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!!