Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boston Marathon Race Report

Michelle Quigley

I’ve never written a race report, but then again, I’ve never really had a report-worthy race.  Boston this year was different.  I finally overcame the marathon monkey that’s been on my back since a miserable first go at the distance at Los Angeles in 1998, when running equaled stress-relief and law school and divorcing parents equaled a lot of stress!  Long story short, I over-trained, never rested, never tapered, ran miles 1-18 much faster than I should have, walked miles 19-26.2 with pain and tears, and spent the next year of rehab convinced marathoning was NOT for me.

Fast forward 13 years, an Ironman (Switzerland 2009) and 2 marathons (Boston 2010, Maine 2010) completed, and while I suffered knee pain in all, I was able to recover and get back to running within a week.  My confidence was improving.  Still, a race without excruciating pain was foreign to me so the monkey remained.

Running -- running lots -- is NOT an issue for me.  I love it.  Rain, snow, whatever - I run.  (See Winter Challenge Results.)  I was well trained for Boston: averaging 65+-mile weeks for months, with plenty of on-the-course long runs under my belt.  I had suffered no pain during training, even the 22 on the course, and had PRed my half time at New Bedford a month prior with a 1:35:11.  The only “injury” appeared in the two weeks leading up to the race with left side ailments – plantar faciitis, tight calf, tight quad, tight hammy, achy knee.  

And my only other real concern was my shoes.  A month prior, I had switched kicks and my feet kept going numb during runs.  It took until the day before the marathon for me to realize I ought to race in different sneakers!  Duh!  I went for a 3-mile taper run Sunday with three different sneakers and ran one mile in each.  First, too tight.  Second, not enough ankle support.  Third, just right … except too old!  I called Marathon Sports, which had a newer version, and put them on hold.  I knew this was a huge no-no (right up there with experimenting with new foods at the expo, which I also did), but I did it anyway.  I then continued in my things-not-to-do-the-day-before-a-marathon and walked the nearly 2 miles home from the store “breaking in” my new shoes.  Mentally I felt better, even if my feet didn’t!

Race Day – I woke up at 5:15a to get breakfast down and coffee kicking early.  The weather looked to be perfect with sun, mild temps, and a westerly wind!  I was on the VIP bus with some SRR folks so Brian dropped us off in Copley Square at 6:30a and we found our way to the tent.  My left side hurt, my shoes felt a little tight, and my tummy was doing flip-flops, but such is race day!  After the bus ride to Hopkinton, we leisurely rested in the high school gym with plenty of toilets.  I lined up early in the second wave, fifth corral, bib # 13905.  Carolyn Soules was also in my corral so we chit-chatted, calming my nerves.  Ropes were lifted, the crowd pushed forward, and the seconds to go-time ticked off.  3-2-1 … press start. 

My goal was a 3:25, so I set my pace to 7:45-50, allowing a little extra speed if it felt easy.  I kept repeating, “20 mile warmup, THEN you can let go.”  I held back as swarms of people passed me on either side (which was much different than the year before where I was trying to meander around people from the last corral!).  This was nice.  Mile 1 was 7:53.  Then I settled into a comfortable, steady pace for 7:42, 7:38, 7:40, 7:42, 7:35, 7:43, 7:43, 7:38, 7:40, 7:43, 7:32, 7:42, 7:33, 7:46, 7:26 (mile 16).  At each mile I’d remind myself one less mile of a warmup but still a LONG way to go!  I hardly knew where I was as I was so focused on holding my pace.  Ground, Garmin, Gatorade cup holder, ground, Garmin, repeat.  I knew from experience that a marathon can break you at any moment: legs can cramp, blisters can appear, side-stitches can burn, joints can falter, the monkey is always there. 

My legs wanted to speed up, but I told myself “even if they’ll give it to you, don’t take it, you don’t need it, and you’ll pay for it eventually.”  I eased up on the down hills and shortened my stride to keep it low to the ground to cause less pounding on my quads (I remembered the pain from the year before!).  I think that helped for the hills of Newton weren’t as challenging as I remembered and I was able to maintain my pace.  Miles 17-21 were 7:48, 7:48, 7:40, 7:34, 7:47.  Nice and steady.  I stared at the ground about 2 feet in front of me for 90% of the race, glancing up if I heard my name and when I knew I was approaching the SRR and BTT tents.  

When I saw Brian on his bike around 18, my first reaction was “why is he not wearing a helmet?” but then I quickly refocused on how my body was moving and shifted from my core to my arms, to my legs, and checked in with each muscle to make sure all were on board, as I knew I needed cooperation!  I had body glide on but was chafing a bit with my sports bra so I put one arm warmer where it was chafing, which helped, and threw the other to Brian.  My feet were killing me as my new shoes were too tight around the forefoot (so much for the “just right”!), so I shook my legs out every once in awhile and tried to relax my face when it grimaced in pain (Chrissie Wellington says you feel less pain when you smile!).  I stopped at every other aide station and drank a cup full of Gatorade.  I chomped on a pack of shot blocks beginning at mile 12, had a gel around 16 and another around 21 and finished off a second pack of blocks from 22-24.  

Brian yelled for me to start racing at 22, so I changed my 20 mile warm-up mentality to 22.  I was able to relax in my form and just keep moving.  By mile 21, my quads were beginning to burn but I reminded myself that they should burn and there’s a difference between burn and injury and this was just burn.  My last steady mile was 7:32, then the 22 mile marker was my race start – 4.2 miles.  My legs could give me that!  I had not overworked them but had held back and now it was time to reap the payout from that discipline.  I stopped a good 10 seconds for Gatorade during mile 23, which was a 7:37, but then put my head down and repeated “just keep running” for a 7:24, 7:25, 7:24, and then after climbing Mount Hereford, held a 6:57 pace for the final stretch down Boylston.  

My body wanted to quit and my mind kept tempting me, saying “you could stop now and just walk.  You don’t have to keep going.  You can stop the pain if you want.”  I replaced the tempting thoughts with positive words, repeating, “just keep running, just keep running, pain is temporary, you’ll forget this pain, just keep running.”  I saw the clock, I saw my watch, I knew I was way below my goal, so I just looked down and ran.  I crossed the mat in 2:21:59, 22 min and 5 seconds faster than the year before and 13 minutes faster than Maine.  I took a few steps, and said to the volunteer, “I feel great!”  She laughed and said “I don’t normally hear that at the finish line!”  And I did.  My feet killed, but I had stayed within my limits and executed with focus, so the time flew by and I didn’t feel overly taxed.  I saw Brian, I saw my mom, I saw the tent for the massage, and I smiled!

Racing is tough.  Marathon racing, especially at Boston, is tough.  Physically and mentally tough.  And training is NOT overrated!  But even with proper, healthy training, some days the body doesn’t cooperate.  Some days the wind (and rain and snow!) is in your face.  Some days nutrition doesn’t work out.  But some days, some rare few and wonderful days, it all comes together and you have a better-than-hoped-for race.  And it’s in these moments, it was on April 18, 2011, at 1:44 p.m., that I remembered why I race.  I love running, and now, monkey-free, I just may be a marathoner!!  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Race Report - Paris marathon

by Brenda Chroniak

Last week, I hopped the pond to run the Paris Marathon - my debut in blue and green (thanks again Jess for lending your top!). It was tough being in the city of lights and keeping up with my usual pre-race rituals, but I don't think I did too bad a job.

On race day, the alarm went off at 5:30 and we were eating the hotel breakfast (plus peanut butter I brought in a tupperware) by 6. I was showered and dressed and out the door by 8 for an 8:45 gun, but not before I had a complete freak-out. "It's a foreign city! I've never run the course! It's going to be hot today! What if I bonk? What if I have to poop?!" Noah calmed me down, we walked down to the start, and the excitement of race day quickly replaced the nerves.

I settled myself into the back of the 3:30 corral and did some active stretching and bounced around a little, then the gun went off and I actually had more room than I knew what to do with. I couldn't believe how roomy this notoriously crowded race was for me, and for the first 5K I was able to hold what felt like a really comfortable easy pace, while marveling at the beautiful city. I looked at the gorgeous architecture and the spectators and everything around me and decided whatever the day brought, I didn't care, because it was such an amazing experience. All I could think about was that I was representing my country and my team, and that I wanted to make everyone proud. And to look awesome and hard core, too.

Then just after the 5K mark the road narrowed and the race literally came to a stand-still. I had to jam on the brakes and take a few shuffling steps before we finally moved again. I thought "Oh, THIS is what I heard about." The next little bit was narrow and crowded but the "uphills" Coach Jorge and I noted on the elevation map were more like false flats. Piece of cake. I was cruising along, and in my head I was imagining Jorge asking "how do you feel?" every so often. Then in my head I'd answer him back "I feel f***ing awesome!!"

The next 10 miles were more of the same. Some roads opened up and I was cruising with my own space, others narrowed to two lanes with cars parked on both sides and I had to hop the sidewalk, or be shoved by big sweaty smelly men (do these guys shower??). The hillier parts of the course were the worst because everyone was slowing down and I had to push my way through the masses to keep pace.

They were predicting a high of 73 that day, and around the half-marathon mark it started to really get warm. The sun was out and luckily there were some shady parts, but I was feeling it. I was sticking to my hydration plan and glad to have worn a fuel belt, which I only brought in the first place to avoid the crowds. Little did I know it would be my saving grace, as it meant I could drink to thirst as often as I needed for a lot of the race.

Around 15 or 16 we were along the river and it was picturesque and breezy (but warm) and the road was REALLY narrow and crowded, but the spectators were pretty amazing. I kept chugging along, then just after the 17 mile mark we actually ran through a tunnel. Like a legit, probably half-mile-long, freaking TUNNEL. There wasn't a breath of air to be had, I lost Garmin reception, and it was shaded but stuffy. I couldn't wait to get out of it! Back up on the river it was cooler and breezy.

At this point I ran out of my own liquid and was relying on the water stops, which were 5K apart - a little far for me in this kind of heat. I started to feel like I was being slowly roasted alive. They were handing out bottles of water at the stops, so I'd drink half and pour the other half over me. They also had "refreshment stops" with garden hoses and big buckets of water that the volunteers were splashing on the runners. I was fighting against overheating, and it was actually kind of scary how much relief I felt when I'd drink or go through a hose. Like before that I'd be struggling and feeling kind of wonky, then I'd hit the stop or take a drink and instantly my pace would return. Honestly, if i hadn't worn the fuel belt I probably would have ended up in the med tent.

Coach Jorge's plan called for me to run the first 20 conservatively, then race the last 6.2, and at 20, I was SO ready to turn the pace up, despite the heat and crowds. Just like he predicted, I was passing a ton of people and it felt REALLY good :) Noah said according to the text messages of my splits/place, I passed thousands of people in the last 10K. I think this is where my race went bad, though, as I underestimated just how far 6 miles was...

For the first three, I felt like I was flying. I was smiling at spectators, slapping hands with little kids, and just running on pure joy. The Rocky theme song came on my iPod and it was all I could do not to fist-pump in the air mid-race. I may or may not have listened to it twice in a row... Then suddenly I felt the onset of fatigue I shouldn't have felt until 25. At this point I was still ahead of the 3:45 pace group--we had been leapfrogging each other the whole race-- but around 24 they came up on me. It was hot as hell, I was feeling sluggish, my legs were screaming, and as Jorge instructed me to do, I "looked painland in the face and made it my bitch" by pushing harder. I locked my sights on the 3:45 group and tried to hold the distance between us. Sadly, I failed, and over the next two miles they slowly widened the gap and dropped me. It was probably the only disappointment of the whole race. I REALLY wanted to hang on. Nonetheless, I held strong and kept pushing for the best finish I could have.

My watch beeped for mile 26 and as soon as I heard it I picked up the pace and pushed again... only to realize shortly thereafter that my Garmin was a third mile behind the actual course. So that push I saved for .2 actually lasted .5. Finally the finish was in sight, I gave it all I had, and even though every muscle in my body was begging for mercy, I managed a huge grin for the cameras at the finish. My official time was 3:48:32. I finally went sub-3:50!

I wobbled my way through the finish chute, desperate for water, and eventually got to the fluids, after the chip removal, shirts, and medals (which is a huge and awesome medal, BTW). I gulped down the water and Powerade, then I wobbled some more until I found Noah, who was waiting for me with flowers and champagne. We popped open the bottle right there and I gulped that too. Had to represent BTT properly, after all! The race was over and the celebration was on.

It was the first marathon I've properly executed (OK, there were a few wrinkles...) and actually raced, and the whole time I kept thinking "I'm having the race of my life."