Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The 118th Boston Marathon

[Note: this was written over the course of 2+ weeks so...excuse any weird jumping around of tenses and overall bad writing. This race report is about remembering all of the ridiculous, perfect stuff that happened out there on the course. And it's really long.]

I made it through the entire day yesterday with only a couple of instances of getting emotional, but now, as I start writing this, and browse through pictures and tweets from yesterday, and kind of process the whole thing, I am finding myself getting choked up. This was not my fastest marathon (although, it was my second fastest, and my fastest ever trip from Hopkinton to Boston, which is saying something). I will never run a PR when it's 70 degrees outside. But this race, god, I fought. And the entire race - the crowds, the emotion, everything - was so incredibly wonderful. And I will never forget what it meant to run Boston 2014.

The days leading up to the race were a bizarre mix of nerves, excitement, and trying to calm myself down. At work on Thursday, I walked in to find the entire clinic decorated with banners, signs, and blue and gold for me (and promptly burst into tears haha). I think that was when everything sort of became real for the first time. It's a good thing I had a light schedule and not much doc to do, because my brain was off on some other planet. I also had to sit through an inservice at the end of the day and I'm not sure I could tell you one thing that I learned from it...oops. Friday was when the nerves started to hit me pretty hard and my body started playing tricks on me - am I feeling stuffed up? What's going on with my hip? Thankfully, by Saturday my nerves had dissolved into mostly excitement and the thrill of being here and doing Boston - actually racing it.
Some of my decorations...so amazing

Saturday was expo day! I headed down to Hynes to meet up with a few of my teammates, and like an idiot managed to make it 90% of the way there before realizing that I had forgotten possibly the only thing I ACTUALLY needed - my number pickup card. Nothing like taking a cab back home from ~2 miles away and then taking the train back downtown - as Andrew called it "that was a $10 mistake". I met up with Joy and Brenda, and after spending some time watching the elite miles, we headed to the expo! The feeling is always so incredibly electric on race weekend, and this year more than ever. The Old South Church near the finish line was handing out scarves to runners to wrap us in courage and love. The woman who gave me mine was so sweet and gave me a hug, telling me "I hope you have the race of your life". That was the first of several times prior to the race that I got just a little teary. The expo was, as usual, completely overwhelming in it's own amazing way. I bought myself several items (including a singlet designed by my friend Brenda!), was told by the nuun sales guy about a "secret" nuun station in the Newton hills, and said hi to another friend who was working at the marathon tours booth. And of course, we took pics.
Expo photo ops. Loved the Mizuno booth "If everybody ran, there'd be 135 million more victory beers"

After the expo I headed back to Joy's place to puffy paint our throwaway clothes for the expo. With the new rules this year, anything that you brought to Hopkinton you either had to wear or toss, so I had spent some time at Goodwill picking out some gloriously tacky warmup apparel. Since we couldn't wear official Greater Boston gear, Joy and I had decided to puffy paint our ridiculous clothes appropriately. This is how, for a brief period of time, I owned tiger striped pants with the words "run like a cheetah, rawr" puffy painted in orange glitter on the butt.

Saturday night I was nicely distracted by dinner with my dad, who came to town for the race, at South End Buttery where I enjoyed some fantastic chicken parm and perhaps a glass of pinot noir. I got a FANTASTIC night's sleep on Saturday night and woke up on Sunday full of all sorts of nervous energy. I got out for my standard 10 minute shakeout run and a couple of strides, then it was off to lunch at The Abbey (coincidentally at mile 23 of the course). There I looked longingly at the jar of sangria behind the bar but settled for iced tea instead. The rest of Sunday was spent watching the Bruins game, playing video games (the only thing that I could actually sustain attention to for more than about 5 minutes...I tried to read a book, would get through approximately 3 pages, and have to go do something else), and watching the last hour of Seabiscuit, which I had fallen asleep watching on Thursday night. Nothing says "prerace movie" like an inspirational story about horse racing...I love that movie.  Andrew also was a wonderful boyfriend and pretty much waited on me all day...prepping our pasta dinner, delivering me nuun to the couch, etc. I got everything prepped to take to the start, racewear and throwaway clothes laid out, Gu set. Nothing left to do but wake up the next morning and run a marathon.
Please take note of the glorious "saber tooth tigerrrr" pants. 

Race Day

Hopkinton (race morning-mile 2)
One of the perks of being in the last wave was that I didn't have to get up at an ungodly hour to make it to the buses on time. My alarm was set for 6:30 but I actually woke up half an hour before - aka, the time I would typically be getting up for work on a Monday. And as I lay in bed, that was sort of what it felt like. I felt calm and sort of like I could very well just be getting up and taking the T to another day on the job. I gathered up my stuff put on my fantastic pants, walked some laps around the living room to try to determine the status of a strange ache in my left hip, and then headed out to get on the T, just as I would on a normal work day. There were a few other runners on my train mixed in with commuters and random people who were headed downtown for one reason or another. If our gear bags and mishmashed clothing didn't give us away, the focused looks, hands gripping bananas and coffee cups, and legs bouncing with nervous energy certainly did. Actually one of the few times I got a little emotional on race day was sitting on the train, flipping through my ipod to some of my power songs from this training cycle. One of them is "This Is The New Year" by A Great Big World, with a pounding beat and the lyrics 'another year you made a promise...another chance to turn it all around...and do not save this for tomorrow...embrace the past and you can live for now...' seeming so fitting for this day.

I made it to the Common with about 5 minutes before I was meeting Joy, so I ducked into Dunkin' Donuts for a coffee. And who should I run into there but my friend James, who was also running the marathon! Kind of an amazing coincidence that we actually happened to cross paths given how many people are running this race. The atmosphere at bus loading was, as always, electric. As a sqaudron of school buses packed with runners began to pull out, crowds of runners and non runners on the sidewalk clapped, cheered, and waved, wishing them well on their journey. I met up with Joy around 8 and we headed onto the bus...and who should I run into on the bus but James, again! Seriously crazy. We found our seats in the back and soon enough we were pulling out onto the highway. Joy and I chatted and made some small talk with the guy I was sitting next to, an older gentleman from California whose son is a huge Green Bay Packers fan...go figure. I was kind of hungry but forced myself to hold off on eating my bagel until 2 hours before race time. 

Of course, the bus ride always seems to take an eternity when you think about the fact that you eventually need to run back the way you came. We finally arrived at the athlete's village and immediately got in line for a porta potty, where we would be hanging out for the next 30 min or so. It was definitely primetime, with wave 1 just leaving the village and waves 2/3/4 all still hanging out. We chatted with the people in line in front of us, women from Iowa and Tennessee. After eventually making it into a porta potty, I came to a horrible discovery...one which I had prepared for in past years but completely neglected this time around...NO TP. And friends, this situation called for TP. I sat for a second considering my options, and then I made a difficult choice...my gray t-shirt which I had so lovingly puffy painted just days before unfortunately ended its journey before anyone really even got to see it. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and luckily I still had my super sweet ELON sweatshirt. Hilariously, at one point a guy excitedly came up to me in the athletes village: "Did you go there? To Elon? I went there!" I had to crush his dreams when I told him that I had in fact just picked up this sweatshirt from Goodwill. He walked away looking a little dejected haha. 

Another perk of being in the last wave was taking advantage of all of the crap people in earlier waves people had left behind. I finally got to achieve my life dream of sitting on an inflatable pool raft prior to a marathon - YES! We made our last minute preparations, I hit the porta potty twice more (another perk of wave 4: at a certain point, pretty much everyone is gone and there are no more lines. Excellent.), did leg swings against a recycling bin, stretched out, and just waited for the signal for us to head to the corrals. I was definitely a little anxious about just how warm the sun was already, but there was nothing to be done for it. Finally, the announcement was made: yellow bibs, corrals 1-3. I said a farewell to my tiger pants and we were off to the start!

The walk from the athlete's village to the start line has always been one of my favorite parts of this race - the energy is just electric and there are people already cheering you on along the road. Almost makes me think of when racehorses walk along the track before a race and people just go crazy. There's always the tent with people giving out gatorade, bandaids, vaseline etc, and then the guys on the other side of the road advertising "beer, cigarettes, and donuts". There was also a trio of ladies doing some sort of 80s Jazzercise type dance on their front porch which was pretty fantastic. In the past, I actually remember it being really, really quiet with everyone kind of alone with their thoughts of what they were about to undertake. In wave 4, the atmosphere was different. The vibe I got was of many people running for the experience, just to finish, to honor a charity or a loved one. Which is amazing, but definitely puts you in a different headspace than the one Joy and I were in as we hoped to gun down PRs. Still, it was hard not to tear up when the Boston Fire Department contingent entered the stream, with shirts honoring the two firemen who lost their lives a few weeks ago (spoiler alert: I did tear up) We shimmied our way up to the very front of corral 2, at which point I found myself standing right next to another friend, Cara, who was also racing - again, what are the odds? Joy and I hugged, checked our shoe laces one more time, and then suddenly the countdown was saying 1 minute to go, I almost started to cry again, 30 seconds, and then the gun.

I knew I was going to have to be calm in the first mile and avoid wasting too much energy dodging people. I remembered advice I had read somewhere to stay out of the middle and so I stuck to the very left edge of the road, which gave me a surprising amount of room to pass people. My first mile was only a touch slower than I would have ideally liked at 7:55, and the crowd had pretty much cleared out by then, so I was pleased to see that the crowds weren't going to be a major factor. I made up the time lost in the first mile during mile 2 with something around a 7:15 - certainly a little quick. I was purely trying to run on feel and stay relaxed, and at the time, this pace felt good. I almost had to laugh as by mile 2 I was running almost by myself with a nice stretch of open road ahead - NOT what I had anticipated with all of my stressing over starting from wave 4.

Ashland (miles 3-5)
It's funny, because in the past I've only remembered the uphills at the beginning of this race (negating the "oh, it's all downhill at the start!" saying), but I was quite enjoying the downhills this year. The uphills provided a nice change of pace and I was settling into a nice groove over the rolling terrain. I came through 5K at 23:xx, somewhere around 7:35 pace. This seemed like a good situation to be in. I had said that if I was going to run a PR I was going to need to go out at pace, since there was no way I was making up time in Newton. So the fates would have to decide how things played out from here. Soon enough I was at the point where we had started our 22 mile long run, and I thought to myself, welp, you know how everything goes from here. I felt smooth and controlled, and as Joy had told me before the race, I was passing people CONSTANTLY. By mile 4 or so I started running into a lot of people walking, which surprised me (already?) until I realized that what I had just run into was actually the back of wave 3. Surrounded by blue bibs, I continued on. I was passed by a GLRR guy who briskly asked me "what are you aiming for?" to which I responded "3:20ish..maybe" before he passed me by. Not sure if he was looking for someone to pace off of or just looking for some running club camaraderie. Around mile 5 I was still solidly hitting pace, passing people left and right, and I started to hear spectators making comments about my yellow bib (my personal favorite: as I passed a cop he did a double take and says "yellow?!") I was feeling great, so excited about the day, to be here and ready to run my best. There was this station just blasting music at the bottom of a hill, and the song that happened to be playing as I went by happened to be Alicia Keys "Girl on Fire". Now, that song hasn't even been on my ipod this cycle, but that was the one moment during the race when I almost burst into tears. I was just feeling so strong and so proud as I powered up that hill and it was truly a beautiful moment. 

Framingham (miles 6-8)
I had mentioned to Joy before the race that I always HATE running through Framingham because it's this long, endless stretch of flat road that seems like a desert, and if the sun's out (which it has been every time I've raced Boston) you feel like you're being fried. However, this year I was feeling good enough during this section of the course that I was able to actually kind of laugh at how much I had hated it in the past. It was like all of a sudden I thought "LOL, look where I am, and I don't feel like shit!" It was also at this point that I happened to spy a familiar GBTC singlet ahead...it was Joy herself! I lost her pretty much immediately at the beginning of the race and I didn't even know she was in front of me so it was fun to see her out there. I immediately ran up beside her and yelled "EFFING FRAMINGHAM" due to the conversation we'd had earlier. I don't know, it seemed inspirational at the time. I asked how things were going and she told me she was trying to keep things conservative. I, on the other hand, was being the exact opposite of conservative and continued on ahead. I just can't stress enough how delightful it was to not feel like death at mile 8 of this marathon. The past 2 times I've done Boston by the time I hit Framingham I was already ready to give it all up. So at least at this point, it seemed like the odds could be swinging in my favor.  My biggest issue with getting through Framingham was that I was weaving all over the place trying to dodge large packs of people. Every couple of minutes I would notice myself doing it (or notice that I had drifted over to the complete opposite side of the road) and I would think to myself, pick a side and stay there, damnit!! Eventually I got over to the far right and decided to hang out there for a bit. I high fived some kids and drunk people and generally enjoyed myself for a bit. I also saw what I think was my favorite sign of the entire race, which said very simply. GO NAD. Again, the excitement of not feeling terrible in Framingham pretty much overpowered any other emotion at that point. As always, I enjoyed the window showroom where a guy on a stepladder is yelling into a microphone "LOOK AT HOW GOOD YOU LOOK! JUST LOOK AT IT!". My 10K split was 47:05, so right on the money from the start. I had locked into that "I could go all day like this pace", and it felt great. 

Natick (miles 8-11)
Out of my previously most hated part of the course and into Natick, a part of the course that I quite enjoy. Santa Claus was hanging out at mile 7 or 8 as (apparently) he does every year, and I also remember someone in a ridiculous duck suit that almost made me burst out laughing. We headed through the little section that runs near Lake Cochituate, and as much as I adore the amazing crowds at Boston, it was sort of pleasant to have just a couple of minutes to take a deep breath in and hear nothing but the pounding of feet. I slowed down a tiny bit from 10K-15K, coming through at 1:11:03 for a 24 min 5K. I think at that point my mental math was like, meh, that's just fine. I made my usual attempt to smile/not look like an idiot for the 15K camera. As I rolled into Natick I would say that I'd downgrade my feelings from "great" to "good", but "good" was still sounding totally OK with me. Just after the 15K mark I saw a familiar looking figure in the distance in a Bruins Foundation shirt...I had to run right up beside him just to make sure, but sure enough it was James! I slapped him on the back (after confirming it was him) as he had told me to do "for energy" when I ran into him in the morning, and I almost burst out laughing when his response was "What?? It's too early!!" Definitely gave me a boost that I was starting to need. Natick Center was actually the only part of the race where I got a little frustrated with the crowds. There were SO many spectators, and it was really just fantastic, but it also seemed to be a place where a lot of people just decided to stop in the middle of the road for no reason, and this was not a time in the race when I was prepared to deal with that. Right around the 10 mile mark was also where the heat/sun went from "meh, it's there" to "definitely noticeable" and I went from feeling pretty comfortable about my 7:35-7:40 pace to not so comfortable at all. I had already been taking water at every single aid station so far and I continued with that pattern, but now with the addition of dumping water on my head every mile as well. It being only mile 10, and me knowing that a) it was only going to get warmer as the race went on, b) that my pace I could sustain at marathon effort was getting slower, and c) that I still had 16 miles in the blazing sun to go, I began to reevaluate.  Without much fanfare I watched the dream of a sub-3:20 go fluttering away. It was just too hot. I was not yet sure what my new goal would be, but it became clear as I ran through Natick that unfortunately, today wasn't going to be a PR day.

Wellesley (miles 12-16)
Damnit, Welleseley. I talk constantly before the race about how much I love running through you, and what do I get in return? My least favorite 4 miles of this race.  All of a sudden, with no particular warning, I became very hot, very thirsty, and very much not enjoying running anymore. It was a strange feeling as I did a systems assessment: Legs - feeling basically fine. Cardio? I'm not even breathing hard. But my general physical state had started to take a turn for the worse. I had kind of had dry mouth since the beginning of the race, and I found myself really, really craving the water stops when they weren't nearby. I was even starting to grab water from random spectators (including one little kid who I totally biffed the handoff with and ended up dumping the entire cup on him...hahaha) I had spent all of this time thinking about and planning my mantras for this race ("This is your story" and "Let it burn"). As it turned out, I used neither of those, and the one that happened to pop into my head at this point in time was a nonsensical quote from Firefly: "It's just an object. Doesn't mean what you think."

In my addled brain, that "object" was each of the mounting symptoms that I was trying to deal with all at once. Side cramp? Just an object. My face is hot? Just an object. I'm feeling dehydrated? Just an object. I tried to compartmentalize my problems: which ones needed to be dealt with immediately, and which ones had to just be put in the pain cave and endured? I was feeling a little lightheaded, a problem which I felt needed to be addressed...so I took off my headband, and instantly felt better. Legs starting to feel tired, on the other hand? Too bad for you legs, DEAL WITH IT. I came through the half at 1:40:45, which is 7:41 pace. I had two realizations at this point, the first being, yeah, you're not speeding up from here. And the second being, you know, self, I think your plan to go out in 1:36 actually made NO SENSE AT ALL (that's 7:20 pace, if you're wondering, and no I can't do math).  Well, OK, now what? Onward, I guess.

 My main recollection of Wellesley is of feeling very hot, and also sort of detached from myself. I was dealing with everything with cold logic: OK, you are slowing down. Well, can you speed up? No, because when you speed up you start getting nauseous and dizzy. OK, then let's not speed up. Keep passing these people. You're not walking yet. Around this time I started to kind of tail this girl wearing neon yellow shorts and a Melanoma Foundation singlet. She seemed to be running around my pace and I latched onto her as someone to drag me along a little bit. I can't even remember if I ever ended up passing her or if I lost her, but it made for a nice distraction either way. As we ran through the park in the middle of Welleseley, I was suddenly jolted out of my bubble by someone SCREAMING my name as I went by. I turned to see one of my co-workers sprinting off the curb, almost bowling over a couple of runners and waving her hands at me.  It was hilarious, and exactly what I needed to snap myself out of the well that I had started falling down into. I started thinking about landmarks, because I've run this part of the course so frequently. Just get to Marathon Sports. Then, nice big downhill. BUT, ugh, then that hill over 95...I tried not to think too far ahead. Get to the next landmark, and deal with whatever problems come up then. 

The gigantic downhill out of Wellesley was a pleasant boost, and my new phrase was "let the hill take you". I felt good for a hot second there, until we started up the overpass to the hill over 95. Interestingly, I felt REALLY strong over the uphills throughout this entire race, and this one was no exception. Sure, I wasn't loving running uphill over the highway, but I distinctly recall thinking to myself "huh, I actually feel kind of good right now". Of course, then we crested the hill and I felt like complete crap again. As I headed down past Newton-Wellesely, all I could think of was the Newton Hills coming up, and feeling this bad/heat exhausted already did not bode well. I thought to myself, well, maybe you can still run like a 3:40 and run a best for the course. I was mentally in a place where I couldn't imagine myself ever feeling better until the race was over. I kept taking in the spectators, the crowds, the blue and yellow "Boston Strong" signs framed against the azure blue sky. It was, truly, a beautiful day. And I thought, well, this might not be the race that you visualized, but you're getting to do this. This one's special.

Newton (miles 16-21)
I finally turned the corner into the Newton hills after feeling like I could see the firehouse for miles away. I began plugging up "ass panther", the first and my least favorite of Newton's onslaught of inclines. I was keeping an eye out for the "secret" nuun station on the left because if I needed one thing at that moment, it was electrolytes, and I needed them STAT. I finally located the nuun near the top of the hill, and, feeling proud that I had somehow just hauled myself up my least favorite hill ever at a RUN despite how shitty I was feeling, I let myself take a 10 second walk break to chug my newfound beverage. That turned out to be a terrible mistake, because as soon as I started to run again I was hit with an absolutely devastating side cramp. I actually think it was the EXACT same spot, both on my body and on the course, where I was hit by one during Boston 2010. I tried, desperately, to detatch myself and breathe it out. "Its just an object...just an object..just an objoh FUCK this!" The more I ran through it, the worse it got, so I gave myself another 10 seconds to pull it together while shoving my fingers as far under my ribcage as they could go. That seemed to alleviated it enough at least for me to start running again, so that's what I did. Shortly after my nuun cramp of death, around mile 19, I passed one of my friends (the fiancee of James) who was cheering on the side of the road. I made some kind of ridiculous face, and she got this picture of me:
I'm only laughing because if I don't I might cry?

On and on. Oddly, for as much as I felt like I was struggling, the hills seemed to pass really quickly, with the uphills seeming shorter than I ever remembered in training. It was actually the downhills that were starting to get rough, and I could feel my quad muscles start to feel like they were on the verge of a cramp (best I can describe, it felt like one of the 4 quad muscles was very quickly spasming over and over again. Wasn't painful - yet - but very bizarre). Still, I was actually amazed to find myself at the bottom of Heartbreak so soon. Only 6 more miles? Well, OK then.

And this, this was The Moment. The moment that I've never had before in a bad race, the one where I've always just been like, meh, it's too hard. I took a look ahead and I gave myself a little internal monologue. This is essentially what ran through my head as I ran up Heartbreak:
 You have 6 miles to run right now. Six. 6 miles over your home course, where you have put in so much damn work over the last 3 months, when it was snowing, raining, there was freaking ice everywhere, when you got caught in a random freak thunderstorm in the middle of February, when you didn't feel like doing it or had better things to do - this, right here, right now, is where all of that is worth it. You can put in the miles all you like, and sure, this sucks that it's 30 degrees warmer than your warmest long run. But right here? Right now? THAT DOESN'T MATTER. This isn't going to be a PR. Fair enough. But shit, are you going to let all that training, all of that work, the heart and soul that you put into this, die out here because mother nature decided to be a cruel bitch? NO. (And then, here's where that mantra finally came into play): This is where you decide. Do you give up and live with the regret, or do you push on as hard as you can and FIGHT for this race that you trained so hard for? Only you can decide...this is your story.

Suddenly it was like all of the detachment from the my legs and the crowds and the heat and everything became too much and it exploded outward. I was so wonderfully aware of the kids handing out freeze pops (you had better believe I ate one), of the cowbells, of the signs, and of the fact that despite the cramps beginning to overtake me, despite the heat and everything else, I felt strong. As I approached the top of Heartbreak I was overjoyed to encounter a guy in full kilt playing the bagpipes - my New Bedford dream, finally come true! I crested the hill with new vigor in my legs. Sure, I wasn't exactly dropping back down to 7:30 pace, but for the first time in quite awhile I felt like finishing strongly was actually a possibility. Now requalifying was at the forefront of my mind, and I would stop at nothing to run under a 3:35. I ran down the BC hill - how many times did I visualize the race playing out here in my mind? I certainly didn't feel as strong as I had imagined all of those times, but I went back to thinking "let the hill take you" and tried to let the massive downhill do all the work. By this point, my quads were just toast. The cramps in my left leg were starting to move from 'uncomfortable/awkward' to 'ouch', and my right leg was starting to join in. But when I reached the bottom of the hill, I noticed something interesting - strangely, from a heat/body standpoint, I was starting to feel better? The pre-heat exhaustion symptoms of nausea and lightheadedness that I had been feeling over the past hour had subsided and I was feeling somewhat like a normal human again. I continued to pass people at a constant rate, which continued to boost my spirits. Maybe I wasn't moving as fast as I wanted to be, but I was moving faster than a lot of people out there at this point in the race.

Brookline (miles 22-25)
As I passed mile 22 and made the turn at the reservoir, the process that had been in motion over the last couple of miles reached a head, and I went from hanging on to actually turning on the gas a little bit. I definitely grinned as I ran down that hill, coasting off the energy of the throngs of people waving signs, hands for high fives, the noise and energy infectious. I knew in that moment that I had made it past the breaking point, and I was going to make it after all. With the crowds getting louder by the second and the knowledge that my cheering sections were ahead, I pushed on, sending positive vibes to my legs. Strong, push off the ground, fast. I need to take a second to talk about the crowds - now, I've done this race twice and I know that the crowds are completely beyond compare. But the thing that got to me this year was how many times I heard spectators saying "thank you" to us. The runners. Thank you for coming back, thank you for not being afraid, thank you for showing the world what we, as a community and a city, are. And I've never been more proud to be wearing my Greater Boston singlet - hearing "Boston Strong!" "Greater Boston!" "Let's go Greater Boston!" "Alright Boston!" all the way along the course, I think my heart got a little bigger every time.  I was too deep in the pain cave during the actual race to fully process it or get emotional about it at the time, but thinking back on it makes me start to tear up a little bit. It was beautiful. The entire mood was just one of such joy, gratefulness, celebration. Because we are here, running together, beneath an azure blue sky.

I stayed to the left side of the road because I knew that's where my friends would be, and sure enough, just before mile 23 I spotted a "hey Audrey, nice legs!" sign and 4 of my Boston Badgers going crazy (apparently one of my friends screamed 'YOU'RE A SEXY BITCH!' but I have no recollection of that lol). And a couple of blocks later, there was Andrew (holding our dog!) and my dad. Words can't express how happy I was to be able to run past them actually feeling strong, even thought I yelled at Andrew "you win, I hate you!" as I went by, in reference to his bet that I would run over a 3:30.  One more little hill to crest and then down, down, down towards Boston. My quads were absolute toast. The cramps were escalating to the point where I had to walk for a few seconds to try to massage the left one out (of course, a moment that MarathonFoto just HAPPENED to catch on film, thanks a lot haha). When I started running again after that, I decided that that was it. My leg could fall off mid stride and I would continue running.
So much exhaustion in that smile, but so much happiness too

The last 2 miles were by far the most joyful, fun last miles of a marathon I've ever run. It was the first time that I've ever hit rock bottom earlier on in a race and then instead of continuing the decline, actually going back uphill. I was giddy with the fact that I had actually picked up the pace again, still passing people after all this time, and I had like 16 minutes left to run. I grabbed a delicious freezy pop from someone - really, isn't there always someone handing out freezy pops on Beacon? And aren't they always the most delicious thing I've ever tasted? At some point after Coolidge Corner, I ran past a man playing "Roll Out The Barrel" on a tuba...not sure if it was the Wisconsin connotations of that song, or just the fact that it was a guy playing the tuba, but I absolutely was grinning from ear to ear. I could see the Citgo sign in the distance, and the steep uphill that precedes it. And I knew that for the first time, I was going to RUN up that hill and crest it with pride. There was a moment - I can't quite remember if it was on Beacon, or running through Kenmore - when I literally closed my eyes for a second and thought to myself: "Remember this. Remember this moment, and how you feel. Soak it in. Because it really doesn't get much better than this." The crowd was somehow managing to become even MORE intense as we approached Kenmore, which hardly seemed possible given how insane Beacon had been. And there it is, the Citgo sign, and 1 mile to go, and this is just going to be the most wonderful mile you've ever run in your life. (I'm actually tearing up as I remember this, no joke).

So there I am, running through that tunnel under Mass Ave when suddenly the roar in your ears is replaced with a moment of silence, like a deep breath. There's a sign overhead that says 1K to go. And immediately my mind is back at the track, at dice workout of insanity, at that stupid mile repeats workout, running strong with my teammates. 1000 meters. 5 laps around the indoor track. Finish it strong. Strangely enough at that moment I happened to come across a GBTC master's runner (who I later found out was live-tweeting every mile) and it was just cool to have that moment of recognition with a teammate. Right on Hereford. I'm passing people, still, after all this time, and I know that the next turn, well, it's happening. At some point I think I took a glance at my watch and deep in my brain processed the fact that I was definitely going to go under 3:35, 3:33 was looking like more of a possibility. As I made the turn my entire left leg cramped for a moment - quad, calf, toes, everything. With a little hitch step, I shook it off - that shit could wait. Because now I'm running down Boylston. I'm exhausted, but I feel like I'm sprinting at full out speed. The sky is the most perfect blue, and beyond, the blue and yellow banners are even more perfect. So many people going crazy on the sides of the road; I can see colors in a blur in my periphery. I pass McGreevy's ('the official training restaurant of GBTC'), and I think of it just as I said that I would. I am running past the places where a year ago there was so much devastation, and today there is nothing but glory. The 26 mile sign passes. The arch gets closer and closer. And the pain fades to the background, and all I can feel is joy, pride, love, gratitude. I sprint my heart out and as I cross that blue and yellow line, I essentially blow a kiss to the sky. I've been running for 3 hours, 32 minutes, and 14 seconds. And I am purely happy.

Pure joy.

My joy was multiplied when I realized that I was finally DONE running. I began shuffling through the chute and all of my happiness began bubbling over into talking to the people around me. I grinned at and thanked volunteers. I chatted with people who had finished near me about how warm it had been. I then caught sight of a group of 3 20-something guys on the left side of the fence. One of them was holding a case of Bud Light, and they were screaming at the now-finished runners "WHO WANTS A BEER? YOU DESERVE IT!" I saw a couple of guys veer off towards them and turned around to see a guy shotgunning a beer in his post-marathon poncho. I hesitated. It didn't take more than about 10 seconds to decide that a) this would be a great story and b) I DID deserve it! So I made my way over, received my beer, toasted with the runner next to me, and guys. I can't stand Bud Light, but this...it was ice cold and it was quite possibly the best beer I've ever tasted. I continued to make my way through the chute, randomly taking items that were handed to me and occasionally deciding to take a break from walking on the side of the road. I had plans to meet up with Joy at "the horse statue" back on Dartmouth St. Unfortunately, by the time I came down from my high enough to realize that I should probably leave the chute at some point, I was several blocks in the opposite direction. Longest. walk. ever. The outside of my left foot had randomly started to hurt and my quads were no longer liking the whole "upright" thing. I finally made it to our meeting spot where we lay in the plaza and rehashed the race for a bit. Joy and I had originally planned on grabbing a beer post race, but both of us were so drained that we decided to head home. Walking to the Hynes T stop in my poncho was just the greatest thing ever. When else in life do you get to walk down the street and have random people giving you high fives and congratulating you? I still couldn't stop grinning. 

Post race with my goob in his mylar blanket. This is also the most "liked" photo/status I have ever posted on facebook...lol

Some more things happened after the race. I felt incredibly nauseous (actually, my stomach didn't feel right for about a week and a half after the race) and literally the only thing that tasted good to me was beer. So...I went to the Publick House, and I drank beer! And it was glorious. But the stuff that happened after isn't as important as the stuff that happened during, and before. I may not have met my time goal for this race - but hell, I think I know a single person out of the 30+ people I know who did this who did. I've said this before about Boston, but when I look back on this race I'm not going to remember that 'damn, I was training for a 3:20 and I ran a 3:32'. I'm going to remember the guy playing the tuba, the Elon guy in the athletes village, my self-motivational speech that pushed me over Heartbreak hill and back into the race. The insanity of the spectators, THANKING the runners, and blue and yellow Boston Strong everywhere. And I'm going to remember the training that got me there, which, more than ever, I loved. Every single run. And I'm going to remember how unspeakably proud I am to live in this city, to run for my club, and to have this magnificent race be my "home course", as much of a sneaky bitch as it may be. And since I've already got my qualifier for next year...well...it looks like I'll finally be trying Boston in an odd numbered year. :)

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