It’s official – I’m a Boston Marathon finisher!! It was brutal and totally amazing at the same time. It was such a great trip that I will warn you in advance – this recap is a long one…
Since the race was on a Monday, I took Friday, Monday, and Tuesday off of work to enjoy the full experience. Matt and I flew out of Detroit at 6am on Friday and things got stressful for a few minutes during our layover in Baltimore. As we got ready to take off, we were notified that one of the engines wouldn’t start and we were going to taxi back to have someone look at it. I tried not to freak out at the thought of sitting on the tarmac for four hours. Fortunately things worked out and our flight arrived about 30 minutes later than planned. PHEW.
When we got to Boston we took a Lyft to our hotel downtown. It cost a fortune to stay there, but I sucked it up and paid for it anyway. I decided it would be ideal for pre- and post-race logistics, plus it would be the easiest way to enjoy everything I wanted to do in the city. We dropped our bags at the hotel, made our way to the subway, then went to the expo. We had to go through a security check to get into the convention center, then it seemed like an endless walk with trips up multiple escalators to get to the bib pick-up. All of the race volunteers I encountered the entire trip were amazing. They were so friendly, helpful, and encouraging. It was quick and easy to get my bib and race shirt. They had an area where you could swap your shirt for a different size, and sure enough, I wanted to size up. From there, we went to the main part of the expo.
The first area we saw had all of the official race merchandise. We were there early enough that the expo wasn’t even THAT crazy yet, but it was so congested that I started to lose my mind. I didn’t blame Matt at all when he said he had to get out of there and would meet me when I was done. I’m glad I had already ordered my celebration jacket by mail and had it at home.
I found a hat that I liked and tried to figure out where the checkout line began amongst the endless crowd of people. When I realized how far it snaked around the room, I decided I didn’t need a hat THAT bad and returned it to the shelf. I continued on and found the typical vendor part of the expo that had booths from a ton of different companies.
Although it was still busy, I was relieved that there was more space and I could breathe. I found a friend who was working at the Generation UCAN booth and we chatted for a bit. I realized that I was pressing my luck to make it to Meb’s event by 1:30. I wanted to check out more of the expo, but I really wanted to meet him. I hustled through one of the aisles and came across a Brooks booth. I run in their shoes and love their products. Brooks runner Des Linden (seen in the photo above) trademarked the phrase “keep showing up” after her win at Boston last year, and Brooks had several items for sale featuring that phrase. I bought a t-shirt and jacket, figured that was probably enough, and decided I better get moving even if it meant missing a bunch of good stuff at the expo.
Thanks to all of the time I waste on social media, I saw an Instagram post from Meb Keflezighi announcing an appearance at Eyes Over Copley from 1:30-2:30 on Friday. I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere else and an event at an optometrist’s office seemed like my best chance to meet him. He was there because they carry sunglasses from his sponsor Maui Jim. I got there around 1:45 and was relieved to find that it was a low-key event with people trickling through as he signed stuff.
I got stupidly nervous because he’s one of my biggest idols. Meb has a positive mindset and approach to life that really resonates with me and he’s extremely inspiring. I have a couple of his books and took one of them for him to sign. He was as nice and genuine in person as I had expected. We were only a few hours into our Boston trip and it had already been amazing!
After that, we went to the Marathon Sports running store on Boylston. I was happy to discover that they carried most of the official race merchandise I saw at the expo and got the hat I wanted. We went to Shake Shack, looked at some stores along Newbury Street, then went back to the hotel. We rested for an hour before taking the subway to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game. Neither of us had been there before and it was one of those “must-see” things I knew we should do in Boston.
By the end of the day we had walked 10 miles. I had planned on stacking our schedule so we’d be busiest at the beginning. I intended to back off and get more rest as race day approached. There were several seminars and other things I would have liked to have attended during the weekend, but there was only so much I could squeeze into the schedule. I didn’t need to completely wipe myself out before the race!
On Saturday morning I did a shakeout run. In case anything got tweaky I wanted to make sure I rested on Sunday. Our hotel was just east of Boston Common and I thought it would be a good place to start my run. I hadn’t realized that the B.A.A. 5K started there at 8am. Oops. With over 8,000 runners, my attempts at running through the Common turned to a scenic walk. After checking out the large crowd of runners I headed up to Beacon Street and to the Charles River path. It was fun to see runners everywhere I went. That held true for the whole weekend, of course. I was really in my element. :)
I enjoyed running around the very scenic Beacon Hill neighborhood on my way back. It helped keep my pace nice and slow since the brick sidewalks aren’t really ideal for running. It was pretty though!
Around noon we took a little walk to Faneuil Hall Marketplace / Quincy Market. We got some cookies and Ghirardelli chocolates then hit an Irish Pub for lunch.
Next on the agenda was a Samuel Adams Brewery tour. Runners could sign up for a free tour and receive a free glass by showing their race bib. That sounded good to me! That location is more about product development rather than production, so there wasn’t much to actually see. We learned plenty of interesting facts though, and of course everyone really goes for the samples anyway. We sampled Boston Lager, Sam ’76, and 26.2 Brew. We got to keep our glasses and I got my additional free glass in the store afterward.
We took the subway back and ended up at the Hub Pub for dinner. It wasn’t anything fancy but we had a good time. We received more free samples of 26.2 Brew there – bonus! The highlight of our dinner was the door guy David. He was in control of the music and he dedicated James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” to all of the marathon runners. He sang along enthusiastically (and was actually good) as he worked his way around the room. His karaoke sing-alongs continued throughout the night ranging anywhere from Hall & Oates to Madonna. He was a riot.
I made sure to get decent sleep that night knowing that I probably wouldn’t sleep well the night before the race.
I spent most of Sunday morning getting my race outfit and gear ready. The only things on the agenda for Sunday were meals and a course preview talk. I carb loaded with a couple of muffins from Dunkin’ Donuts, which you can find on practically every corner in Boston.
We walked to the Beacon Hill neighborhood for a 2:00 course preview talk with Greg McMillan at an apartment he had for the weekend. McMillan is an author, coach, and extremely knowledgable resource when it comes to running. I’ve been using the McMillan Running Calculator for years to help predict training paces and race times I might be able to achieve. I watched all of his Boston Marathon webinars leading up to the race and they had been extremely helpful. He had a couple of course preview talks during the weekend, and I thought it might be especially cool to go to the one at his apartment. As I suspected, that one was extra intimate. There may have been around 15 of us squeezed into the main room for McMillan’s talk and slide show. He went through every step of race day from gear check to the bus ride to the wait in Athletes’ Village to the nuances of the race course. It was nice to talk through things and get feedback from him as well as others in the room who had run the race before. He mentioned that you’ll see some people during the race with their heads down who are throwing themselves a pity party, thinking about how their legs are tired and they don’t want to run anymore. I’ve learned how important the mental part of running is, so that part really stuck with me – no pity party!
We stuck around for a few minutes to talk to him and get some pictures, and he was extremely nice. Between meeting him and Meb, it had been a pretty special trip already.
We spent a little time at the hotel afterward before walking to Panera for dinner. Rather than worrying about finding the right kind of restaurant and making a reservation, I stuck with something that I knew would work for me. A sandwich and mac & cheese from Panera has worked as a good pre-run meal in the past.
We went back to the hotel and the TV kept me distracted for a bit. As expected, I had a pretty restless night of sleep. Luckily I didn’t feel too tired when I got up at 5:45 the morning of the race. I had a Picky Bar and Honey Stinger cracker n’ nut butter bar for my first meal. I loaded up on sunscreen and Aquaphor, put on a bunch of throwaway clothes to keep me warm, then headed out into the rain just after 7:00. I made the short walk to the gear check area. There were no lines and it was extremely organized as volunteers stored our bags on specific buses based on our bib numbers.
I was worried about thunder and lightning which was currently hitting Hopkinton, the town where the race would start. Luckily we “only” had pouring rain in downtown Boston at the time. I had a poncho with a hood plus a garbage bag poncho to stay dry. Because I’d worried so much about wet shoes, I actually found some cheap waterproof shoe covers on Amazon. I wrapped plastic bags around my feet for good measure as well. I looked completely ridiculous, but everyone else did too and it worked!
From there, I walked nearly a mile to catch my bus. Because Boston is a point-to-point race, people who stay in Boston need to ride 26 miles out to the start. Most people use school bus shuttles located at Boston Common but I had signed up for a special charter bus located in the Back Bay area. I am forever thankful that my friend Karly informed me about the buses provided by a local running store. I had to pay $35 but it was worth every dollar. I rode to the start in comfortable charter bus that had a bathroom, and I could wait on that bus as long as I chose prior to the start of the race. The general shuttle buses dropped everyone else off at Athletes’ Village where they waited outside. The rain had stopped by the time we got there, but since it had been pouring all morning, the field where people had to wait was mostly a mud pit. I talked to some nice people on the bus and played on my phone to pass the time, which actually went by fairly quickly.
With all of the crazy logistics it feels like you go through one marathon of events before you get to the actual marathon. Gear check, buses, waiting in the village, walking to the start, etc. You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I spent agonizing over details and preparing for this race. I made sure I packed every combination of running gear I owned. I had to get clothes from the Salvation Army so I could stay warm and dry before the race. When I packed, there was still the possibility that race day would be a cold, windy, rainy mess like last year. By the time race day arrived, we managed to avoid rain during the majority of the race, it was humid, and in the 60s. I had to make sure I timed my eating just right. I woke up before 6am, yet I wouldn’t start running until nearly 11am. I had a couple bars at the hotel and ate another Picky Bar during the bus ride. I ate another Honey Stinger bar when I got off the bus an hour before I started the race. It worked – my stomach cooperated and I didn’t start the race feeling hungry!
Despite all of the crazy logistics, it was thrilling to finally be there. From our bus we were able to make a short walk to Athletes’ Village, where we went through a security check. Then we cut through the village to walk to the start with everyone else. I was SO thankful for my special bus when I saw that people had discarded old, mud-covered shoes on the sidewalks following their wait there.
It was a little over half a mile to walk from the village to the starting line. Nearly 30,000 people ran the race and we were divided into waves that left at different times. For my 10:50 start I had to leave the village at 10:10. Again, lots of crazy logistics.
A CVS parking lot just before the start was filled with portable toilets for the runners. I played it safe by making a last-minute stop there and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to wait more than a couple minutes. I made a point of going to the far end of the parking lot where the lines were shorter.
There was plenty of nervous energy in the air. It all became very real when I got to Hopkinton and saw the sign in the photo above. Prior to that I’d spent almost all of my time and energy agonizing over logistics. I barely spent any time worrying about the actual run! I guess I thought about that enough as I went through a winter’s worth of training. Now it was time to break off into corrals based on our bib numbers.
A couple minutes before the start I ditched my rain poncho. There were volunteers with bags to collect throwaway clothes. This race was extremely well-organized. I already mentioned how awesome the volunteers were, and one of them made me get all emotional right before the start when he told us how amazing all of us were. I was really about to start THE Boston Marathon. Wow.
Soon enough my wave was moving and it was time to pull it together. The photo below is one of the official race photos I was able to download in the package I purchased.
The first thing that struck me was how cool it was to see a sea of bright colors in the pack ahead of me. Races are always congested at the beginning, but I’d been told that this one could be shoulder-to-shoulder through 16 miles of the race. Although there was some elbow-bumping now and then, I didn’t get too bothered by the crowd and I had enough space most of the time.
Goal number one was to keep myself under control. It had been drilled into my head that it was easy to start too fast because the first four miles were downhill. During announcements we had been warned that the first half mile was steep, and it was. I started at the back of my corral and made sure to take it nice and easy. I was kind of surprised to hit an uphill that felt like a decent amount of work within that first mile. I thought I’d be flying downhill out of control the whole time! There were more rolling hills within that beginning stretch than I had expected.
I was pretty shocked to see that my pace was in the 8:30s for the first mile. I was aiming for 8:00 pace. I guess I’d been a little too successful in holding back. The next couple miles dropped to 8:20 pace and I kept wondering why I wasn’t going faster on the supposedly out-of-control downhill stretches.
Maybe starting the race a little slower meant I’d have energy left at the end instead of crashing like I usually do. My pace fluctuated a little, but the fastest I went during the whole race was around 8:10 pace for miles six and seven. Pretty early on I came to the realization that I just wasn’t hitting the goal pace. Months ago I told myself that the main objective was to enjoy this race. Although I’d worked really hard to train for a specific pace, I wanted to have fun. It was time to shift goals. If the pace wasn’t coming, it was time to throw it out the window and just enjoy the experience.
All of the rain before the race left a lot of humidity in the air. In addition, it was in the 60s. I was used to training in 30-40°. I don’t do well with heat and humidity, especially when I’m not acclimated AT ALL. I hit all but a couple of the aid stations and eventually I started to take one cup of water to drink and one to dump on my neck. Even though we barely got any rain during the race, I knew the choice to wear a tri top was smart as I continued to drench myself. At some point the sun came out which probably didn’t help much either.
It may be heavy and seem excessive but I was thankful that I opted to run with a hydration belt that held two 21 oz. bottles. I had GU Brew in one bottle and water in the other. I took the bottles out of the fridge by 7am, and later in the race the warm GU Brew wasn’t so appealing. I grabbed Gatorade at aid stations a couple times but just took a sip or two. I definitely prefer my own drink that is more diluted. Still, the extra bottles helped ensure that I stayed hydrated enough. From the fifth mile on I ate one Clif Shot Blok every mile. Since my stomach cooperated, I guess that fueling method seemed to work.
I wasn’t going to let the weather or anything else bum me out. No pity party. I knew that friends and family were tracking me and they were surely watching my pace decline. It’s not what I hoped for, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I knew they were pulling for me either way. I just hoped they wouldn’t think I was failing. I was still going to finish this thing. Any time I struggled, I reminded myself that I was actually running Boston. This was amazing. People had Boston Strong signs along the course which reminded me how lucky I was to be there, and it was also a reminder that I was tough enough to do this. I gave myself a lot of pep talks. I told myself that it took a lot of work to get to Boston and it was going to take a lot of work to fight my way through it. Marathons aren’t easy, but I’m tough and resilient. “You got this” was another common sign along the course and another mantra I used regularly. I told myself that my body was cooperating. Nothing was injured or hurt. I might be dragging, but I was fine. I could get through this. I even joked to myself that however long it might take me to finish, it just meant I was out there to enjoy the experience even longer. I certainly struggled and felt like I was trudging along at times because the conditions drained me, yet I was determined to enjoy it.
I loved seeing the signs that announced our arrival into each town. The crowds seemed to be extra big around those spots, at the mile markers, and in the downtown areas. As we ran through Natick, I dedicated that part of my run to thinking about my half-sister Kathryn who had lived there, and who we lost in 2008. That chunk of my run was mostly filled with thoughts about family.
When I started to see road signs that mentioned Wellesley, I knew a fun part was coming. I was looking forward to the “scream tunnel” of women by Wellesley College. There was a point when a faint roar became noticeable, and a guy near me said, “You can hear them!” It was an awesome part of the race and I smiled during that whole stretch. The women had a variety of “kiss me” signs. “Kiss me, my boyfriend is in Ohio.” “Kiss me, I need my green card.” I laughed when I saw a guy taking a selfie as he received a kiss. It was pretty cool to see the legendary tradition in person.
Following a nice downhill, the Newton Hills began at mile 16 and continued through mile 21. When I see that my splits climbed into 9:00+ paces at that point and remained there through the end of the race, it’s clear that I didn’t handle the hills too well. I didn’t feel too awful on the first one, but for some reason the second one stood out as a bad stretch. I felt like I was really trudging along during this part of the race. I think it helped me mentally that I convinced myself to keep running even if it felt really slow. The crowd telling us that we could do this and that we were amazing really helped pull me through. It meant a lot to have so much support and the cheering certainly lifted my spirits. I couldn’t tell what hill we were on or when we got to the final one, but I was relieved when I saw a sign that said we were done with Heartbreak Hill. The rest of the course was supposed to be smooth sailing. Right…?
When I hit 22 miles I told myself that it was just like one of my 4-milers during training – a couple miles up the trail and back. That was nothing. Another mile down and I only had 5K left. Then we hit Beacon Street and it was really pretty. There were stretches along the course that didn’t have big crowds, but it was pretty much solid through the last few miles. That helped me and even made me smile through the suffering.
When I caught my first glimpse of the Citgo sign it took my breath away. It was another legendary part of the course. It doesn’t seem like it should be that exciting, yet the first sight of it really moved me. I knew I was getting closer. The sign faded out of view for a little bit, but it seemed huge when it popped back up. It was a landmark to keep running toward that would get me that much closer to the finish. People were pouring out of Fenway Park following the Red Sox game and they lined the streets. The energy was incredible. There were moments when I questioned if I’d really want to go through this again, but by this point I thought about how this race was absolutely amazing. I felt a few drops of rain in the later miles, but nothing significant.
I kept watching the crowd as we ran along Commonwealth. I didn’t know when Hereford was coming, but I thought Matt would be spectating from somewhere around Commonwealth and Hereford. I was so worried that I was going to miss him. He’d make the effort to go out there and cheer for me and I wouldn’t even see him. I kept scanning the crowd as I turned right on Hereford, and as I rounded the corner I happened to see him amongst the crowd. I grinned and waved excitedly to make sure he knew that I saw him. That made me so happy!
I was thrilled when I saw the photos taken by the official race photographers. Would you believe someone happened to be at that spot the exact moment I saw Matt?! I absolutely love the next two photos.
Well, this was it – another famous part of the course. Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. The last two turns of the race. I was excited that I was almost there, yet this amazing experience was almost over. I heard that the last stretch of Boylston is longer than you think and seems to take forever. That was my time to soak in what I had left. The crowd was incredible. The street was lined with flags from all different countries. I was on the verge of getting emotional but made myself stop. I needed to breathe so I could finish strong. I threw my arms up in celebration and smiled as I finished. The photographers caught plenty of photos of that!
What a great feeling – I was a Boston Marathon finisher. I thought maybe I ought to stop and stretch, but after doing so for a few seconds, I really just wanted to keep walking around so I could take it all in. I stopped to take a few pictures and had other runners volunteer to take some for me. I got a fist bump from one guy as he handed my phone back. There was a camaraderie amongst us – we had done it.
I collected my water and got my medal. Time for another picture.
I took a small Clif Builder’s Bar and then I was a bit unimpressed that our post-race treat bag just contained a package of Hawaiian rolls, chips, and Craisins. For such a significant race, the treats were kind of a letdown compared to practically every other marathon I’ve done. I knew I’d find some good treats on my own though. There had been a little rain as I got to the finish, but barely enough for me to notice. By the time a volunteer wrapped a heat blanket around me, the rain was coming down. It was time to get to gear check to collect my warmer clothes. My leg started to cramp as I tried to get some pants on, so I took it slowly. I’m glad I put a raincoat in my bag because it started to pour. I headed to the family meeting area and waited by the “B” sign as Matt worked his way there. I replied to a bunch of messages from family and friends who had been following along and were so supportive.
I had talked about going for treats at Shake Shack after the race but it didn’t seem so appealing now that it was pouring rain. I wanted to get out of the rain and back to the hotel. We made a stop at Dunkin’, because as I said, they’re practically on every corner. A donut and a muffin would suffice for post-race treats.
I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a crowd of clapping and cheering people in the lobby when we got to the hotel. How flattering and cool! Eventually I showered and surveyed the damage. I had one little spot that had chaffed under my arm, but no blisters or anything bad. I had some sunburn on my shoulder and back where I had dumped the water to cool off. I’m sure that had washed away my sunscreen. I didn’t feel too bad in general though.
We went to a bar where I got pizza for dinner. Back at the room I tried to polish off as many snacks as I could since I didn’t want to take them home with us. As dead tired as I was, I was too uncomfortable to sleep very well. We left the hotel at 5am on Tuesday morning and as expected, found an airport filled with runners. I joked with Matt that I didn’t belong because I wasn’t wearing a celebration jacket. People had been wearing them pretty much everywhere we went during the whole trip. I did wear my new hat to the airport though. :)
Once again we had a layover on our trip home, and that’s when the pain really hit. After sitting on one flight long enough to tighten up, quad and shin pain was very apparent as soon as I stood up. I may have groaned a hundred times throughout the day, but I was in pretty good shape a day or two later.
Well, here are the final stats for how my race played out. With an 8:00 pace as my initial goal, I was aiming for a time around 3:30. Since I’ve never run that fast and have run 3:34 several times now, I was really hoping I’d at least be in that range. 3:52:15 was a bit off, haha. That makes this my slowest marathon yet by about 45 seconds.
My splits clearly show when I fell apart – the Newton Hills through the end of the race. It also shows that I did not run the tangents since I ended up with 26.46 mi instead of 26.2. I stayed on the left side of the road most of the time so I could get to each aid station without fighting my way through the crowd.
The amount of support I received leading up to and following this race really struck me. The support along the course was incredible. Having people cheer for us as we walked into the hotel was pretty awesome. People at restaurants were excited for us. There was a feeling of excitement everywhere. In addition, I really appreciate how much support I received from family and friends who were rooting for me. Of course Matt receives the most thanks. I know it’s not easy to put up with my constant training. Running six days a week (plus swimming and weights), eating late dinners, scheduling things around my training, listening to me talk about it constantly, going on a trip that’s basically all about my race, etc. I recognize that it’s asking a lot of anyone and I’m very lucky that he’s tolerated and supported me through all of this.
I’ll be riding a high from this one for a while. While my time wasn’t what I’d hoped for and it was quite a battle at times to get through the run, running this legendary race was an amazing experience. Enough to leave me wondering if there’s any way I can resist doing it again next year. I know the weather is usually unpredictable and often bad for this race, but surely I could do better than I did this time? My time from November’s Indy Monumental Marathon does make it possible for me to go back in 2020… :)
If you actually took the time to get through all of this, I thank you!!