I'll be completely honest: I know I put goals out into the universe for this race, and talked about how I needed to believe that I could get there. But for all that talk, all that psyching myself up? I really didn't think that it was possible for Boston to be a PR course for me, let alone with the addition of rain and a headwind. Even the morning of the race, talking to my teammate on the bus out to Hopkinton, I was kind of thinking, well, I wouldn't be surprised if I ran like a 3:25 today. And I would be OK with that. And even during the race itself, as the splits kept clicking off and things unfolded in front of me, it wasn't until mile 22 that I even allowed myself to believe just a little bit, and it took all the way until mile 24 for me to have the thought cross my mind like a ticker tape: Holy shit. This is it. This, right now, is the day that you break 3:20. This is a PR race. You are PRing right now, at this moment. This is a thing that is happening.
But to get there, to mile 24 and the epiphany and crossing the finish line and staring down with tears in my eyes as I saw 3:17 staring back at me from my watch, we have to go back to the beginning, and if you've ever read a race report by me before, you know that that's going to take quite a long time. So, here goes.
The final week of taper was interesting, to say the least. I had the bottom of my 7.5 year relationship drop out from under me about 3 weeks before the race, with the final 'we're actually splitting up' conversation happening the Sunday before. So, that was fun. As a coping strategy, I poured every ounce of my energy into preparation and envisioning the perfection that I hoped Monday would bring. At the same time, I was watching with increasing concern as the weather turned from perfection (50, cloudy, calm) to a bit more frightening (still 50, but raining and most concerningly, with a 20 mph headwind). The amount of sports psychology I did to myself as a result of the forecasted headwind was pretty intense. I talked myself into believing that 20 mph really wasn't that much of a headwind. I came up with a mantra for it - "Wind doesn't stop fire, it strengthens it". My taper week runs all were basically OK, nothing particularly good or bad about them. I had the standard weird taper pains - my back one day, my foot another, the beginnings of a cold that had me sucking down zinc lozenges and drinking about 6 bottles of water each workday - but I continued to try to shut down the negative thoughts and focus solely on the positive. I was prepared. I was ready. I was healthy.
My dad and his wife came into town for the race again this year, and again this was a nice distraction. We went to the Sox game on Friday which they won in a walk off single in the bottom of the 9th, pretty bad ass and a good omen I felt. I headed to the expo on Saturday after lunch at Cambridge Brewing Co. with my dad and as always, as soon as I got off the train at Copley I was immediately hit by chills, nerves, and an inability to stop smiling. There is NOTHING like Boston Marathon weekend. It being my 4th go-round at this race didn't decrease the excitement at all; in fact, if anything, it made it cooler. I felt like a veteran in my 2010 jacket, like someone who knows the ropes. I don't think it will matter how many times I do this race, the moment when the volunteer hands you your bib number is just like, AH. YES. I wandered around the expo a bit, spent some money (typical), and ran into a master's runner from my team. We chatted briefly about the weather ("Are you kidding? Let's call it what it is, CRAP. This is hypothermia weather for sure.")
After finally deciding I had obtained enough swag I headed to the DailyMile meetup for a bit where I was terrified I wouldn't know anyone but really shouldn't have worried, as I had a total blast enjoying a Sam Adams 26.2 and hanging out with Laura and Norman, who are both crazy fast and as awesome in person as they seem on the internet. On the bus headed back to Cambridge I ran into another GBTC runner, who I didn't know probably because I haven't been to practice in a million years, and we chatted about the race and of course, the weather. The whole weekend in Boston was so gorgeous for being outside and hanging out (though personally, I was throwing out thank you's to the weather gods that this was NOT the weather on race day, given my track record with sunny marathons), but the weather for Monday was definitely on everyone's minds. "Birthday" dinner (it's in May, but I won't be seeing the fam before then) with my dad at Catalyst in Kendall Square was another excellent distraction from this...duck egg carbonara with homemade pasta and chorizo? Best carb load of my life. Being that it was my "birthday" (thank you, Dad) my dessert came with a candle in it and whether it was my birthday or not I think we can all guess what I wished for...
Sunday was when excitement finally gave way to the standard taper panic, which came to a head when I couldn't find my racing socks ANYWHERE. Obviously this was not a hard problem to solve; I can access CitySports and I know what brand/style they are...but I was absolutely having a meltdown. It was, as my now-roommate said "a special kind of crazy". Once I had the correct socks in hand I felt much better, and began going about the lengthy process of getting my crap organized for athlete's village/racing attire/drop bag for Monday. I stayed pretty low key Monday night and just ate some pasta at home (major perks of this being my 'home' course), watched Mockingjay, and went to bed around 10, but not before setting 3 alarms. It never really gets any less weird going to bed in my own bed, and knowing that I'm going to wake up the next morning and instead of going to work, will be running a world major marathon.
Throwaway clothes and bib person...almost equally important haha
I clearly should not have worried about setting 3 alarms, because my first alarm was set to go off at 6:10 and I woke up at 5:19 am and absolutely could not fall back asleep. I tossed and turned for awhile, abducted the dog from his bed and forced him to cuddle with me for awhile, and then finally gave up and started getting ready. I checked the weather one more time - yup, still 20 mph headwind, yay! I devoted probably a lot more time than was strictly necessary to taking ridiculous selfies/mirror selfies, because this is the 21st century and who doesn't love absurd race morning pics? This was also a useful way to calm down the pre-race nerves, which strangely weren't rearing their heads too much yet.
This is my life and these are my choices hahaha
I used the 10 minute walk from my apartment to the T to pump some jams ("Into the Fire", "Raging Fire", and "Fireball"...because, yeah), grabbed an iced coffee at Dunkin', and got on the T which was FULL of runners, along with many people just headed to work. I love the electric energy of being on public transit filled with people who are about to put themselves through the same insane thing as you are, and in the morning everything is still all full of possibility. No one has had a bad race, no one's gotten injured or had to drop out, it's all just electricity. We are HERE. I listened to "First Date" by Blink-182 as I have prior to every race I've run since I was 14 and hilariously ran into a friend of mine who was just headed into work. By the time I got off at the Common I was pumped up to say the least, and as I followed the sea of runners out of the MBTA tunnel, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. God, the electricity of race morning! Is there anything else like it? I knew I was going to have to sacrifice my phone to bag drop sooner rather than later, so I cued up the #1 song of this training cycle, Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips and walked grinning towards the bag check area. Bag drop went off uneventfully, and amazingly, so did meeting up with my teammate Brianna. And with that, we headed onto the bus that would take us to Hopkinton. Here we go.
As usual, the ride to Hopkinton seemed to take foreverrrrrr. Brianna and I chatted about random things, past marathons, goals for the race, and of course, the weather. As we rode down the highway, rain started spattering the front window and a hush fell over the bus. Brianna and I were just like...welp. That's happening. It did stop by the time we got to the Athlete's Village but by that point the wind was also starting to kick up and it was becoming clear that this was going to be a raw day. Still, I wasn't hot! I actually needed my throwaway clothes! And that made me not even care about the chilly wind. Even walking under the Athlete's Village arch, I still didn't quite feel like this was really happening. I'm...racing a marathon? How did this happen? How did we get here? When we arrived in the village we immediately hit the porta potty line, which was quite a long and not entirely pleasant experience since I really had to pee after the long journey on the school bus. It was also 8:45, time to eat my bagel...which I had toasted, and then allowed to get cold over the last 2 hours. Do you know how disgusting a once toasted, now cold bagel is? SO DISGUSTING. I gnawed sadly on my bagel, and trust me, it took quite a bit of mental fortitude to force it down...but I did, because that's what I eat before a marathon. After a successful trip to the porta potty, Brianna and I went and briefly hung out in one of the tents. Wave 1 was already being called up to the start and time seemed to be flying - we were there for just enough time for me to organize my Gu in my various pockets/armwarmers, do a few leg swings, and stretch out my hamstrings before they were calling wave 2. I was in wave 5 and Brianna was further back, so I left her when they called for 5. I was on my own now.
The walk from the athletes village to the start will ALWAYS be one of my very favorite parts of the race, and while the crowds were a little more sparse than last year given the weather, the energy was still amazing. Since I was running out of wave 4 last year, the vibe was totally different - in wave 2, people are qualifiers and are there to run fast. There were plenty of yard parties going on with people handing out high fives from the hand that wasn't holding a beer - people after my Wisconsin heart! I made the snap decision to stop at the house that always has everything you could ever need for a marathon (sharpies, hair ties, vaseline, water, etc) to write "MAKE EM BELIEVE" on my leg. As we continued to make our way towards the corrals, you could faintly hear the loudspeaker announcing the elite men (I could vaguely hear Meb being called to the start) and then we heard the gun go for Wave 1, which sent up a low murmur, followed by cheers. The race had begun, and soon enough it would be our turn to begin the journey to Boston. I veered off into the supermarket parking lot for one last porta potty trip, then rejoined the herd, gradually ditching my throwaway gear as I went. I hung on to my leopard print pants and My Little Pony shirt all the way into corral 5 (I'd like to think that people were impressed by my fashion choices), finally ditching them when 5 minutes to the start was called. There were plenty of people who matched my racing attire in singlets, shorts, and arm warmers so I didn't feel like the only crazy who was running near naked in the delightfully 'crisp' weather. The 40 minutes that elapsed between being called out of the village and the gun going off seemed to last about 5 seconds - and it's that weird thing before a race where there's a big part of you that just wants to get ON with it already, but another part of you that wants to wait just a little longer because you don't want to find out what's going to happen just yet. But whether or not we were ready..."Two minutes to the start of Wave 2. One minute to the start. 30 seconds...this will be the last announcement before the gun..." And then, crack, and a roar.
We started moving towards the start line gradually, with volunteers and spectators offering high fives and encouragement, sending us on our way in style. I could see the start pillar approaching, and about 2 minutes after the gun had fired, there I was, crossing the starting mats again. The start of a marathon - is there anywhere so full of fear, excitement, possibility? ANYTHING could happen from here on out, and it all starts now, this very second. And so I started my watch and I ran.
[Italics are my visualization that I wrote out before the race...it's actually a little bit scary how PERFECTLY I executed this race to what I visualized]
Hopkinton: I am excited, but calm. I am NOT afraid. I am soaking in the joy around me. When the gun goes off, I am relaxed, smooth. 7:30s to 7:40 like it's nothing. I don't get carried away. I am focused and ready.
5K (7:47, 7:28, 7:26, 5K split 23:37)
I had decided before the race that I was going to stay on the left side of the road, no excuses whatsoever. I have had a MAJOR problem with weaving like a dumb dumb for no particular reason at this race in the past and I wasn't going to let that happen last year (not to mention, I figured if the wind was coming from the south east, it would be hitting from the right side of the course...aka if I was on the left there would be more people between me and the wind. Logical? I don't know haha.) I finally felt adequately prepared for the insanity of the first mile and just tried to relax to the max. We passed the house that always flies a Wisconsin flag during the first mile, and I screamed "ON WISCONSIN!" Over the first couple of miles, my legs didn't feel particularly great - there was some tightness in my left high hamstring that I really wasn't liking, but I figured it would pass. At this moment I just wanted to stay calm and relaxed, stay on the left side, and not get tripped or do anything stupid. I was running right along the edge of the road so I took the opportunity to high five a bunch of kids and just smile. I smiled A LOT during this race. I couldn't decide what to think when I saw my first mile split - part of me was thrilled that I hadn't gone out like a total maniac, but another part of me was kind of like...oh, well I hope that that's not as fast as I can go today. I didn't consciously pick it up or anything, but as the course continued downhill and the pack started to spread out a little bit I found a little bit more of a rhythm, and the next 2 splits were starting to look slightly more like the splits I was looking for. Still, I was feeling cautions - DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST was blinking like a giant red light in my brain, and I felt like I was walking the line between overconfidence and underconfidence. So I figured that as long as I was still feeling relaxed, that I would assume that I wasn't being an idiot. The most memorable thing that happened during these miles was getting tripped by someone cutting over to the water station and somehow managing not to go down - very happy for my quick balance reactions, because that would have been awful. I was definitely still kind of stressed about the whole pacing of the thing and whether or not I was doing it right. And so, a thought popped into my head, a thought that I would repeat to myself probably 100 times during the remainder of the race. And that thought was this: "You're a PONY!"
Now, what the hell does "You're a PONY!" mean? I think in the moment I was thinking about "you aren't going to feel like a magical pony the entire race", and then my brain decided that being relaxed was like being a pony. Ponies are happy and they prance, and that's what I wanted to feel like? I don't know. I've tried to figure it out but I just can't. But for the rest of the race, every time I started to feel a little tense, or like something was cramping, or nervous about a split, or getting tired, I repeated over and over: "You're a PONY". And as really really strange as that mantra is....guys...it REALLY worked, as I would find out soon.
I came through the 5K in 23:37, a 7:35 average pace and actually SLOWER than I went out in last year...which I'm going to go ahead and file under Things I've Finally Learned After Running Boston 4 Times. Remember how everyone says don't go out hard? Like, seriously for realizies, don't. I wasn't good enough at math to know the exact pace at the time, but I was a little nervous. I knew that 7:37 pace was what I was looking for to go under 3:20, however, I also knew that I had made it my mission to go out conservatively. But my brain was fighting with itself a little bit - you actually think you're going to pick it UP and then maintain for the rest of the race? Are you insane? Do you not know there's a 20 mph headwind? vs. This is the strategy that you chose, and you are doing EXACTLY what you want to do right now. So I did the only logical thing: I told my brain to shut up, and I decided to be a pony for awhile. Time would tell what would happen; right now, I was running.
Ashland: I am still totally relaxed, running easily. I start to grab water once in awhile. I soak in the crowd's energy but don't let it carry me away. Breathe. 5K in 23:13-23:30, perfect. I feel strong and tall.
10K (7:27, 7:32, 7:28, 10K split 47:08/23:31)
5K to 10K went by INCREDIBLY quickly. I was still feeling nicely relaxed, enjoying myself, and soaking in the crowd energy. Somewhere shortly after mile 3 I ran past a house that had music playing and what song was it? DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'. Not only that, but it happened to be playing my favorite part of the song: "Paying anything to roll the dice, just one more time". I haven't heard that song during a race since my last marathon PR race (I guess I should have known then, this was gonna be a good day). There was quite a bit of music playing throughout this stretch, including the first of many Sweet Carolines (quite fun because despite the fact that we were running a 7:30 pace, a decent chunk of the runners, including myself, still yelled along with SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!). Around mile 5, a couple of things happened - I spotted a familiar figure in red up ahead - BRIANNA! I couldn't believe it - she had started behind me and I hadn't seen her anywhere, so it was quite fun to come up behind her and run next to her for a bit. We chatted briefly - she said she had gone out pretty fast, and asked me how I was. "Just chillin'!" I replied, trying not to get sucked into her slightly faster pace. I let her go out ahead of me again; trying to pick it up had made me feel like I was straining a bit and that wasn't what I wanted to feel at this point in the race. Run your own race Zaferos...run your own race. You're a pony. I told myself that I would see her later, and kept on bopping along. The sign for Framingham arrived more quickly than I remember, and another of my favorite training songs, "Taking Care of Business", was blasting from a speaker. During this chunk of the race I was also running near a girl wearing a unicorn hat and wings, who I heard referred to as "fairy", "angel", "pegasus", "unicorn", and "wings" from spectators...while it was extremely tempting to speed up and pass her, I once again reminded myself that all of the people streaming by me at the moment were going to come back to me later. You're a pony. Relax. The fun part is still a long way off. I took my first Gu (caramel machiatto) at the water station after mile 5 and it went down without issue. Check and check.
Framingham: I let my pace even out on the long, flat stretch. I run even effort on the rises - just like Stu's, 7:40 up, 7:20 down. I still feel strong and relaxed. I am not weaving around. 10K 46-47 minutes. On target, feeling amazing. I refocus during the quiet of Lake C as we rise into Natick. 15K 1:09-1:11. The photo op at 15K shows a runner in her element - relaxed, focused, strong.
15K (7:28, 7:33, 7:27, 15K split 1:10:31/23:23)
By this point my Garmin was already off the mile markers and I kept missing my splits, so I really had no concept of how things were going. I didn't feel like I had slowed down, and I still felt relaxed, so I pretty much just assumed that things were still going well. Once upon a time, this section of the course through Framingham made me want to gouge my eyeballs out. Today? It felt like it passed in about 14 seconds, and MAN was it more enjoyable not dying a slow and painful death under the beating sun. I think this was the first of many times during the race that I thought to myself how great it was to NOT be hot. The city even looked different under cloudy skies; less like a barren wasteland and more like a lovely flat road. I had also started my last long run at the Framingham train station, so from this point onward I had run the course fairly recently and I knew what I was in for. What I did NOT remember from previous years was how drunk and raucous the spectators of Framingham are. Again, I felt like the numbers were down a little bit from past years but the people who were out were going absolutely CRAZY. The smell of beer was in the air and life was good. I saw a guy holding his dog up on it's hind legs to 'high five' runners going past - I was actually bummed that at that moment I was too far from the curb, because I can't say I've ever had a dog high five me during a race before!
While I was greatly enjoying the rowdy spectators, there were moments during Framingham where I got a little bit nervous about how things were going to play out. I actually started noticing my quads a little bit during this section, which is veeeeery slightly downhill. Strangely, I actually found myself wanting to get OFF the downhill and into some little rollers - luckily, my wish was granted with some of the little inclines that come on the way from Framingham towards Natick. I immediately started feeling better once there was more variability in the terrain, but the feeling of potential quad cramps at mile 7 was enough to motivate me to grab some Gatorade at the next aid station, and to be glad that my next Gu had extra electrolytes. Past the little Wendy's hill, past the Planet Fitness, past the VFW post with a sign for a "MEAT SHOOT" that never fails to make me laugh, I ran on. Again, in what felt like no time at all, we were at the 9 mile mark and Lake Cochicuate, with the lovely 15K photo op coming up. EVERY YEAR I have to fake looking like I'm enjoying myself at this camera - well, not this year. I was actually kind of giggling to myself...like...muahaha, I actually feel really relaxed and good right now, and I think I'm going to continue to feel relaxed and good. Also right before the camera was someone with a sign that said "Your ass looks GREAT", which I'm pretty sure I'm actually giggling at in the photo. By this point it had started raining on and off a little bit, not enough to really be annoying but enough to sort of think to yourself, oh Mother Nature, you saucy wench you.
Natick: I am calm on the incline to Natick Center. It is cloudy and I am comfortable. I channel the quiet of my last long run. My Gu boosts me up the hill towards Wellesley. My legs feel strong, I am keeping the pace relaxed. I am ready for Wellesely.
20K (7:29, 7:32, 7:24, 20K split 1:33:46/23:15)
When you've run a course more than once, there are spots along the way where visions of your past self come back to haunt you, the debris of the moments when things went to hell all scattered along the pathway. Framingham was this place in 2010, and 2012 was over before it even started. We were now approaching the moment where I watched my PR dreams go out the window in 2014: mile 10, and Natick Center. Admittedly, this gave me a little twinge of nerves, since I had been feeling GREAT in 2014 right up until the point where I didn't. Currently, I was still feeling great and relaxed. But was that point ahead? I didn't know yet, and it didn't matter yet. Stay relaxed, you're a PONY. As we approached the church tower and the crowds began to grow stronger, I took a moment to thank whatever weather gods, running gods, or magical fairies had allowed this day to be cool and cloudy. I was so, SO grateful to NOT BE HOT. The weather was definitely taking a turn for the shittier, but it wasn't bothering me much and it didn't seem to be bothering the spectators either, because the crowds in Natick were great. There was a giant Vegas-style "Welcome to Natick" sign and an Elvis impersonator up on a platform...I couldn't remember, is this always something they do in Natick? Or was I really just too miserable to EVER notice it before? Whichever it was, I got a kick out of it. I started to feel the pace sneak up as the roar became more intense, and I tired to back off from the point where I started to feel like I was pushing. Not time yet. You're a pony right now. You're a pony, and there's a lot of time to go.
As we left Natick center I'll admit that I had what was one of my only slightly dark moments of the race. At the current moment, I knew I was running really well, but I was just so worried because of how this race had turned out every single year I'd run it in the past...I couldn't even begin to think about any times or finishes or anything of that nature. 16 miles is a long way to go, no matter where you are. The demons started stirring a little bit, and honestly it probably wasn't a bad thing that by this point I had lost track of most of my splits, because if I'd seen them I probably would have panicked and gotten worried over whether or not I'd be able to hold them. As it was, I stuffed the voices in my head that were telling me that there was still plenty of time to blow up back into the dusty corner where they belonged and overpowered them with my pony power. And again, amazingly? It REALLY helped. I immediately felt my body relax, and I refocused on the inclines leading out of Natick ahead and the fact that it was almost time to take another Gu. In perfect timing, right around that particular moment a guy in a blue shirt came up on my left and started a conversation. "Hey, how are you doing?" he asked. I wasn't really sure what he was trying to achieve by asking this, but to reassure myself as much as him I replied "Good! Just trying to stay relaxed. It's my 4th time doing this, and I really want to have something left in Newton." (Let this be recorded as the most consecutive words that have EVER left my mouth during a race of any kind). The gentleman replied: "Well, you LOOK relaxed. You look strong!" So, have you ever had someone tell you EXACTLY what you needed to hear at a certain moment in life? Thanks, guy in the blue shirt. The hills leading out of Natick past the liquor store and into the Wellesley campus seemed significantly less annoying than they had on my last long run, just blips in the radar and a nice opportunity to use some different muscles. Into the forest, into Wellesley...is it really possible that we're here, already?
They always say you can hear the roar of Wellesely a mile ahead, and yet I'm always still surprised when that's true. And when the mile 12 marker showed up out of nowhere, I literally yelped, to no one in particular, "that was quick!!" I heard a fan yell "Go Badgers!" to someone nearby, so I put in a little surge to level up with a guy in a red Wisconsin shirt (seriously, what? Initiating conversation in a race? Who AM I?) and said "On, Wisconsin! Make 'em believe!", gesturing to my leg, and the Wisconsin basketball slogan. We then hilariously had a little conversation about how the Badgers deserved a trophy for the season that they had, and that gave me all the boost I needed heading into Wellesley. Being on the left side put me a little further away from the roar, but I still made an effort to watch the signs and hoped to see a guy stop for a kiss (drawbacks of wave 2: no one did). My personal favorite sign which actually got a giggle out of me was "Kiss me, I'm wet!...because rain...DUH". More proof that my sense of humor reverts to that of a teenage boy at far too many points in my life. Up out of Welleseley College we ran, past the roar. I had some great random fans on the left give me some resounding "GREATER BOSTONNNNN!" cheers as I cruised up the hill. Here we were, at the point where things had really all gone to hell last year. And all I could think of was one thing: Wellesely, we have a score to settle.
Wellesely: I soak in the energy of the fans and the runners around me as I pass the half on perfect pace in 1:38. Wellesley is long and rollling, but I have prepared for this. I lock into a calm frame of mind and maintain - through the town, the park, the other part of town, and then down. If I am feeling good, I put in a little extra push through here. I relax and let the downhill take me, push me up and over the highway. I am running proud and free, standing tall, and I refuse to let the hill intimidate me.
25K (7:18, , HALF 1:38:47, 7:25, 7:31, 25K split 1:56:55/23:09)
Oh man, well speaking of insane crowds that I never noticed when I was having a shitty race in the past, Wellesley-the city, not just the college? AMAZING. So, so loud and exciting. I was a little surprised at my 7:18 split but I figured that the crowds of the scream tunnel were bound to give me a little extra something, and I didn't feel any worse for the wear so I didn't really worry about it. Just more money in the bank. I had actually been slowly but surely reeling Brianna in again over the previous stretch and after losing her for a bit after a water stop I found her again somewhere right around the half marathon mark. I asked her how she was doing...and I couldn't even hear her response, that's how loud the crowds were. The moment I passed her and then passed the half in a 1:38:xx was the first time I got just the teensiest shiver of excitement and of emotion related to how my race was going. It dawned on me that so far, things were going EXACTLY as I had planned. The rain was continuing on and off and I was sort of subconsciously aware that wind was a thing that existed around me, but for some reason I physically refused to notice it's existence. Here I was at the halfway point, and still I was on pace, and still I was feeling really, really good. And for just a second, I wanted to burst into tears from how purely perfect it all was. These people are here, cheering for you, and you are running well; you deserve these cheers. You're about to settle your score with Wellesley, and I think you're going to do the rest of this race that you love so much right. But I only let myself think that for a second; the second half of a marathon is a hell of a lot longer than the first, and the real race was only beginning. So what did I turn my thoughts to? Why, "You're a PONY", of course.
In a complete reversal from last year, the entirety of Wellesely passed INCREDIBLY quickly. One minute I was immersed in these insane crowds; what seemed like about 7 seconds later I was running past the Whole Foods and the park where my co-worker saw me and went totally crazy last year. Somehow, the pace I was running still felt pretty damn relaxed. I definitely wouldn't say it was EASY anymore, but relaxed? Definitely. I still really didn't have a great idea of what my splits were since I still kept missing my Garmin bleeping at me (as if I'd be able to hear it...yeah right). I don't remember having a whole lot of thoughts in Wellesely, aside from the occasional "You're a pony". I would literally start to feel a little bit tired and then I'd remind myself that I was a pony and snap out of it. It was really, really weird but kind of hilarious. I took another gel at the mile 15 water stop, and soon enough we had passed the 15 mile marker and it was time to bomb down the mega-hill...only, because I apparently earned my ability to be a smart racer when I turned 27, I did not go screaming down the hill but instead just kind of let it take me, trying to just keep my legs under me and not go overstriding or braking like crazy. I knew that as soon as this downhill was over, it was time for the real deal nitty gritty portion of the race to begin. And that beginning was the hill over 128.
Newton: I NEVER back down. I fight my way up Ass Panther, then put it behind me. I am thinking positive, strong thoughts. Just like Stu's I keep running by effort, embracing the crowds and these fabled hills. I am well hydrated and the perfect temperature. I am working, but I remain relaxed. I cross 20 miles in a new PR of 2:30, and I have more left to give. I focus on my breathing and posture as I crest Heartbreak and fly past BC. Now, it is time.
30K (7:16, 7:37, 7:21, 30K split 2:20:27/23:28)
I was so, so prepared for the hill up over the highway to suck. I was prepared for the crosswind to hit like crazy and I was prepared to be tired and not excited to run uphill, just as I had every other time I've run this race. So imagine my complete surprise when the hill over 128 DID NOT SUCK. In fact, I felt absurdly strong going up and over and still had no concept of the fact that there was wind. (Seriously, am I insane? Was I literally just that numb that I couldn't feel it?) And here was another moment - as I came over the crest thinking to myself "128 hill, you ain't no thang" - that I thought you know, I think today might be a Good Day. But still, miles and miles to go. I knew that my dad was planning on cheering at Woodland, so I briefly went over to the right side of the road to scan for them as I ran through Newton. This was INCREDIBLY distracting and it was also somewhat disorienting to be scanning a crowd that all looked very similar in their raincoats and umbrellas looking for a very specific person. I actually thought I saw my dad at one point, but it turned out to just be a dude who looked very similar to my dad. This was also the point in the course where they were handing out gels, and I was so distracted and zoned in on looking for my dad that I only remember 2 things about this section: a volunteer yelling "ANYONE NEED CAFFEINE?" and the fact that I was running behind 2 girls in matching red, white, and blue outfits. It had started raining again, and I was suddenly aware that I was completely soaking wet - shoes, bib number, hair, everything. Had it really been raining that much? It didn't really seem like it had, but given my lack of awareness of the elements there probably could have been a tornado and I would have barely batted an eye. Is this what it is to be in the zone?
Speaking of being in the zone, despite the fact that I had felt sort of odd throughout mile 16-17, my legs had recovered from all previous cramping issues and my general aerobic status felt excellent. In short, I was still feeling GOOD. And what perfect timing to feel good, because up in the distance I could see that fated turn, where every year prior I have been defeated and beaten. It was time to pass the Newton firehouse, and to go into the fire, for real. My inner pony became a little more badass at this point. All right, Ass Panther. I am a magical god damn pony, and I am about to DESTROY you. I flew into the turn, turned my eyes ahead, and POWERED up Ass Panther hill (there's a long explanation why I call it that, just go with it).
|I think this face says "I've got this".|
Oh my God. I AM RUNNING UP ASS PANTHER HILL AND I AM FEELING GREAT! This is what my brain was telling me as my body did just that. I couldn't believe it. For all of the times that I said that I was going to do this, actually doing it was almost like an out of body experience. Of course, the out of body experience may also have been due to the fact that it was around this time when I realized that I pretty much couldn't feel my body anymore. I literally could not feel my shorts on my legs; for all I knew, I could have been naked. As soon as I made the turn into the hills the weather kicked up the shitty by another order of magnitude, and it was here that the wind finally made its presence known to me. Oh, hello, wind, so nice of you to join me during the hardest part of the course. After cresting Ass Panther I locked into cruise control mode for the next couple of miles. I was enjoying my spot on the far left of the course, but I also find myself ducking behind tall men (just as I said I would) whenever I would get hit with a blast of wind. I 'befriended' a guy in a neon yellow shirt and decided to just lock in and stare at the back of his Nike shirt for awhile. Through mile 18 and 19, sure, I was starting to feel it a little bit. I was trying to smile at as many spectators as I could, and acknowledge anyone and everyone who gave me a Greater Boston shoutout, but it was becoming just a little bit tougher to find the energy to smile, or give a thumbs up, or contort my increasingly frozen face into something that wasn't a crazy grimace. But hey, 8 miles to go? That's easy! 8 miles is nothing! You're a pony, remember?
35K (7:31, 7:36, 7:42, 35K split 2:44:15/23:48)
I passed the 30K mark in around 2:20, which I knew was very close to my recent PR at Stu's. Though I had no clue what any of my recent splits had been, I knew this: I was still running somewhere in the neighborhood of 7:30 pace. And I still didn't feel like I was on the red line. And all of these things were making me feel pretty fucking awesome. While the crowds may have been a little more sparse than in past years as a result of the rain, people were still out in force and totally rowdy throughout the Newton hills, and for the first time ever I was in a state to actually kind of enjoy it. I saw some great signs during the stretch leading up to Heartbreak: "Heartbreak = Fart Break", a giant hot pink sign on a tree that just said "DON'T POOP", and my personal favorite "Don't be a Seahawk, RUN IT IN!" As we headed up the hill before Heartbreak, a couple of things happened. I overheard a guy behind me ask someone "Is this it? Is this Heartbreak?" The person he was answering gave a somewhat non-committal answer, and I didn't want the poor guy to think this was it. So I turned and said that no, Heartbreak was up ahead. AND THEN: "I like to call this one 'Heartache'" YES!! I have been waiting to use that line since I came up with it in like 2009 (when I wanted to go do a hill workout on Heartbreak, didn't know where it was, and ended up doing my repeats on this hill before figuring out that it wasn't, in fact, Heartbreak -proof). I was positively giddy to be able to share it with a fellow marathoner and he totally got a laugh out of it. Meanwhile, "Heartache" itself wasn't feeling like much of an issue at all. As I continued up, I looked ahead to see yet another familiar singlet up ahead - here was Victoria, another teammate. The crowd seemed to enjoy seeing two Greater Boston singlets together, and we got a few "nice pack!" and "Way to work together!" cheers, which my cross country heart still loves, even now. Throughout the Newton hills, at each aid station I pretty much felt like a rock star, with every. single. volunteer screaming something related to Greater Boston as I ran by. It was just so damn cool. Looming in the distance was Heartbreak, and I knew: if I could hold on to the top of this hill, the world was mine for the taking from there on out.
I passed mile 20 somewhere in the 2:30-2:31 region (my Garmin buzzed a 2:29:44, but it was consistently registering ahead of the mile markers by this point so I couldn't give it much thought - Garmin distance doesn't matter, real race distance does). Still, a couple of things crossed my mind. First and foremost: HOW DID I GET TO MILE 20 SO QUICKLY?! I was almost like...a little bit sad about it! Not that my actual time was fast of course, but the fact that the whole race was going by so quickly as I perceived it. Soon it would be over, and I think I knew that I was experiencing something special, and I wasn't ready for it to end just yet. On the other side of the coin was the realization that I actually hadn't fallen off pace. At all. And that my legs, numb as they were, were still feeling remarkably good. And then, for the first time in 4 tries, I ran all the way up and over Heartbreak Hill, strong, proud, tall. I smiled. I powered past other runners. Finally, FINALLY I was doing it. I was really, really doing it. What more is there to say? It was hard, of course, my slowest split of the day aside from my first. But as I look back on these splits I realize: my SLOWEST split, up Heartbreak hill, was the average pace of my previous PR marathon. Holy shit. I could see the green light at the intersection that marks the top of the hill; like Gatsby I focused my eyes on the green light and pushed forward. And as I crested the hill I knew this: now or never.
Brookline/Boston: I have 5 miles to go, and I have enough left to turn on the gas. My conservative start has left me with a fire in my legs and in my heart. I am steady through Cemetary mile and as we hit Beacon I pick up the pace. A straight shot I know so well, each rise and fall. I am flying, with tired but strong legs. I am filled with joy. I crest the mile 25 hill powerfully, legs pushing me onward. Under the bridge, I gradually start to kick. By the time I hit Boylston I am utterly flying and I know I have done it. I see the 3:1x:xx. It is perfect.
40K (7:20, 7:20, 7:20, 40K split 3:07:22/23:07)
With the threat of burnt out quads behind me, I absolutely allowed myself to go screaming down the BC hill. Beer fueled Hash House Harriers and college students as my soundtrack, I flew, letting the wind hit my face. LET IT! I didn't care. I had made it through the Newton hills, those evil dream crushers and the place where PR hopes go to die, unscathed. Here was where the time for being a fun loving, magical relaxed pony ended. Here and now was the time to RACE. And so the mantra that entered my mind as I accelerated out of BC and into the cemetary mile was another nonsensical and yet completely appropriate phrase: Fuck the document.
Before the race I had reread "Running With The Buffaloes", which is a chronicle of the season of the 1998 Colorado men's cross country team, and a book that typically makes me want to go train at a ridiculous intensity. At some point during the book, the coach gets extremely fired up about something (can't recall if it was a workout or race) and says "Fuck the document!" - referring to, I assume, forgetting about the assigned paces or what the workout says and just GOING for it. And here it was: I don't care what anyone says about the weather, what I thought I could do, what the course is, or anyone saying today isn't a PR day. Fuck the document, and let's go. And I went.
I don't remember the next mile very well at all. I consciously picked up the pace and was shocked to find that it didn't really feel all that bad to do so. Pain was definitely starting to come into the picture, and I was numb and cold and wet, and the crowds had subsided in this area and I was just running. No, I was RACING. For the first time in my entire life, at mile 21+ of a marathon, I wasn't just surviving, I was racing. 22 mile mark. 4 miles to go. For the first time all race, I started trying to do math, and I found that my brain couldn't even function enough to do so. The question in my mind was: how close am I? Though I was feeling good enough at the time, you still never know what could happen over the last few miles of a marathon and I couldn't bring myself to think that anything was a guarantee...unfortunately, whether due to cold, fatigue, or something else, I could not figure out the math of how quickly I would need to run the next 4 miles. The thought vaguely broadcast itself through my head: "You could slow down to 10 minute pace and you would run a 3:24". This information was surprising, but I also couldn't really make meaning out of it. If I could slow down and run a 3:24, what does it mean if I keep speeding up?
The turn into Cleveland Circle was, as always, a massive highlight, as this is where the crowd really starts to escalate and it's your last turn before the right on Hereford. Coming down the hill I almost ate it as I heard someone yell "THERE'S A PUDDLE", stupidly tried to avoid the puddle, almost tripped on a railroad tie, and ended up running through the giant puddle anyway lol. We made the turn onto Beacon and I suddenly realized that I was actually for serious almost done with this race. And I actually for serious did not feel like total shit. I did get a HORRIBLE side stitch right before the 23 mile mark which gave a moment of panic. No no no no this is not going to end this way. And I absolutely DUG my hand into my side, took a deep breath let go. Fuck, still there. Once more...and then, like absolute magic, the cramp dissolved. (I can still feel where it was today, 3 days later, but that's another story haha). I kept running down Beacon, keeping an eye out for both my friends and my dad who I knew were going to be there near mile 23. I didn't see or hear either of them, but right now that was OK. This race was about me. Fuck the document. Time to prove who you are. Up the little rise and then down into Coolidge Corner, where a crowd of GBTC runners were still hanging out and gave me a great welcome. Off in the distance, as you always can far to early, I could see the Citgo sign. And I knew it was pretty much all downhill from here.
FINISH (7:16, 7:17, 7:09 pace end)
And all of sudden, finally, here at the 24 mile mark, my math skills kicked back into gear and I realized something. Blasting through my brain was this thought: holy shit, today is the day. Today is the day you PR, and today, April 20, 2015 on the Boston course, is the day you break 3:20. This is actually a thing that's happening. It's BEEN happening for the last 3 hours. And now you get to finish it. It was almost too perfect to feel real. With still more to give in my legs, I hammered down Boyslton. There was absolutely nothing left to hold back now; we had finally reached the point where there were no more questions. No more doubts. No more fear. Only me, running as fast as my legs would carry me, towards my destiny. As I headed towards the last big uphill at the mile 25 mark, my legs and my body finally started to send me some signals like, oh my, we would REALLY like to stop running right now. But there was no time for that shit. It's always somewhere around here, at the intersection before the bridge where the cheers of the crowd start to escalate into a roar, where you can TRULY see the Citgo sign and know that it means what you think it does: one mile to go, that I have a moment where I think to myself NEVER forget this feeling. On Monday, that feeling of pride and joy at being able to do this crazy thing on this course that I love so much was amplified a thousand fold by the fact that for the first time, I was doing it WELL. I wish I could bottle that moment and relive it over and over again. I powered up over the bridge, just as I had envisioned. Strong. Tall. Free. Proud. I was thirsty, but my days of stopping at water stops were over. 1.2 miles to go. My watch might as well have been a bracelet at this point, because after the realization at mile 24 I never looked at it again. I just ran, as fast and as hard as I could. All out, for just a few more minutes. As I came over the bridge, my mind flashed back to a training run I had done here; after work on a Friday night, snow everywhere, and me running over this bridge dreaming of the day when I would do it for real, when it would all be worth it. And here I was, and it was ALL worth it. Every. single. step. Every mile run on snow, every fall, every treadmill run, every stupid new route I had to try, every run commute, every workout, every long, run, every race, every strength workout. Everything. I have never felt so proud of the culmination of the work I have done in my life as I crested that bridge.
I flew down the hill into Kenmore, with the roar of the crowd surrounding me like the atmosphere. All I had to do was run one more mile, the last of more than 650 miles that culminated in this. I can't remember having a thought in my head over that last mile except: GO. Into and out of the tunnel, I didn't even see the 1000 m to go sign this year if it was there at all. Right on Hereford. I am passing, passing, passing. The crowd is going absolutely insane, and I feel as though it's all for me. Left on Boylston. Up ahead, a man is airplaning his arms to the absolute delight of the crowd. I think about throwing my arms up but realize that I actually don't have the strength left to do so. Every ounce of my energy is being funneled to my legs, pushing forward. I pass the 26 mile marker and all I know is that I know. In less than 2 minutes, I will have run a marathon PR. Finally. FINALLY. As I approach the finish line, I fling my noodle arms up in the air and I grin. I stop my watch and I look down and I see 3:17:30 displayed across my watch. And I put my face in my hands and I burst into sobs. I am shivering, cramping, sobbing while grinning, the amount of emotion coursing through my body too much to be expressed in a single type of facial expression or sound. I am the happiest, and proudest of myself, that I have ever been in my entire life.
I could tell you about the things that happened after the race, about grinning and thanking each volunteer, about commiserating with fellow shivering women who finished near me about our inability to feel our shorts on our legs, about the endless shuffle to the Common where I chatted with a man from somewhere in the south. And I'm sure I'll have more analysis about all the things that went right this training and racing cycle eventually. But this is already long enough (and it's taken over 4 hours to write), and honestly, what happened after I crossed the finish line isn't as important. What is important is this: between two lines, one in Hopkinton and one in Boston, I ran the best race of my life so far. I stayed calm when I needed to, I fought when I needed to, and I took the fire that has been burning within me for years and finally, FINALLY, on a course where I never thought I could, on a day that everyone said wasn't a PR day, after a winter that could have easily broken me, I proved myself. I will NEVER forget the strength that I found during this training cycle and during this race, and I will never forget my 8th marathon, the one where I finally didn't just finish a marathon, the one where I RACED. And I absolutely cannot wait to do it again.
6356/26610 OA, 849/12022 F, 731/6011 F18-39