Saturday, April 20, 2019

The crop top didn't save me: Boston 2019

I hate that I'm writing this race report, and it's super tempting to actually just skip it all together - because quite honestly that's what I want to do, forget that Boston ever happened and move on to the next thing. But, for the sake of completeness, I will write the report of this crappy race and attempt to find some lessons from it...though really the only thing I think I learned was that I still can't (and probably will never be able to) tolerate hot weather. I was 30 minutes off my A+ goal (3:05), 28 minutes off my A goal(3:07), 25 minutes off my B goal (PR), and even 15 minutes shy of my C goal (3:20). Hell, I didn't even meet my D goal (qualify for next year)! I did, however, finish. Somehow, miserably, sadly, and with great frustration, I did finish the race. And here is the story of how (it's not a very happy story so...feel free to skim if you don't like "I felt awful" on repeat...)

Race weekend, as usual, was great! Saturday was the usual mix of fun and excitement, as my friends and I bopped around the general Boylston/Newbury area. We spent some time in the Norma Tec boots at the Goodr store, shopped a bunch as usual, enjoyed a 26.2 Brew while meandering through the expo (a new perk that I found quite entertaining), and generally enjoyed the day. All of us definitely had some apprehensions regarding the weather forecast, which had shifted from 40s and raining (GREAT FOR ME!) on Wednesday to a steadily climbing mid 60s and humid by Saturday (NOT GREAT FOR ME!). Despite this, I really felt like I was in a great mindset going into the race. I planned to race in a crop top for the first time ever, and I practiced so much positive self talk over the weekend. THIS was going to be the year that I managed to conquer the heat! I knew that a PR was unlikely given the weather, but I felt so well prepared and well trained that I felt in my heart that I could pull of a strong race despite the forecast, even if it wasn't a PR. 

The day before the race was a typical sloth day, with one highlight being running into one of my favorite blog/Instagram friends, Grace! As Andrew and I were walking to grab coffee I spotted a familiar looking runner on the side of the road. As we were walking back, she was coming back the other way and I was confident enough that it was who I thought that I called her name and sure enough, she was staying nearby! Love that Boston serendipity! We chatted a bit about goals and such and wished each other luck, then headed on our way. I didn't do much else besides brunch, watch Inception, and hydrate like a maniac the remainder of the day. But interestingly, it was by far the least nervous I've ever felt before a marathon! I think that's the theme of this report - my training cycle went SO well, I felt SO prepared and strong, that I honestly think I was convinced that no matter what the day threw at me, I could take it like a champ and come out of it with a time that I would be proud of. 

Oh dear. How wrong I was.

Race day dawned as forecast, with a monsoon. As I walked to the local Dunks for my morning coffee, it felt like I was meandering through a rainforest - not good! But I was still in good spirits, and as usual enjoyed my train ride into the city with the stunning mix of early morning commuters and marathon hobos. I was able to meet up with my teammate Elise pretty uneventfully at the Arlington T station, and after a little bit of kerfuffling (we were waiting for another friend, who as it turns out had already gotten on a bus and didn't tell us!) we headed for the bus lines. Unfortunately, buses were being held due to the thunderstorms/bad weather, so this resulted in us standing in the pouring rain for almost half an hour while waiting for our bus. We didn't leave the common until after 8, which is by far the latest I've ever headed out to the village during this whole endeavor. The bus ride was 100% the highlight of my day - this was Elise's first Boston, and the two of us were just full of giddy excitement. We were dying laughing over my husband's question the night before whether Work Bitch by Britney Spears was a cover ("yes....a Bob Dylan cover....*harmonica*"), as well as my hilarious efforts to eat my cube of coagulated oatmeal with a spoon I crafted out of aluminum foil (silverware was not on my to do list that morning). While the bus ride felt LONG, we laughed a lot and generally enjoyed ourselves, finally pulling into the village around 9:10.  The village was a mud pit, to the point where my shoes were literally being sucked off my feet while ambling to the porta potty! Because we arrived so late, things at the village went extremely fast - we used the porta potty, changed shoes, and left for the start....literally no time to sit and wait! I'm not really sure if this was a good or bad thing (I'm leaning towards it's not something I'd do in the future) - I think having a few moments to collect yourself in the chaos can be valuable and having time to get a little more fluid in may have helped me in the long run. 

We were off to the start, and as usual I enjoyed the walk down. We chatted with a few nearby runners about our throwaway gear and made a quick stop at the CVS porta potties, where I magically ran into two of my other friends who were running! Magic! I did lose Elise at that point, so sadly missed out on the opportunity to wish her luck at the first Boston, but all of a sudden it was like 8 minutes to the start and I knew it would take awhile to get to corral 2. Once there, I barely had time to retie my shoes before the announcement "30 seconds....this will be the final announcement". And then the cannon, and I was off once again from Hopkinton to Boston.

I will tell you what one of the worst feelings in life is. It's the feeling when you start running a 26.2 mile road race, and literally from the FIRST STEP you take, you know your legs aren't there. This was the sensation I experienced on Monday and let me tell's the worst. I was maybe 400 meters into the race and there were already alarm bells going off in my brain. Oh no. OH NO. My cardiovascular effort felt easy, but my legs felt like bricks. Feeling that way, knowing the weather was what it was, and knowing I had a marathon to run was....awful. But what could I do about it? I tried my best to steel myself for what I already suspected could be a long day (keeping in mind that at this stage, my idea of a "long day" was 3:20, maybe 3:25), and attempted to relax. Maybe I just needed time to warm up? Maybe it was just the fact that my body literally hasn't experienced this level of humidity since last July?  I decided that I would go out at a normal effort and see if things resolved a ways down the road. For the first 4 miles, I almost had myself convinced. I actually went out just about perfectly for my original goal in terms of pace (7:04, 7:07, 7:10, 7:02), but here's the problem: it felt WAY too hard. And I knew it. When your goal pace feels hard when you're blowing down a hill, it's time to readjust, and you know what, I did! By mile 4, I was already pretty much like, you know what, this is going to be a long run effort. It is what it is, you've done plenty of long runs at 7:30-7:40 pace, if that's the pace you run this race at that is totally fine. 

Upon dialing back the effort level, I did feel better for a little while. "Better" being a relative term, as I felt worse than I had at any point during Boston last year at mile 6, but more like I stood a chance of survival. I had already been swallowed up by a couple of my teammates who started further back in the wave by this point, which didn't come as a huge surprise but it was still frustrating. But what could I do - certainly not go with them, given the way I was feeling! I took my first Gu on schedule at 5, and immediately became nauseous...again, not a good omen, and my stomach would give me trouble throughout the remainder of the race (lower GI remained rock solid, so at least there was that). Through the general Framingham vicinity, my plan was working OK. I had dialed back to 7:25-:30ish pace which was actually treating me fairly, though again, I had this deep sense of doom and gloom that something bad was coming. It reminded me in a horrible way of my 2016 race, when I started to bomb out at mile 8. Still, I tried to keep myself positive. I do remember wishing I had more energy to high five or play up the crowds, as the spectators in Framingham are always drunk and fun. But alas - I needed to save every kernel of energy I had for what was to come. 

Mile 8-10 I don't have much of a recollection of. We ran through Natick Center and I felt...OK, I guess. I continued to take water at every stop and had been taking my Gus on schedule; I think at some point in here I also threw down my first salt tab (wrapped in saran wrap; I had dropped the whole package in the mud in Hopkinton but picked it back up because I thought it might be the thing that saved me. We'll pretend that was true...). All I know is that right around mile 11, I suddenly went from feeling like "ehh this is fine" to NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. We were running up the gradual incline leaving Natick center, and my legs just wanted nothing to do with it. I just felt like I needed to collect myself, and slowed down to a walk, just for a split second  (at MILE 11! You know this is bad.) - which was all it took for a woman to come up behind me and touch my shoulder and tell me to keep going. This happened MANY times throughout the race and isn't something I can actually remember ever happening in the past - so many supportive strangers giving a word of encouragement to someone who's day was clearly going south - it meant a lot, and each and every time it happened I tried my best to summon my energy and get back to whatever passed for a run at that point in the race. I kept looking vaguely over my right shoulder searching for any flash of red, waiting, hoping, that maybe one of my friends would appear, and somehow that would save me. 

After my brief moment of weakness at mile 11, I had about 3 more decent miles. The downhill towards Wellesley College is always much appreciated, and I attempted as always to appreciate the scream tunnel. I dunno...that part of the course just doesn't do it for me. Wellesley proper was wild and loud as always, and I tried to suck some tiny mote of energy from the crowd. I passed the half right around 1:38 even and couldn't even do the math to figure out what that would equate to if I ran it brain was already feeling like it was melting out of my head. I also knew, deep down, that I would not be running another 1:38 half. In fact, I was starting to wonder if I was going to make it through the second half at all. The next two miles were something of a blur, and again I honestly have almost no memory of running through Wellesley. The only thing I remember is at some point being next to a guy who must have been listening to some inspirational religious tape on his headphones, and was murmuring something to the effect of "thank you for this day, thank you, thank you..." and in my extremely unhappy state I wanted to whack him in the face. Much as I tried, I was finding virtually nothing to be thankful for in this particular moment. I was growing more nauseous by the second, my legs felt like bricks strapped to my body, my dreams of even a decent time were starting to swirl down the drain, and I still had 13 more miles of this hell to get through! It was horrid. Elise came flying by in the mile near the little park, and all I could do was cry after her "I can't do this!" I truly felt like my body was shutting down. It wasn't even that I felt hot, specifically, I just felt absolutely awful. Like I had never run before in my life and definitely had no interest in starting now. At some point I thought to myself "this is a disaster"...and my brain decided to give me the GIFT of putting a line from Lady Gaga's "Telephone" on repeat for like an hour: "I should have left my phone at home 'cause this is a disaster". 

And then, the sun came out.

All morning the clouds, which I thought would perhaps be yet another version of the one thing that would save me, had been thinning and thinning. While the minor drop in humidity was welcome, the sunshine, the one thing that I had thought a million times in the prior 48 hours "well, at least it won't be SUNNY", was not. And so, when the sun popped out and we were suddenly running beneath a brilliant blue sky, I did the only thing that came to mind: I looked up at the sky, and I said, out loud: "Oh, F*CK YOU, SUN!" I can't remember if that got a laugh out of anyone near me, but I sure hope so. With the temperature continuing to rise (it ended up being 70), the soul sucking sun out, and me feeling like I was already past the point of no return in terms of dehydration/electrolyte imbalance, things were going very poorly indeed. 

I'm trying to find some moments of grace in this race to keep this race report from just being the most miserable thing anyone has ever read, but I'll be honest, it's really hard to do. I've just never felt so awful, for so long during a race. To be completely honest I have no idea how I kept myself moving forward - once any time goals were gone, what was left to be worth making myself feel even more miserable? Maybe the fact that I've never DNF'd, maybe the fact that I just couldn't not finish Boston, but somehow despite wanting to crawl under a water table and pass out, I managed to trudge on. There were certainly plenty of others in my boat, and while I wouldn't wish what I was experiencing on anyone, it did help to feel less alone. I saw runners stumbling into the water tables being caught by volunteers, people swearing, people rubbing out cramps on the sidelines. Nobody thinks about this when they envision their dream race, and you think to yourself, "my fitness will save me". But if you're a heat intolerant runner on the first 70 degree day in 6 months, what I learned on Monday is this: there is nothing that will save you. 

I managed to pull out my last sub-8 mile of the day on the giant Wellesley downhill, knowing full well that after that things were going to get even uglier. For the next few miles, I found myself in the following pattern: running would feel pretty OK for a little while - maybe 5 minutes, maybe 8. Then all of a sudden I'd be struck by a bolt of nausea or my legs would just decide that they couldn't go on, and I'd have to walk. Rinse, repeat. As I headed up the hill over the bridge, I glanced to one side and saw a girl, Stephanie, who I follow on Instagram. I knew that we had been aiming for similar goal times, and felt less alone knowing that she was clearly not having the day that she had planned either. So I did the most unlike me thing EVER: I needed a friend, and I needed one badly, and so I decided to introduce myself to her! Lo and behold, we were able to work together for a mile or so, and while I unfortunately lost her in the end due to another punch-in-the-guy round of nausea, it was a glimmer of light in a very dark place and I'm so glad I decided to say something (even if it came from a place of essentially being delirious and also very upset lol)

We made the turn at the firehouse, and I told myself I HAD to try to run up the hills. And I tried. I tried so, so hard. But I was so thirsty and I felt like a shell of myself and my legs just didn't have the power. So I walked a little bit. Ran a little bit. It's easy now to look back and say "I should have pushed harder, I didn't need to walk, I was being a baby", but then I actually reflect on how I felt in the moment and realize that I could not have done ANYTHING more. I was trying desperately to hang on to the hope that I could run anything reasonable, even a 3:25, 3:29, I don't care, just please, please don't let me run another 3:30+. That's the one thing I said I couldn't abide by. That was the thing too - as my physical self continued to feel worse and worse, my emotional state also got worse and worse. Not only was I miserable, I was sad and upset! I kept trying to draw on the energy of the crowds and just calm myself down and stop worrying about it, but it was tough to convince myself to be positive when my race was a disaster, I was nauseous and dizzy (I kept finding myself on the right side of the road without being able to figure out how I got there), and I still had 8 more miles to go! Ahhhhhhh.

The second Newton hill was alright, I guess. I have a patient who lives near the hill who said he'd be out watching, and I forced myself to run up it with the thought process of "If *patient* sees me walking, he is NEVER going to let me live that down". The water stations were appearing like mirages, out of the distance, and looking back I wish I'd taken like 3 cups of water at each one instead of just one. I kept seeing people in the crowd with things I wanted (freeze pops, non yellow Gatorade) but by the time my desire was processed and I thought to act on it, I was already past the person...I think my mental function was about as low as it's ever been during this race, thanks a lot, dehydration. I knew I just had to deal with Heartbreak and then, at least, while I had many other things to still contend with, I at least wouldn't have to deal with any more massive hills.

Now, when I think back on Heartbreak, in my mind I feel like I actually ran the majority of it, I only walked for a tiny portion, and I thought I felt decent. My splits say.....uh.....something else. So I guess maybe my brain is just modifying the experience to make it a little more palatable. Or maybe not, because another of my patients apparently actually saw me here and reported that I looked strong...although not on the side of the road where I told them I would be. Again, I thought about taking a beer at the tent that's always on Heartbreak - a shitty race, finally my chance! But again, by the time I realized what it was and processed that I wanted it, I was already too far gone. Whatever, time for the downhill, I tried to just do as little work as possible. The stretch after BC always ruins my life when I'm having a bad year, and this year was no exception. In this case, it was really the nausea that was coming to the forefront of "life problems" - with every step, my stomach felt like it was being punched. I was desperately thirsty and was still drinking at every station, but it was making my stomach feel worse and worse. I definitely had to walk a few times here and quite honestly by this point I was feeling just utterly beaten down and demoralized. I love marathon training, and I try to be a student of the process over the product, but when you're literally not even able to run a full mile without stopping, when you're heading to the finish at a pace slower than your easiest easy days, in that moment it's impossible to remember all of the training that brought you to that point, because in that moment it just feels like it's all worthless. And I'm not going to sugar coat it: that's how I felt. Like all of the work had meant nothing. 

We made the turn towards Cleveland Circle, and with the downhill, the crowd, and the fact that I knew there were only 3.5 miles left, I found at least some semblance of something that I could work with. Running down the hill I kind of laughed, because I had watched Inception the night before and all I could think was "where is my totem? Maybe this is a dream. Maybe I'll just wake up right now and the race won't have happened yet." For awhile, on Beacon, I was sort of able to run for a decent time frame. Not fast, of course, but at least a running vs walking motion. At some point, some girl dropped a sign right in front of me and it inexplicably flapped up in the air; I SOMEHOW managed to do an awkward little hop hurdle and jump over the sign...otherwise I probably would have fallen on my face. 

As we headed into Washington Square, again something snapped and I was reduced back to a walk. And then, the thing I had been searching for all day happened: Taylor, my teammate, one of my good friends, one of my two training partners this cycle, came up behind me, tapped my back, ripped out her headphones and yelled something at me. I, being in the state that I was, responded in the highly appropriate way of bursting into tears. We started running together, though I had to walk through the next water station in order to be able to breathe because I was hyperventilating. I was such a physical and emotional wreck, and I just couldn't believe after all this time, we had found each other. I had dreams of us sticking together for the last 3 miles and crossing the finish line together. She was in slightly better condition than myself, but I tried my best to lock onto her back and fight to stay with her - I was able to do that for about a mile and a half, but somewhere around mile 25 I again just found my body completely giving up. The little spike of an uphill over the highway felt utterly impossible, and I'll admit that this was the one point of the race where I gave in: what was the point of struggling up this hill when my time was trash anyway? What difference would 20 seconds make? So I let myself walk up the hill with the promise that I would try my best to run it in.

Kenmore, one mile to go. I am dying, dying, dying and there is just no magic to be found here today. Every step I'm convinced that I can't take another one and then somehow I do, and then another, and then I walk for a second and I'm just disgusted, because I'm WALKING in Kenmore, and who even does that? Into the tunnel, up and out, there's Hereford up ahead. This is it, I will NOT walk again. I won't. I don't care if I collapse. And then I'm running up Hereford and thank God, it's almost done, this nightmare can be over. Left on Boylston, the longest street in the world, but for some reason now that the finish line is tantalizingly in sight my legs decide that maybe they can move just a little bit. It feels like slow motion running but I am passing people. And that's what I think, as I run down Boylston, just run all of them down. You deserve to have been finished 25 minutes ago but today you don't get what you deserve. You get to finish, and maybe that's all you get, but that's going to have to be enough. The clock is at 3:34 something and I almost laugh, because this is the SAME stupid race as 2016, same almost down to the second. It is miserable, but I'm running, and that's all I can do, and finally I cross the line and it's over.

I felt like a blank slate walking through the finish chute. I tried to thank the volunteers and tried to smile, tried to be aware of the fact that likely a decent chunk of the people surrounding me were just as upset as I was. But it was hard. Truthfully, I have never been so upset after a race. Never. I haven't cried after a race since I was 22 years old but when I finally made my way to Clery's and to my waiting friends, I couldn't keep myself from sobbing. In that moment, all I felt was embarrassed, disappointed, and at my core, sad. Sad that the best training cycle I had ever completed in my life was over, and that I had nothing to show for it but a time that will certainly be consigned to the trash heap of my running career.

But now, sitting here at my computer several days later, of course I'm disappointed, and I want to forget the race ever happened, but I also see how the training I've done paves a road into the future and how none of that changes because the day goes wrong. I can see how the weather was a HUGE factor, and will always be a huge factor for me, and that nothing I could have done would have changed that. I see that my confidence in being able to overcome the weather was misplaced, and that NOTHING is ever certain in a marathon. And most importantly, I know that I am absolutely freaking ready to do EVERYTHING in my power to run a time I know I'm capable of this fall. The work I put in doesn't just cease to exist because the end product didn't turn out as I'd hoped - in fact, it was two horrendous Bostons in 2016 and 2017 that paved the way for me to make a huge jump in the 2017/18 seasons. The race was upsetting, and very disappointing, but it's OK. Or maybe if it doesn't quite feel OK just yet, sometime pretty soon it will. 

I don't think I can ever treat Boston as a goal race again; at 5/8 on hot races there just is no way I can take that chance any more (yes, hi, I said that after 2017 and LOOK HOW 2018 TURNED OUT!). But despite this race report seeming to say otherwise, I love this stupid goddamn race. I know I can run it well, and there is just nothing in the world like running it well. And that, despite getting my heart broken by it over and over again, is what will forever keep me coming back for more. 

But I swear to God, the next time it's 70 degrees at Boston, I'm taking every single beer from a spectator I can find.  Also, despite the crop top not saving me, it still LOOKED amazing, and that's what really matters, right?

Boston Marathon 2019 - 3:35:11
On to the next one.