Thursday, April 25, 2013

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston (the Race Report)

For me, writing is a lot like running.  Both are very therapeutic; they help me clear my mind and process my emotions.  But, also like running, some days the writing takes a lot out of me and must be followed by a day or two of rest and recovery.  And like hard track repeats or a hilly long run, writing about Boston has required some recovery periods.  So thanks for sticking around while I get out the rest of my story.

In the wake of all that happened--and all that could've happened--in Boston, I know many of us runners are having a hard time celebrating our race day victories.  It seems selfish to talk about running a BQ (Boston Marathon qualifying time) or PR (personal record) in the midst of such national pain and suffering.

But I believe we must celebrate our victories, small and large, or the terrorists win. 

Eighteen of us from my running group, Runners Edge of the Rockies, ran Boston this year.  Fifteen of us ran BQ's; four ran PRs; and one finished 7th in her age group.  On a tactically challenging course, those accomplishments are very impressive.  They represent a lot of hard work and determination, and should be celebrated.  (Edited to add:  At the 2013 Boston Marathon, 59% of those who finished before the bombs went off re-qualified; in our group we had 88%, a testimony to the great training we all receive.)

I'm a pretty heavy consumer of running clothing generally and marathon merchandise in particular.  Many mornings I struggle to find something respectable to wear to a City Council meeting that evening, but I could probably run every day for a few months in a different running outfit.  I have almost thirty pairs of Nike Tempo track shorts alone.  And I refuse to even count my running skirts.  Brad knows that for birthdays and other gift-giving holidays, a trip to the Lululemon store is all it takes to make me giddy.  Diamonds?  Pffft.

So when it comes to something like the Boston Marathon . . . well, I went a bit overboard with my shopping this year.  Leading up to this year's race I thought I might never run Boston again, or at least not for a while, so I'd better stock up.  I bought almost every single piece of Boston clothing available on the Adidas web site, and in both colors when offered.  (I bought in advance online so I wouldn't have to bring a separate suitcase to Boston to haul home my purchases, and tucked it all away in the top of my closet until after I finished Boston and "earned" it.)

After everything that happened on Marathon Monday, I felt a bit of hesitation wearing my Boston gear.  I'm so very proud to have qualified and finished it again, but the thought of walking around wearing "Boston Marathon 2013" felt like I would be trying to call attention to myself as having been personally affected by the tragedy.  Like I was inviting concern and pity from strangers.

Then I realized that, again, if I didn't proudly wear my Boston gear, the terrorists win.  Because I would've worn it without question had there been no incident.

So I wore my race shirt on the plane on the way home from Boston, and I've worn Boston gear at every opportunity since then.  As much as I wish it were otherwise, having a grown-up, lawyerly job limits those opportunities, but I've flown my Boston flag high whenever possible.  On my first post-marathon run last Saturday with my friend Christine, I broke my personal one-marathon-branded-item-per-outfit rule and wore my 2013 Boston race shirt, jacket and hat.

I'm proud to have run Boston, and proud to stand in support of Boston.  In your face, terrorists.

And I'm also proud of how I ran Boston this year.  My victories were small, but I choose to celebrate them.  Evil cannot take this from me; I refuse.

This was my second time traveling the course from Main Street Hopkinton to Copley Square, and I approached the race this year knowing what I'd done wrong last time.  And hoping to do better.

In 2010, the late start time tripped me up.  I didn't fuel property before or during the race and literally ran out of steam in the final miles.  Bonked, in runners' parlance.  Not fun.

This year, I had a better plan and I actually stuck with it.  Well, to the extent I was able.  I lost two of my gels during the first few miles, so had to re-work my fueling strategy on the run.  But my revised plan worked fairly well and, with the help of the one on-course gel station, I felt pretty good throughout the race.  (Other than the lingering taste of an unfamiliar gel flavor in my mouth.  Yuck.)

I drank an entire bottle of water while on the bus and in Athlete's Village, which proved to be a little too much.  Several marathons ago I finally came to terms with the fact that each race will probably include a potty stop for me.  It's hard to accept that I must lose that time, and at the Country Music Marathon I literally left my BQ in a port-o-potty, but it's better just to take the quick break than to run for miles and miles being uncomfortable.

At about Mile 7, I realized I had to pee.  And I was kind of pissed.  (Haha, punny me.)  Pissed because I'd used the port-o-potty not once, not twice, but THREE times before the race started, the last time being literally on my way to the start corral.  So I was like "seriously, bladder?!?"

The negotiations began.  (Hopefully I'm not the only marathoner who engages in these self-negotiations while racing.)  I told myself that I could stop and use the port-o-potty, but this would be the ONE stop that is included in my race plan and I'd better not hear any squawking about needing to stop later in the race.  And, I had to wait until Mile 10.  It was simply unacceptable to need a port-o-potty stop in a marathon while still in the single digits; poor pre-race planning was all that was.

So, there it was.  One stop, at Mile 10.  I lost a little bit of time, but it was time I planned on losing and I didn't end up needing to stop again.  And at least I ran with the knowledge that I began the race sufficiently hydrated.

I wish I were one of those marathoners who could recall all the fun details of what you see along the course, but I'm not.  I'm trying to get better about taking it all in, but mostly I could tell you what my Garmin looks like.  Even in Boston, where there's so much to see.

I'll sum up my observations by saying the Boston experience is incredible.  A race like no other. 

The spectators are wildly enthusiastic and, having run the course once before, I looked forward to seeing them again.  Like we're old friends.  "Yay, the bikers are here again!  That bar looks like a place for a great bloody Mary" . . .  "The Wellesley girls look awesome this year. Such sweet young things, with such powerful lungs" . . . "Good to see Boston College students still know how to party hard on a Monday morning.  Seriously should've gone to school there."

The volunteers are also amazing.  These folks expertly handle their various roles in making our day a success.  There's no fumbling at the aid stations; their swift hand-offs help even middle-of-the-packers like me achieve our best race times.  At the finish line, the volunteers are so full of praise that I can't imagine anything short of an Olympic medal would feel better than when they place that Boston Marathon finisher's medal around your neck.  The volunteers are, every single one of them, an integral part of the well-oiled machine that is the Boston Marathon.

Years ago someone gave me this advice about the marathon:  Run the first 10 miles with your head, the next 10 miles with your legs, and the last 10k with your heart.

I did this last Monday.  Mostly.

I reigned it in during the rolling downhill of the first 10k, trashing my quads just a little bit rather than a lot.  The middle miles are always tough for me, and in Boston you reach the Newton hills at the end of those middle miles.  Notwithstanding my coach Maureen Roben's stern warning, I flew down the fairly steep descent at Mile 16 and tore myself up even more before reaching the Newton hills.  My quads screamed the entire last 10k, which is mostly downhill again, and which I imagine would be a great stretch to run swiftly if you'd been smart in those earlier miles and saved your legs.

People hear "downhill marathon" and think it means "easy."  It's not.

For the last few miles, I kept repeating to myself "right on Hereford, left on Boylston."  I'd bought a shirt at the Boston Marathon expo with this printed on the front; it represents the final two turns of the race.

I also kept repeating it because I knew Brad and Eli would be there on Boylston Street, waiting to cheer me on to the finish.

As I ran up Boylston, scanning the crowd for them, it occurred to me that having them near the finish had the drawback of slowing me down when I didn't have much race course left to make up the time. But after seeing them standing there--arms waving, huge smiles on their faces, screaming my name, Eli proudly ringing his cowbell--I realized it also gave me the boost I needed to finish the race strong.

According to my Garmin, I ran the final 0.4-mile stretch at a 7:40 pace, by far the fastest of the day.  On legs that were basically jello.  (My Garmin read 26.4, instead of 26.2, because I suck at running tangents.)  And, because of this boost from Brad and Eli, I ran a Boston qualifying time at the Boston Marathon, a longtime running goal of mine.  With only 21 seconds to spare.

That's the power of love, right there.

The 2013 Boston Marathon was my 13th marathon, a coincidence that I felt certain was to bring me good luck.  The back of my "right on, left on" shirt says this:

"Lucky '13."  It was the reason why I bought it.

After all that happened, a Boston Marathon shirt that says "Lucky '13" seems odd.  But I guess I really was lucky.

Very lucky.  


  1. BQ! That's awesome! And yes, lucky too.

  2. Great race and great report. Wear that Boston gear with pride and revel in your accomplishments. That will show those coward brothers that they made us stronger, not weaker. My only regret was not buying the Saucony Boston Kinvaras. Love that t-shirt. Will have to drop in RER sometime soon. Miss many of you! Ty

  3. Just glad that everyone is okay. :)

  4. What a cute blog & cute family!!!!! God bless.