I love the Boston Marathon. I’ve loved it my entire life. I remember watching it on TV as a little kid and following it obsessively as a high schooler on the track team. I lived on the course in graduate school and stood outside in awe, cheering the runners as they went by my little section of the Green Line. I saw Uta Pippig crap her pants on national television and go on to win the race in 1996. I watched Meb take the laurel crown back for Americans in 2014 in a year that we so desperately needed a champion. I watched in horror in 2013 as the events unfolded after the bombing.
My family is from Boston. My parents were raised there, children of Irish immigrants, and I was born there. I lived there for 5 years when I was getting my PhD and it became home again. The city, and its marathon, will always have a piece of my heart.
On Saturday before the race, I got to see the world premiere of Boston: The Documentary as a guest of my mom’s boyfriend Bill Rodgers. Yes, *that* Bill Rodgers – the 4 time winner of Boston and NYC marathons. The Boston Pops played live and we got to see it in the gorgeous Wang Theater. All the top runners were there milling about and getting interviewed. I highly suggest getting a chance to see the film if you can. It was only in theaters one night, but there is supposed to be a DVD release in the near future. The film is extremely interesting and tastefully covers the 2013 bombings, but still provides great entertainment, excitement and a historical perspective on the race and what it has meant to its competitors and the city for the past 121 years.
Needless to say, after watching the film on Saturday and going to the expo on Sunday, I was excited to run. I was lucky enough to get a chance to run Boston for the third time – this time was the first time I qualified (3:20:02 at Maine Coast Marathon 2016). I’ve been training for the VT100, so I really didn’t taper much leading into the marathon. The plan was always to run it as a training run, but at Eastern States in March I realized that BQ pace felt like a jog to me for the entire 20 miles. The week before Boston, I decided to cut back a bit on mileage and actually go for a BQ since the weather was projected to be the mid-50s/low-60s. The plan was to go out at 8:05-8:10 min/miles for 16 miles, try to hold that pace through the Newton Hills, and then hammer it in at sub-8min/mile pace for the last 5 miles.
Mother nature had something else in store. Sunday the temperatures neared 90 degrees in the city and it never got under 65 degrees overnight. Even lining up for the start in Athletes’ Village, it was clear it was going to be a hot day. I was running with my friends John and Rhyan who had BQ’ed last spring with similar times for the first mile or two when they went to go for a quicker pace. I decided to try to stick to my original plan as best as I could, despite the heat and the excitement. Unfortunately, I had reset my watch earlier in the week and my watch was only giving me “current” pace rather than my normal “lap” pace, so I only could see my splits after I’d go through a mile marker. I was fairly on pace, but I did have a couple downhill miles that went sub-8min in the first 6 miles – something I didn’t want to do until miles 21-26. By mile 8 or so it was clear it was going to be a very long, hot day. I caught up to John and Rhyan and they were both not feeling well. We stuck together for a little bit, but by about 13 miles in, they had dropped back and I didn’t see them again.
The last two times I ran Boston, I was so surprised how quickly the scream tunnel at mile 13 would come up. This year, it felt like forever to get halfway. I was feeling OK, but it was SO hot. I was taking a sip of Gatorade at every water stop, then swapping sides of the road to grab a water at the next water stop in the same mile. I just figured I’d continue to keep my pace and stay hydrated and see what happened. I went through the halfway point at 1:45- basically perfect pace to run a 3:31 or so marathon which is 4 minutes under my BQ time.
The second half was where things started to get a bit rough. It was clear from the people around me that we were hitting hard times. People were pulling over with leg cramps and to puke every few seconds. I saw so many bloody nipples. Then there were the people with “the leans” – when you see it you’ll never forget it. Runners can’t stay upright and they look like they are bending into a C-shape. Once someone starts that it’s just a matter of time until they are down. I had to stop at a med tent at mile 17 to tell them that there was a runner coming up who they might need to pull. He was covered in blood and vomit and leaning so badly I don’t know how he was still moving. Around mile 18, I caught up to my friend Scott who was having a tough race. I made him smile through a photo station, but quickly I realized he wasn’t coming with me to the end. I said goodbye and good luck and kept on trucking up the hills.
The Newton hills were very uneventful this year. Since I’ve been training on real hills so much, a few bumps on the pavement weren’t going to mess with me too badly. I did slow a bit knowing that any extra effort I gave could put me on the wrong side of heat exhaustion. I chugged up the hills and was very ready to see SIX03 at mile 20. I made a promise with myself that if I got to them at 2:50 or under, I’d run right by them and go for the BQ. Sure enough, I saw them and I was at 2:47 – I had a chance to get the BQ if I ran 7:40min/miles or so for the last 5 miles of race. I ran by SIX03 and whooped and yelled and smiled and gave high fives but kept going without stopping. In retrospect I wish I stopped, but at that point I was still on BQ pace.
I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill feeling good and with two ice pops that I got from an adorable little boy and his dad. I requested green ones and I ran miles 21-22 with two freeze pops sticking out of my mouth like walrus tusks while weaving through people to get to open fire hydrants and hoses spraying water on to the course. As I rounded the corner into Chestnut Hill/BC the heat got to me. All I could smell was sweat, beer, and BBQs and my stomach flipped. I got woozy and felt a little lightheaded. The heat finally got to me. My legs were fresh, but if I wanted to drop to pace to get a BQ I was going to send myself to the med tent. It was game over and time to jog it in.
I ended up getting to stop and see my brother and sister-in-law around mile 23.5 and hang out with them for a minute or so (calculated from my Strava data moving vs. elapsed time) and take some pictures. By that point, I was just having fun with it, but those who had been pushing hard were really feeling bad. I watched so many people stop and puke and stretch out cramps. I felt like sometimes I was the only one still running around me since so many people had slowed to a stumbling walk.
The last two miles or so of Boston always get me. You’re in the actual city and the crowds are 10 people deep. It’s pure euphoria. I can’t help but smile and every year I’ve gotten a little teary eyed coming into Kenmore. I can’t help but get overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude and privilege I have to run the world’s greatest race in my city. I didn’t buy my race photos, but in every single one I’m grinning like a complete fool. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. The finish line is still almost a half mile away, but it’s there and you can see it. To the left is the bar I used to go to my first year in graduate school and drink frozen margaritas on hot days. I felt like such an adult. A few blocks up is the restaurant where I had my PhD defense party and my brother’s college graduation party. And then, it’s over.
This year, while my fastest Boston, I finished in a slightly disappointing 3:38:08. I would have liked to BQ, but the marathon is a cruel beast and you’re a victim of circumstance. As I came across the line, I almost immediately saw my friends Liz and Tim who had press passes. We chatted and I found out many others in our club has either dropped out or had tough days.
In the days following I felt really conflicting emotions. I was very proud of myself for running a smart race in tough conditions, but I also felt really guilty. It wasn’t my A race, but I ran pretty decently and ended up having a fun day. A few others I knew who were really focused on Boston didn’t get to finish. It felt wrong that I was training through it and didn’t even taper or train specifically for a marathon and still could pull off what I did. My legs didn’t hurt and I was running the next day like nothing had happened. I guess this means very good things for my VT100 training, but it also felt somehow unfair to others who had worked so hard for it watch the day blow up in their face.
So, all in all, I’m OK with it. I still love Boston. I may even want a BQ for 2018 – who knows? For now, the plan is to take this week easy as a “recovery” and then gear back up and tackle a 50 miler on May 13th!