Annnnnd, we’re back! Thanks for tuning in for Part 2 of my epic Boston Marathon recap! (You can read Part 1 here, in case you missed it.) I’m sure you are all on the edge of your seats here, so I’ll cut the small talk and get down to the business of delivering the color commentary play-by-play.
The Race Report
My biggest concern leading up to the race was what sort of emotional response I might have returning to Boston having been there last year. I certainly had a big weepy, snotty reaction to the bombings and the events that followed. The 1 year anniversary of those events, making the return trip, and the various tributes and moments of silence that came with it all brought plenty of tears as well. Part of me feared that I might be so overcome with feelings being back in the place where it all happened that it might interfere with my ability to run the race. I was also worried as to what the vibe of the marathon might be like. Would it be reverent and tense, and sad, and somber? It was evident as soon as we crossed the starting mat this was not the case at all. I’m sure you have already read as much in a billion other Boston Marathon blog posts, but the crowds that lined every single inch of sidewalk from Hopkinton to Boston that day absolutely radiated nothing but joy, pride, courage, and positive energy. It was truly wonderful, magical, and completely relentless for the entirety of those 26.2 miles. I felt tears welling up in my eyes frequently throughout the race, (and they often revisit me as I tell and re-tell my 2014 Boston Marathon story), but not at all in a sad or upsetting way. I could feel myself grinning like an idiot for what felt like nearly the whole race, swept up in a sea of dance parties, side fives, funny signs and Boston Strong shirts. (For the record, my official race photos confirm that I most definitely did not smile the whole time, and that there was in fact, some pretty unfortunate grimacing.) There are few things I love more in life than a rowdy, happy, interactive crowd, and I felt extra-connected to and inspired by this one in particular on account of all that they represented. I knew from the start that if I could just settle in and avoid my usual self-doubting marathon inner monologue, I could ride this beautiful sea of humanity all the way to finish and give Boston a really great run.
The Game Plan
I made a plan to divide the marathon distance into small, manageable parts. The goal was to steer clear of the “I’ve run XX miles, only XX more to go!” mentality that I have found to be cripplingly overwhelming in nearly all of my marathons past. I had also had a lot of success in my training with approaching long run workouts and my tune-up half marathon simply as a checklist. Item 1: Run miles x through x at this pace. Check. Item 2: Now run miles x through x at this slightly faster pace. Check. And so on. My rules for Boston were to focus only on the checklist item that I was currently on, to avoid doing anything that might eff up my ability execute future items on the check list, and above all to have fun and soak up the experience. I mapped out this game plan for the race before leaving North Carolina…
Now let’s take a look at how Boston 2014 actually played out for me, compared to my very fancy plan…
Miles 1 through 8
The Goal: Keep it chill. Have fun with my Durham friends. Engage in as many dance parties and give and receive as many high fives as possible. Read all the funny signs. Just drink in every ounce of that amazing Boston energy. Do this all while running a comfortable 7:45 ish pace.
Reality: Mission accomplished! Kara, Caren, Jen, and I danced, fist-pumped, cheered, and high-fived our way through Ashland and Framingham into Natick, chatting and laughing all the way.
Section 1 Splits: 7:56, 7:46, 7:45, 7:50, 7:52, 7:38, 7:38, and 7:42.
Miles 9 through 16
The Goal: Pick it up, but stay comfortable. Let’s say 7:35 pace. Avoid going through the half any faster than 1:39. And for Pete’s sake, SMOOCH SOME WELLESLEY GIRLS!!! (My biggest regret surrounding last year’s marathon was that this magical display of all that is awesome about running and about Boston was violated by terrorists. My second biggest regret was finally making it to the number one race on my running bucket list, only to walk away with a disappointing, mediocre performance. And my 3rd biggest Boston 2013 regret was timidly letting the time-honored marathon tradition of kissing some Wellesley girls pass me by.) Wellesley kissing redemption was far and away the most important priority on this portion of the check list.
Reality: As I look back at the miles splits on the Garmin for this section of that race, I realize that I was actually quite successful in sticking to the plan. But to be perfectly honest, I just wasn’t paying all that much attention to said splits as they were happening. I loved the crowds that lined the course the entire way, but there was something especially happy about the hoards of people in Natick, where we miraculously spotted, high-fived, and dropped our very un-necessary arm warmers with Caren’s adorable parents. We could hear the roar of the scream tunnel a good mile before we approached it, and I’m pretty sure I commented aloud that it was music to my ears. Before we knew it, it was time to pucker up for some serious girl-kissing. My plan was to smooch the girls with the wittiest, most hilarious, and most creative signs, but I found myself coming up short on adequate brain power for both kissing and sign reading. I quickly resigned myself to simply kissing with reckless abandon. And those who I could not kiss I high-fived. I’m pretty sure Caren and Jen filled in all the kissing gaps I might have missed anyway. Later that evening as we were re-hashing our Wellesley kissing rampage over beers, Jen commented that the only thing that might have made it more prefect would have been Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” blaring in the background over a loud-speaker somewhere. I smiled and assured her that this song was absolutely cranking full-blast in my head while the smooch-fest was happening.
We came through the half somewhere around 1:42, and although not running the first 13.1 too fast was a major objective for me, I felt just the teeniest hint of concern at the fact I was a whole 3 minutes behind the half split recommended by that crazy nerd-tastic spreadsheet that calculates your every mile split for the entire race. That moment of doubt was fleeting though. I wished my friends well shortly after the half timing mat and tried to dial in the last few miles at goal pace for this section to get back on track before hitting the hills.
Section 2 Splits: 7:34, 7:32, 7:46 (this split marks a new emergency pit stop PR for me! *Self Five*), 7:36, 7:39 (all that girl-kissing hardly even slowed me down!), 7:28, 7:24, 7:16.
Miles 17 through 21
The Goal: The Newton hills were an awful festival of struggling for me last year so I set the bar pretty low: Try not to suck. I defined “not sucking” as staying comfortable, avoiding mental breakdowns, and if things were really going well, keeping the pace under 8:00 min.
Reality: As I sped up a little in hopes of making up some time on my way through Wellesley and into Newton, I actually found myself looking forward to getting to the part of the race where all I had to do was get through it without worrying (too much) about hitting any specific pace. I poured a little out for that PowerBar lady back in Athlete’s Village when I claimed and downed my complimentary PowerGel at mile 17 and settled in to do some climbing. I was becoming increasingly aware that it was warmer than I had hoped or anticipated, but I reminded myself to just focus on the checklist and let the crowd pull me along. I tried not to look at my watch too much (I had promised myself I did not have to run any specific pace here, after all), but when I did glance down at it I would catch myself pretty much squealing with joy in my head “I AM DOING IT!!!! I AM NOT SUCKING!!!” over and over with pretty much every ounce of inflection and enthusiasm indicated by the capitalization and multiple exclamations points. Somewhere in the midst of all of this (I like to remember it as being right at the very top of Heartbreak Hill,) I came across some particularly colorful spectators bearing an enormous sign that simply read “FUCK YEAH!” My sentiments exactly! I indicated as much by heartily reading their sign aloud to them (sorry mom), and thus section 3 of the checklist was crossed off with much fist pumping and merriment.
Section 3 Splits: 7:47, 7:51, 7:18, 7:35, 8:01. (Dang it! So close to hitting my stretch goal for this section of keeping every split under 8!)
The Goal: Don’t be a dumb-ass. Yes, the hills were tough last year but the part where I really flushed my 2013 goal time down the toilet was barreling down the other side of Heartbreak Hill into Boston College. I was convinced that I would be walking the rest of the way to the finish by the time I crossed the 35K mat, and I probably wouldn’t have made it there any slower if I actually had walked. I solemnly vowed not to make the same mistake this year. Nothing but conservatively holding the horses until I was through the 35K.
Reality/Splits: A comfortable and controlled 7:22 split FTW!
35K through the Finish
The Goal: Ok, NOW you can go for it! Pick it up if there’s anything left. Finish strong.
Reality: I ALMOST executed this final proportion of the run to perfection. I’ve heard many reports that this was the part of the course where the crowd was the loudest and most energetic. I don’t doubt that this is accurate, but this was point where the plan started to require all of my energy and focus, and my crowd interaction abilities started to wane. I did still manage to hear a few encouraging words that were directed my way from the sidelines, (Thank you, Jeff Caron, Danielle and Amelia, and The Official Liz Hurley cheering section!) And I was pleasantly surprised to encounter some familiar faces in the form of Durham friends Amy and Rebecca on the course as well.
I was uncertain as to whether or not I was on pace to hit the 3:19:59, but I was blissfully aware that I was doing something that I had formerly believed to be impossible. I was negative splitting the crap out of the Boston Marathon! (SELF-FIVES FOR DAYS!!!) I truly felt strong and fantastic right up until the moment when the Garmin chirped out the 25th mile split. And just like that the jig was up. My rational brain suddenly realized that I had been running hard for a long time, and in warmer temperatures than I was accustomed to and it insisted that I stop immediately. “SHUT UP, RATIONAL BRAIN!!!” screamed whatever other parts of my brain were leftover. “YOU ONLY HAVE 1 MILE TO GO, AND THIS IS THE BEST PART!!! DON’T YOU DARE EFF IT UP NOW!!!”
I had envisioned myself savoring and relishing the iconic final turns, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, but it just didn’t play out that way. Instead my raging inner monologue continued. Rational thinking vs. heart and legs. “Who the hell put this hill on Hereford?!? I could have sworn that wasn’t here last year!” I prayed hard not to walk as the finish came into view. “OMG, they made that uphill this year too?!? Shenanigans!!!” I mercifully crossed the finish line with 3:21:xx on the watch, not caring one single bit that it wasn’t 3:19:59. I had done it. Despite coming up short of the goal time, the plan had worked. I had given Boston my very best and (expect for the last 1000 m or so) I had a wonderful time doing it. Recalling how that felt still gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes even as I type this.
The Splits: 7:16, 7:17, 7:10, 7:23 (although I could have sworn it was 12:23), and 7:00 for the final .2.
I was completely caught off guard at the tremendous wave emotion I felt when the guy calling out finishers’ names announced to us that Meb had won. I am oddly ashamed to admit this, but sometimes I feel like there just isn’t very much of a connection between the running that I, the mid-pack social/ recreational runner am doing and that of the elites. My sole motivation for participating in races is just being a part of the humanity of it all, doing something fun that I love shoulder to shoulder with my fellow lycra-clad kindred spirits. I suppose I tend to jump to the conclusion that elite running is driven by winning and competition, motivations that are vastly different from my own. And there is undoubtedly at least some truth to that, but as I crossed the finish line in Boston that day it dawned on me that in this race Meb’s and Shalene’s motivation were exactly the same as mine: To give Boston their best race and to reclaim the finish line. Not to mention the fact that I’ve just been a little partial to Meb ever since last year’s Boston Marathon expo when we ran into him in the mall at the Prudential Center as he was leaving. His public appearance was over, so he really didn’t have any obligation to interact with us if he didn’t want to, but he graciously took a good 10 minutes of his own time to give me a very sincere mile-by-mile how-to-run-Boston pep talk. That one fleeting encounter I had with him contained enough genuine authenticity and kindness to make me feel like my BFF had just won the Boston Marathon. I’ve watched the video clip below several hundred times now, none of them without tears. If you haven’t seen it yet, grab yourself some kleenex and take a moment to check it out.
Furthermore, I can’t think of another time when feelings of pride and patriotism moved me to tears like they did at that moment. It seems unlikely that the city and people of Boston could have imagined in their wildest dreams a healing celebration as sweet and as perfect as the one they got on April 21st, 2014, and I know that being a part of it will always be one of my very favorite memories. And to run a race that I was proud of and felt good about, particularly after rallying from a rocky start to my day, was just the most delicious icing on the big, beautiful, multi-tiered Boston Marathon cake. Cheers to a magical, fairytale comeback for Boston, for America, and even for me.
So there you have it, friends! All of my warm, fuzzy thoughts on the 2014 Boston Marathon! I’ll leave you with a few pics of some of my favorite non-running Boston happenings…
Non-Running Boston Highlights:
- FINALLY seeing these fabulous faces after an epic post-race trek to bag claim and back to the steps of the Arlington Street Church, and (eventually, after sorting through many challenging showering and public transportation logistics) enjoying some celebratory beers with them.
- Receiving this baller finisher’s poncho, which has myriad functional uses…
- BABIES AND PUGS!!! I have a very specific, regimented marathon tapering program (you can read about it in detail here), and hugging lots of babies and puppies is a key component of it. It just wouldn’t have been a trip to Boston, or a well-executed final taper without some quality pug and baby time. A very special thank you to Amy and Inga for providing the all-important pug and baby interaction that my pre-race ritual requires. They even threw in some good conversation and Bretucci’s take-out at no extra charge. 🙂
- The loveliest Oiselle Team dinner where people I had never met in person before (including Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher! Eeee!) felt like old friends, and hilarious conversation about marathon poop stories, questionable calamari substitutions, and a universal love of Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block flowed freely. Kudos to Rebecca for her gracious hospitality, and for hosting such a wonderful, memorable evening in her fabulous home. Being a part of the Oiselle sisterhood is an honor and a privilege for sure!
- The Cheers bar. Judge me if you will, but when I travel I enjoy planning my sightseeing around landmarks from the TV sitcoms of yesteryear. The Seinfeld restaurant in NYC, the Full House house in San Francisco, you get the idea. Naturally, the Cheers bar ranked highly on my things-I-want-to-do-in-Boston list. Last year’s trip didn’t really include much sightseeing, so we scheduled a late flight home on Tuesday to allow plenty of time for Cheers bar beer drinking this year.
So many thanks you to all of you who shared this experience (even if only a small part of it) with me. It was indescribably fun and special to be a part of it with all of you and I sincerely hope that each of you loved it as much as I did. More thanks yous still to everyone, near and far, who sent me words and encouragement and kind thoughts throughout that weekend and on race day. I felt so much love and support from family, friends, and my awesome little online running community. I also channeled all of y’all’s positive energy all the way to the finish line and it did not disappoint! And as always, thanks to all for reading!
Until next time, friends!