As you probably already know by now, it rained on Marathon Monday. And it was great. Having started running in 2005 I never imagined at that time that I would one day be running the Boston Marathon, but eleven marathons later, it was happening. I had made a few attempts to run a BQ time and in the fall of 2013 I made my time by over 4 minutes in Chicago. I was thrilled that I had my BQ time but knew it wasn’t guaranteed that I would get in. In September of 2014 I registered and a couple weeks later got the notification that I was in. To make things even more exciting I decided to register for the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, which consists of running the Boston Marathon on Monday, then Big Sur Marathon six days later.
Fast forward to April of 2015, training was pretty much done, time for the taper and the pre race anxiety that usually goes along with it. In the week or so leading up to the race I kept checking the weather forecast and it was going to be cold and windy. A few days before rain was added to the day. Great. I was hoping to have better weather than that on race day but regardless I was going to have a good time. I wasn’t going to let the weather ruin my experience. And after the stormaggedon (that's a word right?) at CIM in 2012 I knew I would be able to handle what mother nature threw at me (as long as it didn’t snow-I wouldn’t know how to deal with that).
Flying in on a redeye Friday night and arriving Saturday morning was a bit rough but I knew I would have two nights to rest and recover before race day. After grabbing a quick bite to eat it was time to hit the expo. The expo was big and well organized with lots of volunteers helping direct everyone in the right direction. Bib pick up was first, then shirt/bag pick up, then downstairs to the main expo. There was a huge area that housed the official merchandise by Adidas and yes, I did go a little crazy and bought some gear. The main expo area had various booths-many familiar to runners and some not so familiar. Some were hosting notable runners including Scott Jurek and Christopher McDougall at Clif Bar, Michael Wardian at Hoka One One and Kathrine Switzer at Skirt Sports. I spent a couple hours checking everything out, said hi to those at the Feetures! and Big Sur Marathon booths then it was time to check out the town for the first time. Walking down Boylston and Newbury the Boston Marathon feeling was palpable. You could see it written on signs in business windows, people walking around with race gear (from current and past years), yellow flowers in blue covered pots with the words "Boston Strong" lining storefronts. The finish area was set up and the street was closed to cars so there were a lot of people taking pictures near the finish line, myself included. The excitement continued.
The day before the race I joined Bart Yasso and about one hundred other people on one of his shakeout runs. Bart is such a great guy to talk to that I try to join his shakeout runs whenever I have the chance. It was an easy three-ish miles from a hotel in Boston down along the Charles River and back. It was perfect to just get the legs moving and ready for the next day.
The night before the race I finally decided what to wear, it looked like it was going to definitely rain and it was going to be cold and windy. Aside from my typical race clothing, I was going to take a poncho for the rain, at the very least to keep dry before the race, a plastic garbage bag just in case, a towel to sit on while waiting at athletes village, arm warmers and gloves-either of which could be discarded during the race if need be. I didn’t plan to utilize gear check since it was a bit of a walk from the finish line so I was counting on the race poncho to keep me warm enough post race.
On race day I got up at a comfortable hour, which is rare for race day but allowed due to the late start for the Boston Marathon. Having laid out my things the night before I didn’t have much to do on race day. I ate a banana and honey stinger waffle, grabbed my gear and headed out the hotel. It was a short walk to the T, took the green line to Park Street and saw the race shuttles just as I exited the station. It was chilly so I grabbed for my gloves but I didn’t have them, I had left them in the hotel, crap. Oh well, I pulled down my long sleeve throwaway and covered my hands that way. There were plenty of race shuttles so I just picked a line and after a bib check I was on a school bus making my way to Hopkington. The drive seemed long, although I don’t remember ever taking a race day shuttle and thinking “that was a quick ride”. As we were driving I noticed people on the sidewalk waving to us, smiling and giving us thumbs up. Then when we were on the Massachussets turnpike people in their cars were doing the same thing. THIS was the Boston Marathon experience. The feeling of being part of something larger, something great, something more than a race. Midway through the ride it started to rain-here we go. Arriving at the Athletes Village in Hopkington our bibs were checked again. Then it was a free for all in an open high school field. Portapotties lined every side. Seeing the long lines I got in line right away and was glad I did because I ended up waiting forty minutes to use one. But it wasn’t raining anymore-yay! There was Gatorade, fruit, bagels, water and cliff products available. I took a quick picture with the Hopkington sign and then looked for an empty space inside a tent until it was go time. I noticed there was a tent for clothing donations and while there were people leaving clothing there I noticed some going there to get clothing. Hmmm…my legs were cold and I hadn’t brought sweats so I went over to the booth and picked out some donated sweats and put them on, they felt great. Thank you to whoever "donated" some blue sweats with a hole in the left knee! Sitting in the tent I was glad I brought my towel to sit on. I ate half a banana, drank some water and got ready for the race. There were constant announcements about which wave should be heading to the start, with red wave first, then white, then it was my turn. I left my towel and garbage bag and started walking over. A few more bib checks and then it was time to discard the sweats and really donate them. Once in the starting corral and just a couple of minutes before my wave start it started to rain, glad to have my poncho still with me.
It was a quick and relatively quiet countdown to start the blue wave and within about a minute I was passing the timing mat. Spectators were already lining the course, rain be damned. It was going to be a great race.
Before the race I made the decision that I was going to have a great time, no matter what, I was going to enjoy the race. I really didn't want to set a time goal because I didn’t want that to affect how I felt about the race but I was hoping to finish in 3:45-4:00, I thought this was possible for me without pushing too hard which was important since I had Big Sur six days later.
I had been warned that the first five miles of the race were mostly downhill and therefore fast and to not get carried away here or start off too fast. Great advice was to let people pass me, don’t be in a rush, let them pass. I did my best to let that happen and ran by effort and feel. It felt easy and comfortable, perfect. Although I probably still went out a bit faster than I should have. Then something odd began to happen. Having run over a hundred races I have never been pushed, shoved or elbowed more than at this race. And it wasn’t because it was so crowded that people didn't have room to pass. Instead of going into the empty space next to me or in front of me, people who wanted to pass wanted to run through me. The first couple of times it happened I though it was just a few isolated runners but over the first mile or so it happened so many times that I knew it was more than that. I was pretty disappointed by this but after several seconds of thinking about it I decided that if that is how people wanted to race then they could go ahead and do that, I wasn’t going to race that way and I wasn't going to let them ruin my race. Forget them. I was quickly snapped back to the excitement by the cheers of the spectators-people by a bar with beers in each hand (this proved to be a theme throughout the race) but nonetheless genuinely excited for us and letting us know. I got several high-fives. And did I mention it was pretty much downhill? It was great. Unfortunately my bladder was a bit full-darn it I was going to have to make a stop at some point in the race. I discarded my throwaway at about mile two but kept my poncho a bit longer since it was still raining and it was doing a fairly good job of keeping me dry. Aid stations started at mile two and were about every mile. Gatorade was always first, followed by water, right side first, then left side. It was nice to have this consistently throughout the entire race so you could plan your fluid intake the rest of the race. The volunteers did an amazing job.
I had my first energy gel at around mile five. I didn't feel like I needed it but didn't want to fall behind on fueling. The next several miles were pretty flat with just a few small rolling hills. The spectators continued and were now offering bananas, oranges and dry paper towels to wipe your face, I accepted all three. The miles were ticking away quickly and I was trying to soak in as much as possible and yes, it was still raining. You could hear them well before you could see them. The wonderful people cheering at the Wellesley Scream Tunnel were unreal. I knew they would be loud but wow! In true tradition many were offering kisses, others gave high-fives, but all were cheering us on as loudly as possible. In the weeks leading up to the race they took requests for race signs that they would make and have displayed on race day. I had one made and was really excited to see it. Unfortunately with all of the rain most of the signs were washed out and unrecognizable. One pristine sign that was untouched by the rain read “this sign is laminated”, it gave me a good laugh.
A few more miles and one more energy gel at mile 14 and then it was the start of the Newton hills. A few rolling hills but nothing like I had expected. The Clif shot station was at about mile 17 and again the volunteers did a great job here. I grabbed one for later and kept moving and just a few steps later saw Mark for the first time on course. We weren't sure he would make to the course at all but I was so excited to see him out there. Next was the students from Boston College. They were actually louder than those at Wellesley and were offering lots of encouragement and lots of high fives. I had a great high five streak here of at least thirty people if not more and it only ended because one high five was so hard that it actually made my entire hand sting, I figured it was best to pull away from the high fives for a little while.
I was trying to prepare for Heartbreak Hill before seeing the Boston College kids, although for some reason I thought Heartbreak Hill was at about mile 22. My plan was to have another gel while I was going up Heartbreak since I would be moving slower and so less likely for me to have GI distress from it. There was a hill right after I pulled away from the Boston College crowd and I thought, okay, after this one is probably Heartbreak and that is when I’ll have my gel and then the rest of the course is mostly downhill. The hill I was climbing was longer than I expected but when I got to the top there was an arch off to the side with a sign that let us know we had just reached the top of Heartbreak Hill. Wait, what? That was Heartbreak? It wasn’t as bad as its reputation led me to believe and I didn’t have my gel. All I could do was laugh. Of all incorrect course information I could have had, this was actually good news. I had ran up Heartbreak without even knowing it. Awesome! Oh but after a few dry miles the rain was back. But who cared, I had just passed Heartbreak! I did have my third gel soon after and then got to see Mark again at around mile 22.5. Even with all of the spectators out cheering for everyone it's really great to have someone there specifically for you, it's really energizing and I was greatful I was able to see him twice on course.
From then on it was mostly downhill with just a few overpasses. I did start feeling a bit tired and slowed down a bit at this point. I wasn't hitting the wall or having any mental issues, just felt a little tired and remembering Big Sur was in six days I decided to conserve some energy and enjoy the last few miles. My full bladder finally forced me to make a quick pitstop. Then it was back on to the rest of the course which continued to be lined with cheering (sometimes drunk) spectators, and lots more high fives. I don’t know when I turned onto Hereford Street but knew that it wasn’t far to the finish line. I looked at my watch and saw that it would be close but I could finish in under 4:00. Turning left on Boylston the crowd was erupting. I was going to give whatever I had left. I could hear the announcer and when I was about .05 miles or so away from the finish line he called out for a moment of silence to remember the bombings of 2013. It was eerie because that means if I had ran the race in 2013 I would have been pretty close to the finish line when the first bomb went off. A lot to take in just a few steps away from the finish line. After a few seconds of silence the crowd was back to cheering, even louder than before and cheered me through the finish line. I came in just under 4:00 at 3:59:29. I was tired but in very high spirits. I had accomplished my goal-I ran the Boston Marathon and had a great time. I had enjoyed every part of the race!
It was a bit of a walk through the finish area to get some water, then the race medal, then pictures, and finally the poncho. It was much needed at this point because the temperature hadn't changed much since the start (still in the 40's) and we were all completely drenched from the rain. The poncho helped with the warmth a bit but it was thinner and significantly less warm than expected. I made sure I kept walking to avoid cramping and to keep my body temperature up as much as possible. There was a Gatorade recovery protein drink that we were handed having been already opened by volunteers which was great as my hands were so cold I'm pretty sure I would have struggled to do that on my own. A few more food items and then it was time to make my way out of the finishers area. Since I hadn't checked any gear I didn't need to continue on to Boston Commons. Instead I found Mark at our designated meeting place and after a few pictures headed to the T. I was shivering and couldn’t stop until we were underground.
My race experience met all of my expectations. The support from everyone was great and the volunteers were amazing. The spectators are the best I have ever experienced at any race and really help make the race experience. I ran up Heartbreak Hill without even knowing it. I had a blast. It was a great race, and a once in a lifetime experience, rain and all.