It’s been about 5 months since I ran the Boston Marathon. That’s given me a more distanced perspective on the race and thus my recap too. While I’m able to see the big picture better with time having passed and I can be a bit more objective in my analysis, I unfortunately have lost some of the small details from that day. The little nuances have already slipped my mind and this makes me sad. It goes to show that not only is it important to do a recap as soon as the marathon is over, but it also shows that marathons have just become a regular part of my life – and like everything else that I’ve become accustomed to in life – I can take it for granted and not appreciate or remember the little things. And again, this makes me sad.
But without further ado, here is my 2014 Boston Marathon Recap:
Training and the build up to the marathon was definitely challenging. First, let’s start with the Polar Vortex. I take that back, it wasn’t the Polar Vortex, it was the Polar Fucking Vortex From Hell. As much as I’d like to discuss the challenges that went into training and running EVERY FRICKEN MILE outside in the elements, I’m not mentally at a place where I can speak of it without breaking into a rash. Let’s just say if I ever have to do that again, I will go postal. That’s not an idle threat, it’s a guarantee. Just saying.
Beyond training during the winter from HELL, there was another aspect about this training that was unusual. The fact that the Boston Marathon is an event made for qualified runners and knowing I did not qualify to get in, made it really awkward and made me down play the whole race. Not only did I not talk about it a lot with acquaintances but I also couldn’t talk about it much with some of my closest friends. One of my dearest friends had worked her butt off and qualified for Boston and the fact that I got into the same race without qualifying made it more than a bit uncomfortable between the two of us for some time. This made me feel badly for many, many reasons. And since I felt badly, felt guilty and was uncomfortable talking about the race to friends and acquaintances, this made training extremely difficult. Endurance training is just as much mental as it is physical and I was not trained mentally. The week prior to the marathon, I realized I didn’t have the same level of excitement and anticipation as I normally have for races. And this was Boston. I should have had triple the excitement level. And I didn’t. And this sucked. And I knew I needed to do something about it quickly or my race would be doomed due to a bad attitude.
But I rallied prior to getting on the plane. It took me remembering why I agreed to run the 2014 Boston Marathon in the first place. It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about qualifying times, it wasn’t about being fast, being élite or being in a legendary race. It was about reclaiming what belongs to every runner and spectator out there… the right to feel safe. The right to feel safe while participating in something so innocent. After the 2013 bombings, the 2014 Boston Marathon was a time for all of us to heal and show the world that we weren’t going to be afraid and change how we live our lives. We were going to #FinishBostonStrong!
Having just run the New York Marathon in November, I had that incredible experience planted firmly in my mind as I landed in Boston. I couldn’t help but compare the two marathons. They are 2 of the 3 biggest US marathons and I was experiencing them in such a short timeframe from one another, so I was definitely comparing Boston to New York. And as far as the energy in all things leading up to the marathon, I have to say New York kicked Boston’s ass. I have to be honest and admit I was more than a little disappointed in the vibe from the city and that of the marathon operations team and all of their pre-marathon activities. The city of Boston, for as much as it rallies around the marathon on race day, didn’t celebrate the lead-up to the marathon as much as New York. And the expo, packet pick-up and pasta party were, dare I say it, a real let down. The Expo was poorly executed from a signage and layout perspective and the pasta dinner was even worse. The pasta dinner at New York was truly a pasta party. The energy level from the volunteers set the tone and the marathoners fed off of them and people danced, laughed and truly enjoyed themselves as one, large collective group. The lines for NY were short, swift and logistically, dead on. Boston, however, had horrible lines, wasn’t exciting and again, from a layout perspective, really poor. We actually ate our pasta meal in a hallway. We had friends that were a few people behind us in line and we didn’t have a chance to eat with them because the pasta dinner was spread out in all nooks and crannies of a building and some spill over diners ate in tents. We didn’t get a chance to vibe off of all the marathoners and we actually felt awkward eating in a hallway. Not really the party I was hoping for from such a prestigious marathon.
But after the pasta dinner, it was early to bed and early to rise. Okay, it wasn’t actually as early as it could have been, because our start time wasn’t until late morning and we didn’t have to catch our bus to the start of the race until 9ish. That’s not too shabby. We got to the line of buses early because we had heard horror stories about how difficult it is to get a seat on the bus and how long the lines are. But we didn’t have any problem. We walked right on and were the first ones on the bus. And then the wait began. We probably waited on the bus for 20 minutes before we headed to Hopkinton. And then the long and slow drive to Hopkinton… ugh, that was such a buzz kill. Nothing like a slow-moving school bus to lull you to sleep and steal away any excitement you had when you woke up. I have had to get onto buses and/or ferries to get to starting lines at other marathons, but this was just brutal. It was so long and tiring. And the seats are so uncomfortable, you could almost feel your leg muscles tensing up with each passing mile. Brutal.
Once we arrived at the starting village, we tried to get our barring as to the set up, and find a spot to chill. We also tried to spot the porta potties to make sure we could time the use of them, just right. But when we saw how FEW porta potties they had and how LONG the lines were, we realized we weren’t able to sit and chill, we had to get in the porta pottie line and wait out our time in the starting village in line for the bathroom. Fabulous.
The lines were so long and so slow, many people were worried about missing their starting corral times. So many men and women took to peeing out in the open. For the men, it was easy, they just peed along the fence line with their backs to the crowd. But the women had to be a bit more resourceful, and of course they were. Many women formed “groups” and held up blankets or mylar sheets to create a bit of privacy. It was definitely not the best solution, but it was better than standing in line and missing your start time. And quiet honestly, it was quickly becoming my Plan B. I had a mylar sheet with me that we were going to use to sit on, but I soon realized it may be used instead as a much-needed privacy screen.
Smiles before the start (and paper towel sticking out of my shirt in case I had to pee behind a tree).
Just as I was starting to search out my “pee spot” along the fence, the porta pottie line started moving a bit quicker and I got into the bathroom and still had time to eat my bagel and drink some Gatorade before we had to load into our corral. But I usually go to the bathroom two times (at least) before I head to the start line, so I was worried that I only had gone once. So, I fell back to my Plan B and I had intended to pee along the fence while on the way to the starting corral. Little did I know that there was NO more fence line to use to pee, instead we were walking through neighborhoods with the locals out on their lawns cheering us on.
As we were walking to the staring corrals, I was a person divided. I was torn between trying to find a place to pee and a taking in all of the cheers and accolades. I mean, the race hadn’t even begun yet and people were already cheering for us. I’m a fan of cheers that I don’t have to earn by doing anything other than walking past. And it wasn’t just people out cheering, they were tailgating. These folks in Hopkinton knew how to send off a bunch of marathoners. They were definitely enjoying themselves. And while they were having fun, some were also trying to have bit of fun at our expense by having signs that said, “free beer and donuts”. They know that Boston Marathoners would never have a beer or donut pre-marathon. OR WOULD THEY? Remember, I am not your typical marathoner, I am a beer drinking midwest girl who’s not going to let running 26.2 miles stop her from enjoying a beer. So, I did. I stopped, grabbed a beer from the person and proceeded to chug it. Much to the amusement, astonishment and horror of both the spectators and my fellow runners. NO ONE expected a girl to stop and chug a beer on the way to the start line, that’s for sure (except for my husband, of course). While I’m guessing people were anticipating seeing the unexpected on the race course, they didn’t expect to see this. As shown by the amount of open mouth stares I got from people and even one, “that thing you did with the beer, that was awesome”, from a fellow runner.
Once we got to the starting corral, I still had to pee and even more so now that I just chugged a beer. But there’s nothing I could do about it since the starting gun was going to go off soon. We didn’t have very long to wait in corral before we were on our way. On our way to completing a race that was sure to go down in the history books as one of the most significant of all time.
As I ran the first few miles I had a few thoughts:
- I simply could not believe I was running the Boston Marathon.
- I could not believe the amount of spectators on the course cheering us on.
- I still had to pee and needed to find a spot to squat. I didn’t feel like standing in line for a porta pottie and I have no problem squatting. But since there were so many spectators, there wasn’t a good spot with privacy. (Were you expecting something more profound than me wanting to squat on the side of the road?)
A few miles into the race I saw my only chance at a quick pit stop. It was a parking lot that held the spectators’ cars. There were plenty of people around and was not remote or secluded. But I figured if I ducked between two cars and had Brian stand guard, I would be okay. And that’s just how it worked. So with that quick pit stop, I had once again peed in a parking lot in a major marathon (my first was NY in November). Nothing I’m proud of, just something that had to be done. (Okay, I’m a little proud of it.)
After I had my pit stop behind me, I literally and figuratively felt better. I now could just run and enjoy the experience.
After cruising through the first half-dozen miles, I realized this was no ordinary marathon or no ordinary experience. People didn’t just cheer on the runners… they CELEBRATED THE RUNNERS! The spectators were amazing. True energy. From EVERYONE. A lot of marathons have little kids high-fiving the runners, but for Boston, little kids, adults and the elderly high-fived the runners. Families, neighbors and strangers cheered, partied and enjoyed the race. They enjoyed the marathoners running past them and they enjoyed being able to show the world… that Boston was Boston Strong.
As you already know, I am not a warm-weather runner. I hate anything resembling a moderate temperature. I had stopped looking at the forecast for the race a few days earlier because I knew it was going to be too warm for me and I didn’t want to go into the race knowing the projected temperature. I didn’t want to psyche myself out. While we were in the starters village, I was already starting to get warm. But I really really tried telling myself that I wasn’t warm. I thought the more I could deny and lie to myself, the better off I’d be in the long run. The first quarter of the marathon, I spent that time telling myself, “I’m not hot, this is good, the temperature isn’t too bad”. Somewhere around mile 7, I had to come to terms with reality and quickly if I wanted to last to the end. I realized that lying to myself wasn’t working and I now needed to be proactive. So at every water station I took extra water and started pouring water down my arms and on my head to cool off. I also took ice every time it was offered too. I held it in my hands and would rub in on my face and would try to make it last as long as possible. I also put a lot of ice cubes in my bra too. I went from denying the temperatures were affecting me, to doing all that I could to just survive the temperatures. I knew I had a long way to run and I knew I was in trouble.
Ice melting in my bra.
But while I was trying to cool my core body temperature, I was definitely warmed by the spectators. Seriously, the marathon was insane. The cheering at times was just so loud and so constant, I almost found myself wishing for a bit of a break from it. I just kept thinking that it couldn’t last. There was no way this many people would be this enthusiastic for 26.2 miles. But they were. And it wasn’t just the friends and families of those running. The spectators consisted of anyone and everyone. As shown by the biker bar we ran past. A bunch of Harley riding, leather wearing, beer drinking folks were right along the curb cheering us on. They weren’t skipping work on a Monday, just to party (they were doing that too), they were sincerely into the race. Every new mile brought another mile of constant cheering and more parties. Every time I thought that the crowds would finally break up, they just seemed to grow. And I was fully anticipating that the fans would get bored waiting for us slow folks (ahem, New York, I’m talking about you!) and the crowds would dissipate and I’d only get to hear from others how great the crowds were. But no one went home. I got the same cheers and applause that the élite runners got. It was humbling and amazing. This truly was a unique race and a unique year.
As I was running along, ice cubes in my bra, taking in all the cheers and spectators, I became very aware of all of the hills we were running. Everyone knows about HeartBreak Hill at mile 20, but I wasn’t aware of how hilly the entire course was. And I don’t have a problems with hills. Actually I trained my butt off on hills and I was ready. Hills are usually the only place, this slow little runner, can actually pass people, so I typically embrace hills. I bear down and get up those suckers. BUT, an entire 26.2 miles of rolling hills coupled with an ever-increasing heat index, now that’s another story. I was really starting to feel the effects of the heat/sun and this showed up on the hills. Every sun ray beating down on me was zapping my energy and then every step up a hill was too. This was not a good combination. Well into the second half of the marathon, I was either hoping the hills would stop or we’d get a sudden down pour of rain. I needed something to help me regain my energy. But no such luck. I started dreading every hill. Which really sucked because I was “hill ready”. I had trained on hills, and was good at running hills. And now I was not so good at running hills. And that just pissed me off. The one thing I had going for me was now taken away because of the temperature. Damn you Polar Vortex!! If I hadn’t trained in forty-fucking-six days that were below zero, I may have been a tad more ready for this spring/summer-like weather. But NOOOOO…. I had to train in the worst winter EVER and it in no way got me ready for any temperature above 10 degrees. UGH. UGH, I say!!
But beyond the fact that I was so miserable because of the heat and so miserable because of the hills and I was so miserable because I was just so fatigued… I was having a great time. I kept doing gut checks and kept reminding myself that I was running the Boston-Fricken-Marathon. I had no business being there, and yet I was and I was going to enjoy everything about it. I read all the signs, I paid attention to the cheers, I high-fived the kids and adults and I soaked it all in. The college girls giving out kisses at Wellesley College (Brian partook in that fun), the families throwing block parties and the throngs of people did not disappoint. Unless you were there and unless you were running the marathon, I don’t think you can truly appreciate the fact that the course was lined with people for 26.2 miles and they partied. It was a 26.2 mile tailgate party and it was incredible. And they never lost interest even though I ran past them hours after the élite runners did. They never cheered any less enthusiastically for me as they did for the elites or the bombing victims who were also running. And for that, I thank you Boston!
Heat, hills and cheering… heat, hills and cheering… that’s what the majority of the race was like. And before I could cross that finish line, I had to power through Heartbreak Hill. I had looked forward to Heartbreak Hill because I trained for it and I put in some long, tough runs that were nothing but hills. So I felt ready. Ready that was until the heat and earlier hills started kicking my ass. Heartbreak Hill was where my sister, Jolene had been hunkered down to enjoy the race. So we knew to look for her there. When we spotted her, I tried to muster a smile and wave – as I’m all about the photo-op – but considering I had overheated for 20 miles and dealing with the hills and was once more climbing a helluva hill, I was not as photo-ready as I would have liked.
Man, churning up Heartbreak Hill was not the glorious moment I had envisioned in my head. That is until I saw Team Hoyt. Team Hoyt is a father and son duo that have competed in marathons, triathlons and Ironmans together. But this isn’t just any ordinary father, son duo. Dick, the father, pushes his adult son Rick in a running chair. Rick has CP and Dick is helping his son realize his dream of “being free” by competing in endurance races together. They’ve been doing this for decades and they are the founding fathers (so to speak) and inspiration behind so many other organizations that allow able-bodied athletes to push challenged athletes in races. I had the pleasure of hearing Dick speak in spring, and while I already knew his story, hearing it in person, moved me to tears. So imagine what seeing Team Hoyt on the marathon course… no, no, no…. ON HEARTBREAK HILL would do to me.
Team Hoyt, just the inspiration I needed to get up Heartbreak Hill.
I was overcome with emotions. I knew it was a sign. I knew it was another reminder of what the day meant. It showed me, again that this day was not about me, it was about human nature and people “rising up” and doing more than what you thought possible. I realized I wasn’t going to let this encounter go past without taking advantage of it. So Brian and I slowed our pace and mounted Heartbreak Hill with Team Hoyt. It gave me chills and tears. Hell, I’m almost tearing up now just remembering what I was feeling at that moment. It was just one small moment in time and just a few hundred feet in the marathon, but it’s something I will remember forever.
Brian and me on Heartbreak Hill. Trust me, I was running, even if this picture doesn’t look like it.
The remaining 6 miles are kind of a blur to me now trying to recall them months later. They were filled with fatigue, cheering and sweating. Yep, that’s what I remember about the last 6 miles! Actually, that really does some it up nicely. I was still trying to cool myself down with more ice and pouring water over myself at water stops. The crowds never eased up and the cheering was constant. I was almost wishing there would be a break in the crowds and the cheering. I was too tired to enjoy it and I felt I needed a bit of “down time”. It was weird because I was secretly hoping for a break where there would be no people so I could stop and walk. I felt I couldn’t walk with so many people cheering. The ironic part about this, and if you know me at all, I would never stop and walk a marathon. I don’t walk. I just don’t. So the fact that I wanted a spot on the course where there were no spectators to be so I could stop and walk was just another game my brain was playing on me. I was obviously trying to convince myself to keep going yet looking for an “out”. It was like I was telling myself… ‘keep going, you can stop and walk when there’s no one around, but until then keep running’. But I knew full-well that there would never be a break in the crowd and that I would never get a chance to stop and walk. It was just one of those “tricks” a fatigued runner tells herself to make sure she crosses that finish line. Basically it means that my fatigued self lies… A LOT! But considering I almost “fake fainted” during the San Diego Marathon just so I could stop running, I’m not sure why I was surprised at the lie I told myself about walking if there weren’t any people around. I’m a lying son-of-a-bitch when I run… but only to myself! 🙂
The new reality of the Boston Marathon. Runners within inches of the Military Police.
As we were in the last mile of the marathon I, again, couldn’t help but be reminded of the enormity of the day and what I was doing. I was about to run the same stretch of street that others had run on, one year earlier to horrifying consequences. As we ran past the spots where the bombs went off in 2013, I was reflecting on life. You can’t run past a spot that made national news and where people had lost their lives and not be reflective of your own life. How did I get here? How did a girl with no athletic ability get to run her 7th marathon in one of the most iconic marathons in the world? I had friends and family cheering me on…. I had the financial means to get to Boston and a new job that allowed me the vacation time to do so. I had a husband that trained with me through a polar vortex and who would run 26.2 miles stride-for-stride along side of me, just as he had done the earlier 6 marathons…. and he’d support me through the good and bad times, just as he had the past 6 marathons just as he had the past 20 years….
Having lost two parents, I’m no stranger to losing loved ones. But for those who lost loved ones due to the Boston bombings in 2013, it was different. They didn’t get a chance to say good-bye. They had innocence ripped from their lives forever. And that’s why I was running the 2014 Boston Marathon, to show the world that innocence is something the world needs and something we need to take back and reclaim. Tragedy happens and sadly it will continue to happen. But not too often, does a person get to try to “make it better”. And while I know my running the Boston Marathon means nothing to those personally affected by the 2013 tragedy, it meant something to me. It was my way to try to “right the wrong”, in my mind. It was me trying to come to terms with the shit that goes on in this world. It was me appreciating what I have and being so grateful for what I have and where I am in my life. As I mentioned, I have lost my parents and have gone through ups and downs (and downs and downs) with my career but yet I consider myself pretty damn lucky.
Running that last stretch of the marathon on Boylston Street… I was only thinking about how lucky I am. You must always keep moving forward… keeping looking for the silver-lining in life. And on that day in April, I once again found my silver-lining… except this time it came in the form of a yellow and blue finish line!
Did I mention I was hot during the race?
Remembering the 2013 victims.