Friday, April 22, 2011

"So Simple, Even A Caveman Can Do It"-The 115th Boston Marathon Race Report, Part Two

I know the above to be true, because I saw it go down. More on the caveman later.

When I last left off, it was all puppydogs and hummingbirds and good vibes as wave two began at the 115th Boston Marathon. I really had no way of predicting, though, what my body might do today. I had not run a true long run since the 17-miler I did on March 12th, the week before the Canyonlands Half. I wondered if I'd really been able to hold on to my fitness, or if I was somewhat deconditioned and looking at glycogen depletion some time later in the race no matter how conservatively I paced. With that in mind, I had NO pressure to run faster if I felt good coming out of Hopkinton.

The Boston course has a downhill start, and is notorious for sucking people out fast only to rear its ugly head at those who started too quickly by the time they hit the Newton Hills. Right away, I could tell that my lungs and breathing didn't just feel okay, they really felt terrific. This was a far cry from Canyonlands in March, and also better than I felt at Boston last year. With the three wave start, I also had far more room to move than a year ago when I nearly took out another runner with a slight shift to the left. Throw in the fact that I'd vowed to run with my head, and I felt fantastic through the first four miles. I was checking my Garmin regularly, but not to make sure I was going fast enough. I wanted to make sure I didn't drift too fast down the hills because I felt good. The legs were very fresh. Thinking to the Missoula Marathon last July when I felt rotten for the first four miles, this was encouraging.

Mile 1: 8:08

Mile 2: 8:09

Mile 3: 8:15

Mile 4: 8:13

It was a true relief to not have feelings of impending disaster from the get-go. Yeah, can't tell anything about how the race will play out this early if you're feeling good. Still, it was better than the alternative. Settling into a groove and feeling decent, I was really able to focus outward to enjoy the race atmosphere. There is fan support from beginning to end on the course, but the nice weather this year may have played a part in the crowds being a bit larger and louder. And drunker. Man, these people come out and start drinking EARLY. There were lots of little kids on the course, and when I could get to them easily I'd slap 'em five.

It was amazing to look at the other runners, too, and be in awe of the reasons that some people were running, and how far many had come to be at the Boston Marathon. People ran with the names of relatives and friends for inspiration. Many had fundraised large amounts of money for causes near and dear. There was one guy with a "Thank You Boston EMS and (Hospital Name)-Revived and Recovered" on his shirt. I knew there was someone from Nebraska near me for most of the race because I frequently heard "GOOOO NEBRASKA!" or "NEBRASKA....I'VE HEARD OF THAT PLACE!" There were runners wearing singlets and hats from running clubs all over the U.S. and world, and it was fun to read them all. I observed, or heard fans shouting for runners from (and this will be a partial list...just what I remember) Canada (which reminded me of my Canadian friends and former neighbors Allen and Freda), Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Japan, England, France, Germany, and Scotland (that girl had a kilt and "A Skosh for Scotland-Glasgow to Boston" shirt). Then there were the senior statesmen and women of our sport. Prior age group finishers from the 60+ and 70+ age groups ran with special back bibs that noted their age and status. I saw several women with "F60" on their backs...usually ahead of me and pulling away.

The above was early on in the race. Just a beautiful day out there.

As I moved on along the course, things still felt good. I had a slight but expected slowdown as the ground leveled out. I think this was around the point on the course when I got my first comments on my-er-"colorful" ensemble. I chatted with other runners here and there, which was good...I could do it without feeling like I needed to stop and keel over.

Mile 5: 8:23

Mile 6: 8:17

Mile 7: 8:09

Mile 8: 8:24

Mile 9: 8:18

Mile 10: 8:16

As the scholar and philosophist Madonna once sang, "Don't Stop Me Now, Don't Need To Catch My Breath, I Can Go On and On and On." (She was talking about......dancing. Yeah. Let's just pretend that's what it's about. And that applies to running too.) The good thing is that I was really feeling this today. So far, the ankle was thankfully quiet. I knew that could change in a second, though, and the thought of a DNF or doing something that would put me out of running long-term kept me in check.

In the next few miles, I spotted the Hoyts. They've been running together for years-in fact, my Dad remembers them at races in the DC-area way back in his running days in the 1980's. I spotted them further up in the Newton Hills last year, but Dick Hoyt recently had back surgery and I think it was a lot tougher for him this year. I love that he's still out there, and getting it done, pushing his son, no B.S. Besides the Hoyts, I saw a number of athletes from the Achilles Track Club, whose disabled members compete in mainstream athletic events. Seriously...a runner who could not find inspiration within themselves or surrounding them on the course this Patriots Day would be more or less hopeless.

Mile 11: 8:18

Mile 12: 8:11

Mile 13: 8:19

Almost halfway through, and I still felt good. Rather than feeling de-conditioned, my legs felt fresh and springy. My breathing still felt good, and it wasn't just the sea level factor. Though my pacing was more conservative this year versus Boston 2010, I felt outstanding for this point in the marathon.

Now, things started to get interesting. I heard the crowd going nuts for someone, and turned to look. It's this dude, running barefoot, wearing a long black caveman wig, and wearing nothing but a loincloth and leaf armband. This loincloth was very, very, VERY small. I didn't want to turn and stare but I could see...cheek. I did not crane my neck to get a front view for fear of things I might not be able to unsee. The crowd loved him and he was eating it up.

We were approaching the famed Wellesley College scream tunnel, which meant that little iPod would come out again to record the noise. This is a famous spot on the course where the women of Wellesley College line the course, scream their heads off, and hold signs that say "Kiss Me, I'm _____." Seriously, take your pick. There's every fill-in-the-blank option on a sign there somewhere.

The first of the walking wounded were beginning to appear now. Runners were starting to pull off to the side to stretch, shake out something that hurt, or otherwise work on something that was bugging them. As I've said, sometimes it's your day, and sometimes it's not. Though it had nothing to do with going for a PR or even running faster than my only other Boston run, this was clearly my day. The ankle was still silent. I had energy. Nothing felt icky. And...I was thoroughly enjoying the sights and sounds around me.

Mile 14: 8:23

Mile 15: 8:36

Mile 16: 8:28

Now, we were approaching the famed Newton Hills. There's a lot of talk about these hills from runners regarding their difficulty and size. My take? It's not the size of the hills, but where they fall on the course, and how the runner has paced prior to arriving at said hills. I'll be the first to say that I've got an advantage living where I do. My neighborhood has a name that denotes the hilliness factor, and I've got hilly trail access immediately in front of and behind my home, with the major trail running and mountain biking area in our city about three minutes away. I didn't feel great last year, but the hills still felt decent when I found them. This year, they were really not bad at all. I slowed down just about as much as I expected here, but not any more than that. I could hear my breathing relative to others around me who were panting and overexerting themselves, and mine was quite calm by comparison. I was abiding by the ankle, though, and just enjoyed the fact that I was still on BQ pace and feeling good.

Mile 17: 8:50

Mile 18:8:50

Mile 19: 8:28

Mile 20: 8:38

Mile 21: 9:12

Well, wow. I was now twenty miles in, and no blowup yet. The ankle? Maybe it was whispering a little, but not more than anything else in my body at this point. YES-I was going to finish today. I knew it now. If the ankle freaked out on me, I knew I could still walk it in and log an official finish time. To quote Kevin Smith's directorial debut, "Clerks"-"I'm not even supposed to be here today!" There were people dropping like flies right and left by now. It was warmer, and I'd been meticulous about my fueling strategy, alternating water and electrolyte beverages, stopping at all aid stations, and sucking down a 2x caffeine Gu Roctane every hour. All systems were go, no sign of cramping or stomach upset.

I was feeling fatigued yet invigorated to be so close to the finish, and gave my pace a little punch in the next mile. Felt decent, and I was a mile closer to being through this.

Mile 22: 8:19

Next mile, though, I could feel a little bit of leg heaviness. Nothing that felt like total glycogen depletion, or "hitting the wall" as it's called...just some general fatigue and heaviness. Not sure if this was me dialing back on purpose or just natural attrition at this point in the race, but the next mile was a little slower. Still, I remember how I felt at this point last year, and I was in far better shape. And another mile closer to finishing the race I wasn't supposed to be running until a few days ago.

Mile 23: 8:27

Mile 24: 8:20

Really? A little negative split? I was absolutely dying at this point last year, but focused on a strong finish. This is one of the least scenic parts of the course, and it was obvious to me last year. This year, though, I felt like I was just gathering steam late in the game now that I knew the wheels were not going to come off, and the ankle would tolerate a little bit of a late-race push. Some guy hollered out from the sidelines that he dug my fluorescent orange shoes (I'm not flashy on purpose...just love to race in Newtons, and they don't make anything that just blends into the scenery) and I slapped him a high-five as I ran past.

Eventually, I got my first view of the famed Citgo sign, but knew it was still quite a ways away. I felt REALLY strong...and very emotional when I felt this strength rising in me. This has been a challenging year beyond the injury, but nothing negative had been in my mind at all in this race. I thought about how privileged I was...both physically, and culturally, to be able to run the Boston Marathon. I knew I was lucky, and wanted to appreciate this moment for all it was worth. This is where I saw the woman running in the shirt with "Thank You Dad, Title IX and KV Switzer" on the back. I ran up to her to say that I loved her shirt, and she thanked me with a warm smile.

Mile 25: 8:12

Another negative split, and now it all boiled down to the final 1.2 miles. My running math is terrible so I just wanted to hammer out this last mile like I'd never run a marathon again, and be spent at the finish. I had a huge smile on my face, listening to the crowd and picking it up as much as I could. And then...who is that? It's the Barefoot Running Caveman! We were coming around the right turn together onto Hereford, and he was in full Caveman crowd-pleasing mode. In the back of my head, this evil little impulse came over me to run up behind him and smack his Caveman butt, thus upstaging the caveman show and probably creating a good photo-op for a few people. I reigned myself in, though...after all, that's probably akin to sexual harrassment. So, I just kept going, as hard and fast as I could.

Mile 26: 8:04 (my fastest mile of the race!)

After that, there was no more video, pictures, butt-slapping thoughts, or anything else. It was just me, coming down Boylston Street, overcome with positive emotion. I was smiling like a freak all the way down to the finish, not wishing it all to be over but feeling SO fortunate to have been here at all to race. Don't get me wrong...spectating would have been great, but there was nothing like having this racing experience today.

Garmin's just approximate, and with a crowded race and less than perfect tangent running late in the game, this last split is for .53 miles.

.53: 3:31, or a 6:49 pace.

Finish time at the 115th Boston Marathon by Garmin: 3:41:38. Official race time: 3:41:36. This was good for 2958 by gender, 2130 by division (age group), and 10,976 overall. I was also part of a record-breaking year for female finishers a mere 44 years after Kathrine Switzer broke the gender barrier at this race, with over 10,000 female finishers at the 115th Boston Marathon. Progress, baby.

So, there you have it. Not "How To Run The Boston Marathon Without Even Trying," but "How To Run Boston With The Best That You've Got That Day, And Long Term Running In Mind." I believe that I did this. Half of my friends and medical establishment were telling me not to do it, and the other half were telling me to proceed with caution. I had two weeks of absolutely no physical activity after that spill at the 24 Hours of Moab, and then just two short test runs, two short bike rides and an easy afternoon of cross country skiing in the last ten days prior to the race. It was confusing, and required the most careful consideration out of anything I've done since starting to train seriously four years ago. I'm so glad I took it on, though. Let's just say that Bryan, my physical therapist, won't be craving a cannoli anytime soon. Half a dozen from Mike's Pastry hardly seems adequate for bringing me from spectator to full-fledged Boston running, but it was the best thing I could come up with.

That's all, folks. I'll do one more with some fun pictures and video that involve people a lot faster than my mid-packed behind, and tell the story of the burning question I asked the Barefoot Running Caveman in the finish area.


Girl In Motion said...

I think yours is my favorite Boston report from this year (and you know there are tons). The videos are a great addition, too.

Love your spirit and appreciation for simply being there. Not to mention a fantastic finish time with all you'd been through up to the race. Well done, Karah!!

Rachel said...

Great report and congratulations for running such a smart race! You paced yourself well, paid attention to the ankle and it sounds like you had a great time to boot.

Very curious to hear more about the caveman!

beth said...


AKA Darkwave, AKA Anarcha, AKA Cris. said...

This was fun to read! I'm so happy it worked out for you!

Elizabeth said...

Definitely fun to read. I felt like. Was right there with you! Congrats on a fantastic day!

Rachelle Wardle said...

Thanks for sharing. What an amazing experience.

So crazy about the 'caveman'. Some people just have no shame.

Nanookie said...

Congratulations! Love your race report... it's so inspiring. Best of luck with the remaining rehab on the ankle.

Kendra Stumpf said...

I was the woman at mile 25 wearing the shirt, "Thank You Dad, Title IX & KV Switzer"! I remember you! What a fantastic and surreal day that was! I love your blog about the day, brought back every mile mile for me- awesome writing (thanks for taking the time to do it) enjoyed reading every bit! -Kendra