On Monday, I had the privilege of finishing the Boston Marathon for the third time. It truly is a privilege because so many things can transpire to keep this from happening. First, you have to achieve a qualifying time at another marathon or raise a significant amount of money for a partner charity just to enter. Then, you have to stay healthy enough from the time you get in to the race to actually be able to run it on race day. Finally, you have to cover 26.2 miles (and more if you run bad tangents like me) regardless of the weather on race day or how your body reacts to cross the famous finish line.
My journey to this year’s Boston Marathon actually started in February of 2018 when I earned my spot by running a 3:18:18 at the Warmup Columbus Marathon in Dublin, Ohio on February 18. Little did I know that my running abilities and life in general would change just 10 days later when a distracted driver went left of center and hit my car head on. Among the resulting injuries for me was a broken foot that would require surgery and an extended period of time away from any kind of running including not running the 2018 Boston Marathon which I was already signed up to do.
I spent the rest of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 working to recover from the injuries. I was finally out of my cast at the beginning of July and then began to gradually start running again later in August. I worked my way up to being able to complete the New York City Marathon in 4:02:52 on November 4 and realized that I still had a long way to go to get back to where I was before the accident.
Training for Boston was going well as the calendar flipped to 2019 and although the weather forced me inside to more treadmill runs than I would like I could feel my strength and speed coming back as well as my ability to log more miles. As January turned into February, I was consistently hitting 50+ weekly miles and then had three straight weeks of 63, 64 and 63 miles from February 25-March 17. I was one month from race day and feeling great!!!
Or so I thought. I began feeling a pain in my left leg that was eerily similar to the pain I had previously felt when I had a left tibial stress fracture. I dialed things back the next week and did three runs totaling just over 14 miles. When I finished the last one, I knew that I needed to take a break if I did not want to miss Boston for the second straight year despite being signed up to run.
So, I took 10 days off before I tried to run again. And when I did run again, I just did a few miles at a time. Finally, on April 6, I decided to try one last double digit run to see what might be possible on race day and I managed 13.1 miles at a 7:58 pace and felt good at the end.
At that point, only a couple of easy runs remained and then packing for the trip. I was trying to figure out what my goal pace for race day should be and knew that while I still had a good fitness level that it was really going to be an unknown in the later miles of the race. I finally settled on shooting for a 3:30 finish time which would be an 8:00/mile pace. It would also bring me in just slightly slower than my best Boston time of 3:28:48 in 2016 and so yes there was a part of me that wanted to try to break that.
After two fun days in Boston that included meeting several pro runners and seeing friends while at the same time trying to stay off my feet as much as possible, race morning had arrived. The forecast was not good with rain and lightning and there was actually a delay getting some of the runners to the starting area because of the lightning. I waited in my hotel until the last minute and then made my way to the bus for the hour-long ride to Athletes Village with bags tied over my shoes to keep them dry and mud-free.
The closer the bus got to Hopkinton the better the weather got as the rain stopped and the clouds started to part. The temperature was already in the 60s and I really started to worry about getting too hot in the race, but there was nothing I could do as I had dressed appropriately in a singlet and shorts. I did apply some sunscreen from a first aid station near the start corral and this proved to be a good move as it saved my shoulders from getting burned later on.
After a quick pitstop at a port-a-pot, I headed to the corrals and the race got started. It really was perfect timing as I did not have to wait in the very muddy confines of Athletes Village or even have time to get too nervous!
Instead of taking off and weaving through runners the first mile, I ran it conservatively with my running partner, Cindy, in 8:52 to keep from using up energy on the initial downhill. We parted ways after that and I picked things up slightly with an 8:15 and an 8:03 mile to cross the 5K mat in 26:05 (8:23 pace).
Miles 4-6 clicked by with splits of 7:47, 8:07 and 7:45 with the 10K split coming in at 50:41. I stayed relatively steady the rest of the first half as the miles ticked by – 7:41, 7:49, 7:43, 7:43, 7:53, 7:36, 7:50 with the 15K split being at 1:14:49, the 20K split being at 1:39:06 and the half marathon split being at 1:44:25 (7:58 pace). I was doing exactly what I wanted and was right on track with my pre-race plan. I had even high-fived a bunch of spectators at Wellesley College without going out of my way or using too much energy. I had taken my fuel on schedule – one toasted marshmallow GU gel at 3.5 and a Maurten gel at 8.5 and another just after the half marathon marker – and drank an entire liter of water.
Miles 14-16 continued to click away with splits of 7:51, 7:53 and 7:45 as the 25K mark came and went at 2:03:35. I had lowered my overall pace to 7:56, but I knew that the toughest part of the course awaited – the infamous Newton hills.
My goal going into the race was to not walk at all but especially not to stop on the hills. The first time I ran Boston I stopped at an aid station on Heartbreak Hill to get chicken broth because I was starting to feel hypothermia set in due to it being cold and rainy. The second time I ran Boston I stopped at the base of the hill and threw up twice because it was so hot and I was becoming dehydrated.
I’m pleased to say that I met my goal of running all the hills this time around even though I knew I was starting to wear down due to the heat and the fact that I hadn’t done any long runs the last month before the race. Miles 17-20 were still very respectable as I made surges when I could to try to stay sharp as they ticked by in 8:17, 8:27, 8:19 and 9:24. I continued to slow down as I trudged up Heartbreak Hill and even though my mile split was 10:19 I never quit running. I had made it to the top and to mile 21!
At this point, I knew that I could finish the race, but I also knew that I did not feel very good as my stomach just wanted to empty its contents (which there could not have been much). I was very hot from the sun and also started seeing people in serious medical situations as three people collapsed to the ground around me over the next four miles and needed immediate attention. I walked most of this part but tried to shuffle/jog any downhills as my splits were 12:18, 13:45, 13:02, 13:03.
When I reached the mile 25 marker, I knew that I would need to run the rest of the way in order to keep my time under 4 hours and so I set out determined to do just that. While it may not have been spectacularly fast at 11:11 for that mile, it got the job done and then I covered the final .44 (yes, I ran nearly an extra quarter of a mile!) at an 8:40 clip to cross the finish line in 3:58:23 (9:05 pace) to finish 16,483rd out of 26,632 finishers. It was the slowest of my three Boston finishes, but by far the one that I’m most proud of. It was also nearly four and a half minutes faster than my New York City finish so I’m making gradual progress post surgery.
Congratulations to all of my Rogue Racer teammates and other friends who also finished the race. Whether it was a PR, a first time under 3:00, a fifth Boston finish or a tough day that took all you had to finish the race, you are all Boston finishers!!!! Big thanks goes out to the volunteers who make this possible and the amazing spectators who give this event the energy that makes you want to do it again and again. While this race is tough and the course sometimes unforgiving, there is just something special about Boston and it will always have a piece of my heart! Thank you!