Boston was amazing this past weekend. Runners from all over the world took over the city in blue and yellow jackets from previous marathons and this year's green and black gear. Course veterans happily struck up conversations in the hotel elevator and in line for Starbucks. It was awesome to be surrounded by people with brilliant advice on stretching, apparel, and nutrition. I've never felt more connected to the running community—these are my peeps, yo!
The race itself was hard. But like all of life's challenges it was full of lessons. Here's what I came away with on Monday April 18, 2011:
I can rely on my dad for a wake up call My alarms (I set two for fear of one not being enough) went off at 5:30am on the dot. I hit the snooze buttons on both and debated whether or not I could actually afford to snooze. And then my phone rang—it was my Dad asking me if I'd gotten on the bus yet. My family's motto is "It's better to be early than on time" and my dad wanted to make sure I was on that first bus to Hopkinton. My dad walked me to the start of the Marine Corps Marathon last October, and I think he was a little bummed that he wouldn't be able to see me toe the start line in Boston. This phone call was his way of seeing me off. His 5:32am pep talk: "Don't push yourself so hard that you get injured, but don't take it easy out there either. I'll see you at the finish." (Yeah, he's a good dad, even if he did try to steal my cupcake from Sweet the night before the race.)
Next time I'll pack some utensils I like to have oatmeal before long runs and races (I've mentioned my breakfast habits before), so I was ready with a packet of the instant kind. I used my in-room coffee pot to make hot water and filled a paper cup with oats. That's when I realized I didn't have a spoon. Unfortunately, the condiments box didn't contain one either—just two sugars, two Splendas, and a packet of non-dairy creamer. If you had been in that hotel room with me at 5:45am, you would have seen me shoveling oatmeal into my mouth with the flat-ish end of my toothbrush. I am nothing if not resourceful.
Being a VIP is pretty awesome My job comes with a few perks—clearly, the best one so far was snagging an entry to the Boston Marathon, courtesy of Adidas. (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!) And that bib number came stamped with a little yellow "V," which served as my ticket to the VIP bus, the VIP staging area in the gym of the Hopkinton Middle School, and the VIP tent at the finish line. I had a plush ride to the Athlete's Village, all the Gatorade I could drink in the hours leading up to the start, and a volunteer to cry on when I crossed the finish line in an emotional puddle. (Seriously, Adidas, thank you!)
Runners want to see each other do well In the early miles everyone was smiling. Veterans were advising newbies to take it easy on the down hills. I heard a guy tell one young woman, "You'll want to save strength for what's coming." And the pack around me got excited when spectators shouted updates on what was happening with the elite men and women up front. When the women's race was won there was agreement that we were proud of Desiree Davila for setting the pace and proving that American distance runners are a force. Running a marathon looks like an individual effort from the outside, but if you've ever tackled 26.2 miles you know that it's really a group achievement. We feed off of each other's energy and sometimes a simple, "You've got this!" from the woman next to you is enough to get you to the next water table.
Cherry popsicles are super tasty Somewhere around mile 15 I got a craving for an ice-cold Coca-cola. (The last time this happened I was doing a half marathon that ended in Coney Island, which is practically the fountain soda capital of New York.) Annoyingly, the thought popped into my head that no one would have a Coke waiting for me at the finish and I couldn't get rid of it—it consumed me for several minutes and no amount of singing "Sweet Caroline" would push it away. It was a very negative segment of the run for me. But then, just beyond the 20 mile marker, I spotted a line of kids, each holding out a colorful ice pop and cheering "Go runners!" with the most adorable New England accents (I love how they barely hit their R's). I reached out, shouted "Yay! Cherry!" and was happy again.
The Newton Hills are no joke (but Heartbreak is kind of hilarious) The set of hills beginning around mile 17 broke me. The first one wasn't so bad, it was long but doable followed by some down hill and flat, which gave my legs a brief break. The next one was tougher: It felt steep, I got slow, and people were passing me, which messed with my head. And then the third one loomed in front of me. My left quad decided to give out and I walked up to the top. When I got to Heartbreak hill, the last of the series, I was "running" and I had to laugh—this hill wasn't the monster I'd made it out to be. Heartbreak really isn't that steep or long, it just happens to be placed in the spot where most marathoners typically hit the wall (mile 21), and it made me think of an annoying little sister who always wins out in the attention game because she's the cutest. (Surprisingly, I don't look that bad in this post-hills shot.)
Finish strong, even if you feel like H-E-double hockey sticks After banging a left on Boylston Street (do I sound like a Bostonian yet?), I could see the finish. It looked far, and I wanted more than anything to walk, but I focused on the giant blue archway and pushed the pace. I must have looked good doing it, because an old-timer (wearing a jacket from 10 years ago) told me, "That was a nice kick!" I looked down at my watch and saw 4:23:44 staring back at me, and in that moment I didn't feel like I deserved his praise. I can't remember if I said thank you, hopefully I at least gave him a smile. It wasn't until later, after gagging and crying to a race volunteer (those people don't get the gratitude they deserve), that I realized I was being too hard on myself. I finished a marathon. I finished THE BOSTON MARATHON! (And I've got the medal to prove it in this photo with Stephanie, publicist extraordinaire for Adidas.)
Boston, I will find my way back to you I now understand why so many runners are obsessed with the Boston Marathon. The course is incredibly hard, but it doesn't leave you with a "one and done" feeling. Sure, the second I crossed the finish line (right before I started gagging) I thought, "Thank God that's over with." And a few hours later, when my legs went into spasm-y cramps after I tried to cross them at the dinner table, I couldn't fathom putting myself through those 26.2 miles again. But the challenge of it sneaks back into your mind and suddenly you find yourself thinking about how you'll train differently next time, wondering what mile 18 would have felt like if you had gone 10 seconds slower in the early miles, and how you might have benefitted from one more GU. At the Boston Athletic Association's Champions Breakfast on Saturday morning, four-time winner Catherine Ndereba summed up the course perfectly when she said, "Experience is the best teacher." Now that I know what to look out for, the next time I run Boston I'll be more prepared.
Set the next challenge immediately Finishing a marathon is kind of a letdown—suddenly the training is over and there's nothing to look forward to anymore. That's why it's a good idea to have your next goal on the calendar before you let someone wrap you in a mylar blanket. On tap for me for the rest of the year: The Hope & Possibility 5-Miler to benefit Achilles in New York City in June, the Hood To Coast Relay in Portland, Oregon at the end of the summer, and the NYC Marathon in November. And don't think I won't be adding more speed work into my routine in hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I'll get there!
Got any fun events on your calendar? What's your next race goal?