This was my third time running the Boston marathon, in preparation for the first time (2012) I watched, read, and studied every course description or tour I could find. I am an almost obsessive “visualizer”, mainly because I am easily distracted and typically do things too fast, so there is less chance of breaking something, forgetting something, or hurting myself if I first visualize what I am going to do. I’m not referring to running or even sports exclusively here, I mean everything. Although it is a skill I learned by participating in sports as a child/adolescent/college student, I use it to get through everyday tasks like grocery shopping and answering work emails. I’ll admit that sometimes visualizing the mundane can get you in trouble because it’s easy to think you’ve already completed the things you really only visualized. It can also save your ass when you are alerted to things that you missed or forgot to do.
I bring up this characteristic of mine because I was in a complete panic in the weeks leading up to Boston because I just couldn’t visualize my race. I’ve spent a silly amount of time deconstructing this and will spare you the self-aggrandizement, it suffices to say; I didn’t need to visualize, I needed a guiding principle.
I think I’ve waxed poetic before that one of the best things about the Boston Marathon is that there really is a specific formula to running well on that course. A strategy that isn’t dissimilar from running any marathon but that does have its own special features. To be more specific would a separate long post, so I give you its essence as delivered by Dan Daly:
So, riding on the guiding principle of being the turtle (that is: run smoothly) so you can chase the unicorn, here’s a break down of how my race went.
Pre-Race: At the risk of sounding dramatic, but in an effort to be honest: I really, truly, felt like crap. My training was weird, “intuitive” is the nice, buzz-wordy, way I’ve been describing my plan, but really, it was weird, often desperate, and largely inadequate for my goal of running a PR at 3:10 or under. I had random pains in my guts, my general energy level was low-ish, and my hip girdle, back, and hamstrings have been tight and achey since running Catalina way back in November 2013. I was excited to be in the first corral of wave 2, however, and got up there with the perfect amount of time to spare, just enough to wiggle around a little and chit-chat, but not so much you get nervous or need to pee, again.
My basic plan was to run within myself, that is, to focus on even 7:15 splits if they felt manageable, and not get sucked into the fanfare. I heard someone say to Dan just as I was leaving to walk to the start “I’m going to do what you said and start slow” he immediately correct her saying “no! not slow, SMOOTH!” I let that repeat in my head like an annoying Katy Perry song for the first hour of the race.
From the start through Wellesley (roughly to mile 14): Roughly 2 minutes before our start, I was bending over, doing a makeshift hamstring stretch while trying to avoid getting kicked in the head by other makeshift stretchers, when I heard my name. I looked up, and saw Angie, a fellow Fleet Feet Boston365 participant. It’s always calming to see a familiar face right before the start, and you know, that’s ideally how you want to be recognized, by your ass, right up there in the air. Joking around in those final minutes was a great way to calm down, and prepare to run smoothly, my gage there was that if I was passing people in the first 2.5 miles, then I was going too fast. I think this is a good rule for anyone to follow at Boston. The corrals are seeded with precision, and you’re basically being pushed off a cliff, so I figure, if I am passing people then I am both going too fast, and wasting energy with all the bobbing and weaving.
What I sometimes find so weird and also fascinating about running (any competition really) is that even when you are feeling sub-par, in this case, things feeling heavy and tight, you might still be able to pull off, for a while at least, the performance you want. In this case, what was happening all the way until the other side of the scream tunnel, was that I felt like I had a level of discomfort that I could tolerate for 3 hours and 10 minutes, but that if I pushed it even the tiniest bit too hard, it would all fall apart. The problem was judging what “a tiny bit too hard” was, because I kept dipping perilously close to a 7 minute/mi pace, then reminded myself that I had to run smooth like a Turtle and then in the last miles I could chase the Unicorn.
Getting through the Newton Hills (mile 14 – 21): There is a really important aspect of the Boston Marathon course that tends to get glossed over. There are not ONLY hills between miles 16 and 21. The course sort of rolls and ungulates the entire 26.2 miles. I was tired of hills by mile 4. I even indulged in the thought of “hmm, I swear the course is more hilly this year…” (NOT a good sign) Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t very big hills, but the level of tension in my back and hips was such that every incline and decline sent me into a panic of anxiety that something was going to cramp, or worse actually snap. My family was planning to be just after the turn at the Firehouse, so immediately after Wellesley I started focusing on that. Repeating in my mind over and over “turn right, stay to the right, high-five time”. Just after Wellesley was also the point where my guiding principle shifted from the “turtle” phase, to the “shark phase”, I wasn’t focused any longer on running smooth and controlled, well, controlled yes, but I started passing people intentionally, and targeting people to slowly chip away at passing. I also started to find it harder and harder to stay at or below my goal 7:15 pace. Each hill seriously threatened to end my race.
Some Bootleg Runner’s who travelled from Chicago, and some teammates family members were stationed for spectating somewhere in the mile 18-19 range, and my family was right after them, my memory is a little foggy here but about a half mile or so before I saw my friends someone had a sign that read “MED WON!”. As I said, I was starting to struggle, trying as I was to “be the shark”, I got so overjoyed when I saw that sign that I unleashed the Kraken a bit too early, and way too intensely. I covered the next tear-jerking 3/4ths of a mile at faster than my 10k PR pace (that is to say, sub 6:30). For a fleeting moment, once I gathered myself and slowed down, this was hugely encouraging, maybe I could still run a sub 3:10 today! But no, about 5 steps later I had crippling side pain. I get these, in my right side, often, they’re not exactly side stitches, but rather come from my back and psoas, and are more cramp-like. Anyway, I worked through it.
When I saw my friends I screamed at them “MEB WON!” and they cheered back. Another brief boost. Then the last hill before Heartbreak, where my family was standing about halfway up. I tried to look tough, and got the high fives. Then cried, of course. It’s impossible to really illustrate to non-runners how much that 2 seconds of interaction with those you love most mid-race means. (So, Mom, Dad, Jorge. Thanks for being there!)
Heartbreak hill seemed like no problem in 2012 (the heat was more of a concern that time) and 2013. But this year, holy shit, I thought it was never going to end. But it did, and it was time to see if the ol’ Kraken felt like helping a Unicorn chaser out.
That last 5 miles: It turns out that the Kraken went back to sleep, or something. In 2012 and 2013 I remember the last 5 miles to be totally intoxicating because the intensity and size of the crowds grew and you just got lifted up. This year, there was so much extra support along every mile (which, don’t get me wrong, was amazing and heart warming), that I was sort of numb to it by the time I got to Boston College. I knew there was no way I was running at 3:10 and, as a runner will do, I focused on squeaking in a PR. Every quarter-mile I tried to surge to freshen my legs, and when that inevitably failed, I took inventory head to toe to see what I could relax, or fix. But that Kraken, he just wasn’t playing, I felt more fear of failing than inspiration or drive for succeeding, loathe as I am to admit it.
Finally, I was under the CITGO sign, and I put huge effort into no longer thinking, fixing, or planning , and thought, “ok just run, now, 1 mile, run fast, you sprinted when you heard about Meb’s victory, so clearly you love to do this, and can give it more, so just fucking go faster!” Yah, nope. Nothing. No fight left in me. Eventually those beloved last two turns came, I was able to pick it up a little by glaring like freaking Cyclops at the finish line. The most thrill I felt at this point was when I heard my named called by the announcer a few hundred feet from finishing.
I managed a 59 seconds PR. 3:12:45
I’m not exactly disappointed, but I am dissatisfied. I can tell, and I bet those who know me well can tell too, looking at the race photos, how uncomfortable I was physically, and mentally, and that is something that is wrong with my training right now, and I need to figure it out. That said, one of the best parts of my marathoning journey so far has been the friendships, and the celebrations, and I am totally satisfied with that!
We are now at the almost exact halfway point between the Boston Marathon, and Grandma’s Marathon on June 21st. Oh, right, I forgot to tell you, I am running the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth next month thanks to Bib Rave! (so please check them out here!)