Friday, April 20, 2012

The Boston Experience

This past weekend I finished the Boston Marathon for the 5th time.  In the days leading up to the race the forecasted  temperature kept rising.  On Saturday the BAA (race organizers) sent out an e-mail offering the option to defer your race entry if you were not in top fitness and warning us that 'speed kills'.  On Sunday the BAA sent out another e-mail which included this:   For the overwhelming majority of those who have entered to participate in the 2012 Boston Marathon, you should adopt the attitude that THIS IS NOT A RACE. It is an experience.  I was not deterred.  I had run a few hot races before including a hot and humid marathon where I was sweating before the start gun.  I adjusted my goals,  hydrated well with sports drink the day before, slathered on sun block, tucked my ice towel into the back of my shirt (an expo purchase, claimed to stay 20 degrees cooler than ambient temp when kept wet), and headed to the start with 2 friends.  I opted to carry my hand held water bottle with me and had a few different things in the pocket:  electrolyte tablets, triple sodium shot blocks, and in case things got really bad I had a $10 Dunkin Donut gift card and $5 cash.  If the heat really got bad, I figured a Coolata might be just the trick.

One final port o potty stop, then we filed into the back of our corral.  The sun was blazing, the volunteers were handing out water to us as we walked to the start line.  Finally about 10 minutes after the gun we crossed the start.  Our plan was to start right around 8 minute miles and see how it felt.  

myself, Ron, and Dan near the 1 mile mark

In the first few miles I reigned us in a few times, trying to make sure we weren't too far under the pace we were shooting for.  Starting out too fast in a marathon can ruin your race, especially on a hot day. We watched so many people pull away, but I was pretty sure we would be seeing many of them later. The miles were slipping by easily, but it was warm.  We hit each water stop and ran through hoses and sprinklers.  Sometimes one of us would move to the side to give the kids high 5s, it would both take some energy, but the energy the crowd gave back was great.  Somehow I didn't notice the biker bar when we ran by.  I did see Santa, the reflective window where we are encouraged to check ourselves out, the kids bouncing on trampolines (Ron ran by them giving high 5s).  I didn't see that many people in costume, but we were running by a joggler for quite a while. My main focus was looking down the road to see where the hoses and sprinklers were.   At one point, looking in front of me, there were almost no runners in the road.  They had all veered left onto the sidewalk to go through a little piece of heaven, the first misting station, a 10 foot long tunnel with many different spray heads raining down blissfully cool water.  I think there ended up being 3 of these along the course, a-mazing!  Also fabulous were the ice cubes some people had.  Whenever I got some ice, most of it went in my sports bra, both front and back.  If I still had more, it went into my water bottle.

I think we all felt pretty good through 10 miles.  Right around that point we caught up with our friend Mike who was eating his way through the course.  At that point he was consuming a popsicle, which he said was his 11th food item.  He stayed with us for a little bit, but had already adopted a run walk strategy, so let us go.  I was starting to feel like I was working to maintain the pace, which isn't good when I hadn't even reached the half way point.  Oh well, at least we were starting to hear Wellesley.  We crested the hill to masses of Wellesley girls, screaming, cheering, holding up all varieties of kiss me signs.  In my past 4 runnings of Boston I had stuck to the left side of the road through Wellesley to avoid the runners slowing for kisses.  I hadn't really thought about it before reaching this point, but I realized I had no real time goals (I was pretty sure 3:30 was being tossed out the window, maybe I could still hold on for 3:40 my qualifying time), the day was going to be tough, why not get my first Wellesley kiss.  I darted right with an exclamation of 'why not' to Ron and Dan.  I'm pretty sure I took the girl by surprise, but I got a kiss on the cheek and was on my way.  

Very shortly after Wellesley, Dan said he would need to slow down.  I knew I was feeling the effort too, I considered shifting into walk run with Dan, but Ron was continuing onward.  I didn't feel that bad, so on I went.  A little after mile 14 I decided to let Ron go and caught up with another friend, Chad, who does not run well in heat.  I walked a little with him and saw a local friend, Laura, just up ahead.  The 3 of us ran and walked together until around mile 16.  We commiserated about the conditions, hit the sprinklers, hit the water stops, and Chad said he would take the T back from mile 17.  

Laura took off ahead and Chad dropped off behind and it was just me heading into the hills.  When I first started to feel the fatigue and the heat, I told myself that I could walk the hills.  Other than while I was drinking, I didn't walk on the hills.  I guess I really wasn't as bad off as many runners out there that day.  I felt hot, but not terrible, my breathing was fine, no dizziness, no cramping, I couldn't tell if I was sweating or not since I kept pouring so much water over myself, no random chills.  I don't think I was really in heat distress, so I kept on trucking.  On the other hand, I also had let go of goals and didn't have the desire to push hard enough to possibly end up in heat distress, so it was a casually moving truck. 

30k, still trying to smile for the cameras
My cousin and her family live in the area and had told me that they would be on the hill between mile 19-20 on the right hand side, so I moved right well before that point and started scanning the crowd.  I kept worrying that I had missed them as I got farther into the mile, but then I heard her voice and saw her boys.  Her husband had a cold wet sponge for me, it was fabulous.  Ok, 3 hills done, only one to go.  This is going to happen.  

I was amazed at how many people were walking, not just on the hills, but wherever.  And I had been seeing many walking from pretty early in the race.  That meant that even with my slow run and walking through water stops, I was passing a lot of people.  One thing that kept playing in the back of my mind was the thought how high can I place.  I knew I wasn't running what I had set out to run, but I also knew I was still running while many others weren't.  At the top of Heartbreak I was pretty sure it should be fairly clear sailing to the finish.  I was debating how much I cared about my finish place.  Caution ended up winning out, I continued casually trucking.  Running down the hill hurt, but not terribly.  The crowd at Boston College was loud and fun.  There were a few people passing me, ones who had a hunger for doing well.  I just watched them go by as I kept moving comfortably.  Still, there were many more people being passed by me than I was passing.  I offered a few of them electrolyte tablets if they looked like they were cramping, but no one took me up on the offer.

The next big milestone for most people is the Citgo sign which is 1 mile from the finish.  For me the Citgo sign was just and indicator that I needed to be running on the left hand side of the road. Not many people were running on this side of the road since there was a little shade on the other side.  I gave high 5s to a bunch of rowdy college kids and they screamed.  I was looking ahead, scanning the crowd.  The thing that we had been talking about for weeks, years even, was just ahead.  I hoped I wouldn't miss my opportunity. I knew i was getting fairly close to a 3:40 finishing time, but this was more important that my time. Then the joy as I spotted him, I had found the right location.  I saw Troy, Ashley, Meg, Rick, our contingent at cannoli corner.  But they weren't looking at the road, so I said (maybe it sounded like a demand) 'Where's my cannoli?'  One was taken out of the ice chest for ma and I was off.  
Where's my cannoli?

Ok, I had my cannoli, I should eat it right?  I took a bite and almost choked, took my last swallow of water from my bottle and proceeded onward periodically raising up the cannoli to the crowd.  Down and up the underpass, lots of people were struggling.  Then the right hand turn was in sight, right on Hereford.  Last year I was flying at this point and quickly on the the Left hand turn for Boyelston.  Not so this year, I was still running, but I really noticed that it was uphill on that section.   Finally, the left hand turn, one long straight away to the finish.  The cannoli was eliciting cheers, I had only lost one glob of ricotta filling.  When I passed the 26 mile mark, I realized I could possibly still get in under 3:40 so I picked it up.  With the cannoli upraised in celebration I finished in 3:39:57 according to my watch (3:39:50 according to my chip.)  I was so glad to be done with that.  Amazingly enough that is my 2nd fastest Boston and I finished in the mid 4000s.  Quite a move up from my bib number.  

Other than running I got to hang out with my cousin and her family, a friend who had moved away, lots of my imaginary running friends, and some of my local crew.  I also spoke to a few people about establishing contacts for selling my prints, delivered some custom t-shirts, delivered many Boston RWOL shirts, and sold a few prints.  All in all, a fabulous weekend with an interesting running experience.  I think this year's Boston colors were a predictor of the weather, not to self:  do not plan on a fast Boston on years with red or orange gear.  



  1. I love it! So glad you were able to take in the experience AND get a qualifying time. Sounds like a blast!

  2. Way to run a smart race in the heat, Heather! Congrats on placing so well and still getting a BQ!

  3. Really nice job Heather! That was definitely an incredibly tough day but you managed to run a smart race (and a fast one too with your BQ). Glad you were able to get your cannoli to top it all off!

  4. You did terrific, congratulations. A great race recap as well!