I’m sitting here on the bus ride to NYC watching the reflections in the window of buildings and cars pass by. In my mind, I’m thinking of what I’m going to do when I get home – Boston seems like a distant memory right now but as I adjust my seat, the tenderness of my legs brings it all back to the forefront of my mind. Wow, the Boston Marathon. I guess it is kind of a big deal. I know my finishing time doesn’t reflect a great marathon – my splits tell an even more trying tale. But it always is a tale, isn’t it? That’s what makes it a journey – good or bad, it’s a journey that stands out in your mind and etches itself in your memory bank so that you can reflect back on it one day and relive those moments. And smile. And wince. And maybe laugh a little or cry a little.
Setting out for the marathon, I was told a lot of things:
“Careful on the downhills – they’ll wreck your quads”
“Don’t expect a PB. Boston is a tough course.”
“Enjoy this one! Don’t do what you normally do and run with tunnel vision.”
“It’s Boston! It’s like nothing you’ve ever done before.”
Everything seemed to be going against me for this marathon. We took a red eye flight on Thursday night out of Seattle with a stopover in Dallas, having us arrive in Boston at 11:30am. High turbulence and a screaming toddler in the row behind me made for a challenging flight to Dallas, leaving me exhausted and irritable for the flight in to Boston. Fortunately, the second flight was fairly smooth – likely because of my comatose state going into it. 10:55am, we were in Boston. We hopped into a cab and darted off to our hotel to drop our bags and head to the expo. The weather didn’t seem too awful – windy & cold – but the worst was yet to come.
The expo was unlike anything I’d seen before – our senses were overloaded and 4 hours later, we stumbled out with arms full of bags of gear, samples, and pamphlets to add at least 40lbs to our already aching feet. 5:30pm, I finally had my first real meal since last night’s dinner.
The next couple of days were a blur as we explored parts of the city. Each day, we met up with more people in our group, including a fellow Lions Gater – Michael Campbell-Burns. And, by chance, I managed to bump into Bob Gardner and his daughter at a local sports store.
What was looming in the back of my mind was the worsening weather conditions and weather reports as each day passed. Another concern was the sore throat I had when I got off the plane, which turned into a sore throat + headache, then to a sore throat + headache + body aches + chills + fever. I was starting to get the flu.
Sunday before the marathon, I sent my group off to explore more of Boston as I caught up on some much needed rest. We watched with abated breath every update of the incoming storm, wondering how things were going to be for the marathon. The worst of the storm would hit Boston on Sunday evening and we would get the tail end of it on Monday. I went to bed on Sunday night hoping for the best – for the weather and for my health.
The blaring of the alarm at 4:45am marked the beginning of a very memorable day. I got out of bed and did a body check – no sore throat and no body aches! I remember Roger telling me before I ran Sacramento that if I felt sick the morning of the marathon, DO NOT RUN and I feared that I may have had to sit this one out – but I guess I was meant to run Boston. And thank goodness because what was I going to do with all the gear I bought?! 🙂
At 6am, our group piled on to the train to get to the bus loading area to take our trip to the start line in Hopkinton. It was raining, windy, but not too cold. We managed to get to the start about 8ish. The field where the Athletes Village was located was saturated from the previous days of rain, leaving very muddy and slippery conditions. We start to make our way to the tent and quickly got separated from the rest of our group. We went from 7 to 5 to 3. We gingerly walked into the tent and found no empty spaces to rest our feet before race start. We attempted to find some shelter as the rain sporadically came down on us and the high winds tossed us around. We temporarily found shelter in the back of a trailer truck but within 5 minutes, we were kicked out. We reassessed the situation and ended up parking ourselves UNDER a trailer truck. Even with the multiple layers, I found myself only getting colder, shivering from head to toe. They started to call for runners for the first wave to head to the start and we had to say goodbye to one of our three. Another 25 minutes go by and they start to call for runners for the second wave and Mike Campbell-Burns and I decide to make one last pit stop to the restrooms before we go to the start. The line-up was longer than anticipated and it became a mad scramble to strip down, toss our gear bags into the busses and run to our start corral. Mike forwent his corral and started with me. We hopped into the starting area and never stopped moving – our wave had already begun!
I was told to be careful of the first couple of miles because they were downhill so Mike and I ran together conservatively, crossing Mile 1 at 9:05. He saw the concerned look on my face but told me not to worry as we’d make it up later – we crossed Mile 2 at 8:29. That was better. By Mile 3, I had already lost Mike in the crowd. There were so many people running, shedding gear, running left, running right – I found myself getting fairly distracted. I tried to make sure I didn’t start too quick or get caught up in the crowd and I thought I was doing a fairly decent job, crossing the 5k marker at 26:36. At 10k, I was at 52:15. I heard Andy’s voice in my head to make sure I enjoyed the race so I hi-fived some kids left and right along the course. At about Mile 7, I had a sharp pain in my chest that took my breath away and I panicked. I relaxed my shoulders, gave them a quick roll, shook out my arms, and plodded on. I was starting to get tired and I had many more miles to go. I wasn’t even 1/3 of the way through! But I continued to plod along. What I didn’t expect about this course was that there were very little flat sections – you were either going up or coming down. And it was a harsh realization when my left IT band started to bother me at 9 miles – the same IT band that bothered me in Sacramento. Throughout the course, we were being hit with a headwind, the occasional rainfall, and, surprisingly, a few warmer pockets. The high winds from the storm had blown in some warm air from the South.
Mile 12 and the infamous Wellesley girls were up ahead. You could hear them from a mile away! Andy had asked me to hug one for him but there were too many people and I couldn’t make my way over .. sorry Andy! You’ll have to hug one yourself!
The half mark came and went and I was still on pace at 1:50:17. My IT band pain wasn’t letting up though and I found my mind weakening – wanting to stop, wanting to quit. At Mile 16-17ish, at the start of the first of the Newton Hills, I did the unthinkable – I stopped and walked. The pain was more than I could take at the time. It was so blinding that I couldn’t even smile back at the spectators and if I can’t smile, then I can’t enjoy myself! I heard Cory Cullen’s voice in my head – “if you need to stop and walk for 30s or a minute, it won’t make that much difference in the end.” I walked to the top of that hill and mustered up the energy to start again. It wasn’t pretty though .. half limping, half running. The pain radiating up and down my leg was excruciating, as I made my way down the hill.
I grabbed one of my Fuel Belt bottles for a drink and realized that I wouldn’t have enough to finish. The winds left me parched and I was drinking more than I expected. I spotted another water station and stopped again to fill up one of my water bottles.
I started up the next hill – the uphills weren’t as painful and I managed to gain a bit but the downhills proved to be more than challenging. I was trying to figure out the least painful way to run it.
Do I take shorter steps? Nope, that hurts.
What if I stride it out? Nope, that hurts too.
I tried to find my “pace” and somehow managed. And then there it was ahead of me – Heartbreak Hill. Head down, arms relaxed … and I plod along. But then I lost it. I couldn’t make it. I made it up the steepest portion but as it started to flatten out at the crest, I stopped and walked again. I took another drink and pulled myself together again. This isn’t how I’m going to finish – I gritted my teeth against the pain and made my way down the other side of Heartbreak Hill.
As we turn a bend and start the flat section to Boston, I look over at some spectators. They were holding a sign that said “Hi Fives for Free.” And that’s what it’s all about. I set my sights on them and took off in their direction. They see me coming and cheer excitedly, sticking their hands out. I couldn’t help but smile as I slapped each one of their hands.
I’m now on the last 5 flat miles into Boston and the temperature has dropped and the winds have kicked up a few notches.
I kept telling myself – it doesn’t hurt. You can run. Now let’s go!
Miraculously, I hurt less. Mind over matter – who would have thunk it?! But my mind was not all that clear. I’m going along at a steady pace and I cross the 35k marker. For some reason, I think that there’s only 5k more to go. Then I see the 22 mile marker after that and then wonder if the markers were off because 4 miles isn’t 5k?!! By the time I get to 23 miles, I’ve figured it out. They were right .. people who run marathons ARE crazy! 🙂
I see the CITGO sign in the distance and set my sights on it. There was some significance to it but at the time, it had escaped me. I just knew I had to get there. And I did and onwards I go – 1.2 miles to go. I pick up a bit of speed and think I am just flying as I pass people left and right. One last turn onto Boylston and the finish line is in sight. With one last push, I cross the finish line!
I stumbled a few steps, stopped my watch, and just stood there. My muscles were starting to tighten up and the pain was increasing exponentially but what was consuming my very being at that moment was the sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t a stellar performance. It wasn’t all that fast. But, despite the pain, the stopping, the walking, the weather conditions, the flu, I left it all out there on the course. And that moment was mine. A minute later, I stumble forward a few steps and find Mike waiting for me – a familiar face and a great friend.
Heartbreak Hill broke my heart but not my spirit. I’ll be back to conquer it once and for all.