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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