The Boston Marathon–a High Like No Other

Runners from all over the United States and several other countries are nervously preparing for the 115th Boston Marathon this weekend. The race is always held on Patriot’s Day, which is a Monday, but the city is already buzzing in preparation. Hotels are preparing, flights are full, street closures and detours have the city in a virtual lock-down, and there will be nary a seat in any restaurant that serves pasta on Sunday night.

I was blessed enough to qualify for and run this race in 2009 after a lot of hard work and early a.m. runs, but a fall on a trail run 8 weeks before the race nearly thwarted my plans. I tore several ligaments, but fortunately, after three weeks completely off, I was back at the training with 5 weeks to go before Boston. Just hearing and reading up on all the last minute news this week has me reminiscing. Qualifying times are strict, and have just gotten more so due to the popularity of the race. It was all-consuming at times, trying to qualify, but I guess that is what made it that much sweeter. Nothing worth it ever comes easily. I am certain my family was glad when I could finally lay that goal to rest.

Luckily for me at the time, my sister was already working and living in Providence, just a quick trip into the city for the race, so we had a free place to stay during part of our trip; not to mention the joy of having your loved ones around you during such a momentous occasion. We headed into the city on Sunday to hit the expo, and the fun began.

I am not typically much of an expo kind of gal, but the expo at Boston puts all others to shame. There are scores of famous runners, new gear, brand new products, ground- breaking shoe technology, and of course a beer den. I was pretty amped up in terms of being a bit jittery, and so I kind of flew through the expo, got my race packet and we moved on. In retrospect,  I wish I would have stayed longer and savored all the excitement, but I had three non-runners waiting for me and I just felt the need to get it over with.

Due to some chilly weather and the fullness of every single restaurant, we just settled in at a chain where I could grab some pasta and protein and get back to the room. My husband and I were staying right across the street from the host hotel, and my sister and brother in law were going to meet up with him in the morning to at least see me at the finish. As we got back to our hotel, I was crabby because I was a bucket full of nerves and I remember picking a dumb fight with my husband and then basically crying myself to sleep with only 5 hours left to go before my alarm went off. Not a good start. In fact, my worst pre-race day ever.

The buses leave extremely early from the city for the long ride out to Hopkinton. It was pretty chilly, about 40 degrees and they drop you off approximately 2 hours before the race at least. There is no indoor shelter, except for a small gym with people giving massages, but the lines were over an hour long, so I didn’t even try. I knew as soon as I did, the starting gun would fire and I would miss my start. I hunkered down behind some building for shelter from the wind, ate my bagel and peanut butter and banana, and tried to keep warm and calm. I had resigned myself not to worry about time or pace for this race. The goal was to get here. I was going to settle into whatever felt like a comfortable pace, not looking at my Garmin, and just run. I had music, but I wasn’t going to listen to it until the last 12 miles or so. I really wanted to see the sights, feel the energy of all the good souls who come out and cheer, take in the epic route, and just give thanks that I was able to do this thing for which I had shed plenty of blood, sweat, and tears. Literally.

I remember hearing a warning sign or somebody on a microphone, herding us toward the official starting place. There were so many people and the street seemed so narrow. I worked to find my corral and settled in. Five minutes seemed like an hour and suddenly, POP! Off went the gun. The cheers were deafening and both sides of the tree-lined streets were packed 5 or 10 deep with well wishers, volunteers and spectators. Five miles flew by, I had no idea of my pace, but it felt good. We ran through Framingham and into Natick. I high fived about 200 kids at least. This was about enjoying the moment and I sure was. Still, at some point, I think it was mile 10 or so, I thought, “Damn, I am running the Boston Marathon, but it is still hard! I have 16 to go!” I accidentally saw my time on one of the huge time clocks at the half-way point, but those clocks begin right when the gun goes off, and it takes a while to actually cross the start. So, since I had told myself I was not going to look at my Garmin, the time seemed normal for where I usually was at the mid-point of a marathon. I certainly wasn’t impressing myself by any means.

The weather temperature-wise was okay, about 43 or so with clouds overhead. However the wind was really starting to pick up. I noticed it intermittently, but then became distracted by throngs of people yelling my name (people tell you to write your name on your shirt, so I duck -taped it on and it lasted about 14 or so miles). I saw a ton of smiling kids offering oranges, popsickles, Gu’s, water. I saw thousands of volunteers with such happy faces. I saw biker bars with the occupants sitting on the outside drinking beers and cheering on runners; I saw nursing homes, with the residents blanketed up and sitting in wheelchairs on the lawn.  There were signs galore, cheerleaders, American flags, cowbells, music, and the reverberation of thousands of feet, pat, pat, pat, clomping down on the road.

After Natick, came Wellesley, with their famous females cheering and kissing any male (or female) runners for that extra high. Every single new town had new spectators. Not an inch of the course was blank. It was, in a word, fantastic. The high of Wellesley lasted a few miles and then….and then I heard my name, but it sounded familiar. I turned to see my sis, brother- in- law, and hubby yelling for me! How in the world??? If you could imagine all the road closures and the fact that none of them was familiar with the route, not to mention the timing and predicting where I would be when, well, it seemed like a miracle. They took a subway, and then got help from some cabbie who promised to get them there. I stopped to hug them all and discard my long sleeve, and trudged on. That high lasted another mile or two.

I had a friend that lived in the area agree to meet me around 17 or 18 to “run me in.” I was turning the corner by the infamous fire station and out of nowhere, there she was. We didn’t say a word at first, she just hopped in next to me, right at my pace, and distracted me as we headed into the famous Heartbreak Hill. “You could get a PR, you know,” she said.

“Huh?” I responded. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you are on your way to a serious P.R!”

I looked down at my Garmin for the first time. Now, if you haven’t tried to calculate splits, Garmin time, miles left to go, and mile per minute pace at 18 or so miles into a 26.2 mile race, let’s just say, it’s pretty hard, and I am not bad at math. It took me quit a bit….pause, pause… “Holy s**$!!, I could PR at Boston!!!”

“I know, that’s what I told you, now let’s go!”  My friend, Kristina, kept pace just in front of me, trying to get me to chase her up the hills and trying to block some of the now 15-25 mile/hour wind gusts. “Just this little one, then you are basically done.” However, the “little one” was Heartbreak, and we hadn’t finished the rest of the hills through Newton. It worked though, I kind of kept my head down, and Heartbreak seemed like no big D.

Time passed. I was feeling the pace now, and worse, I knew what it was and exactly how far I had to keep it up. I started the mental torture….”this is hard, who cares if I P.R.? It was supposed to be for fun, I kind of want to puke, I really want to stop, it is windy, it’s starting to rain, what can I eat tonight, why am I here, is she speeding up?, am I slowing down?, I stink…..” You know, the negative self chatter in which we all engage? Well, it can get pretty nasty during mile 23 or so of a marathon.

Though it seemed like hours, soon we were turning onto Beacon street, with just a little bit to go. Spectators were bursting at the fences, yelling and screaming and cheering; at least 10 deep on both sides. People were hanging off of balconies, hanging out on rooftops. It was electric. Kelly Clarkson was beating out “Since Youv’e Been Gone” on my ipod and I could see the street raise slightly. The finish was just ahead, clear for the huge banners, blue and yellow baloons, and throngs of people and music and microphoned announcers. And then, and then, I crossed that line, arms raised, smiling from ear to ear, and crying just as quickly.

A 7 minute P.R.–not seemingly that big of a deal, but a big deal to me as my last 3 marathons had been within 2 minutes of eachother.  It was my fastest marathon to date, on a difficult course in less than ideal conditions, but the sweetness of that moment happening where and when it did, will never be lost on me. I had just run the 113th Boston marathon, and I would never forget it.

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