Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Boston's Wild Ride

As a runner, you get used to hearing “I only run if someone is chasing me,” or “You’ll ruin your knees,” or “How far is this marathon?”  But you really know you’re a distance runner when you start to hear “Run, Forrest, Run!” 

Boston 2018 was more of a different Forrest Gump quote.

“We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain … and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.”
– Forrest Gump

I first ran Boston in 2014. I qualified for 2013 shortly after registration closed, and then after the bombing, I was determined to run 2014. It was an incredible experience – a beautiful day (a little warm for running, but perfect for spectating), huge crowds lined the route pretty much the entire course (and they closed down the finish line area for awhile because it was so crowded), Meb won, lots of emotion before during and after from runners and Bostonians alike. My parents flew out from Illinois and Mike drove up with me for the weekend – we lived in Maryland then, we did not drive up from Texas. It was so awesome I felt like going back would be a letdown, or at least that’s what I told myself when I had work conflicts in 2015 and 2016, and when I didn’t have a qualifying time in 2017. When registration opened for 2018 I was ready to go back.
Leading up to race day, it seemed like every time I checked the weather the forecast got worse. I packed a singlet, arm warmers and shorts. Then I added a short sleeve shirt. And then a long sleeve shirt. And then tights. And gloves. And finally a rain/wind vest that I didn’t think I’d wear but was willing to toss once I got too warm if I did decide to wear it. Then I added throwaway sweatpants, sweatshirt, a pair of heavy socks to use as mittens and a poncho for before the start and clothes for the rest of the weekend.  I flew Southwest with a connection in New Orleans. My flight out was delayed due to weather, and as we circled the New Orleans airport waiting for a storm to clear before we landed, I tried not to worry about my connection. Surely the same storm was delaying my connecting flight out, right? Nope. I became one of those people loudly announcing they had a tight connection so people got out of my way and let me off the plane first. I ran to the other gate and got there with just a couple minutes to spare. I was talking to another guy from my flight making the same connection as we walked down the ramp, and I stepped half on/half off the part you walk on and rolled my ankle pretty bad. I hobbled the rest of the way and got one of the last seats in the back of the plane. The entire flight to Boston I worried about my ankle. It didn’t hurt too bad just sitting there, but if I pressed against it there was shooting pain. When we landed I was relieved I could walk with out a lot of pain, but I was still worried.
Boston Marathon weekend is magical. Runners everywhere in jackets from previous years’ marathons. The whole city knows the marathon and everywhere you go, people ask if you’re running. They tell you how impressed they are that you qualified to get there. They wish you luck. They thank you for being there. The people at the airport, the people on the T, the people at the hotel, at restaurants, stores, even just walking down the street - they all treat you like a rock star. So even though my ankle was still bugging me and I tried to stay off it as much as possible, I had a great time in Boston leading up to the race.  After the expo, meeting up with friends from around the country, and dinner with my cousin that came out with friends to spectate, race morning was here before I knew it.

Ever since I watched a race start from my car while waiting to turn into the parking lot several years ago, I tend to get to races really early. With the awful weather, I tried to time it a little better this time without letting prerace anxiety and ankle pain worry get the best of me. I got up, ate a Clif bar, got dressed in all my layers and headed to the T, with a stop at Starbucks for coffee. I was cold and wet from the three-block walk. Dropped my bag of dry clothes at gear check and lined up for the buses around 8:40. BAA said I should be there between 8:00-8:45 for wave 3, so I was pretty impressed with myself. The bus ride itself was uneventful, although I didn’t enjoy watching the rain and seeing sleet/snow on the ground as we approached Hopkinton. I ate a bagel along the way. 

Race morning weather. video just got worse as the day went on.

As we got off the bus, I was talking to a girl in the same wave and corral as me, and since I’d run Boston once before, she said she was sticking with me to get to the start. They were calling wave 2 when we walked up, so we decided to stop and shed a layer and leave it with volunteers there collecting stuff. As we were doing that, they started calling wave 3. I was glad I timed it so well and wouldn’t have to squish through the mud pit of Athletes Village, but could head right to the start line. However, my new friend took a really long time to change her shoes there, and by the time we started towards security and the start line, the sidewalk was jam-packed and not moving.  At all. I finally cut through part of the village and the mud, where I nearly walked out of one of my shoes it was so bad.

By the time I finally made it to security, they were already calling for wave 4. I wanted to stop at a port-a-potty – I didn’t really have to go, but I could go, if that makes sense. But since they were already calling the next wave and I had the long walk to the start, I ran/walked all the way to the start and made it to my corral with just a couple minutes to the start. I was not happy I was stressing about getting to the start, but at least I didn’t have a lot of time to get nervous. Wave 3 started, and a few minutes later so did I.
I planned to start at about a 9 minute mile pace, then if I felt good towards the hills and after, pick up the pace to finish under 4 hours. Now that I’m 50, under 4 is a BQ, and all my race results (and the short course marathon I ran in December) said I was somewhere between 3:45-3:50 shape. I did not want to blow up and walk, because I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep going once I got cold and tired. My ankle hurt for about the first half mile, then pretty much everything went numb and I couldn’t feel the ankle, or anything else for that matter. So yay? After a couple miles my dollar store rain poncho was bothering me so I threw it to the side of the road. By mile 4 I was cursing my decision to skip the port-a-potty. I didn’t want to stop, but I knew I’d have to stop. The next few miles I watched but all the port-a-potties had lines. Finally just before mile 7, I had no choice. The line was short so I stopped. I took off my socks as mittens and put them in my throwaway vest pockets, then dug a gu out of my pocket and ate that while I was waiting in line.
Once I got back out running, I tried to enjoy the race. The crowds were smaller than 2014, but I was amazed at how many people came out to watch and cheer in that weather. It was raining and windy nonstop, then occasionally a sheet of rain would come blowing through. It got to the point where that would happen and people would just start laughing. I was cold but not miserable. I’d occasionally think to myself “I can’t believe I’m doing this” and smile. My hands were cold even with gloves but my sock mittens were drenched so I eventually threw them to the side of the road. I tried to take another gu but couldn’t make my fingers work to get one out of the pockets in my tights. I threw “nothing new on race day” out the window and decided I would just take Gatorade at every aid station and forget about trying to get gu. 
At some point between the mile 7 port-a-potty and Wellesley, I realized I needed to stop thinking about time and ease up a little more – I was really afraid of a blow up late in the race. I couldn’t hear my watch beep or feel it vibrate at each mile anyway. Occasionally I’d see a good sign or something cool and think I’d need to remember that, but I forgot it all pretty much before the end of the race. I do remember at Wellesley amongst all the girls and their “kiss me” signs was one guy with a sign that said “Kiss me……I’m new at this.”
I made it to the first of the Newton hills. I was cold, my hands were numb, my legs were numb. Every once in a while I’d warm up and unzip my throwaway vest a little, only to zip it back up the next time a gust came through. And remember that great idea to drink Gatorade at all the aid stations since I couldn’t get my gu? Well, I kind of had to pee again. New executive decision, run through the aid stations for awhile and take nothing. Since I usually walk through the aid stations, I decided I’d take walk breaks on each of the hills instead. And so I did. 
I finally got to the top of Heartbreak and felt like I had the energy to run the rest of the way. And then I ran into the strongest headwind I’ve ever experienced. For a really long time. It was hard. I was still cold. I was remembering seeing Mike and then my parents spectating at mile 23 the last time I was there. Much smaller crowds this year, but still people were out. I just kept running. I thought about all the people tracking me and thinking "glad I'm not out there running in that" and kept going. I thought about the fact that my friend Patty’s niece was running and Patty said she was going to be out cheering, but surely she wouldn’t be out in this weather. A half mile later, I heard “Karen!” and it was Patty! I went back to say hi and half-hug her over the barrier and she told me I was crazy. I remembered people saying you can see the Citgo sign for a long time before you actually get into town and make those final few turns and thinking “how much longer until I see the sign?” and then looking up and it was right there and it was huge. Which meant I only had about a mile to go! 

I kept running. I made the final turn onto Boylston. I took it wide because my cousin Cyndee and her friends said they were going to be on that side of the street. I didn’t see them and they didn’t see me, but I knew they were there. I took in the noise from the crowds and teared up a little bit. I was almost done. It was not the time I wanted, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

I finished in 4:10:38. I was kind of out of it and didn’t even realize right away that I’d crossed the finish. Then I realized everyone was walking and we must be done. I got my medal and my heat cape thingy and a bag of food. I got to gear check and there were no volunteers working the section with my bag. People were squeezing in behind the tables and digging through the bags trying to find their own. So I did too, found my bag and headed to a hotel by the finish where a friend of mine was staying. I changed in the hotel bathroom and then walked the two blocks to the T. Headed back to my hotel and after the three-block walk from the T to my hotel was soaked again. After a long, hot shower, I finally felt human again. I couldn’t believe all the texts and fb messages and comments I had from the last several hours, and I enjoyed reading them all before heading out to dinner. 

They say 2018 was the worst weather conditions Boston Marathon has seen in 40 years. Of the approximately 30,000 people registered, 26,948 started and 25,746 finished. Around 2,500 runners were treated by medics, many of them for hypothermia. 23 of the elite runners did not finish.
An American woman won for the first time since 1985. Des Linden felt like she might drop out early on, so when Shalane Flanagen had to stop at a port-a-potty, she hung back to help get her back to the lead pack. And then she ran away from the lead pack and won the race by over 4 minutes. American women kind of dominated, taking 7 out of the top 8 spots. The men’s winner was Yuki Kawauchi, the “citizen runner” from Japan that has a full-time non-running job, and unlike most elites, runs a lot of races (about 10 marathons a year). He ran a half marathon as a tune-up race dressed as a panda. Boston was already his fourth marathon of 2018.
Boston 2018 was awesome and awful and amazing and insane. I was tired for an entire week after. And I have no idea what’s wrong with me, but I want to run it one more time. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

A perfect day for racing in Houston

You guys, I had the best time yesterday. It was the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon, one of my favorite races. Everything about this race is done well. I love the course, the spectators, the atmosphere, the fact that you can wait inside before and after the race, seeing so many people I know before and after, it’s just a fun time. After running the marathon the last two years, I decided to run the Houston Half Marathon this year. My expectations weren’t high as I’ve just been trying to maintain my fitness the last month. I’ve been running okay miles, but not really training. And I need to start getting some quality training in for The Woodlands Marathon the first weekend in March. On the other hand, the weather was looking fantastic.

I think this is the first time I’ve done a race where the full and half split after several miles and I split with the half. That’s the time when you’re running the marathon and you think “wouldn’t that be nice to head back to the finish already….” and the course gets a lot quieter. Well let me tell you, I love marathons, but it is indeed quite nice to head back to the finish at that point. I ran a pretty good race, I started a little fast and slowed a little the last couple miles, and finished in 1:47:55, which is the fastest half I’ve run since 2014, and almost two minutes faster than my last one in November, which at the time was my fastest since 2014. The results show me finishing at 1:51:03, because the timing mat at the start line didn’t pick up my chip and it apparently took me a little over 3 minutes from the gun to cross the start. I sent an email, but if the official results don’t get fixed, it’s not that big of a deal. (Edited: I sent the email Sunday night with a link to my garmin file, by Tuesday morning the marathon fixed my result!)
Love the shirts and medal this year

But enough about that. The absolute best part of the day was seeing my “baby runners” finish. Last spring a girl that I met at the RRCA Coaching Certification course asked if I had any interest in coaching the Champions Fit group that was kind of regrouping after their organizer and coaches all left last year. I decided to give it a shot even though I’m definitely not the leader type, and am usually the one that turns off the alarm in the morning (if I even set an alarm), rolls over, goes back to sleep and blows off the group run.

We met up for the first time in July. It was a small group, and then we lost a few to Harvey and injury and such, but we also gained a couple as friends saw their friends running longer and longer and wanting to try themselves. We met every Saturday at Ground Up Athletics for our long runs, and some Tuesdays at the Klein High School track for speedwork. I think the small group kept everyone even more accountable, because it was noticeable if someone wasn’t there! Our first goal race was the Cypress Half Marathon in November, and I was so proud when all three finished strong, one of them a brand new half marathoner.

Cypress Half Marathon finishers in November

We continued training through the holidays. Those that had already run their race kept coming out to run with those still training for Houston.

My Saturday mornings from July through January

We met up Sunday morning at the convention center before heading off to our respective corrals. Cherissa and Patty were both running their first half, and Himanshu was running his first full.

Before the start

I had them all loaded into the race’s tracker and planned to go back after finishing and cheer them on. I finished my race, put on warm dry clothes, got something to eat, and saw that Patty was almost done and Cherissa was right behind her. I was too tired and cold to move at that point, so they got no cheering on from me. They didn’t need it – they were both finished, faster than they thought they could, and were on cloud nine when I caught up to them in the convention center after the race. I met Cherissa’s mother-in-law (who also ran the half, and PR’d), and Patty’s sister and friend. Himanshu was still on the course. I was watching his splits and proud he didn’t take off too fast, and was planning on heading back down the course to check in on him when he got closer.

Happy half marathoners! Me with Patty and Cherissa after the finish
Even spectators can benefit from foam rolling (Patty's sister and friend at the post-race festivities)

Somewhere around the halfway point Himanshu slowed down according to the race tracking. We (me, Patty, her sister and her sister’s friend) watched, then devised a plan. We drove to brunch a block off the course around mile 23, and after eating they’d get their signs out of the trunk to cheer him on and I’d run with him back downtown to get his mind off whatever was slowing him down. Of course as soon as they brought the food, we saw that he’d sped up a bit and would be there soon, so they boxed up the food to go and we walked up to the course. By the way, I am a horrible spectator, but they were awesome. The cheered for all the runners, then when we saw him coming, they yelled for him like he was a rock star. I jumped in and ran/walked with him until we got to downtown, where they start fencing the course off to spectators. He had slowed because he started getting cramps, which had never happened in training, so was both painful and frustrating for him. He was in pretty good spirits; I would not have handled it nearly as well as he did. He ran off and finished his first marathon, while I walked back texting and IM’ing others and checking his progress. And nearly walking into a wall and tripping over a curb in the process (see, I am a horrible spectator, I should have been cheering people on, not messing with my phone).

When I was waiting for Himanshu to get through the finish area, Jaye and Dana from Cypress Fit, the coaches I met at that RRCA class last April, were walking out with a group. We said a quick hello and congratulated each other on our races, but what I wish I’d said was how thankful I was that they got me into this. I had no idea how much it would mean to me to help other people get into running and reach their goals.

Over the last six months, I got to watch people run longer than they ever had before, week after week. I saw determination and guts and sometimes frustration. I heard a lot of laughter. I ate a lot of kolaches (thank you Devin and Ground Up Athletics!). I got a lot of “is this normal?” and “what should I do?” and “do you think I could…..” texts. And I watched this random group of people turn in to a tight-knit group of runners.

I have this group of online running friends, and I mentioned my Champions group a lot in our conversations the last six months. I would get so excited to see them growing and doing new things - one friend called them my “baby runners” and it stuck. So my baby runners didn’t know it, but there was this group of ladies around the country that became invested in their progress and virtually cheered them on. (My runners also didn’t know that we referred to them as baby runners, so if any of them are reading this, I hope they know we meant it in a good way.)

So thank you Jaye for thinking of me when Champions Fit was looking for a coach. Thank you Ken and Lauren at Ground Up Athletics for doing all the hard work up front, for being there throughout the season, for opening the store for us every single Saturday morning (and to Devin for being the one that actually opened the store and provided us with Gatorade and breakfast every week), and for the discount on several pairs of running shoes! Thank you Debbie at USA Fit for answering all my stupid questions and helping me figure out what I was doing, and to both the Cypress and Houston Fit groups for looking out for the little guys at Champions. Thank you to Mike for putting up with my alarm clock going off every Saturday morning, earlier and earlier as we ran longer and longer and I had to get water out on the course before meeting up with the group. Thank you to Heather, Julie, Himanshu, Mark, Patty, Cherissa and Thanh for putting up with me all these months and making me look good. Congratulations on your races! Congratulations also to all my CRC friends on their BQs, PRs and fun race experiences yesterday. And congrats to my super speedy neighbor that went out and ran a 2:52 marathon, NBD. Okay, this is not the Academy Awards, just a middle-aged chick that likes running, so I'll stop now.

Today I rest. Tomorrow I get back out there. The Woodlands Marathon is coming up in March, followed by Boston in April. I’m also signed up for duathlon in February and a 10K in March. And will probably do a 5K or two along the way. The older I get, the less likely I’ll get back to the paces I was running in 2013. But the older I get, the more I’m learning that that doesn’t matter as much as I thought. I’m just going to keep running and racing. And coaching and helping other runners.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Boston Strong

When I first started running marathons, I'd always say "I'll run Boston when I'm 80". A BQ (Boston qualifying) time for a 40-44 year old female was 3:55, and from my first marathon in 2008 through the beginning of 2012, my PR was 4:26. Also, as I got closer to the 45-49 age group, they raised the qualifying times so I still had to run faster than 3:55 once I turned 45. After my horrible 2011, when I fought tendonitis on and off, gained some weight, and watched my marathon times creep well over 5 hours, I thought about revising that from 80 to 90. But then the magic happened. I lost some weight, and I was suddenly running faster. I ran more miles and I was running even faster. I BQ'd in Detroit in October of 2012, running a 3:52:something. That race was the weekend after Boston registration filled for 2013, and running friends said "you realize you can do a lot better than that, don't you?" And I did. So I added more miles and speed work and tempo runs. And I ran a 3:42 in New Jersey just two weeks after Boston 2013, determined to run it after what happened. I registered the day it opened to those that qualified with at least a BQ-10.
Running New Jersey two weeks after
Boston 2013
Last year I ran a lot - lots of shorter races and 12 marathons or longer. I did a 50K, a 40 miler, a 6 hour race where I ran over 35 miles and a 50 miler. I trained for my fall marathon using Pfitz 12/70 and added in some marathons as training runs, peaking at over 80 miles one week. I know a lot of people train 18-20 weeks for a marathon, but I like racing too much. I figure if I already have a base of 40-50 miles per week, 12 weeks of training should be good. So the week after the Disney marathon I started Pfitz 12/55. I chose it for a couple reasons: I started a new job in October and I now commute into DC, which makes those 14 mile medium-long runs I was doing during the week while unemployed over the summer kind of hard to fit in, and I wanted to do more cycling and this plan had 2-3 rest/xt days per week.

I realized pretty early on that I wouldn't be in as good as shape as I was for my fall marathon (my PR race, 3:33:57 at Mohawk Hudson), and while I kept training at paces that I should for a 3:30-3:35 time, I knew I wouldn't be able to hit those times at Boston. So I decided to go out at a "conservative" 3:45 pace, and then pick it up in the end if I had anything left. Mostly I wanted to enjoy Boston and not go out too hard and have to limp in miserable and dejected.

Once I decided not to go for a PR or my super-secret ultimate goal of sub-3:30 (look out Erie Marathon in September), I started getting really excited about Boston. I was reading everything I could find on the race. I was talking about it all. the. time. And I stopped worrying about the fact that my training wasn't optimal, and the winter was awful, and I was racing during my taper.

The weekend
Mike and I drove up on Friday. I found an apartment on airbnb in Brookline and it was great. 4 blocks from about mile 24 on the course. My parents flew in from Illinois to hang out with us and then spectate/support me in the race. But getting to the apartment in Boston traffic at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon was a little stressful. The thought of getting back in the car and driving to the airport to pick up my parents was more than either one of us could take. So we figured out public transportation, bought 7-day T passes for ourselves and my parents, and took the green line to the red line to the silver line, met them in baggage claim and brought them back to the apartment via the silver line to the red line to the green line. I think they were already questioning their decision to be there.

Mike found a bike race in Rhode Island on Saturday, so he did that while Mom and Dad and I did some sightseeing downtown. We also went to the expo and picked up my packet, which was extremely crowded. I would have liked to have seen more of the expo, but I couldn't take the crowds. I did get to meet Kathrine Switzer there though!

Sunday I got in a short run in the morning,  then met up with some online running friends at the expo while Mike went for a ride and the parents did more sightseeing. Then dinner and the Red Sox game. Not your traditional family Easter, but it was fun. I definitely spent too much time on my feet and walking, but I was okay with that since this was going to be an experience, not a goal race.

I knew of several people that were going to be spectating along the course, and I'd heard how hard it is with that many spectators and that many runners to actually see someone you know. So I decided to wear my bright yellow shorts, and about the only shirt I could find that sorta matched was my Batman shirt. So that is what I decided to wear. Posted my outfit on facebook and went to bed by about 9:30.

The race
I met up with Kate, Scott and Eric at baggage claim and we rode out to the start together on the bus. It was a beautiful day, although it was warming up quickly. Not the best weather for racing, but perfect for spectating. And that was how I'd hoped it would be - for me this race was more about the people of Boston than trying to race hard. Everything was very well organized. I was told to expect to wait in a lot of lines. But we walked right up to the buses, showed our bibs and hopped on one right as they were all leaving for the start. The worst part of a point to point course is that bus ride out. It seems to take forever, and at some point you realize you're going to have to cover that distance on foot.

Athlete's Village was full of runners in all kinds of throwaway clothes. The snipers on the roof and all the cops in the field made it very evident that the BAA was not taking security lightly. At one point they called for a moment of silence for last year's victims, and I have never experienced a crowd of several thousand get so quiet - it was really something. We hung out for awhile, ate, drank, waited in line for bathrooms, and soon they were calling wave 2 to the start so we wished Scott and Eric luck and they took off. Kate and I had a half hour to go. Finally they called wave 3 and I was on my way to the start line after another bib check. It's about a 3/4 mile walk to the start, and there were people along the walk to the start cheering for us! And offering us beer, donuts and cigarettes....

I was in corral 1, which was pretty cool, even though it was corral 1 of the third wave. I liked starting up near the front of 9,000 runners. Unlike other some other large marathons I've run where it gets nearly impossible to walk along the corrals to get where you need to be, there were no issues here. They called the runners from athlete's village to the start 3 corrals at a time so there wasn't all that congestion. I got into my corral with about 10 minutes to the start, and there was a volunteer in the corral just walking around shaking people's hands, asking where they were from and thanking them for being there. As 11:00 approached, we heard a few official words and were told to go and give them back their finish line. A little emotional. And then we were off.

I have never seen so many spectators for a marathon. Nearly the entire course was filled with spectators - generally a huge crowd as you entered a new town along the way, and then smaller amounts between the towns. There was only one maybe 1/4 mile stretch where there weren't any spectators, and it was obvious because it was the only quiet section of the course. There were woods on one side, and state troopers posted every so often with their backs to us watching the woods.

I learned in the first few miles that the Batman shirt was a good idea. And I also learned why people put their names on their shirts. 26 miles of "Batman!" "Batgirl! "Go Batwoman!" "Nanananananana nananananananana Batgirl!" Little boys would see my shirt and get all excited for Batman and I'd have to run over and give them a low 5 (because they were short). A rather large man in a lawn chair wearing a Batman t-shirt reacted like we were long-lost relatives - we fist bumped. I was grinning like an idiot the entire first half, at least. And I'd like to apologize to Nicole, the guy from Yale and the girl from Canada that ran a good portion of the race right around me, because while they all got their share of cheering, Batgirl was waaaaaay more popular with the crowd. If it wasn't me in the shirt, I'd have gotten a little annoyed. Then again, I probably would have run faster to get away from me, so maybe I pushed one of those people to a PR?

The first several miles I ran right on pace. It wasn't as easy as it should have been, so I kept thinking I should ease up a bit, then I'd go back to soaking up the crowds and grinning like an idiot, and then eventually look at my Garmin again and see that I hadn't really eased up. Finally about mile 8 I realized I was breathing much harder than I should have been and was able to go from 8:20-8:30 minute miles to 8:40-8:50. That helped, but I was beginning to realize that my "conservative" start wasn't really conservative for the shape I was in, and in fact, was probably too fast.

Somewhere between mile 11 and 12 a few people in the crowd started shouting out to the runners that an American had won Boston! Everyone running around me seemed as excited, shocked and surprised as I felt. As I was wondering if Shalane Flanagan had pulled off the win, or maybe Desi had another amazing Boston performance, someone running near me asked a volunteer if an American really won. The volunteer answered yes, it was Meb! Cheers went up from all the runners, and we all ran a little taller. And it was one of the many times during the race I went from elation to near tears. And then back to overwhelming joy. It was a very emotional race.

Next up was Wellesley College and the infamous scream tunnel. The girls did not disappoint. How they can be so loud for such a long time is a mystery to me. Every one had a sign "Kiss me, I speak Chinese" "Kiss me, I'm from Minnesota", etc. I left that for the boys on the course and continued on, still grinning like an idiot.

About 15 miles in things started getting harder. It was going to be a tough finish. I knew my friend Judy was going to be spectating on the right side of the road around mile 16.5, and I'd already missed seeing a couple people I knew spectating earlier in the race. For some reason, I just really wanted to see someone I knew, so I started scanning the crowd. I got to the mile 17 marker and was upset I missed her. I started to zone out, feeling the pain pretty bad, when all of the sudden I heard "Karen! Go Karen! Go Karen!" and look over and see Judy. I got so excited and suddenly my aches and pains went away for awhile and I was all pumped again. Thanks Judy.

Then came the hills. They weren't awful, at least they wouldn't have been earlier in the race. But at that point in the race, with the sun beating down and the temps rising, and starting off at what wasn't a conservative pace after all, I was hurting bad. I still ran most of them, but I did walk part way up Heartbreak. My head was telling me it was okay to walk, I was here for the experience, and my legs really wanted to listen to my head, but my heart wanted to keep running. I walked for a minute or so, then thought about all the people tracking me online, and Mike and my parents in the crowd up ahead, and how they would all be wondering if I was okay, and I started running again. On one of the hills the crowd was even louder than it had been (I didn't know that was possible), and I realized I was passing Team Hoyt. Another moment of almost crying. And my heart winning the conversation with my head over my ability to continue running. If they could do it all these years, what's a blister or two and a little hamstring pain? Nothing I can't run through.
If these guys can run,
And this city can come out and cheer,
I can find a way to run a few more miles.

When I looked at the map of the course, I thought we were staying right at mile 23. So at mile 22, I knew I had to keep running because my spectators were coming up. I took my last Gu and I moved to the left side of the road. Everything hurt, but my spectators were coming up. I passed the mile 23 marker, but it didn't look familiar yet. Where were my people??? Finally I saw a guy in ABRT kit with a bicycle at the fence - Mikey!! I may have mentioned my emotional state earlier, but I swear, I felt like I hadn't seen him in years - I was that excited. I went over and told him it hurts. He was also grinning like an idiot and told me that it was so cool that I was doing this. I may have mentioned a time or two more that it hurt, and he gave me a hug and told me I was awesome. So I told him I'd better go see my mom. He said they were just up the road. And I took off running again, and smiling again.

Once I got just up the road, I started to worry I missed my parents. I passed the mile 24 mile marker and I was sure they were around mile 23. I finally gave up hugging the left side of the road to get some water at the aid station. By this point my aid station behavior had gone from grab water, slow briefly and gulp it down and start running again, to grab water, leisurely walk through taking sips of water and begrudgingly start to shuffle. I got my water, started walking and drinking and there were my parents! I cut back to the other side of the road, running (because they were taking pictures with their iPad). I did a slow an even slower run to give them more time for a picture, then stopped and told them that it was really hard. They said some encouraging things and I was on my way to the finish.

By this point the crowds were really getting big. And loud. And probably drunk. The Boston Marathon turns into a heck of a street party. I could see the Citgo sign, I started doing math again and decided I wanted to finish under 4 hours at least. I was running about a minute a mile slower than I was at the start, but I felt okay. At one point this guy is screaming "BATGIRL!" at the top of his lungs and jumping and pumping his fist. I go over to high five him, and all his friends take up the cheer. So I high five all of them and then the people next to them start cheering for me. I finally realize all the high fives are literally slowing me down. Each one starts to feel like I'm being pushed backwards, so I reluctantly move a little more towards the middle of the road. The crowds the last mile were like nothing I've ever seen before. People were packed on both sides of the road from the fencing all the way back to the buildings. I found out later that the police had stopped letting people into the area because it was so crowded. Boston definitely had taken its finish line back! The announcer called out my name as I crossed the finish line and I felt incredible. 3:57:43, not my fastest, but my most memorable. I got my heat cape thingy and my medal and some water and food and then started shuffling to the T station.

I don't really run for medals, but when I got this one, I cried a little. I just ran the Boston Marathon, a marathon I didn't even think I could qualify for a couple years earlier. An American won for the first time in over 30 years. And Boston...Boston was back and stronger than ever. I texted Mike and my mom and my boss (she made me promise so she wouldn't worry) that I finished. And then I pushed my way onto a crowded train and headed back out to Brookline.

Once I'd taken a shower and started to feel human again, I got online and realized just how many people were tracking me and cheering me on. All the texts and fb messages and posts and emails were just overwhelming. I found out my coworkers were not only tracking me, but posting updates to the company facebook and twitter pages. There were a few times I kept running when I wanted to walk because I knew people that couldn't be there running were watching online and would worry if I didn't cross the next 5K mat. So thank you to my family, my friends, my coworkers for keeping me going. And thank you Boston for quite possibly the most amazing thing I've ever experienced. And to top it all off, I somehow managed to get the most awesome race photo of all time.

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