Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 114th Boston Marathon

I'm going to try to avoid turning this into a tale of epic length, which I'm sure will be a futile effort. Let me start by saying that the trip to Boston was just awesome. I got to meet a lot of my "imaginary internet friends" from the forums of RWOL, including the fabulous BQ ladies, Masters, and Boston people. There was a great deal of eating, laughing and just hanging out having a good time with people who have been true training partners, even though I'd never met 99% of them in person. I enjoyed other opportunities to meet legends of our sport-something you'd really NEVER see in any other sport with the greats being right there and accessible to mere mortals. And, of course, I got to run the famed course from Hopkinton to Boston. But, I guess I should start from the very beginning.

After the last week of crazy weather watching and wardrobe obsession, it was quite a relief to finally get on the first of three planes (hey, I don't care when I can land cheap airfare) and make our way to Boston. I was giggling when my husband reached for the seatbelt in our cab from the airport as we were witnesses and participants in our cab driver's special brand of traffic negotiation. I did grow up in a larger city but you just lose your memory for this kind of driving after a certain amount of time in the relative sticks. It was of course more damp and humid than Colorado, but really not anywhere near as bonechilling as it could have been. We got in, took a brisk stroll through expo during the last hour and I did get a glimpse of none other than Ms. Kathrine Switzer at the Marathon Tours booth. We weren't prepared with a camera so we figured we'd just come back the next day to try to say hello and get a picture, and off to dinner we went for a yummy seafood dinner on our first night in Boston.

The weekend brought lots of fun times-picking up my bib and the rest of my packet, actually MEETING the legendary Kathrine Switzer (who I am pleased to say is just totally cool, gracious, and appreciative of the admiration a lot of us have for her), and randomly getting called on to do some fake race finish role play with race director Dave McGillivray when he asked for a show of hands of Boston first-timers. I also met American marathon recordholder Khalid Khannouchi (asked me where I qualified), and the twins (wow, they're even taller than me!). It was just cool to be in a place with a bunch of people who were really excited to be running or participating with the race in some way. The Boston Beer Works shindig on Saturday night was a blast, and on Sunday it was great to be in comparatively smaller settings for brunch with the speedy BQ Babes, and dinner with a handful of Masters runners. Finally, it was time to lay out the gear, turn in for the night and get ready for that little matter that had been on the horizon for such a long time.

I was up bright and early on Monday, and was not really hungry but forced myself to eat a bagel, saving another for the long bus ride out to Hopkinton. The sun was out after off and on rain and cooler temperatures, and I wondered if this meant perfect race weather or potentially having conditions that were too hot. I met up with regular regional race roommate Ilana, and we walked with my husband down to catch the buses. Whoa...we thought we had gotten there pretty early but those lines were quite long. Finally, we were able to load the bus and head on out to Hopkinton where we met up with some of the BQ ladies. Other people we'd met were also hanging out there. I know everybody said we'd be out there for a looooooong time but it honestly was nowhere near to the standing around and doing nothing time before the half marathons I run in Moab. It was just enough time for a port-a-pot stop, lubing up with sunscreen, and having some leisurely hang time before getting the call for "Wave Two may now start making your way to the corrals." GULP. We're really going. Holy crap.

I walked over with Miranda, who was also in corral 14, the first in wave two. We were a little surprised to see how crowded it really was, and that there was not much time to spare before the race start. I quickly peeled out of my throwaway fleece clown pants that I had used as pajamas during pregnancy, long sleeved old college party favor tee and garbage bag. We slid into corral 14 with less than ten minutes to go before the start. Geetah straws? Check. Gels? Check. Shot Bloks that I was going to alternate with gels? Crap. I must've accidentally dropped them stripping off the throwaway clothes. Oh well-I knew there was one gel station on the course and I don't have issues taking various brands so I knew I'd just have to keep my eye out for it. I had in my head the mantra of "don't go out too fast-don't go out too fast-don't go out too fast." The downhill start is notorious for sucking people out quickly. Runners who fall prey to that temptation to be faster than they should through here typically pay for it from the Newton Hills on. As the clock approached 10:30, we listened to the countdown and off we went. WOW. This is it, baby-the start of the 114th Boston Marathon.

This was definitely the "never alone tour" in the early few miles. The road out of Hopkinton is very narrow, and there was just nowhere to move very much at all. I merely shifted to the left at one point and inadvertently stepped right into the path of a woman behind me who almost tripped and fell. I apologized and was a little mortified for acting like a clueless runner but she was totally cool, knowing I hadn't tried to take her out on purpose. I was feeling kind of okay. Not fantastic, and not like it was going to be the longest, most miserable run in history.

Mile 1: 8:12

I also understood now why I was told to be conscious of pace early on. The little downhill pitches just whisper at you to loosen up and fly. In a way it was a good thing that I was not feeling 100% confident of a magical day on the course. I kept putting the brakes on, making sure I didn't drift any faster than about an eight minute mile.

Mile 2: 8:01
Mile 3: 7:59

Somewhere around here, Miranda peeled off at an available port-a-potty. I also felt like I kind of could use a stop (weird-never a problem before in a race) but thought I could probably ignore that sensation and it would go away as I continued on. It was sunny and felt rather warm out there. The wind would pick up every now and again but it wasn't gusty at this point.

Mile 4: 7:56
Mile 5: 8:07
Mile 6: 8:06

I think it was around here that Miranda rejoined me, having made an efficient stop and picking up her pace just a little bit from what we'd been doing for a few miles after that. It was cool that she'd gotten back up there because it was nice to have someone else to pace with and chat with a bit along the way. It was very surreal to finally be DOING this for the first time! Sometimes one of us would go ahead a bit, or drop back a bit, but we were more or less pacing evenly through the first half and a little way into the second half. We wound up seeing BQ Babe Rachel, who went past us looking just terrific-like it could be a pixie dust kind of day. It was pretty early in the race, and we said "hope she can hold that!" because you just don't want to see your friends blow up. We found out later that she DID in fact hold it (YAY) and ran a 3:27! Always great news when one of your friends nails it.

Mile 7: 7:56
Mile 8: 8:10
Mile 9: 8:02
Mile 10: 8:03

I was still in that no mans land smack in the middle between feeling like I could do no wrong on the course today, and feeling terrible. That made it hard on a course I'd never run before as far as deciding how much to push and how much to conserve, but I made the decision to just keep that pace in check and not go for broke early on.

Mile 11: 8:11
Mile 12: 8:11
Mile 13: 7:56

I believe that's the Wellesley Scream Tunnel mile. It was loud for sure, but I guess I was surprised that it was not louder. The crowds seemed a little thin compared to what I'd been told to expect. This was all good-I get a bit overwhelmed if there's too much in the sensory department.

Mile 14: 8:08
Mile 15: 8:17
Mile 16: 8:03

So, I was starting to feel a little bit heavier in the legs here but not lead-legged and doomed. I knew the Newton Hills were coming and just really tried to pay attention to my stride, keeping it short and not wasting tons of energy on excess body movements. I made sure my shoulders were nice and loose, and not up in my ears, and kept the arms swinging comforably without the boxing nuns fists in the armpits. Time to go through what I knew would be the most physically and mentally taxing part of the course. One hill at a time, and one mile at a time were my two thoughts here. I'd been hearing people shouting to Miranda, who had her name on her singlet, but I realized somewhere near the end of the hills that I didn't hear her name now. Unfortunately, as I found out later, she had some major back pain creep in that forced her to slow down. Despite that, she did run strong through that pain and tried to just enjoy herself out there on Patriots Day.

Mile 17: 8:22
Mile 18: 8:34
Mile 19: 8:15

Not too bad! I'd slowed up some but I was surprised that all my slugging away to get better on steep trails and hilly stuff in Colorado seemed to have actually resulted in a few deposits in the bank that I was able to cash out during the race today. My legs were heavier still, but I felt very confident on the hills. I actually passed some folks here. At one point I came upon Dick Hoyt pushing his son Rick in his wheelchair. Rick has recently had back surgery, his new wheelchair is heavier, and I found out later that dad Dick thought he might have a hernia. Anyway-you see these guys out there and it definitely makes you pull up, run strong and say "hey, they're hanging tough. If they can, I can."

For some reason, I had a brief moment of thinking I was up all the hills. Then I remembered the Phedippidations podcast where Steve Runner had noted that there was still one more to go when some people think they've climbed all the way up, and I got ready for the last hill. Sure enough, there it was. Short but steep. The crowd was NUTS and I just fed off of that powered up, telling myself that this was it. Just get through it and you're golden. Soak up that energy from the screaming spectators. Up....up...up.....and done. YES.

Mile 20: 8:33

OOF. I was definitely feeling the effort now. Time for that last stretch of the race. My legs were heavier here and I employed the strategy of allowing a bit of a slowdown so I could hopefully save up a little energy to finish strong.

Mile 21: 9:01

I knew I had lots of time left in the bank to BQ again, but was still after a PR (sub 3:36:18.) This was in doubt because I was very tired now, but I knew that if I kept listening to my body and adjusting, I might have a chance. I was able to surge a little bit and pick things up.

Mile 22: 8:18

Yeah, this was hard. My legs were getting heavier, but nothing was outright hurting. I kept concentrating on this mile, and just getting through it.

Mile 23: 8:27

Wow-the crowd energy was insane by now. NUTS. My body was really weakening now but I again focused on relaxing as much as possible, and using that crowd to my advantage. If I saw easily reachable kids, I high-fived them. Every time I heard "looking good, ladies" (because there really were a TON of women out there), I picked it up. It was just cool that I was running Boston in the year when they had their highest number of women ever in the race.

Mile 24: 8:27

I was in heavy leg city here but just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Somehow I was still hanging in there with no imminent collapse even though I'd never felt great at any point during the day.

Mile 25: 8:26

And there it was...the Citgo sign! I knew I still had a ways to go but I truly felt a bit home free now. I was almost to the point of exhaustion but just kept at it with one foot in front of the other, and distracting myself with stuff like "run to that sign!" and "catch up with that lady in green!" I used any and every diversion to kept me blocking out fatigue and a desire to rest.

I knew my husband and fellow runner Judy (who was injured but came to the race weekend to meet everybody and cheer us on) would be somewhere along the curve turning right onto Hereford before that left onto Boylston, and I stayed toward the lefthand side of the road where I was hoping to see them. I came around a corner and there I saw my husband with a sign, and the camera. I grinned and waved like an idiot and it was just enough of a boost to get up the last short hill before heading down Boylston to the finish.

Mile 26: 8:27

Oh, my. They sell that last section to the finish as a pleasant little downhill, but it's kind of like that loooong finish chute at the Canyonlands Half Marathon. The finish looks like it is miles away. One look and listen to the crowd, though, gave me what I needed to finish with nothing left. They were stacked from the barriers all the way back to the sides of the buildings and it was just remarkable to run through that, and have them cheering for all of us coming in. I was just spent but counted down the lightposts coming down the street and said this is it...GO. I lightpost left.......and crossed over the finish mat.

Last .51 miles on the Garmin(um, guess who did a crappy job running tangents? Right here!): 3:37 (a pace of 7:36).

Total Garmin time: 3:37:59 Official time: 3:37:57
In the final stats, this placed me 9441 out of 22540 finishers overall, 2343 out of 9468 female finishers, and 1727 out of 4951 women in the 18-39 open class. I did in fact "beat my bib" and finished in a higher place than the number I was wearing, so that was cool.

Not a PR, and nowhere near the 3:30 target I'd set. It was just 1:39 off my PR, though, another BQ time (unless the BAA decides to change standards dramatically for 2011), second fastest of my four marathons, and I have to say that I think this was my most thoughtful and well-planned marathon to date. I listened to advice from others who knew the course better than me, and thought about how to best apply that to my own running. I paid attention to how I was feeling, tried to make my running feel as smooth and effortless as possible, and used every mind trick in the book when the going got tough.

Of course, there are always going to be areas for improvement. I didn't get quite the training consistency I needed for the entire winter due to those stupid injury issues, and um, let's look again and see that I ran roughly a 26.5 mile race (yeah, give or take since Garmin's not 100% accurate, ever-but clearly I weaved a bit too much). I didn't think I'd want to come back to Boston but now there's a big part of me saying okay, you've run it once. You know what to expect. Train better, come back, get it right and hit that sub-3:30. We'll see-this trip was a big investment, money and time-wise. Still, I'd like to think about going for it again next year if at all possible.

I'm now back on mountain time, and recovering well. I've been pretty darn tired, but getting to sleep in my own bed and see the kids has been great. I know they talk about post-marathon letdown/depression, but that's really not happening. I got to run one of the greatest races in the world with some of the best fans in the world. There's not anything to be bummed out about there. Hopefully, I'll be able to come back and run another Boston or five, but if not, this really was everything I'd hoped it would be. Maybe a few folks out there in the world who watched the race in person or on TV will think "I want to do that some day" and will start their own journey toward a goal that seems daunting at first, but possible over time if they've got the desire and patience to train up for it. It's a great feeling, and well worth the ups and downs along the way.


Mir said...

Great report Karah!! I am SO glad we got to run together for a good bit of the race...wouldn't have been the same without you! I'm so happy that you hung on through those hills and finished strong despite not really feeling it that day. Sometimes I think how we perform on our off days is a better measure of progress than how we do on our pixie dust days. SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!! :D :D :D

L.A. Runner said...

Love, love, LOVE your pictures! You really rocked the race, too! Congrats on a 2nd fastest finish! That's a great accomplishment on such a tough course.

Nat said...

Again, I just adore your outfit! And I am just sick with jealousy that I could be there to run and meet all of you. It just looks/sounds like you all had such an amazing experience.
Congrats on a great marathon and an even more fabulous once in a lifetime experience.

Nat said...

oops, could NOT be there that should read. ugh, sorry.

DogPound said...

awesome report! So glad I finally got to meet you and hope you can make it out again next year.
And man, you have to post your hula dancing picture.

Anonymous said...

Great report! And I love hanging out with you at races.

PS my real blog is, I'm phasing out the livejournal one (although mirroring to it) because it has ads that I find really offensive.

Ovens2Betsy said...

Great report Karah! So sorry we didn't get more of a chance to chat (it was such a whirlwind weekend, wasn't it?) I'm now looking at my options for returning to Boston ;)

Girl In Motion said...

Great job girl! You look fantastic in those photos. It was such a pleasure getting to hang out with you and attach a real person to the internet character I've come to like so much. :-)

Preston said...

Great Race Report!

Black Bear! said...

Hahah I am laughing! I LOVE the pics -- you don't look tired AT ALL.


Black Bear! said...

Correction - I'm not laughing at your time. It is awesome. I just love your RR with everything going on through the whole race. And the hula pics! I love it.

Allie said...

Great race report and even though you didn't PR that was an amazing time! I couldn't imagine running that fast, you're awesome!

Elizabeth said...

Fantastic blog! I really enjoyed reading about your experience. And your photos are so awesome. Congrats on a very well-run race!

Nanookie said...

Way to go! Great pics and it sounds like an even better race. You should be proud.