
I took advantage of taking in gatorade at miles 7, 12, 17, and 23, putting a couple miles between them and when I took my GU Roctanes. I took water in at all the other aid stations. (One little annoyance was that all the mile markers were in kilometers so I had to rely on my watch for which mile I was at or do some quick math. That kind of bugged.)
I always try and space out when I take in gatorade and when I take in a gel to make sure I am not putting too much sugar in my system at once. Doing so can cause the nutrition to not be properly absorbed leading to cramping, bonking and other gastrointestinal issues on the course. The Boston Marathon course has aid stations on both sides of the road which made it pretty easy to grab something despite the number of people surrounding you the entire race.
The last three or so miles of the race were kind of a blur. I was trying to make up time for the first four miles that I was forced to run slower. There was also more wind in Boston so I was trying to draft and push against that as best as I could.
I saw the finish line, and started sprinting as fast as I could. I looked down at my watch and it showed my pace at a 6:58. I crossed the finish line with a 3:30:11, right in line with my training pace, but 12 seconds shy of my goal to finish under 3:30. However, I was NOT disappointed. Given the weather conditions and wind, I felt really good about my performance.
THE FINISH LINE
When I crossed the finish line a wave of emotions hit me. I scanned the crowd looking for my friends and husband and couldn’t see them anywhere. (I found out later that they didn’t realize they had missed me at Heartbreak Hill and when they did, they didn’t have time to get from there–on their bikes–and through all the security at the finish to see me.)
Immediately after I stopped running I started to feel the cold. My limbs started to stiffen and I started shivering violently. There were so many athletes clogging the finish line area that it took quite some time to get the heat blankets.
If you click on the graphic below you will see the distances we had to traverse to get our finisher bags, medals, food, heat blankets, and ultimately meet up with family. I don’t think I have ever been so cold. Because of the continuing rain and my pre-hyperthermia state, the finish line really wasn’t as great as it could have been. I didn’t take any pictures, minus the one of all the athletes walking slowly together in their silver heat blankets–it really did look like a scene from the zombie apocalypse. All I could think about was getting warm.
After seeing that the gear bag reclaim area was a half mile away, I called my husband and told him I would meet him at the family meeting area under the sign for “S”. That was a really long walk, but less than trying to make it to the gear bag area with how cold I was. When I got to “S” and didn’t see him, I called him and he said he was trying to get there but would be a while–security was pretty stringent. I told him I was going to look for cover–I was just too cold. Luckily, I found a cafe open not far from where I was and ducked inside. A handful of other athletes had done the same. I found an empty place to sit, wrapped myself in my heat blanket and just worked on getting warm. A stranger offered me a scone and a person next to me used my $20 to buy me some hot chocolate. That helped sooo much. I planted myself in that cafe and vowed I wouldn’t leave until I was found and had some warmer clothing. I waited almost an hour in that cafe. Good memories though.
The Boston Marathon is like a well-oiled machine after all the years they have been doing it, but they failed that day to be prepared for the thousands of freezing athletes at the race finish. There just weren’t enough places to go and get warm. The cafe I was in had to lock its doors when they reached capacity. It would have been really nice if they had had an area like they did at the athlete village with tents and maybe some heat lamps.
The hardest part of the Boston Marathon experience for me was that period from crossing the finish line until I got to the cafe.
My husband did eventually find me and he gave me all the extra layers of clothing he had to help me be warm enough to walk for an Uber car that could get me to the hotel. He would take my race bib and go pick up my gear bag and meet me at the hotel later. I was so glad to have his support!
We found Clint so he and I shared the Uber car back to the hotel. Natalie was in the room and had a surprise for us! She had biked, in the rain, to the Modern Pastry shop to have some post-race goodies for us! Boston Creme Pies we had been admiring for a few days from behind the glass just waiting for when the race was over!
I told Clint to head for the shower first because I wanted to take a long soak in the tub to warm my frozen body and it gave me time to catch up with Natalie about the race–her perspective and mine. I will never forget sitting on the beds chatting, the room dimly lit with a couple of hotel lamps, darkened by the rain-filled sky outside and just feeling so extraordinarily happy. Such and amazing experience. Such an amazing day.
It is hard to explain how you feel after you run a marathon, but there really is nothing quite like it. The body feels spent but in the best possible way. The spirit feels filled to overflowing. Anything seems possible. Everything seems clear, sharp and in focus and it lasts pretty much the whole day.
Finishing the Boston Marathon was even more sweet because of the effort it had taken to get there and because of the history surrounding such a legendary race.
After Clint exited the bathroom I finally got the long, hot soak I had been dreaming about at the end of the race. Since Clint and Natalie were ready to go before us, they headed for dinner. After Stephen and I got cleaned up, we joined them to start putting back into our bodies all the calories we had taken out. A member of the Pearl Izumi team had told us that if we really hit the carbs high that night, it would really speed recovery.
Quattro was our dinner of choice for that night and didn’t disappoint.
By that time, we were ready to go put our feet up in the hotel and watch a show. I had a couple of tests that I had to submit online for a Medical Terminology class I was taking that were due that night so, we hit Mike’s Pastry for some treats, headed back to the hotel, and I took my tests while we relaxed with Interstellar.
Cozy, warm, well-fed and content. We all slept well that night.
Whether or not you ever run the Boston Marathon, I definitely encourage you to at least go watch it; go be in Boston on the day of the marathon. There is such an amazing, tangible, positive energy that permeates the air. All the Bostonians are on holiday, athletes abound, people from all over the world are seasoning the city with life. The energy in the air seems to connect everyone that it touches and for one brief day you feel like you have stumbled upon a utopia of sorts and have found yourself in a city of friends.