First off, I just have to thank everyone for the AMAZING support and comments. The online running community is so. freaking. cool! It really means a lot to have a whole bunch of people picking you back up when a race knocks you down, so thank you all again.
So I'm feeling a little mopey today. I honestly think I would be a little sad even if I had run a good time/PR - I mean, 4 months of training and it's OVER. Of course, it doesn't hurt that my mind is just one big loop of "what could have gone wrong, what happened?" Obviously, it just wasn't my day out there. Running is always, to some extent, a crapshoot. You can train and train, have the most perfect training you can imagine, but if you wake up on race day and for some reason or another your legs just aren't in it, there's nothing you can do about it. It happens to the elites - and they drop out. Well for me that isn't ever an option (much as I would have liked it to be at several points during the race haha) Unfortunately, the experience of "having a bad day" is completely exacerbated in a marathon because...well....it's LONG...and if you are feeling bad early, it's going to be a long, slow death march to the finish. But that's also what makes the marathon so special. Sometimes its just going to suck, but you get through it, you learn from it, and if you're crazy like me, you start thinking about the next one within hours after finishing haha.
So on to the nitty gritty details. Nothing that happened race morning indicated that I was going to have anything other than a good day. My legs felt solid, I had slept reasonably well, and all I had to do was walk out the door and hop on the T - fabulous! I had my usual banana & peanut butter toast, and grabbed another banana and some Gu Chomps for later. I got to Boston Common around 6:15, and immediately encountered the insanity that was 26,000 runners trying to get on buses. Somehow I found my way to a short-ish line and started talking with a girl around my age named Kristen, who would become my athlete's village buddy. The bus ride was like...infinity. By infinity I mean an hour, but sitting on the bus thinking about how you have to RUN the whole damn way back? Umm...yeah.
The athletes village was pretty cool. It was weird having to just kind of chill out for so long before the start, but people watching was pretty entertaining [people who brought inflatable pool toys to lay on = genius!] and there was plenty of free Gatorade and Powerbars to go around. I waited in an INSANELY long/slow moving porta potty line and ended up being extremely glad that I brought my own toilet paper haha...if cross country meets have taught me anything, it's that there's NEVER enough toilet paper when you need it! Time flew pretty fast and soon enough it was time for the second wave to leave the village. It was actually kind of chilly at that point, so I reluctantly dropped my gear bag at the bus and we began the walk to the start.
The atmosphere walking the .7 mile to the start line was absolutely electric. Looking back, that was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole day. Just an endless sea of runners, everyone bouncing with the nervous energy of standing at the start line of a marathon....gloves and sweatshirts flying to the side of the road everywhere, already people out on their lawns wishing good luck...it was really cool. I made my way to the 16000s corral and soon enough - "5 minutes to the start!" Holy crap. I was quite calm, and a little scared - probably my first indication of things to come, since fear isn't really a great emotion to have on the starting line. I figured I would be fine once I started running, and soon enough...we were walking, then shuffling, then crossing the fabled start line...26.2 miles of hell had just begun.
The first mile was a pain in the ass. There were just SO MANY PEOPLE and it was just impossible to find any sort of groove. I kept having to weave around or getting stuck behind groups and it was just annoying having to expend that much energy to find my place in the pack. I went through the first mile in 8:04 and I figured - ok, that's about right - but it hadn't felt as easy as it should have. I chalked it up to dealing with the crowds and continued on.
Whoever says that the first half of the course is all downhill is a liar, liar, pants on fire. There are PLENTY of little rollers to keep you on your toes. My next 2 miles were 7:43 and 7:51, and go ahead and say it - yes, I probably went out too fast. Hindsight IS 20-20 after all. At this point though, I was still feeling OK - not fantastic, and like I probably should relax and slow down, but no major issues with the pace yet. I was still smiling, high fiving kids, and enjoying the shout-outs I got to the "Don't Stop Believin" on the back of my shirt. I also noticed I was hearing a lot of "Go Wisconsin!" cheers coming from up ahead somewhere....I looked up and saw a Wisconsin team singlet bobbing a few meters in front of me! I pulled up alongside the girl and we actually had a brief conversation - turns out, she used to run for the team but now does marathons instead, and she actually knows one of my friends from the track club - such a small world of runners! I pulled ahead, but don't worry, I would see her again before the race was over...mile 4 with that conversation was 7:49. Again, go ahead and yell. I think honestly my thought process at this point was one of knowing that things probably were going to go bad pretty shortly, and that if I could hang with this pace now, I might as well buy myself some time for the horrors to come.
Miles 5 and 6 I remember I thought I slowed down, but really they were 8:04 and 8:06. I was already not feeling great and pretty much knew that 3:30 was out of the question, but I thought holding 8:05-8:10 pace was a solid goal now. I was still having some fun at this point - the crowds were just out of this world, and the whole thing was honestly kind of surreal. I wasn't feeling bad really, but something was just off - no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find that pace where you can just lock in, settle down, and let it ride until the later stages of the race. I couldn't relax and find a groove - and that had me worried. I took a Gu at the 10K which gave me a little bit of a boost, then grabbed some water which I somehow managed to shoot up my nose...that was special haha. Mile 7 was an 8:05, and that was the last reasonable split I was going to see for the day. I noticed that my hamstrings were starting to seize up a bit and overall I just was having dead legs - NOT a good feeling to experience 8 miles into a 26.2 mile race. I tried to slow up the pace a little bit to see if it helped - miles 8 and 9 were 8:16 and 8:13. Alas, no relief. The hamstring cramps were only getting worse and just in general - nothing was feeling right. I had hoped at the start that maybe I just needed awhile to get into the groove, but there was no groove to be found. Suddenly it was looking like it was going to be a very, very long day.
So then, without even trying, I slowed down alarmingly. When I saw an 8:28 for mile 10 I was not pleased, and the 8:34 that followed had me pretty much freaking out. It was way, way, WAY too early for me to feel this way! Like, I had to paste on a game face going under the camera at I think the 15K mark...that's bad news bears right there. I should have been feeling smooth and easy at that point...and the reality was not even close. So...things were not good, and I was worried. Then I had 2 miles in Wellesley where I thought for a minute that maybe it was going to come back. 8:10 and 8:09, the cramps mysteriously dissolved, and I was able to ENJOY the miles at Wellesley College..which was a wonderful thing. My favorite moment of the race for sure. I grinned the whole time, high fived everyone, laughed at the signs (I won't tell your wife! hah), and actually felt hopeful for the first time in awhile. Maybe it had just taken me this long to loosen up - maybe things were going to be okay after all...
Orrrr maybe they were not. I came through the half in 1:46 and that was all well and good - I thought to myself hey, even if you slow down a bit from here, you'll still be solid, and yay, now you're on the course that you've run before! Familiar territory, yay! Mile 14 was 8:13, which I was fine with...and then the wheels really fell off. All of a sudden, the hamstring cramps were back with a VENGEANCE. I mean honestly I can't even describe the feeling. I was immediately struck with just complete terror - the terrain in Wellesley is still pretty forgiving so feeling like this with the big hills still to come? Noooooot good. Around this time, the Wisconsin girl came back up on me and passed me, looking just peachy keen. Damn. Mile 15 I walked through a water stop because I was starting to feel dehydrated and I knew that would only add to my issues if I didn't get some fluids in me - 8:43 for that mile. Mile 16 was the HUGE downhill which I enjoyed primarily because it took some of the agony off my hamstrings and so I was actually able to maintain a normal pace for awhile - 8:24, and actually feeling OK again at that point. The crowds were still amazing and I was trying to take the time to enjoy the signs (After 800 miles of training, what's 26.2 more?) and high five some kids, anything to give myself a boost. But the cramps would. not. stop. I had to walk again through another water stop and so saw my first 9+ mile of the day at 9:15 for mile 17. And then we came up on the hills...and my stomach absolutely decided to reject everything I had done all morning. I have NEVER in my life had to stop and use a porta potty during a race, but honestly at this point it was either that or become one of those people with poop running down their legs that you cringe at when you see pictures of them on the internet. [TMI, I know] The fact that I ran a 9:37 with a restroom stop AND the first of the big Newton Hills astounds me - but wow, that was frustrating.
From that point on, it was pretty much a struggle to survive. My legs were gone beyond the point of repair, my hamstrings scrunched into tiny, death-like balls of pain. I honestly hardly even remember the Newton Hills. I was in such an abyss of pain that it was like I was surrounded with a haze, the stabbing in my hamstrings overriding every other stimulus. The irony is that I remember feeling like the hills wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the cramps. Mile 19 was 8:52 - I bore down a little bit and made myself get through it, but unfortunately that was the last sub-9 mile I would see. I walked through a water stop right before Heartbreak since again, I was feeling dehydration coming back on top of all of my other problems. Started running again and was INSTANTLY hit with the most debilitating side cramp I have ever experienced. Oh my God. I tried squeezing it, I tried stretching it, I tried to run through it, there was just no way. I am pretty sure I may have shouted a couple obscenities as it pulled me up to a walk. This was NOT how this was supposed to be happening! Why was everything going so. incredibly. wrong?
The cramp subsided a bit but thanks to the extensive walk break it caused mile 20 was an abysmal 9:56. I had pretty much resigned myself to a run as much as possible/walk when you have to situation at this point and honestly I think I wound up with a better time this way than I would have if I had just tried to continue running. The pain in my hamstrings was so intense, I can't remember feeling anything vaguely close to that in my life. From what I can remember outside my bubble of suffering, Boston College was AWESOME. Loud, drunk college kids make quite a fantastic cheering section, and since it was a downhill I was actually capable of running for awhile, so I tried to soak it in. I remember one surreal moment when the green line train slowed down so the people on it could watch the runners, so even at my pathetic speed I was beating the train. Mile 21 was a 9:48, walked through a water stop. God, 5 miles to go. Every step was a struggle as I made the turn into Cleveland Circle. The crowds were crazy and it was incredible, and I only wished that I could actually ENJOY this moment instead of being stuck in this God-awful state I was in. I saw the BF with my amazing dinosaur sign, amazingly I was actually running as I went past him, and the only gesture I could think of to sum up my current state was slapping my hand across my face haha. I think in sign language that loosely translates to "DISASTER!" Mile 22 was a 9:30, 23 a 9:39. I seriously can't believe that my splits were even staying that reasonable considering I actually stopped at the side of the road to stretch out my hamstrings at mile 23, and there was plenty of walking going on during those miles - my effing hamstrings were just spasming and now everything else was starting to go to, in the standard breakdown that is mile 23 of a marathon.
But now there were 3 miles to go, and the crowds were getting more intense, and I was going to be damned if I wasn't going to run as much as was physically possible for this last stretch of the race. And I tried to just soak it in and find something, anything, to cherish and savor and keep me going. Then I saw someone handing out icy pops. THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER TASTED! My body had long since given up on accepting "running" food, Gatorade was making me nauseous and the last Gu I took tasted like sticky death. So this magical, cold, sugary pop was like salvation. Run, run, run, walk. Just keep moving forward. Then suddenly I saw a Wisconsin singlet up ahead. Seeing this girl again not only brought out the competitor in me, at long last, but it also made me realize - I am not the only one in this situation. I came up on her and said hi and that I was dying - she responded that she was pretty much the same. I passed her and that became my carrot on the string for the rest of the race -just stay ahead of Wisconsin girl.
Mile 24 was 9:16, I was forcing myself to run more because come on, come ON, we are almost there. Beacon Street just seemed like it was never going to end. I was caught in this bizarre spiral where when I would walk, a lot of people would pass me...but I would start running and pass them back. I knew a PR was gone, that even re-qualifying was gone...all I could do was salvage the end of this race the best I could and try my best to enjoy the moment. 2 miles to go. The bridge over the highway nearly brought me to tears. I just had nothing left, anywhere. Somehow, despite walking up that hill, I found a 9:01 for mile 25. One. God-forsaken. mile. to go. And I was not going to walk. I just would not. It was the most painful mile I have EVER experienced. My face was twisted into a grimace, my hamstrings absolutely felt like they were being stabbed with steak knives, and the rest of my legs weren't far behind. But goddamnit, I was going to run that final stretch. And I did. People around me were pumping up the crowds, all I could do was bear down and focus and hope that my legs just didn't suddenly stop under me. The last stretch down Boylston seemed infinitely long, the finish line like a mirage on the horizon that didn't seem to be getting closer. But I ran, I ran, I ran, and finally, with an attempt at a smile that I'm sure more closely resembles a grimace and a fist haphazardly thrown in the air, I crossed the finish line. 3:46:48. Done.
And then everything that wasn't already cramped up did. My lower back. My stomach. My calves. My hip flexors. Everything - spazzing out, complete disaster. In a weird moment of running serendipity, I looked over and saw a guy in brown Vibrams with Luau on his jersey...it was Matt from DailyMile! Somehow, despite the fact that he started 11 corrals back from me and the odds of it are ridiculously low, we ended up crossing the finish line at the same time - crazy! I attempted to talk but eventually just wandered away I think haha. The chute was just neverending. Much as I really wanted my space blanket and my medal and my lunchbox of goodies and my Gatorade, mostly I just wanted - NEEDED - to sit down, or do anything to relieve the nuclear war currently being raged in my hamstrings. Eventually I reached the end - got my bag - and started slowly hobbling to the train station. I knew I should eat something, but I also felt like I was going to puke at any given moment - fantastic stuff I know.
After splatting onto my bed for awhile when I got home, I realized I was hungry. It was weird eating dinner and drinking beer down on Beacon Street where just hours before thousands of people had been running. The aid stations were gone, the porta potties were being trucked out, a few drunken stragglers playing beer pong were all that was left of the marathon crowds. And really, it was a little sad. That letdown after something really big has happened - it's always kind of hard. A good race tempers it a little bit but it's always still there, somehow.
So that was my Boston Marathon. I'll probably do some analysis on here in the days to come but this is getting long and Lost is on soon. :) I think, given the circumstances, I have no idea how I even finished in the time I did. With how bad I felt for such a large percentage of the race, and how much walking I did, the fact that I never cracked 10 minute miles absolutely amazes me. I can't chalk the race up as a total loss because of that. But it is hard - mostly frustrating - to KNOW that I was in shape to run 3:30-3:35 based on my training and tune up races...and have this be the result. There's a quote that "the marathon will humble you" and it's true, especially when you're talking the Boston course. You never know what will happen on any given day and as I said that's part of what gives the marathon it's mystique. I am a little bummed that I didn't manage to requalify for next year...yeah...remember when I said this would be my last marathon for awhile? Somehow, despite the fact that that was the most painful experience I've ever put myself through, I have pretty much already decided to train for Baystate again in the fall, ideally to requalify to run Boston again in the spring. Yes....the marathon has seduced me with its wiles...and looking back on the race achieving the time I did under the circumstances makes me wonder....damn, what could I have done on a GOOD day? But this is the truth: there will be good days, and there will be bad days. Yesterday definitely fell under the bad category. But no one can take my incredible training, the two PRs I gained on the way, or the fact that I'm a Boston Marathon finisher away from me. And I have no doubt in my mind that I'll be back for more.