My happy list seems to have worked. Seriously, if ever I started to think about the little twinges or aches I was starting to feel, if ever I began focusing on how many miles I still had to run, I just looked down at my arm and thought: “Puppies!” or “Micah!” or “Wait a second, I’m in the middle of a 26.2 mile dance party!” and then everything was all better. Or mostly better. It was an excellent exercise in re-direction, as well as an effective strategy for managing pain.
Note to self: Do that again.
But even before I got to the part about running, marathon day was already going better than expected. Because all 5 of us were sharing a hotel room, Micah and I had to go to bed early and despite pre-race nerves and fears of sleeping through the alarm, I managed to get a decent night’s sleep and to feel rested when I woke up at 4:30. (And yes, I always give myself 2 hours to get ready before I have to leave for the race.) By the time I was about to head out the door at 6:30 to catch a train to catch a bus to get to the start line, the kids were just waking up and I got to give them hugs and kisses goodbye.
A smooth ride to Boston Common and a surprisingly short wait in line to get on the bus (last year I think I stood in line for nearly an hour — this year I got on the first bus that came once I was in line), and I got to spend the next 30 or so minutes talking to Ellen, a nanny from Seattle who was running her first Boston. It turns out her nanny family has 3 kids who matched up in ages almost exactly with my kids, so that was fun. We got off the bus and went our separate ways. I still had about 2 hours before my 10:25 start, so I waited in the porta-potty line, then got a bagel and some water, then waited in a (longer) porta-potty line, then sat down (on some grass) to wait until my wave and corral were called to march the march to the start line.
I’d only been sitting for a moment when who should appear but Christy! The chances of me finding her among the tens of thousands when she didn’t have her phone on her were slim at best, and yet there she was! What a blessing. We waited out the rest of the time together: chatted, wandered, stood in another (even longer) porta-potty line, said a little prayer together, and then discarded our extra clothing on our way to the start line, where we said our good lucks, gave hugs, and parted — she to her corral and me to mine.
The gun for my wave had gone off more than 10 minutes before I started the race, and the actual beginning of the race was 25 minutes before that, so the race clocks were somewhat meaningless to me. I had my phone tracking my pace and progress, but I decided to turn the volume way down low so I couldn’t hear my splits. My hope was to run by feel as much as possible, and to not get so caught up in the splits that I started stressing if I was off or getting slower. I’d read something recently about running in “zones:” the first 14 miles or so of the race should be in the “yellow” zone — a comfortable pace where you can still talk in sentences. The next 10 are in the “orange” zone, in which you push the pace just a little bit more so you aren’t quite able to get a whole sentence out. And the last two miles are the “red” zone, where you give it all you’ve got left.
That sounded great in theory, but I did wonder if increasing the pace would coincide with decreasing energy/fuel levels and end up being a wash. Still, I kept it in mind.
Mostly, however, I tried to stay positive, smile, and soak in the atmosphere. This was pretty easy to do for the first 16 miles. I felt good, I felt strong, I had no complaints. I did miss seeing my family at the 10k and the 13 mile mark (I was looking on the wrong side of the street), but still. Everyone was yelling my name! I was the mostly popular girl on the race course. And knowing that people saw me and were cheering for me was really energizing. I tried to smile and acknowledge and give as many high-fives as I could.
And then, at mile 16, my name tag fell off. And suddenly, the race course was a very lonely, anonymous place. (I remembered later that last year I pinned my name tag on, instead of relying on the athletic tape to hold the whole time. Lesson learned.)
After that I had to focus a little harder on smiling and staying positive. My happy list came in really handy during that time. It was right when I was about to go into the Newton Hills, and lots of people were slowing down. I kept anticipating hitting the wall, feeling tired, wanting to slow down, and I had to talk myself out of it by noticing that I actually felt pretty good and there was no reason not to keep at it.
Micah texted me and let me know that he and the kids would be at mile 22, so I had that to look forward to as well. I pushed up Heartbreak Hill and felt good to have the hardest part behind me. I scanned the crowds along mile 22, but they were pretty thick by then and I didn’t know if I would see them. And then there they were! I didn’t stop to give hugs like I did last year (I was feeling strong and knew I was on PR pace), but it was a boost to see them and to know that I had less than 4 miles to go.
And those last miles flew by. So many people cheering, so many sights and sounds and emotions to absorb. One lady held a sign that said, “Meb won!” I asked her if that was true and when she confirmed that it was, it gave me more fuel to keep pushing the pace. I turned on to Hereford Street and saw one man trip and several other runners stop to help him up. Another man had collapsed in pain just before the final turn onto Boylston Street. I saw the signs marking the 26th mile, and the finish line off in the distance and though it seemed really far away, I knew then that I had made it. I started trying to do some quick math to figure out if I’d been able to break 3:20 and, in my runner’s haze, thought that I had. When I crossed the line and my sister called me, I asked her my time and she said 3:20:40. I was a little confused. And maybe a tad disappointed. But only because of that hazy math I’d done on the fly.
Really, I feel great about how I did. My pace was much more consistent than my other marathons, and, in fact, my last 2 miles were faster than my overall average. I ran my best, felt good the whole time, and came away with a new personal record — and greater determination and hope that I can get into the 3:1X range next time around, or the time after that.
And that, perhaps, is an indication of a really great race: one that leaves you feeling good, but gives you something more to reach for as well.
Shout out to Christy and Madison as well, both of whom were undertrained and coming off injuries. Christy ran a solid 3:42 after spending much of her peak training nursing a cumulative ankle sprain. And Madison gutted out 19 more miles after cramping up at mile 7. Couldn’t be prouder of those ladies and their courage and determination.