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

 

The Obligatory 2013 Round Up!

Well friends, the last few weeks of 2013 have left me feeling a bit blue. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed some hard-earned time off and had a lovely holiday with my zany southern family, but as I’ve reflected on 2013 it has just felt a little blah and insignificant. No big exciting career advancements, no discovering new hidden passions or talents, no riding off into the sunset with Justin Timberlake, no saving the world, and no winning the lottery. Just the same old stagnant, exhausting grind. Insert scowling Debbie Downer face and “womp, womp” sound effect here.

Next year...

Next year…

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to even write an end of the year wrap-up, for fear of coming off as a total whiny-ass bitch. But as I combed through the various pictures and posts of my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds in search of some small morsel of accomplishment from 2013 I realized two things… (1) If your biggest end of the year dilemma is whether or not you should write a cliché, obligatory year-in-review blog post, well, then you probably can’t really call that a bad year. And (2) I have posted A LOT of pictures in the last year, probably more than you ever hoped to see, and in practically every one  of them I am doing something fun with awesome people who I love. And y’all, that is nothing be a whiny bitch-ass about. So I have decided that instead of feeling bad about all things that did not happen in 2013, at least within the parameters of this blog post, I would like to reflect on the cool things that I DID experience… You know, like the stuff that was crazy-fun, and the stuff that was incredibly inspiring and moving. Hell, I even managed to dig up a few  accomplishments and self-realizations in my little social media stroll down 2013 memory lane! Let’s talk about those too! After all, there are few things in this world I like less than a whiny-ass bitch blog post.  So let’s round-up the good stuff, shall we?

1. The Boston Marathon Restored My Faith in the Good of Humanity. 

Given the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon, you may think this seems like an unlikely thing to land on one’s annual list of “good stuff”. And of course what happened at the finish line that day was absolutely inexcusable, and nothing could ever justify or validate it. I shed many tears as I processed the Boston bombings (ugly crying is kind of my thing), and it is certainly true that plenty of those were tears of sadness, anger, fear, and maybe even guilt for so, so narrowly avoiding the tragedy that so gravely impacted the lives of many others. But I cried just as many tears because I was incredibly moved by the courage, the selflessness, the compassion, and the tenacity of the volunteers, spectators, runners, and emergency personnel who were there to respond when the bombs went off. The outpouring of love and support for the marathon, bombing victims, and the city of Boston was nothing short of magical, and months later I am still deeply touched and overwhelmed by the kind concern so many of you expressed for my personal safety. I recall commenting upon being reunited with my smart phone at bag claim after the race that the Boston Marathon had officially surpassed my birthday as my biggest social media event of the year. Boy, did I have no idea how dramatically the implications of that statement would be changing within the next half hour. I have said it before, but again, my most heartfelt thanks to each everyone who reached out to me on that day. My thoughts of comfort and healing continue go out to all those physically and emotionally effected by the bombings, and I have nothing but the highest praise and respect for the organizers of the Boston Marathon and the City of Boston for handling an awful, chaotic situation with swift, effective action and class. For all that was terrible about the Boston bombings, it is very easy to see the good that rises from the ashes, and that is the most beautiful thing I have  witnessed all year. I couldn’t be more excited to return to Boston in 2014, and you’d better believe I’ll be packing a metric ton of Kleenex, but only for crying tears of happiness and awesomeness.

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A few powerful, iconic images from the Boston bombings.

...And some of my favorite moments from my 2013 Boston Marathon experience.

…And a few of my favorite moments from my 2013 Boston Marathon experience.

2. I’ve Got My Shit Together Much More So Than I Did in High School.

Ok, if I’m being perfectly honest, I actually question the validity that statement on an almost-daily basis. But this year I found out that I can run a mile  A LOT FASTER now than I could in high school. Excuse me while I interrupt this blog post for a brief fantasy where my current self taunts my (MUCH dorkier) 17-year-old self with the most obnoxiously legendary NFL end zone-style victory dance imaginable.

Present day Ellen (left) well on her way to kicking Dorky High School Ellen (right)'s ass in the mile. IN YOUR FACE, High School Ellen!

Present day Ellen (left) well on her way to kicking High School Ellen’s  slow, dorky ass in the mile. IN YOUR FACE, High School Ellen!

I have had moments when I felt that I couldn’t rightly claim this giant (roughly 45 sec) new mile PR as a really big deal. For starters, I hadn’t even thought about racing the mile distance since high school. Furthermore, I currently run an average of 40 to 50 miles per week, vs my high school training regimen of I don’t even know what, but certainly something much less intense and much less consistent than what I’m doing now. I guess my odds of smashing the high school PR going into that mile race in September were actually pretty good, but still, the outcome was much better than I expected and that race result completely redefined my training for the remainder of the fall.

Coach Bigs, who is my running BFF and one of my many running mentors suggested that we plug my new mile PR into the McMillian Running Calculator to figure out some pacing guidelines for my training for Richmond. The numbers that this yield completely scared the shit out of me! When she sent me a workout that included 800s at prescribed pace that started WITH A TWO (!!!) I was all like “HELL TO THE NO! Homie don’t play that.” But when she sighed and rolled her eyes at me (actually, I think this entire interaction took place over text message, but I could feel her sighing and rolling her eyes,) I reluctantly agreed to give it the old college try. And then to my great surprise and amazement I DID IT! This little breakthrough was clutch in launching the intensity and volume of my training, as well as my fitness and confidence levels to great new heights this fall.

All the awesome teammates I got share The Great Mile PR of 2013 with. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN THIS PICTURE can run a mile in under 5:50. #badass

All the awesome teammates I got share The Great Mile PR of 2013 with. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN THIS PICTURE can run a mile in under 5:50. #badass

Additionally, The Great Mile PR of 2013 reminded me that the heading of this section of today’s post (the one about having my shit together more than I did in high school) really is true. As much as I have struggled this year with a severe case of “OMG, I’m 32 and What Do I Have to Show for It?!” Syndrome, I have still come a long way since high school and I can celebrate the many small victories that have gotten me here… Like being financially independent from my parents (you know, unless something really bad and expensive happens to my car), and paying off lots of debt from the poverty and bad decisions of my youth, and having lived on my own for an entire decade without starving to death, despite my lack of patience for or interest in cooking (I have mostly Trader Joe’s and The Bigelow Family to thank for this one,) and just being infinitely more confident in and aware of who I am. I know all of this is pretty basic, and none of it is earth-shattering, but it is a perfectly respectable foundation for being a responsible adult. Now it’s just a matter of leveraging it into something awesome in 2014 and beyond! So yes, I am a grown up who has my shit together! Major shout-out to The Magnificent Mile Race for reminding me of this!

3. The Best Part of Running is the People Part, and Everyone Should Do Relays.

Historically, my very favorite type of running event has been the overnight relay. I love relays because their primary emphasis is the only aspect of running that I am truly naturally good at: The people part. The part where you work as part of a team to accomplish something that you probably couldn’t do all by yourself. And better yet, the part where expectations, preconceived notions, and judgments are all checked the (van) door so you can REALLY get to know people for who they are… what motivates them, what makes them feel insecure, what makes them laugh, and of course, their deepest, darkest poop stories. There is just something magical about being in squished in a van for 26 (or even for 36) sleepless, showerless hours that breaks down boundaries and brings people together. This is true whether you are relaying with your nearest, dearest besties whom your are blessed to train and hangout with on the regular, or prefect strangers who were previously just people from your Twitter feed who sounded pretty cool. It’s an amazing phenomenon and I can’t get enough of it.

In October I was lucky enough to have two equally awesome, but very different relay experiences. The first being Ragnar DC with a bunch of fabulous Durham friends/ Bull City Track Club teammates, plus my dear college BFF and some spontaneous tangential acquaintances who bailed us out of a bind at the last-minute. I seriously had been looking forward to this race from the moment we signed up for it, and it was all I dreamed it would be and more. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible have anymore inside jokes with a group of people, or eat anymore Costco Chicago Mix popcorn in one 26 hour period, or think  of more creative uses for Shittens and plush turkey hats, somehow we still managed to achieve a whole new level of doing all of these things. Our super-cohesive, dynamic, fun-loving team reigned total domination on the competition and walked away with the award for most team spirit, as well as the win in the women’s team division, and 11th place overall. Booyah!

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Ragnar DC Team Spirit and Women's Division Champions, TEAM SHITTENS!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Ragnar DC Team Spirit and Women’s Division Champions, the legendary TEAM SHITTENS!!!

I was recruited for relay #2, Ragnar Tennessee, from Chattanooga to Nashville, by Oiselle teammate and Ragnar Relay icon, Holly Roberts! (Check out Holly’s fantastic Ragnar TN re-cap here!) I had never actually met anyone on Team Nuunapalooza prior to the race, and when I arrived in The Noog the night before I most definitely felt like I was crashing someone else’s family reunion, but in the best possible way. I made to feel incredibly welcome and right at home immediately. Some 36 hours, several dress-up dance parties, a lot of shouting the lyrics to “Blurred Lines”, some serious stand-up spooning, a late-night Shittens power arch, plenty of hashtagging, and thousands of laughs and temporary tattoos later my 11 new BFFs and I crossed the finish line in Nashville. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a more supportive, enthusiastic, kind, and just all-around delightful bunch of teammates. My experience with Team Nuunapalooza 100% confirms my theory that only really fun, nice, super-cool people do relays. Much like the amazing response to the Boston Marathon bombings, but in a different way, getting to know some really genuinely wonderful new friends was a beautiful reminder that there is a lot of good to be found in the world, and that seeking it out is always worthwhile.

 All the hugs, high-fives, and HVAC swagger to my Team Nuunapalooza Insta-BFFs!

All the hugs, high-fives, and HVAC swagger to my Team Nuunapalooza Insta-BFFs! I LOVED Ragnaring it up with y’all!

4. I am Stronger and Better than I Allow Myself to Believe I am. It’s Time to Trust the Training and Go Kick Some Ass!

This is a truth that needs to be applied in my running life and otherwise. It is also my biggest, most valuable take away from my goal race this fall, the Richmond Half Marathon. Although my aforementioned epic mile comeback was a tremendous confidence boost in terms of my training leading up to Richmond, I struggled to access my new and improved running self-esteem on race day. My lack of belief in myself and trust in my training resulted in an overly conservative race that cost me my goal time. In the moment I was still quite mostly pleased with my performance and how it reflected my training. However, I can’t help but think that it seems kind of lame as look back on it, because despite missing the mark, everything about my race that day screamed that I was fit enough, strong enough, and entirely physically prepared to knock 1:29:59 out of the park. The only reason that I didn’t was that I was scared I couldn’t do it. Ugh! I have GOT to cut that shit out! Seriously!  Here’s hoping that my experience at Richmond, and the healthy side of self-annoyance that came with it will be precisely the motivation I need to conjure up a some new courage and confidence and shatter a few glass ceilings in both my running life and my personal life in the year ahead. 2014 will be a year for leaving the comfort zone and kicking ass, friends! Hope y’all are ready for it!

I came up a little short on my goal time, but I still had a great time with lots of awesome people in Richmond!

It’s hard to feel bummed about missing your goal time when your weekend includes hanging out your college roomie, a cop who loves Shittens, and awesome signage courtesy of your 8-year-old BFF. 🙂

PS, just in case you were wondering, my name does now appears in the official results for this race. Thanks for sorting that out, Richmond Marathon!

5. If 2013 Had a World Championship of Race Photos, I Would Have Won it!

I hate to brag, but I’m pretty sure that 2013 has been my best year yet in terms of race pictures. I mean, those pictures totally saved me from writing the past year off as a miserable failure, so they must be pretty good, right? I fancy myself to be pretty damn fantastic at hamming it up for the camera and coming with fun and hilarious photo concepts (click here for my awesome guide to your most amazing race pics ever), but I can’t take all the credit for this one. Mad props to Monte, Bull City Tracking Club’s very own official race photographer for coming to ALL of our races, near and far to patiently photograph our every ridiculous shenanigan, and kudos to my running bestie Kara for being married to Monte, thus making him obligated to do this. And as always, to all of my dear running friends, thank you for being so awesomely fun, and silly, and brilliant, and hilarious.  Y’all are also incredibly patient and kind to me when I am super-late and/ or super-grumpy. I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a special place in heaven for each of you because of this, and although I don’t always do a great job of expressing it, I appreciate it more than you know. The experiences we’ve had together that make up my amazeballs 2013 running photo album have truly been the very best parts of my year, and I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation of another round of epic adventures with all of you! All the love, friends! Y’all are the greatest!

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So much photographic evidence that this year was undeniably fun…

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So many great times with wonderful people!

So I suppose in the end 2013 wasn’t a total bust after all. I would be lying if I told you I am sad to see it go, and I am grateful for the fresh start that the new year offers. But I did some cool stuff with even cooler people, learned some important things about myself, and was reminded that although haven’t won the Nobel Prize or cured cancer or established world peace (yet), I’m still doing ok. The challenge for 2014 (and boy, is it a big one) is to take all these lessons learned and find the guts to apply them to doing something amazing.  I’m not entirely sure what that amazing thing is going to be or what getting there will look like yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to be really good!  So stay tuned, because I’m hopeful determined the 2014 will be a year when I really shake things up!

What were your most significant lessons learned in 2013, and how do you hope to apply them in the new year?

Boston Marathon Reflections

I can’t recall another day when I have experienced the wild spectrum of emotions that I did on Monday, April 15th, 2013.  I had run many a race, endured many a disappointment, and learned many a life lesson to earn a spot in the Boston Marathon, and the highs and lows of my journey from Hopkinton to the finish line quite accurately mirrored those of my BQ chasing odyssey. Those hard fought 26.2 miles are story that is worth telling and an accomplishment worth celebrating for all of us who poured so much of ourselves into making it to both the start line and the finish line of Monday’s race. It is sad and infuriating that such a great triumph of the human spirit has been overshadowed by a hideous and senseless act of violence, and it is devastating knowing that lives were lost and families torn apart at the event that was, up until the moment when disaster struck, a wonderful, iconic celebration of the sport that we love. My heart breaks for the city of Boston and those who were affected by Monday’s bombings, and my thoughts and prayers for comfort, healing, and justice continue to go out to the victims and their families.  But as I reflect on this tragedy I am comforted by the fact that one does not have to look very hard at all to spot the beautiful displays of humanity that rise up from the ashes.

As I’m sure you can imagine the words that compose the previous paragraph of this post hardly scratch the surface of the myriad of thoughts and emotions that I am sorting through as I struggle to process my Boston Marathon experience.  At the moment, I am feeling utterly physically and emotionally drained by the events of the last several days. However, as gesture of love, support, and solidarity for the tenacious people that are Boston and the magic and tradition that is the Boston Marathon, I would like to share with you the things about this experience that I am grateful for.

First and foremost, I am tremendously grateful and relieved to know that everyone I know who was in any way involved in this event – every friend, every teammate, every social media acquaintance is safe and accounted for. I am also incredibly moved by the outpouring of concern from friends, family, and co-workers for my personal safety and that of my friends. And I am thankful for friends old and new who were there with me and for me in the midst of the chaos and confusion: those who dried my tears of anger, sorrow, and relief, welcomed me into their home, and graciously shared with me the comforting cuteness of their pugs.

The comforting cuteness of pugs is a powerful thing.

The comforting cuteness of pugs is a powerful thing.

To all of you who reached out to me on Monday, thank you. I honestly cannot think of another time when I felt so much love from so many people, and I am deeply touched by this beautiful display of humanity. Furthermore, I apologize for not responding directly to all of you. I was completely overwhelmed by the volume of messages I received, but I saw and appreciated each and every post, text message, voicemail, tweet, and email.  Please continue sending your concerns, thoughts, and prayers to the people of Boston. They need them so much more than I do.

Secondly, as heartbreaking as the situation is, I find it so inspiring to watch the running community, the people of Boston, and the nation as a whole rally around this tragedy with such a spirit of love and support. As I contrast this experience with my last major marathon encounter, the cancellation of the New York City Marathon due to super-storm Sandy in November, I am grateful that the events in Boston have served to unify people and communities rather than polarize them. (I know you are thinking it, so  feel free to insert your statement about how I should give up major marathons forever here.)

I know and respect that my personal experience running the marathon was far less significant in the grand scheme of things than the events that occurred shortly after I crossed the finish line. However, for what its worth, my Boston Marathon experience was nothing short of epic and was an emotional roller coaster in and of itself before any bombs were detonated.  As anyone who has read any recent race report of mine surely already knows, my little local running community is kind of my everything. I am always so grateful to have them in my world, and there was never more truth in that statement than there was in those miles between Hopkinton and Boston. In that span of roughly three and a half hours I experienced the sheer thrill of running 25K of the freakin’ Boston Marathon in the company of some my favorite people on the planet and the demoralization of being separated from my pacer/ running BFF. Additionally, I delighted in watching a soft-spoken teammate plant a big old kiss on some lucky Wellesley girl, and I narrowly escaped utter heartbreak on Heartbreak Hill thanks to the compassion and encouragement of that same teammate and her husband. (I guess he wasn’t too upset about her smooching that Wellesley chick.) But the ultimate highlight of the entire race came at approximately mile 24.5. My pace had fallen apart after tearing through Boston College on the way down Heartbreak Hill, and I had waved my teammates off after crossing the 35K mat with them. Then low and behold, my aforementioned pacer/ running BFF pulled up beside me. We had been separated for the better part of 15 miles. She had originally gotten ahead me after making a pit stop, then missed me when she stopped to wait for me, putting me at least 7 minutes ahead of her. I am fairly certain that are few people out there who could chase a friend down at a ridiculous pace for the better part of 11 miles of the Boston Marathon, and there are probably even fewer people out there who would actually do such a thing, but Allie Bigelow did that for me on Monday. This sort of friendship does not come along everyday, and I am very grateful for it. Furthermore, I cannot imagine how much more frightening and upsetting the events the followed my marathon finish might have been had we still been separated when they occurred. Which brings me to the next element of the Boston Marathon experience that I am grateful for…

So incredibly thankful that all of these beautiful Oiselle Team birds (as well as those not pictured here) are safe and accounted for. And they are even more lovely in person than they are on Twitter.

So incredibly thankful that all of these beautiful Oiselle Team birds (as well as those not pictured here) are safe and accounted for. And they are even more lovely in person than they are on Twitter.

This is how much fun we were having at mile 14. By the way, this pic can also be found on the front page of the Wednesday, 4/17 edition of my hometown's local newspaper.

This is how much fun we were having at mile 14. By the way, this pic can also be found on the front page of the Wednesday, 4/17 edition of my hometown’s local newspaper.

Reunited and it feels so good...

Reunited and it feels so good…

As I continue to process this situation my mind keeps returning to the timing of it all. The timing of Allie catching me, the time on the clock when I finished the race vs. the times of my marathons of yesteryear and how similar those were to the time on the race clock when the explosions happened. The timing of our departure from the finish line area, the timing of the phone call I received from a friend back in North Carolina giving me the news. The fact that I was able to get through to my mother to let her know that I was safe before she heard of the bombings elsewhere, and the timing of us leaving the city just ahead of the lockdowns and road closures all seems far to complex and close-cut to be merely coincidental. Whatever higher power might have been watching over us in those moments following my finish of the Boston Marathon, I am grateful for it.

I am incredibly relieved to be back home in North Carolina and I am happy to report that my Boston Marathon race shirt, my finisher’s medal and I made a beeline directly from the airport to our favorite local watering hole for a much-needed evening of laughs, tears (most of which were mine) and beers in the company of the wonderful friends and teammates with whom I shared this unforgettable experience.

So happy and relieved to come to the company of these very special people.

So happy and relieved to come home to the company of these very special people.

However, my heart and my thoughts remain in Boston, and especially with those who lost love ones or are fighting for their lives in the wake of this unthinkable occurrence. The Boston Marathon is a magical celebration both of distance running and an iconic American city and it’s people, and I am already looking forward joining Bostonians far and wide and the global running community in reclaiming it in all its glory in 2014.  In the meantime, as I work through my own processing of and emotional recovery from Monday’s bombings, I will continue to seek out ways to help and to express my support for Boston, and I urge you to do the same.

Things You Can Do to Help:

Donate to The One Fund

Donate Blood in Your Community

Comprehensive list compiled by Runner’s World

“6 Ways You Can Help Boston” Blog Post from Saucony

Donate to the Challenged Athletes Foundation to support victims in need of prosthetics.

Additional Posts and Articles:

“Runners, The Marathon Does Matter,” Boston Globe

“Bring on the Next Boston Marathon”, The New York Times

“At My First Boston, My Heart Aches Most…” Megan Hetzel for Runner’s World

Allie’s (as in the Allie who chased me down for 15 miles of the Boston Marathon) reflections on the bombings, the marathon, and wonderful parts of our trip.

The Secret to Half Marathon PR Success: Stalking…Ummm, I Mean Teamwork…

Check it out y’all, I wrote another race report! Time to cozy up to the computer or mobile device of your choosing and read all about my latest running adventure, The Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon! It’s sure to be a real page-turner…

We’ll Start with Some Reflections and Some Strategy…

Leading up to Sunday’s race I had been doing a lot of reflecting on my run at Disney Princess and why it did not go so well. I know that a lot of reasons for my disappointing performance that day were entirely out my control… Heat and humidity, GI distress, tutu drag, etc. But still, it is disappointing to fall short of your target pace on race day, especially when you have been nailing said pace in all of your workouts. I was discussing this matter with my wise and speedy Oiselle teammates on our Saturday shake out/ race strategizing run when it dawned on me: I should approach this race as though it were workout! I like workouts and I am generally successful at them because they provide a structured plan of action… Run at this pace for this long, then take this much rest and repeat x number of times. All you have to do is follow a few simple steps and maybe endure a little discomfort, but before you know it you are done and you probably kicked that workout’s butt! This whole simple how-to thing usually works out really well for me.  And so somewhere in the mix of our profound and very important conversations about what’s trending on Twitter, our Oiselle spring line wish lists, the latest episode of Glee, and sweet vs. savory crepes for our post-run festival of carbo loading, my teammates/ running gurus Allison and Bigs and I put our heads together and my race day game plan was born.

We decided that the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon should be a progression run, and we mapped it out to look something like this:

  • Miles 1 through 4: Keep it comfortable, let’s say 7:20 to 7:15.
  • Miles 5 through 9: Try to pick it up at little, but don’t go crazy… 7:10 to 7:05 pace.
  • Miles 10 through 13.1: Get the hell out of the comfort zone. It’s all out balls-to-the-wall from here to the finish.

I took great comfort in mapping out a game plan, and also in spending a lovely Saturday morning running, eating, hydrating, and power-shopping (all critical components of my day-before-the-race preparation plan) with my awesome teammates. I had a good feeling as we packed up and head east for Wrightsville Beach.

Just in case you were wondering, I was unable to choose a winner in the great Sweet vs. Savory Crepe debate. This left me no choice but to have one of each.

Just in case you were wondering, I was unable to choose a winner in the great Sweet vs. Savory Crepe debate. This left me no choice but to have one of each.

Upon our arrival at the beautiful North Carolina coast, we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon and evening of packet pick-up, more shopping, 5K watching/ cheering, a very carbohydrate-intensive team dinner, and of course, a serious green nail polish mani-pedi party… I mean, is it even possible to run a race on St. Patrick’s Day without green finger and toe nails?

All for one, and St. Paddy's Day manicures for all!

All for one, and St. Paddy’s Day manicures for all!

I awoke on St. Patrick’s Day morning feeling reasonably well rested, well hydrated, and ready to kick some ass. My fabulously fun teammates and I donned our race kits and all the sparkly green accessories we could find and jogged/ booty danced our way to the start line. (Apparently dance parties are the new half marathon warm up of champions.)  Before we knew it, the gun went off and so did we.

Bigs and I take a quick moment between the dance party warm up and the starting gun to model our fly new Oiselle spike bags before depositing them at bag drop.

Bigs and I take a quick moment between the dance party warm up and the starting gun to model our fly new Oiselle spike bags before depositing them at bag drop.

The Mile By Mile Breakdown…

Right away my teammate Caren (Caren is the reigning Masters North Carolina State Champion of the mile distance.  She’s kind of a big deal.) pulled up to me, and I breathed a giant sigh of relief. I was admittedly lacking confidence in my ability to execute the race plan on my own, so I was extremely grateful to have some company. We easily rolled through mile 1 in 7:11 and I decided to rein it in a little, even it meant losing Caren. She humored me with a conservative  7:17 mile for #2, but pulled away by mile 3, which I ran in a somewhat embarrassing 7:28. Fortunately, the running gods were smiling on me and I missed the slowest split of the day as it popped up the watch. Had I been aware of it, I suspect it would have psychologically derailed me for the remainder of the race. By mile 4 I was back on track with a 7:15 and it was Hammer Time. Hammer Gel time, that is. I celebrated completing phase one of the game plan with a delicious raspberry Hammer Gel.

Raspberry Hammer Gel, the race day nectar of the gods...

Raspberry Hammer Gel, the race day nectar of the gods…

Time to step it up a little… I was able to accomplish this pretty easily thanks to my first sighting of the officially Bull City Track Club cheering section (i.e. Jason Page toting the camera and the child-filled baby jogger,) plus an especially awesome NC State-themed aid station complete with a pack’s worth of cardboard cut-out wolves and guy with a sign that read “FREE HIGH FIVES”. (I don’t really have any special attachment to NC State University, but who doesn’t love a good cardboard wolf pack?) I cashed in my free high-five as my watch chirped a big  7:05 for mile 5, and to my great joy I caught a glimpse of Caren maybe a quarter of mile ahead of me!  I immediately adjusted my game plan to include reeling her in by mile 10 so we could work together for the balls-out portion of the race.

I kept my sights set on Caren for miles 6 and 7, which were 7:09 and 7:10 respectively. Although I did not seem to be gaining any ground on her, she didn’t seem to be putting any distance on me either, and this kept my optimism for catching her alive.

At mile 8 I came across some nice, chatty marathoners and clicked off a 7:04 thanks to their pleasant company. The power of a little friendly distraction never ceases to amaze me.

But wait, where is Caren?! We’re getting dangerously close the “Beast Mode On” phase of the race plan, and I haven’t caught her yet! Balls! Time to focus. I downed Hammer Gel #2, the espresso flavor this time for good measure. At this point I realized that all I really needed to do now was run 4 miles at 7:00 min pace. This was precisely the tempo workout I ran last week and it went particularly well for me.  Just the confidence boost I needed. That, and oh yeah, THERE’S CAREN and I am starting to close the gap!

I very nearly yelled as loud as I could “HEY CAREN, WAIT FOR ME!!!”, but then it occurred to me that this was a totally selfish/ ridiculous thing to do and that Caren probably wasn’t especially interested in throwing her own ballin’ half marathon time out the window in the name of getting me through the last 3 miles of the race. As I rolled through mile 9 in 7:01 and mile 10 at 6:58 I rejoiced at the realization that I was totally rocking the execution of the game plan and feeling strong. It also crossed my mind that I had cleared the mile marker that had been my digestive system’s demise in my last half marathon without one fleeting sign of GI distress.  Then I prayed that I had not jinxed myself by patting  myself on the back for making it this far without digestive issues. Thankfully, my prayers were answered.

By mile 11 I was definitely gaining ground on Caren. “Perfect!” I thought to myself. “Since Caren is the Master’s Mile Champion of North Carolina I am so gonna draft off of her for a super-speedy final mile.” Near the end of mile 11 I encountered the Official BCTC Cheering Section again. I had to chuckled to myself as Jason yelled at me “ELLEN, THERE’S CAREN! GO GET HER!!!” Yeah, no kidding dude.  I have been stalking her as “Every Breath You Take” by The Police plays in my head the entire race! And then with the help of a 2nd round of free high fives from the cardboard wolf pack aid station, something magical happened. Just like that, I CAUGHT CAREN! This time  I actually did yell her name to make my presence known, and as  Mile 11 popped at 6:51 we I kicked it into high gear for a big, glorious BCTC teamwork finish. Then somewhere in my shockingly speedy 6:29 (at least by my standards) mile 12 I lost Caren again. Except this time she was behind me.

As I charged into the final mile that bad feeling of impending vomit set in.  I channeled the wise and profound final-kick mantra of the amazing Bigs , “Don’t shoot your wad. Don’t lose your lunch.” (She really said this to me repeatedly last year in the last 800m or so of the Napa Valley Marathon as she paced me to a big ol’ Boston Qualifier.) It got me to the finish line barf-free that day in Napa, and it did the same  for me on Sunday in the home stretch at Wrightsville Beach.

Speaking of Bigs, where were all the BCTC fasties who had surely finished way ahead of me and why weren’t they out here cheering for me? I had reached the point where I could really use some encouraging words and familiar faces in my world. I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief as mile 13 flashed up at 6:35 and not any slower.  Then I graciously  turned the final corner for the remaining  .1 portion of the race to the tune of the very enthusiastic cheers of Bigs and our teammate Rachel.

I crossed the finish line with 1:32:59 on the watch and the lovely girl who very barely out-kicked me and I celebrated our matching sequined shamrock hair clips and our nearly matching new half marathon PRs (the first time breaking 1:35 for both of us) with some serious high-fiving. The celebrations continued as I learned that the aforementioned  BCTC fasties, Rachel, Jen, and Bigs had swept the podium for the women’s half marathon and that every single runner in our group had run a phatty new 13.1 PR.

BCTC fasties Rachel, Jen, and Bigs sweep the podium. (Podium not pictured.)

BCTC fasties Rachel, Jen, and Bigs sweep the podium! (Podium not pictured.)

The whole gang sporting our shiny new half marathon PRs!

The whole gang sporting our shiny new half marathon PRs!

The rest of the day was pretty much a non-stop fun-fest complete with finish line beers,  the best post-race DJ dance party I have ever experienced, a beach trip, and Irish Car Bombs for lunch.

Free Beer: The real reason we paid money to run 13.1 miles.

Free Beer: The real reason we paid money to run 13.1 miles.

In addition to winning the race, Rachel (left) DOMINATED the after DJ Dance Party. Rachel is my running AND my dance party hero.

In addition to winning the race, Rachel (left) DOMINATED the  DJ Dance Party afterwards. Rachel is my running AND my dance party hero.

It just wouldn't be a trip to the beach with out the obligatory synchronized jumping pic. Also, no small children were harmed in the taking of this phot0.

It just wouldn’t be a trip to the beach with out the obligatory synchronized jumping pic. Also, no small children were harmed in the taking of this photo.

Irish Car Bombs, because it's St. Patrick's Day and we all just ran half marathon PRs. As if we really needed a reason...

Irish Car Bombs, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day and we all just ran half marathon PRs. As if we really needed a reason…

A Few Words of Gratitude, Oscars Acceptance Speech Style…

First and foremost, I would like to thank Caren.  Caren, know that I mean this in the most sincere and non-creepy way possible when I say that I could not have been more grateful to get to watch your backside for the majority of the race if you had been Matthew McConaghey wearing chaps. Seriously though, having you there gave me focus I needed to stick to the game plan and saved me from being sidetracked by my race day nemesis; self-doubt and negative inner dialogue. Cheers to you, your tremendous new 1/2 Marathon PR, and the loss of your Irish Car Bomb virginity!

The Wrightsville Beach 13.1 experience was a huge testament to the power of teamwork in my opinion. I really believe that being a part of something bigger than myself and just knowing my friends/ teammates are out there running the same course and working towards the same goal improves my running, or at least my outlook on racing. I feel like I say this a lot, but can really never say it enough, so here I go again… Thank you to all of you wonderful people out there who race and train with me on a regular basis. Your energy, humor, and all around aweosomeness are the things that get my out of bed and running nearly every morning. All of that great stuff I just mentioned, plus the motivation, training expertise, and accountability y’all supply me with have made a better runner and a better person, and I am oh-so-grateful for that. Sometimes I wonder if I would run at all without you people. I also really appreciate how all of you are still friends with me even though I am nearly always late to our scheduled runs, even when I am the one who insists on an obscenely early start time. Y’all are the best. Thank you.

So very grateful for awesome teammates like Bigs, who is pretty much the most awesome running BFF a gal could hope for!

So very grateful for awesome teammates like Bigs, who is pretty much the most awesome running BFF a gal could hope for!

I would also like to give a big shout to the nice people who put on this lovely event. I found it to be among the most congenial courses I’ve run  recently, and after a trying training cycle of long runs in Umstead State Park,  its flatness felt particularly luxurious. To all of you out there who are on the lookout for a fast, fun, well-organized race, I highly recommend the Qunitiles Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. Furthermore,  Kudos to the Official Bull City Track Club Cheering Section, and to Bull City Running Co. for giving me the weekend off work so I could take this little get-away.  And extra-special thanks to you, NCSU Alumni Association of the Greater Wrightsville Beach area. I doubt this new half marathon PR would have been possible without your cardboard wolf pack and your free high fives.

Oh, and I almost forgot, thanks to Shwings, which are wings for your shoes. OMG Shwings, where have you been all my life? So glad I finally found you.

This half marathon PR was brought to you by Shwings, which are wings for your shoes.

This half marathon PR was brought to you by Shwings, which are wings for your shoes.

And last, but not least, thanks to all of you for reading, and may you all be lucky enough to have a spring racing experience as fast and fabulous as mine at Wrightsville Beach! Next stop, Boston!