Boston 2014: My Fastest, Most Fabulous Marathon Yet! Part 1

I have now allowed myself over two weeks to digest and process my 2014 Boston Marathon experience, and I am still struggling to form coherent thoughts to explain and describe it. Someone will ask me how it went and the next thing I know I’m hearing myself spew a bunch of gibberish littered with the occasional discernible “magical”, “amazing”, or “so-super-special”. Forgive me for the big load of puppies and rainbows I’m about to unload on you here (because I usually hate that crap too, I promise!)  but it was a really great day and a long time coming. Plus it comes with a big ol side of very genuine Boston Strong love, so try to let it slide just this once.

Like many others who toed the line in Hopkinton two Mondays ago, my journey to this year’s start line started last year when the bombs went off. The day after last year’s race I received a phone call from a newspaper reporter from my hometown inquiring about my Boston experience. Rattled and shell-shocked, I sobbed and stammered through her questions. The last thing she asked me before mercifully ending our conversation was “Do you plan on coming back next year to run the marathon?” I tearfully mumbled something about needing more time to process it all and said that I didn’t know. When I read the write-up the next day in the digital edition of my hometown’s newspaper I was appalled at how lame and douchey my response to that particular question sounded. Of course I had to go back next year! How could I have ever even for a second entertained the idea of NOT going back?!? Going back was the very best way I could think of to honor the lives that were lost and the courage the was demonstrated at the finish line that day and in the tense days that followed.  Showing  Boston and the marathon my love and support was important to me.  So that settled that. I was going back. I almost called up the newspaper lady and asked her to edit and re-print the article.

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And then there is the less talked about part of the story. The part that took a back seat to the bombings, the tears, and the feelings of fear, guilt, anger, and sadness. The part where I ran a disappointing race last year. The energy and hype of the 2013 Boston Marathon did not let me down, nor did my dear teammates who kept me company through the 35K mat and/or chased me down like a banshee over the better part of 15 miles just to make sure we stuck to our plan of crossing the finish line together. The running part of Boston 2013 was epic in its own right, and more parts of it than not were actually a lot of fun, but I crossed the line several minutes behind my goal time and feeling utterly spent and unhappy with my race execution. Of course these feelings of disappointment in this, the holy grail of races that I had run my little arse off just to get to quickly faded from significance the instant the news of the bombing reached my ears, but when the time came to move forward and start training again, they were there to haunt me. I didn’t just want to go back to Boston, I wanted to go back and run it well.

Some of the more fun running moments from Boston 2013.

Some of the more fun running moments from Boston 2013.

So I decided to try some new stuff. My post-marathon 2013 spring running felt like crap in every way, so I greeted summer with some premeditated time off. I rested. I aqua jogged. I decided to try ACTUALLY DOING all of those weird and ridiculous-looking strengthening exercises my sports chiropractor had been recommending for months to correct all my problematic, achy-breaky strength imbalances. (Spoiler alert: Those things work so much better when you ACTUALLY DO them!)

Fall came and my focus shifted to getting stronger and faster and gaining confidence in my ability to work outside of my comfort zone.  I added more core work to my routine, kept doing the ridiculous-looking chiropractor exercises (somewhat) regularly, and surprised myself with the paces on my watch in many of my speed workouts. In November I came up short my goal time in the “A” race for the season. The fitness was there to do it, but the confidence still needed work. I wrote a few mildly self-deprecating blog posts about it, rested and regrouped over the holidays, and before I knew it was time to start the training cycle for The Big One.

I dialed in the goal for Boston 2014 at 3:19:59.  This looked pretty aggressive compared to my marathon PR at the time (3:28:35, run at none other than Boston 2013), but I knew that last year’s time wasn’t reflective of all that I was capable of, and that I had come a long way since then. Breaking 3:20 seemed challenging, but attainable. It was a less-pleasant-than-typical winter here in North Carolina, (but probably not as bad as the winter you had to train through in the northeast or the mid-west, or the Arctic Circle, I know.) On top  of that a job transition in February kept me busier and more spread-thin than ever as I wrapped up loose ends and trained new staff for my old position and took on the responsibilities of my new role simultaneously. I ran by myself, at odd times,  and (worst of all) on the treadmill. As an extroverted social running enthusiast, a staunch routine-monger, and a vehement treadmill hater none of this was ideal, but I was going back to Boston and I was going run it well, damnit! This kept me motivated to keep finding ways to fit it and get it done no matter what. (That’s what she said.)

I (mostly) loosely followed the BAA’s intermediate training program from the Boston Marathon’s official website. Although the workouts were prescribed at slower paces than those that I trained at for Richmond, they did not necessarily feel all that easy, and I fretted that my fitness had declined since November. I reminded myself that the BAA knows what it’s doing. (They’ve been writing training plans for this marathon for more than a century, for goodness sake!) I also reminded myself that training for a marathon is not the same thing as training for a half marathon and tried to talk myself out of comparing my current program with that of the fall.

It eased my mind considerably when I fairly easily and comfortably bested my time from Richmond by 5 seconds at the Shamrock Half Marathon in VA Beach. Not my most glamorous PR on paper, but it was really encouraging to match my time from a race that I had “raced” with a time from a race that I was approaching as a “quality long run workout”. And the VA Beach trip was a truly fabulous Oiselle Team weekend get-way to boot! I regrettably have not yet found the time to blog about it, but you can check out the short version of my VA Beach race report here on Salty Running. That race marked the point where I decided that this training cycle could in fact be going pretty well.

A little photographic throwback to our awesome Oiselle Team weekend in VA Beach!

A little photographic throwback to our awesome Oiselle Team weekend in VA Beach!

As I reviewed and reflected on the work I had put in to get to Boston in the days between completing my final long run and race day, I sentimentally and very cheesily noted (in my head)  that this training cycle had been sort of like an Irish blessing. It had enough good runs to keep it sweet. Enough hard runs to make me strong. Enough crappy runs to keep me humble.  Enough friends to make it fun. Enough solo runs to give me courage. And enough determination to keep me getting out and getting after it day after day, whether it was on my own or in good company, and whether it felt good and fun or not. Can I get an Amen, y’all?  (I further mused that this seemed appropriate because the road certainly rises up to meet you in the Newton hills, and lots of people who live in Boston are of Irish decent. But I digress…)

It scared me a little to admit it, lest I jinx myself, but when it was all said and done, I felt more prepared and ready, and less exhausted and beat up than I had ever felt at the end of any other marathon training cycle gone by.

Fast forward to race day. On Monday morning I woke up to realize that I had slept through THE ENTIRE NIGHT the night before the Boston Marathon. This was a shocking first for me and I actually was a little  alarmed that it might be a sign of inadequate hydration since I never once got up to pee during the night. I got out of bed and begin my lengthy getting ready process, the most time-consuming part of which is applying 1 million temporary tattoos (or 5, as the case was that day.) There was a knock at the bathroom door and when I opened it, a pallid-looking Allie Bigelow (who was to be my ride to Boston Common to catch the bus) announced that she had food poisoning and would be unable to drive me. I’m 95% sure that what came out of my mouth in response to this news was something of at least half-ass concern and sympathy, but the response that resounded inside of my head was more like  “OMG, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE EFFING KIDDING ME!!! WTF AM I GOING TO DO NOW?!?!” Allie, being the wonderful friend that she is told me that a cab was on its way for me, so I hastily donned my disposable mom jeans, which were generously donated by Allie’s friend whose house we were staying at, and my bedazzled Target clearance rack little girls’ XL sized hoodie, grabbed a bagel for the road and I was off.

Off to catch my cab looking neither fast nor fabulous.

Off to catch my cab looking and feeling neither fast nor fabulous.

I felt a little forlorn as I walked into Boston Common alone, forcing feeding myself the bagel (which had now been dropped on the floor of the cab) in what I’m sure was a most unflattering manner. But within about 10 seconds of arriving I heard someone loudly state my name, and I looked up from my cab floor bagel to find that I was already being hugged by  my old friend, Alex Varner. (Click the link and read his blog. He’s kind of a big deal). This was a good sign. I continued to feel more at ease as I boarded the bus and chatted with my new BFF/ seat-mate, Bob from VA.  Before I knew it, we were in Hopkinton, and I exited the bus feeling happy, centered and ready to just chill out until go time. Until the moment I realized that my 4 raspberry Hammer Gels and one emergency espresso Hammer Gel had not joined me in my bus exit. “HOLY EFFING BALLS , THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING!!!” began my 2nd inner monologue panic attack of the morning. Guys, there is a lot of food in Athlete’s Village, and it is provided by multiple companies that do in fact make gu-type products. And yet, no one but no one was giving out gels there. Holy FML. “Don’t worry, there will be PowerGel on the course at mile 17!” chirped the lady at the PowerBar tent. I prayed for the self-control not to cry or punch her in the face.  An hour later, thanks to the charity of a kind stranger in the bathroom line and a lucky run-in with Oiselle Teammate, Rebecca and her very generous friends, I was 3 Gu’s the richer, but still feeling disheveled. I knew I had to get it together and stop wasting all of this energy on freaking out or it was going to be bad news bears for sure.  I parked myself against the wall of the middle school and scanned the crowds for my friends from Durham whom I was hoping to run at least the first few miles of the race with. I didn’t see them right away, but I did see Lori, a preferred Bull City Running Company customer. She was cold and I had a baller fleece blanket, which like my bedazzled hoodie was a jackpot find from the Target clearance section. I did what any good friend would do and invited her in for some stand up spooning that would have made Holly Roberts very proud. It was starting to get late, and Lori and I agreed that we definitely needed at least one more porta-potty stop before go time, and the lines weren’t getting any shorter. But I DESPERATELY wanted to find the gang from home. Having fun with them for the first part of the race was a critical part of my game plan! Just when I thought I was going to have to throw in the towel and face the fact that this might be a day where things just weren’t going to go my way, they emerged from the crowd! I was feeling a little more spiritual than usual that morning in Athletes’ Village, and seeing their familiar, beautiful faces seemed like a sign that I was being watched over by some higher power and that everything was going to be ok.  I think I might have cried a few tears of joy and relief when I saw them. I’m also pretty sure we held hands all the way into the corral.

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The pure, unadulterated joy of being gifted energy gels by strangers and finding your friends in Athletes’ Village against all odds.

All is well with the world now.

All is well with the universe now.

Cliff Hanger Alert!

Well, fans and friends, I just caught a glimpse of the word count. Scary stuff! I have already blabbed over 2000 words and that only got me to the start line of the race!  I haven’t even gotten to any of the good puppies and rainbows parts yet! In the name of good blogging etiquette, I think I’d better go ahead and make this a two-parter. Stayed tuned for a Fast and Fabulous highlight reel of the race and the weekend in general coming soon!

 

Until then, you stay classy, Fast and Fabulous readers!

 

Love,

 

Ellen

 

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