Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Pumpkinman 2022 Race Report....aka baby's first crash (with a surprise ending!)

 I decided to do the Pumpkinman olympic distance about a month ago, kind of on a whim, and mostly as a way to try to coerce myself into a month of more consistent triathlon training before switching back to running or whatever the hell it is I'm aiming for this fall. That grand plan didn't work out particularly well - I missed almost a week of training due to a crappy cold, didn't manage to swim for an entire month prior to the race (pool closures + weather + an algae bloom of all things lol) but I still went into the race feeling reasonably good about my ability to have a decent, if not stellar race, and to have some fun. Well...I did have fun (mostly) and I did have a *memorable* experience although perhaps not in the way I expected. And while I've been absolutely terrible about updating this blog recently, I felt this one was definitely worth an actual writeup.

The first challenge of the day was the fact that I had to leave by 4:30 am to get to the race on time. Triathlons, alas, are not like running races where you can pretty much roll up to the gate and go, and so I spent the entire morning anxiously calculating whether I was going to have enough time to get my race packet and get my shit together in transition before the start at 7 am. As it turned out I shouldn't have worried - turns out people were still arriving as late as 6:45 am and the race was ultimately delayed as a result - and overall I was pleased with my efficiency in getting things set up in transition, getting my hair braided, using the bathroom and getting down to the race start. I even managed to get in the water to warm up! My first yards in a month! Lmao. I chatted with a few women in my wave, one of whom I discovered is doing IMLP next year AND is doing Reach the Beach this weekend! I didn't get her name but we decided we should probably be friends. 

The swim was a time trial start, which I feel like most races have been doing lately and is definitely nice in terms of ending up with more open water. Once I entered the water I immediately settled into a pretty relaxed stroke - I didn't want to overdo it knowing my utter lack of swim training recently. The first loop went pretty smoothly - I was sighting well, and after passing a few people initially I had pretty open water. Just like the year that I did the half iron, the second loop was definitely slower and worse - my goggles fogged up and someone almost ripped my chip off my leg near the end of the first loop, and then JUST like in the half iron, I totally lost my sighting as we swam directly into the sun and once again wound up having a kayaker have to direct me back to the general population. Once I got that sorted out things improved somewhat, and while I knew I wasn't swimming wildly fast I knew I wasn't swimming wildly slowly either (though my official swim split would beg to differ lol). Regardless, I got out of the water just generally happy to have gotten through the swim on absolute trash training and was excited to move onto what I anticipated would be the highlight of the day, the bike!

They had wetsuit strippers on the way out of the water which I decided to avail myself of and that was pretty fun; it really is easier to get a wetsuit off when someone can just rip it off your body! I then headed up the giant hill to transition where I made a slight effort to jog when I saw someone with a camera and then just gave up because my heart rate was too high and I didn't feel like wasting the energy.

I SUCK at T1. I literally think I'm prepared every year but when push comes to shove I just get so lost...as I whined aloud as I attempted to put something in my pocked and failed, "ugh, I can't do ANYTHING after I swim!" My glasses were stuck in my helmet, I forgot to fully tighten one of my shoes, the cap on my water bottle was stuck, and I feel like I always wind up standing around for at least 30 seconds trying to finish chewing some food (in this case, a rice krispie treat which honestly was an EXCELLENT transition snack) and then at some point abruptly realizing that I'm in a race and I need to get the heck out of dodge. So I got to that point eventually...4 minutes later, which I'm not sure if counts the hill climb or not. Either makes me feel better about my swim or about this transition haha, depending on which one that time counts for!

I mounted my bike and was immediately stuck behind a woman who was weaving around slowly and riding on the LEFT/center side of the road. I let this slide for about 15 seconds before yelling a little snarkily "on your RIGHT" and absolutely blasting off into the bike course. I freaking love my tri bike, and I'm just so excited to actually train on it next year because it just makes riding feel effortless. The first 6 or 7 miles of the course were just lovely and I was happily settling into a rhythm of eating and drinking, picking off people left and right (perks of being almost last into the water I suppose) and just bopping along. It always takes me a bit to get my heart rate down and my legs under me coming out of the swim but things were all going according to plan and I was delighted to be seeing splits just under 20mph popping up on my bike computer.

The first issue occurred when we hit the one major hill on the course and I tried to downshift and my bike just...wouldn't? I could go all the way down in my big ring, but my shifter would not switch to my small ring, and I'd like to say I TOLD YOU SO to the person at the bike shop who looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if there was any way to override the power shifting because THIS is exactly the type of thing I was afraid of! I have no idea what was/is going on and obviously need to get the shifting looked at, but in the moment once I got over the initial annoyance I just resigned myself to having to muscle up the hill in my big ring. It sucked, and I was annoyed about having to exert so much power although I was still passing people all the way up the hill. I yelled a few choice words into the abyss ("FUCK my shifter!", not the last f bomb that would be dropped on the day) and eventually crested the hill.

I got back into aero and got ready to hit the next half of the course, pleased to see another 15:xx split despite the time I had obviously lost on the hill. And that's when it happened. Yes, the big kahuna, my all time greatest bike related fear: I crashed.

I had been watching these two pickup trucks for a few minutes that had been behaving weirdly - there weren't many cars on the road period, but those that were up until this point had been super respectful, giving a really wide berth, etc. But these two were just driving...weirdly. Super slowly, then speeding up, then slowing down, and way too far to the right. Initially I thought maybe they were with the race but as I continued to get closer it seemed like they were driving way too erratically to be an official vehicle. Now, as I sit here in hindsight thinking about this, I think: I could have just waited for them to move out of my way. But I was in a RACE, damnit, and I had no patience for fuckwads in pickup trucks having a laugh over blocking my right of way. Not to mention, I couldn't fathom that anyone would DO the thing that they ended up doing, which was this: instead of moving over to the left when I started to pass on the tiny ribbon of road remaining to me on their right, they started coming even FURTHER to the right. Directly into the path at which I was riding 20 miles and hour, in aero, with a downhill gravel gully on my right.

I think there was about 3 seconds before the crash actually happened when I had the horrifying clarity of knowing that I was about to crash, and the only control I had over the situation was how. The choice I had to make in those 3 seconds was a) slam into the truck, b) veer right into the gravel and lose control sideways, or c) hit the brakes and hope for the best. I chose option C, which I felt at least held the POSSIBILITY of staying on my bike - all I knew was I did not want to come in contact with the car. Time slowed down as I slammed on the brakes and immediately knew that it was too hard, too fast, that I was going over the bars. I honestly have no idea how I got unclipped but I must have somehow, because next thing I knew I was slamming into the pavement, primarily landing on my right hand followed by the left side of my face. 

I lay there for a second, honestly in total shock over what had just transpired, and then very quickly my instincts came back online and every part of my brain was screaming at me GET UP GET UP GET BACK ON YOUR BIKE! Which, we should note, is a very dumb thing for your brain to be screaming at you in a situation where you literally could have just died. But that was the choice my mind was making, so I started assessing my situation. I was amazed to find that I still had all of my teeth, equally surprised that a brief systems check revealed no pain anywhere except my face and my right hand. I hadn't hit my head. My collarbones were still intact. I stood up on wobbly legs and went to talk to a race official who had come over. I feel like this time on the side of the road could have been hours, but really was something like 5 or 6 minutes. The things that really stand out in my mind are how helpful and concerned this guy was - he was putting my bike chain back on, took my sunglasses from me while I was attempting their broken halves into my bento box, and kept asking me (actually thinking back I believe it was more him TELLING me and me refusing haha) to sit down. "No," I kept saying, "I'm fine, I'm fine, I just want to get back on my bike." Meanwhile I was standing there with one half of my brain asking me "ARE you actually OK? Are you sure you're not just faking it?" while the other half of my brain was watching ever more cyclists whiz by and thinking "GOD DAMN it you were riding so well, every minute you stand here is a minute you're losing, get back on your bike and get back in the game!" which again, is just...idiotic. But for better or for worse, that's who I am. I think I genuinely believe sometimes that if I can continue on with my life after something bad happened as if it never did, then maybe it never really happened at all. Maybe it was just a bad dream. I remember after my thyroid cancer surgery being the most ANNOYING person walking around the hospital and just making every effort to pretend there was nothing wrong with me, I was just a healthy person hanging out at this hospital for some reason, as if I could make the whole thing just go away by pretending. And so here I was, confident that if I could just get back on my bike, just get back in the race, there's no way this crash could have ever happened. I was obviously fine, just fine.

And in the end, after some period of time, I felt confident enough that I wasn't actually lying to myself and I was actually physically and cognitively OK. So I thanked the official for his help, mounted up, and got back on my goddamn dragon.

I'm not going to say the next 15 miles were the greatest of my life - I still managed to average 18.5 mph, which is still way faster than I ever rode on my road bike, but was definitely riding shall we say conservatively. The shifters were still an issue, which was particularly annoying on the second time up the steeper hill, and my nutrition and hydration plan was shot to shit because my bike computer had reset during the crash and so I wasn't actually sure how many miles I had left to go...not to mention my lip pretty much immediately puffed up like a balloon so drinking was difficult and not particularly desirable. My mood kept pingponging between numb shock and absolute rage at the cretin of a human being who would literally run someone off the road and then DRIVE AWAY. But I kept trying to be the athlete that I like to be: I said something encouraging to everyone I passed, I thanked the volunteers, I reminded myself that I was out here doing something I loved and I was still out here - crash be damned. My bike was functional, my bones were intact, I could deal with the mental aftermath later on. 

It didn't seem like much time had passed before I was riding back into transition and dismounting my bike. It's kind of wild to me that even WITH the crash and the subsequent aftermath, time spent on the side of the road, and definitely riding slower trying to get my wits back about me the second half, my average pace was still 17.5 mph...a pace I basically dreamed of riding last year. In all seriousness, I am SO excited to see where actual training on this tri bike can take me. T2 was much more efficient than T1 as it always is - shoes changed, race belt on, ready set go. I wore a 1 piece tri suit for this race for the first time and I have to say (although this particular one is now covered in blood and may or may not be cursed) I loved it! Never felt like I had to think about my clothes at all during the day. 

I ran out of transition like a woman possessed and immediately started in on the most fun part of triathlon in my opinion, mowing people down on the run even when I don't feel like I'm running particularly fast. I disconnected myself from any awareness of my pace and just tried to run at the right effort. I have to say, when my Garmin informed my that I had run a 7:07 first mile (my fastest mile since April, by the way), I was shocked, but I was also uplifted. It just feels like it's been a really long time since I felt any sort of competitive fire or desire to really race - the injury in April and it's seemingly endless aftermath have left me feeling just content to be out there at all. But seeing that split, seeing myself continue to make passes because I was finally in MY domain, suddenly I felt that fire stir within me. Suddenly, I wanted to see just how much of a comeback I could make. With the time trial start, the sprint occurring simultaneously, and the different waves, there was no way of knowing who I was actually competing with but all I knew was that continuing to make passes was only going to be a positive thing. 

There was a long, nasty uphill on the 3rd mile of the loop, which I knew I wasn't going to appreciate on the second go around, but it was exciting to realize that I was already only 3 miles from finishing. I continued to try to give encouragement as I passed people, getting occasional feedback from people who actually got a good look at my face as I went by. My favorite was when I said "good job" to a woman as I passed her and she looked at me and said "oh no!" hahaha. There was a guy with a shirt that said "drown, crash, shuffle," on the back and I laughed as I passed him. "I've got the second part down today!" I said.  I definitely slowed down as the run went on, as the general fatigue of the day, the heat (it was now approaching 80 and humid) as well as some unpleasant quad cramps (probably due to the utter clusterfuck of my hydration and electrolyte situation) starting to brew. I walked a short stretch on the final uphill, but then realized just how close I was to the finish and forced myself to get my ass back into gear.  People were struggling on the uphill - it really wasn't very nice at all - and I felt proud of how strong I still felt despite what had been more than the usual amount of adversity on the day. 

We turned into the start/finish area and I laughed as I realized we were going to have to make a stupid little loop around the transition zone before running down the big downhill to the finish. As we came around the corner, I saw two women directly in front of me, both with numbers on their legs indicating that they were in my age group. "Ah, they're probably in the sprint," I thought. Buuuuut then I thought again...they were both wearing tri suits, and definitely didn't look like newbies, which meant they could very possibly be my competition...and really, after all that had happened today, was I really going to give up a chance for a couple places higher? And so, with my legs protesting, I found another gear and sent myself rocketing by both of the women and into the downhill, hoping that neither of them were runners by background. And in the end, finding myself uncaught, I crossed the finish line - if not completely triumphantly, then at least gratefully.

A volunteer gave me my medal, and then, obviously noticing the carnage of my face, asked if I wanted to go to the medical tent. "You know, yes, I think I would," I sort of laughed. Baby's first med tent experience! The EMTs were understandably sort of worried about me, but once I was able to give them my spiel and make them feel confident that I didn't have a concussion and I just wanted to get some antiseptic on my face, they let me go pretty quickly with an ice pack and a towel ("courtesy of York Hospital" lol). 

I sort of meandered around trying to figure out how to organize my life, talking with many people along the way who saw my face and wanted to know if I was OK. I talked with a guy who said he was right behind me before the crash and corroborated my story that the pickup truck was completely at fault. I eventually made my way to the results tent and got my little printout, where I was shocked to find I had made the podium in my age group. I honestly didn't really believe it, but I figured it was worth staying for awards to find out for sure. I got my stuff from transition and took it back to the car, continuing to answer more questions and talk to people as I went. I think I was still really trying to laugh the whole thing off - when people asked me if I was OK, I would crack a joke, like "I'm still here aren't I?" or "I've heard there are only cyclists who've crashed and cyclists who haven't crashed yet".  People would look at me like I sprouted another head when I told them I finished, and I just...I don't know, was it that weird? Was it that inspirational? Was it just me being stupid and stubborn? Probably the latter, honestly. But despite my utter hatred of people being worried about me or asking if I am OK, I think I handled it pretty well.

I finally headed back to the food/awards tent and while I couldn't find it in me to eat much, pumpkin beer sounded very appealing. I chatted with a couple of women in the food tent who asked me if it was a red pickup truck who had caused my crash - sure enough, the same truck had been screwing with them, braking hard, revving the engine, riding too close....it's just utterly disgusting. I can't believe that people would go out of their way to do something so dangerous just to make themselves feel powerful but that's a large chunk of men who live in this world for ya, I guess. 

The awards ceremony happened and sure enough when we got to the women's 35-39 age group my name was called for 3rd...yes, somehow, some way, crash and all, I had made the podium. I made my way up and it was like a movie or something where everyone is murmuring as you walk by...I guess this is what it's like to be a minor celebrity. The race director gave me my little prize bag and I got on the podium...and I honestly feel sort of bad for the other two women in my age group because I definitely stole their thunder as the entire tent gave the loudest ovation that has ever been directed at me in my 35 years on this planet. I think that was the moment that I just sort of realized everything? Like, could have died, was beat up and scraped and bruised, chose to keep going, got on the podium. I don't honestly view myself as super tough or mentally strong, but I supposed in that moment I had no choice to believe it. Annnnd so I did the natural thing and burst into tears! I really hope I get a hold of the podium photos someday because I probably literally look like something out of a horror movie, bloody and ugly cry grimacing while still trying to smile with a busted lip, but it was really quite a moment. 

So...that's the story of the time I got run off the road by a pickup truck, crashed, miraculously only sustained flesh wounds, got up and finished the race, and got on the age group podium. It's a story I'm already getting a little sick of telling but one that I think I will always remember when the going gets tough - because when I have a goal, when I am on a mission, I will not let ANYTHING stop me. Not even an asshole in a pickup truck and the unkind kiss of cement against my face. .

Sunday, June 19, 2022

I'd trade it all just to come back home: Boston Marathon 2022 Race Report

This post has taken me FOREVER to write, mainly because it is now 9 weeks post race and I am only just now beginning to crawl my way out of the injury hole that I put myself in by racing this marathon. Was it worth it? If you'd told me I'd be completely out of running for almost 2 months after the race, I'm not sure I'd have said yes. But when I really put myself back there into the magic of the day, I'd probably make the same choice over and over again. 

"Why do you keep running Boston?" a friend of mine asked me multiple times throughout this training cycle. And honestly, I started a whole separate post dedicated to that topic, one that maybe I'll get around to publishing someday. The last time I ran Boston, in 2019, I crossed the line upset and miserable. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but for awhile I swore that I was done with Boston, done with the marathon in general. It took me literal years, a pandemic, picking up triathlon, and having my NYC qualifier somehow magically fall in the window for Boston 2022 for me to realized that deep down, I did want to come back. When I signed up back in the fall, I swore up and down that this time would be different. "Yeah, I'll train, but I'm running Boston for fun," I told anyone who would listen. And then a funny thing happened. I started training, started seeing my mileage creep up, started tagging on to the group of GBTC women who were aiming for sub-3. I got sunk hard into the winter depression doldrums, and the only thing that made me feel like I was accomplishing anything in life was getting out and training...and dare I say it, I was finding that training fun.

On paper, up until taper, the training cycle was pretty much perfect. I didn't skip a SINGLE planned run or workout from December through March. Not one. I nailed workout after workout, my tuneup races (which maybe I'll get around to finishing race reports of someday) went well. I ran my highest month of mileage ever with over 300 miles in March, and I could feel the strength that that added mileage was giving me. I found the cumulative fatigue catching up with me at the end of March, but was still able to nail my last long run workout 2 weeks out from the race, finally boosting my confidence that maybe I was in PR shape after all. Except, after that long run, I got out of the car and my left hip seized up. Initially I brushed it off, thinking it was something that a couple of days of TLC would fix. Except...it didn't get better. Every time I ran, it actually got worse. I tried to stay positive, tried to let go of what I knew had become this image of a "perfect" training cycle in my mind, but as the days passed and things still didn't seem to be improving, an imperfect taper was the least of my problems - I genuinely wasn't sure if I was going to be able to race at all.

Well, not to spoil the ending, but I was able to race. My hip held on for the full 26.2. And the amazing part? It was the most fun, joyful, grateful marathon of my running career so far. It's amazing sitting here now, thinking about how different the race could have been if I'd gone into it in a situation where everything had been "perfect". I would have expected perfection out of myself, and I'm almost certain that the weight of that expectation would have stolen so much of my joy. And so, like they say on cheesy greeting cards "it doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful". Here is the perfectly imperfect story of my 9th Boston. 

The week leading up to the race my anxiety was absolutely at an all time high. I had gotten a massage on Monday, felt OK enough to do my couple of MP miles for a workout on Tuesday, but then was in so much pain Wednesday I couldn't make it more than half a mile, and THAT was the point where I started to completely lose my shit. I knew I had to stop obsessing about having a normal taper and shut down running completely if I had any hopes of making it to the start line on Monday, and I will give myself credit for the fact that once I had made that decision, I was able to get into a much better place mentally and shift the focus from "woe is me, how could I get hurt this close to the race" to "I'm going to do everything in my power to be ready to fight on Monday". Lots of yoga, lots of forcing my student to do mobilizations on me, lots of ibuprofen, no running. 

Saturday is always my favorite day of marathon weekend, and by the time it came around I was feeling decent enough to be optimistic and actually enjoy the day. I went downtown early to cheer for the BAA 5K which was a blast as always. My personal favorite moment was when a child running in the 5K ran up to me, stopped and looked up at me, and asked "Are we almost done?" Adorable - we've all been there, kid! I met up with Elise and we headed to the expo as soon as it opened, which is the MOVE. Not sure why I've never done this in the past but it made the whole expo experience so much more relaxing, and eliminated that point that I feel like I get to every year where I just get overwhelmed and grumpy by how many people are there. We got our numbers, got some nuun, did a little shopping and stocked up on Gus, then parted ways as Elise had to head to a family event. I did a bit more shopping at the various popups along Newbury Street with Brooks being a favorite...all kinds of freebies, and I got a whole bag of coffee beans with the jacket I bought! Very nice perk! Having spent a suitable amount of money I headed home to relax for a bit and eat lunch. Of note, I made a very concerted effort to do a 3 day carb load this year and tried to get in at least 475g of carbs each day per the recommendation of the calculator I used (which took more effort than expected). I think a lot of things were key to how good I felt on race day, but nailing nutrition was definitely one of them, and I'm definitely a believer in paying attention to the carb load for the future.

GBTC had a reception in the afternoon so I headed to that for a bit and chatted with a couple of the other girls who were running before walking over to an early dinner with Andrew at Viale, which has become our Saturday night before Boston spot. Dinner was excellent, with my mint pesto pasta and some delicious cocktails being standouts. Back at home I started gathering my stuff for the race and assembling my drop bag - not sure why I didn't save that for the endless time abyss that always is the Sunday before Boston, but I'll just blame anxiety for that one.

Sunday morning Andrew and I walked over to Pemberton Farms to pick up breakfast and some last minute needs for the next day. My hip was feeling fine while walking, which was a step up from earlier in the week, but I was still anxious about how any attempt at a shakeout run would go. Still, I felt like I had to see what I would be working with the next day, so I set off for a couple miles which were...OK. Not as bad as the awful, snapping, pinching pain I'd been having on Wednesday, but decidedly not how I'd ordinarily like to feel. I also nearly got run down by a cyclist on the Minuteman path which combined with the increasing soreness in my IT band shook me up enough to inspire me to stop the run at 2 miles as opposed to trying to push to my usual 2.5 or 3. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I wrote something on Strava to the effect of "unfortunately my hip is going to be a factor tomorrow and all I can do is do the best I can". 

I spent the majority of the rest of the day playing mindless video games and snacking (at one point I just randomly wandered into the kitchen, ate a bagel, and walked out lol). We made the usual prerace meal of butter tomato pasta with breaded chicken and bread, and then I drank my traditional prerace beer (Lamplighter Birds of a Feather this year) while taking a literal hour to paint my nails in a design I had come up with to match my shoes and watching Boondock Saints. I think I honestly just managed to shut off the part of my brain that knew I was running a marathon the next day and tried to just enjoy a relaxing evening.

But while I had done a great job of toning down the anxiety in the days leading up to Monday, when I woke up Monday morning well before my alarm, I felt gripped by sheer panic. I was hyperanalyzing every movement, every twinge, every creak in my hip. I lay there staring at the ceiling, wanting time to slow down. I've genuinely never had this experience before of waking up the morning of a race and truly not knowing if I'm going to be able to do it. Needless to say, it was not a feeling I enjoyed, nor one that I ever hope to experience again! But soon enough, Thunderstruck was blasting out of my phone, and there was nothing to do but get up, see how my hip was faring, and get on with it. Was it perfect? No. But it was going to have to suffice.

Because I was in wave 3 this year I had quite a leisurely start to the day and was able to spend some time stretching out and braiding my hair while eating breakfast number 1. Again, I think I played this well this year - I drank a bottle of juice and had a couple of graham crackers in addition to my usual banana which I think started my fueling off on the right foot. I donned my race apparel and my throwaway clothes, including the most SPECTACULAR jacket that literally made me think of a lunar module. I won't lie, it was sad tossing that jacket at the start line. Andrew told me I looked like I belonged in an art show for people who couldn't see. I took an extra moment with him and the dog, wishing I could somehow know what the day was going to bring. "I don't know if I'm even going to be able to do this," I said to Andrew.  I don't remember what he said back (I'm sure it was realistic and not altogether reassuring) but it was time to go. I was on my own.

I had bought a can of cold brew coffee the day before but one sip indicated that it was not going to sit well in my stomach so off to Dunkin I went (nearly getting run down by a woman in too much of a hurry to stop at the crosswalk, you love to see it). I said hi to the 90 yo man who always gives Topper peanut butter; he was unfazed by my ridiculous getup and tried to offer me some peanut butter to take home to the dog. "Ah, I'm actually running the marathon so I'm not going home right now, but thanks!" That added some levity. I always love taking the T down to the bus loading, a special blend of runners in their throwaway gear and your standard commuters just off to work for the day. I did the very important tasks of updating my fantasy baseball lineup and doing the Wordle ("FLAIR", almost too perfect for my ridiculous getup) and tried to get myself in a relaxed headspace.

No matter what kind of anxiety I was feeling, that feeling can always somehow be negated when you follow the line of runners up the steps at Arlington and out into the bright spring morning, into the cacophony of announcements and low flying helicopters and runners clad in all manner of ridiculous throwaway apparel running this way and that. The air is full of life, full of possibility, full of hope. I wandered my way to the 16000 drop bag bus, which seemed to be the furthest possible distance away - that was going to be a delight post race. I handed off my bag to the volunteer. "Got everything you need?" she asked. "I hope so!" I replied. As I meandered back towards the buses to Hopkinton, I couldn't help but feel a grin emerge on my face. The volunteers were hyping us up, and I kept throwing fist bumps and smiles. "Look at you, you're GOLDEN!" one woman beamed back at me, admiring my shining jacket. It's been a long time since I made my way through this process solo and there was somehow a peace to it, not worrying about talking with my teammates or the nervous energy that tends to explode out of me before a race when I'm around people I know. Just looking around, taking it all in with wonder that I was here once again, doing this, a part of it.

The actual bus loading process felt like something of a clusterfuck this year with multiple lines forming without a discernible endpoint and a whole lot of people packed into a small space. I eventually managed to identify a porta potty line and then made my way into what theoretically appeared to be the end of a line for a bus. After quite some time spent in a line that somehow seemed to be twice as long as the rest, I moved to a different line where I ended up befriending two women maybe in their 50s and had a lovely time chatting about past Bostons and appreciating the fact that it was not currently pouring on us as we waited to board the bus. It seemed that I would get to continue to be friends with them, but as we reached the front of the line the volunteer indicated that they had room for 1 more person. I bid my new friends goodbye and headed for the back of the bus and met my bus friends, who both turned out to be older men (one was 73!) They were engaged in a lively conversation that included discussion of supershoes, the fact that they were both widows, and how training gets a lot harder when you get older. I didn't quite fit the demographic, but we eventually did get to chatting and both were quite impressed to hear that this was my 9th Boston. The general vibe I got all weekend was that I look pretty young to have done 9 Bostons...I guess that's what you get when you are basically an infant when you start and then you never really stop, haha. I drank a bottle of Skratch throughout the ride (another thing I will definitely be adding to my race routine in the future) and ate my bagel with cream cheese around 9:15. It never fails to amaze me that the ride out to Hopkinton somehow takes an hour, but eventually we were pulling in to the athlete's village. "The weather's good today, this could be a special day for you," my bus buddy said as we said our farewells. And then we were off into the masses, just another memorable interaction with a stranger that always feels so right on this day and this day only.

As usual, I immediately headed for the porta potty lines once inside the village. I'm not sure if this was a #wave3win or what, but the lines were the shortest I've ever seen them. As I was waiting, the loudspeakers were making announcements: "wave 3, you will be leaving the village in 15 minutes!". The girl in front of me in line turned back to me. "15 minutes?! What? I don't even have my life together!" Indeed, 15 minutes felt like an unusually short period of time to spend in Hopkinton, but I honestly didn't hate it - I had just enough time to use the bathroom, arrange my Gus in my shorts, grab a water and ditch some of my layers before the call to the start came. I also attempted to manage my anxiety by taking a wide variety of ridiculous selfies and tried to capture the mood through some videos, as I was running with my phone for the first time. 

I love the walk to the start at Boston, but I really had to force myself to love it this year, because the anxiety was starting to build heavily as the moments ticked away towards the moment when I was going to find out if my body was actually going to let me run today. I found some levity in what looked like an absolutely SPECTACULAR house party going on at one of the homes along the route, high fiving and fist bumping a group of people who looked like they were well into their Monday Funday. As usual, I stopped at the porta potty pod behind the CVS and got rid of the rest of my throwaways with the exception of the golden jacket. I had to laugh, as at the table where everyone was ditching their clothes there was also a pile of all the other miscellaneous stuff people had used and abandoned, which was essentially a lovely pile of everything a runner could need! Safety pins, sunscreen, tape, bandaids, bodyglide, hairties, and more. I decided to use someone's abandoned bodyglide, because why not not get chafage today? The minutes kept ticking away; 20, 15 minutes until the start. We were finally released towards the corrals, and another wave of fear overtook me. This was actually happening - this marathon, this end of this training cycle that had been so great, so marred with this injury. The uncertainty threatened to consume me as I started making my way up to corral 1. My stomach felt weird and sloshy, like I had drank too much water, and I found myself stressing out about that too.  And then...

I am a big believer in signs that show you that you're where you're meant to be. Something that might not mean anything to anyone else, but mean something to you. It's why I love finding heads up pennies before races, or why I love anytime the number 14 shows up in my bib - which, by the way, it did for this race, 16114, which should have reassured me that I was going to be OK. I think it's also important to note that typically, the majority of the songs they play at the athlete's village are not songs I particularly enjoy ("Call Me Al" is one that I seem to recall hearing just about every year...like, who finds that motivational?). But as I was walking up towards the corrals, I heard a familiar guitar riff coming from somewhere. Could it be? It was. It was THUNDERSTRUCK, the song I literally wake up to every race morning, the song that says to me "you are ready to fucking ROLL", blasting over the loudspeakers in Hopkinton. I heard it, and I told myself: you are ready for whatever happens out here today. You are ready to fight. And I knew in my heart that no matter what happened, nothing would stop me from getting to the finish line. 

Being in the first corral of the wave always feels like an honor, no matter what wave it is. I was actually sort of surprised how spaced out and relaxed things were - I feel like I always remember there being more people, but I felt like I had all this space to fix my shoelaces and bounce around and whatnot. I took my traditional lemon lime Gu about 10 minutes before the start and finally said a sad farewell to my glorious jacket. "It's been a great 12 hours together!" I hope someone enjoys that coat someday...or it makes its way back to Goodwill and I can find it again next year haha. As the gun got closer and closer, I found myself finally calming down. I had told Andrew the day before that when I stepped over the starting line, I needed to have amnesia about everything that had happened in the past two weeks and just be fully in the moment, with whatever happened. A time goal wasn't even a thing that existed anymore - it was 100% about taking what the day gave me. I know I've said that before, but I think for the first time standing there on that start line, I actually meant it. 

I decided to listen to music for this year's race, as I've just accepted that I race better and happier with music than without, and my experience at New York showed me that it's totally possible to engage with the crowds while still going into the box with your jams when you need to. I had a 4ish hour playlist that I put on shuffle so that each song would be something of a surprise, but I had picked a specific song to start the race, one that I felt like perfectly captured that mood that I needed to have heading down this 26.2 mile road in this situation. And as the announcer counted down, 30 seconds to the gun, I pressed play.

Switch your mind off, take a deep breath, let it all go, I know we're not perfect


I started running, and my hip didn't hurt, and that was the best possible thing I could as for. As I looked at the open road with only maybe 50 other runners ahead, I burst into a grin.

We were off.

Miles 1-6: 7:09, 7:13, 7:08, 7:08, 7:13, 7:14

We are young and free, and all we will ever need, is right here right now. 

I beamed as we poured down the hill, filled with the sense that my legs were under me and they knew what they were doing. I may have complained bitterly about being in wave 3 leading up to the race, but there was something pretty cool about feeling as if you were in the lead pack of the race. Because I was running pretty quickly relative to my qualifying time, the pack became fairly spread out, and for the first time ever at Boston I didn't feel crowded in the slightest. I was very cognizant of needing to not go out too fast, particularly with the giant question mark hanging over my head of "what even is your fitness after these bizarre last 2 weeks?" But the great part is, I've run this course enough times and in enough conditions and fitness levels to know what the effort should feel like for the first 10K of Boston, and that effort is outrageously easy. If you're running at or slower than your goal pace and you feel like you could go all day, you are doing it right. 

I keep my watch on the setting where I can only see the pace of the mile I'm in when I race now, which has worked wonders for my mental game, and I snuck a quick peek after a few minutes just to make sure I wasn't doing anything nutty. And sure enough - my sense of effort was right on, I was running right around goal pace. Beauty. The second song that popped on my playlist almost sent me through the roof, as it was one of my ultimate pump up songs this cycle and the source of the message I'd chosen to write on my hand this year: "Mind over matter, faith over disbelief". I found myself shouting those lyrics aloud into the sky, into the sunshine, into the runners surrounding me. Mind over matter. Faith over disbelief. And anything could be possible. 

As the splits started to roll in, I actually considered for a second that they were a little slower than my theoretical "goal" pace - but then I caught myself. Goal pace, what the hell does that even mean anymore? The effort was perfect, and I knew it - no reason to get in a tizzy about something that would only lead to bad decisions. And so I just kept cruising down the road with a smile that I couldn't seem to wipe off my face. I high fived anyone that I was close enough to reach, joyously motioning for the crowd to make more noise. As we passed the Dunkin' that sits off the road to the Ashland T stop, I thought, well, no big deal, only 24 miles to go! Just a long run! 

We all know those first few miles mean nothing at Boston, and there's always that little demon in the back of your mind that says "hey, it's one thing to pour yourself downhill, it's quite another to deal with the rest of this course". But I squashed those voices. I didn't believe them, not today. My face literally hurt from smiling by mile 4 and instead of thinking about all the things that could go wrong, I found myself thinking about all the things that could go right today. 

I took my first Gu at mile 4; I finally organized my life in such a way that I knew which Gu I was taking out of which pocket at which point in the race (again, it took me 16 marathons to figure this out...better late than never I suppose). The weather was about as good as you could realistically hope for for the 3rd Monday in April: low 50s, sunny, a fairly mild headwind. Still, while the temps were relatively cool I knew that "relative" tended not to play in my favor and I was still going to have to be very mindful of my hydration and salt situation. For now, that meant taking water at every other stop and drinking just a bit before moving on. At one of the stations in Ashland they had the stops directly across from each other (normally they're staggered) forming almost a tunnel of volunteers in bright green jackets. I didn't need water at that point and so instead decided to run directly down the middle of the chute, waving my arms and screaming "THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!" Which, if I hadn't figured it out already, was a good indicator that I was in a good place, at least for the time being. 

Somewhere around here the song 30/90 from Tick, Tick, Boom came on my playlist and while that is a VERY random song to find motivational in the midst of a marathon there's something about the piano riff that makes my heart soar. The sun was shining, the crowds were out in force, I had plenty of room on the road to run my race, and I was just...happy. I wasn't worried about what was going to happen next or what pace I was running or anything besides right now. 

After much back and forth this training cycle and trying out a carbon plated shoe (the Saucony Endorphin Pro), I ended up deciding that for whatever reason the carbon plate was just not for me and ultimately decided to race in the shoe that I've been loving since I first put it on, the Saucony Endorphin Speed. And I cannot stress enough how this was THE BEST DECISION. I literally thought multiple times over the course of the first 10 miles of the race, "I love this shoe, fuck carbon plated shoes!" I kept thinking back to the last long run I did on the course, during which I wore the Pros and essentially felt like I was fighting against the shoe the entire way. The Speeds felt like they were a natural extension of me, just giving a delightful zip to my stride. Lesson learned, kids: do what works for YOU! 

There's a bar around the 5 mile mark that always has a party going on, and this year was no exception. They had a massive sign up dedicated to the women runners (as it was the 50th anniversary of women being allowed to run at Boston - kind of crazy when you think about it). My favorite part of this stretch was the woman (runner) that I saw shotgunning a beer as the bar patrons cheered her on. I was definitely happy that it hadn't turned into that kind of day for me yet, but I have to admit that one of these years I would love the experience of just turning Boston into one massive party in that kind of way. The way the crowds come out is just like no other, and I think this year with it having been 3 years since the last April marathon Monday, the spectators were absolutely out in force. I was trying to describe what's so special about the crowds at Boston and what makes it different from say, New York, to someone, and I actually think I figured it out. New York was like going to a massive party where everyone is cheering for you but you don't know anyone (very fitting to the city of New York itself). Boston is like going to a party where everyone instantly becomes your best friend and they are 100% there for YOU. The way these individual people make eye contact, scream your name, reach out to you specifically for a high five like you're a celebrity they've been waiting to meet all their life...there truly is nothing else like it. And here I was approaching the 10K mark, feeling for all the world like I was back at the party I hadn't even realized I'd missed for all these years.

Miles 7-13: 7:08, 7:11, 7:07, 7:13, 7:20, 7:09, 7:16

Running this section of the course sometimes feels like running through a highlights (or lowlights) reel of all of the places I've started feeling bad at Boston. Passing each of those points felt like an achievement of sorts, and I couldn't help but read off in my mind like some sort of tour guide. "Ah, yes, and here we'll see mile 7, where she began to implode in 2016. On your left you'll see mile 10, where she completely gave up on life in 2019." Etc, etc. Every mile running well felt like a victory. I know so well how Boston can just pull the rug out from under you at literally any point along the course, and so I just kept savoring and appreciating each mile that passed when I felt good. Finally, all that work at "marathon pace" which was consistently faster than marathon pace had paid off - I knew what ACTUAL marathon pace was supposed to feel like, and man did it feel great. 

At some point in Framingham I think I realized that my face actually hurt from smiling so hard, and while I was still having a blast I also recognized that I needed to get down to business a little bit and make sure I was keeping my effort in the right place. By this point I had started to catch the back end of wave 3, so things became a bit more crowded but also provided a boost, since catching people also meant passing people...a lot of people. I had sort of found myself running in a little pack with a woman in a black lululemon top and another woman in a singlet that said "YESSIR" on the back, and the 3 of us leapfrogged as we wove through the crowds across the ugly expanse of road that is the course through Framingham. I pulled to the middle of the road for awhile here, letting the crowds bolster me from the sides but putting a little less effort into actually interact with them. It was a perfect time to just lock into the pace and cruise. 

We headed out of the town center and up what I always feel is one of the more rude surprises in the first half of the course, the hill by the Wendy's. It's not a massive hill by any stretch but I feel like if you're already feeling bad by that point, around mile 8, it can reduce you practically to a walk and you know you're really in for it the rest of the day. But today, I felt SO strong climbing this hill, pushing upward past 2019's ghosts. The guy who always dresses up as Santa was standing at the top of the hill with a giant candy cane, and I gave him a big wave. I definitely found myself becoming a little giddy as we ran through the section that I picture as being "between" Framingham and Natick. There were some spectators with a big sign with a cat on it that said something about a cheer cat, and I literally yelled at them "THANK YOU CHEER CAT!" This was followed by some people on the other side of the road who were holding some giant baby heads (probably for the parent of the baby, I'm guessing lol) but I just decided to yell "THANK YOU BABY HEADS!" and a girl running next to me actually started laughing at that, which made me laugh at myself, and that was a lovely experience haha. It brought to mind one of the nuggets of wisdom Tom had once shared that "most of a marathon should be a jovial mood", and as far as that was concerned I felt like I was executing perfectly. 

Jovial indeed :) 

As we ran through the stretch next to the lake in Natick I became much more aware of the wind, which was definitely a headwind. It wasn't a major factor for most of the race but when it would occasionally kick up, it was pretty unpleasant. Thankfully, it was also cold - despite the mild temperatures, the sun was definitely warm (my right shoulder got very sunburnt, oops) and the wind absolutely helped to keep the temperature down. I took my second Gu somewhere around here and then seamlessly transitioned one of the ones I had stashed in my bra into my shorts...there's another indication that things were going well, that I had the presence of mind to stay organized with my fuel for perhaps the first time in history. There's always a camera thing at the 15K mark, and I feel like whether or not I have to fake happiness for this camera is a strong indicator of how my race is going. It was delightful to put my hands in the air and make a heart with my hands, completely sincerely full of love for everything that was going on, and genuinely feeling great. I think its somewhere in this area where I saw someone who maybe holds this sign that says "your ass looks GREAT" at this spot on the course every year, and I think I actually slapped my butt because...why not? We're having FUN! 

The mile from the lake into Natick Center is one that I have finally accepted as one of my least favorite miles of the race, and absolutely one of the mentally toughest. Why? Well, first of all, it's a gradual uphill, and I have learned over the years that I would happily take a bitch of a steep uphill over a false flat slow incline ANY day. Combine that with the fact that you're at mile 10 of a marathon, which is still quite a solid distance to have run at marathon pace while also still being TERRIFYINGLY far away from the finish line, and you've got a recipe for a physical and/or mental meltdown. And you see my splits for this section - I slowed down a bit, it wasn't spectacular. And when you look at the sneaky elevation that you get in this stretch, that makes total sense. BUT! Mentally, I stayed in it. I feel like I did such a good job during this race of accepting whatever was going on in a given moment, really just taking it in objectively, and doing my best with it. Slowing down a little bit on a hill was fine, because, well, it was a hill, but I was running up it and my legs were strong and there was a downhill on the other side, all was well. I just had this sense of feeling really calm and capable, even in the moments where my body felt less than perfect. There were definitely thoughts that crept in a little bit around this time of "oh, it's starting to get harder" or remembering how many miles were still to go, but I just let the moment pass and waited for the next high point to hit. I am really, REALLY proud of that. I'd also like to point out that I ran this mile FASTER than I did during my ill-fated attempt at marathon pace during my last long run, so that's gotta count for something.

Most definitely working in Natick

 As I began hauling myself out of the Natick doldrums and trying to get back in a rhythm, I came across my FAVORITE sign of the day. I always love the signs that are very much inside jokes or specific to the year of the race - just that uniqueness is always fun and makes me laugh. So these people around mile 11 were standing there with this MASSIVE cardboard cutout of Will Smith's face...which I didn't fully understand at first, until I saw runners making a beeline over to it and slapping it! As you can imagine, I had to do the same, which totally gave me a much needed shot of energy as I headed off into the Wellesley section of the course. 

I found myself getting into a groove again as I ran through the small rollers heading into Wellesley. I was well into wave 2 now and still continuously passing runners, though somehow was still connected to my two friends from earlier in the luluemon tank and the yessir singlet. It was cool feeling those subtle threads of connection between myself and those two women as we forged ahead through packs of runners who had started 15 to 20 minutes before we had. I actually enjoy the section of the course leading into Wellesley College more than the college itself - there are lovely woods and some lovely downhill, and even the tiniest patch of shade was a welcome break from the sun. Since I was feeling strong and comfortable, it was a great spot to kind of put my head back down and find my rhythm again after those tougher miles in Natick. As we approached the scream tunnel, I looked up and started laughing as I laid eyes upon a man who was racing clad only in a speedo with a cat face on the butt, cat paw gloves, and cat ears. The Wellesley girls were goin absolutely wild for him, although, it should be noted that I'd heard that they had been strongly discouraged from doing any kissing due to the whole COVID thing, and I did not in fact see any illicit kissing going on - plenty of kisses being blown, however, and a couple of cute signs like "DON'T kiss me, that's gross". 

As I crested the hill following the college, back into brilliant sunshine, towards the halfway point, I could hardly believe that I had already made it halfway! I said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever running gods had allowed me to get this far with not even a whisper of complaint from my hip. I crossed the mat at halfway in just under 1:35 which, thinking about it now is actually a beautiful throwback to my first race back after COVID last year, when I tried to PR in the half and ended up running 1:34 high. How many 1:34 all out half marathons have I run in my life? A lot, actually. It will never get old seeing a time that you know you've run giving everything in the middle of a longer race and know that you still have so much more to give. That being said, though every mile that I passed still feeling as good as I did felt like a massive victory, I knew that the likelihood of being able to maintain the pace through the hills was not great. I still felt wonderful, but there were just enough glimmers of fatigue along with a growing sense of needing to be very mindful of my hydration and salt status that I knew the second half of this race would be more difficult than the first. But the great part was, I was totally OK with that! When I picture this race in my mind, try to put myself back in those moments, the overwhelming memory I have is just of feeling so calm and joyful and just so at peace with literally anything that could happen. It just amazes me, even as I think about it weeks later, but it's something I know didn't just happen randomly. I've known for a long time that my mind holds me back more than my body a lot of the time, and one of the things I've been really working on over the past year is to figure out how to be mentally stronger in races. One thing that's been really helpful is to set my watch so I can only see the pace of the current mile, truly keeping myself focused only on the present moment. Another has been working on the way I talk to myself when I'm racing and the narrative I tell myself. I think in this race, because of my injury, all the expectations had been stripped away, there was no overarching goal, there was nothing but the moment I was in. 

I sometimes have these moments in races that I can only describe as cinematic, where I can almost take a birds eye view and appreciate the absolute magic of what I'm doing, what my body and mind are allowing me to do, the beauty of the community of runners surrounding me, of the press of the crowd urging us on. As I ran through Wellesley, an extremely random song that I'd added to my playlist came on - it's from the Divergent movie score and the bronze medal women's figure skater at this year's Olympics used it as part of her long program, which was how I became aware of it. It starts slowly and builds to this really powerful, bombastic conclusion, and as it did so it felt like that music was meant for this moment, this driving beat and power urging me forward as I continued to weave forward through the crowds. I literally thought to myself you're going to remember this moment, and I do, I can close my eyes and feel the sun on my face, feel the joy radiating through me, the colors and background sounds of the crowd. The joy of being able to do this thing, the gratitude. Maybe it's cheesy when I write it out like that. Maybe the powerful moments of your life shouldn't be these athletic pursuits that don't really mean anything in the whole grand scheme of it all. But all I know is that moments like that one are the moments when I am most myself, when I am most alive - and isn't that the point of it all?

Miles 14-21: 7:13, 7:16, 7:07 (big wellesley dowhill), 7:37, 7:44 (ass panther hill), 7:28, 7:41, 8:11 (heartbreak)

I kept running through Wellesley, still sort of in disbelief that I was still running as fast as I was, still having the energy to smile at the crowds, occasionally throwing out my hand for some high fives when I came close enough to either side of the course. I definitely found myself towards the middle of the road more often than I have in the past, and I think I spent at least SOME time on all sides of the course, just letting myself go wherever the mood struck me. When I'm having a bad race I sometimes find spectators frustrating, like their happiness just doesn't match my energy or I feel like I don't deserve what they're giving. Not this year. I so appreciated the spectators in Wellesley this year; not even anything specific about them but just the general ambiance, the sea of people, so bright, so many colors. It was SO bright - I only started racing in sunglasses a couple of years ago (I think triathlon was a factor haha) and I absolutely love it...I swear that not having to squint into the sun saves me energy, and I just feel like I can be hidden in my own little pain box haha. 

I could definitely start to feel the fatigue creeping in, and could feel my mind trying to turn down the dark road of all the bad things that possibly could happen, but I managed to shut those thoughts down and replaced them with "it's just a long run! You're fine!" I shifted my attention to keeping the effort steady, keeping my shoulders relaxed, just letting myself roll down the road. I took another salted watermelon Gu just after the half and had definitely started to recognize that I was going to have to put some thought and effort to maintaining my hydration and electrolytes for the remainder of the race. I think it was somewhere in here that I saw some kids handing out cold sponges, and while I never got to the point of dumping a cup of water over my head in this race a cold sponge sounded AMAZING. I made a beeline across the course to them, just barely managing to grab one without slowing down. Again, let's recall that it was maybe 55 degrees, and we can laugh about what a heat intolerant runner I am. But squeezing the sponge over my head felt just amazing, a nice little shock to the senses.  No regrets! I was still rolling through the wave 2 crowds, still feeling strong despite the fatigue.

I felt like I was sort of biding my time to get to the big Wellesley downhill, after which I knew the real work was going to begin. Right at the start of the hill, I found myself passing Adrienne Haslet who was running with Shalane Flanagan. Naturally, I elected to just SCREAM something that I felt was motivational in the moment but probably had them both thinking "who is this crazy woman" as I passed by and went flying down the hill. And when I say flying, I mean flying, because I held nothing back on the downhill this year. I let it all go, continuing to pass wave 2 victims who had gone out too fast. Now, as I write this a month later with the knowledge I have now, I can tell you that this downhill is probably the moment when I really screwed up my hip, because in this moment I can tell you that it's a month after this marathon and I STILL cannot run. But at the time? I felt some twinges on the downhill, sure, but I ignored them. That was a problem for some later version of me to deal with - right now I just wanted to fly. 

The uphill over the highway is always a point where it feels like my soul leaves my body when I'm having a bad race and is more just an annoyance when I'm having a good one. This year, it was definitely more annoyance than devastation - honestly, the place where I felt my training paid off the most was on the hills, because I just felt so strong and capable on them, for lack of a better word. I knew that they would slow me down, but I would get up and over and move on with the race, and everything would be just fine. This calm little bubble that I managed to keep myself in for the duration was a fascinating place to be, mentally, and not something I've experienced much in my past races: just such utter certainty that I could do this, I would do this, and everything would be fine.

It was around this point where I became aware of the fact that the same amount of effort, which still felt absolutely appropriate, was not producing the same output in terms of pace. After the downhill my splits had gone from 7:15-20 to 7:30s. But again, my mental calm took over. Your effort is perfect, I reassured myself, and anyway, you expected to slow down in the hills, right? Even effort, that's the key! 7:30s are the new 7:15s! It's all good. I ran through the Maurten station, thinking about how I'd tried to take a Maurten gel on a long run and practically reflex puked it back up because in my opinion it has the consistency and flavor of snot dripping down your throat. That reminded me that I should take another one of the Gus that I actually did want to eat, which was the new salted lime flavor that I thought was absolutely delicious. I continued bopping along, sort of vaguely aware of my pace, and somehow completely lost control of my ability to do math and decided that I was pretty sure I was going to run around a 3:20. And here's the great part: I was EXCITED by that prospect. And maybe that's another one of the great things about Boston: I've had so many just...really, REALLY bad Bostons, like the absolute worst case scenario, that running even vaguely well sounded like a total victory. Because right now, the important thing was that I was running, I was feeling strong and happy, and I was enjoying it. I didn't care one bit what my finish time was going to be - I just wanted to keep feeling the way that I was feeling in this moment. As I rounded the corner at the firehouse, I had the most crystal clear thought: If the 3:10 I ran in 2018 is the best marathon I ever run, I'm OK with that.

Now, sure, not exactly an "eye of the tiger" thought to be having when you are literally in the middle of a race! But it was really just like right there at that firehouse turn heading into the hills, for the first time in my running career, I felt at peace with the fact that I was just doing this because I love it, and if more PRs are out there that's great, but if not I'd be content to just have more days where I feel just like this. I felt completely free from the weight of any expectations - whatever I was doing, I knew it was enough. I know this doesn't sound like a great thing to think - like, why are you racing if you don't care how fast you run? But I think I am someone who defines myself so much by my achievements, working hard and getting the results I want, and always striving to be more (enneagram 3 in case anyone was wondering haha), there was so much magic in actually just being able to accept exactly where I was and what I was doing in this particular moment. I was running with joy, I was doing it for me. I had almost had this opportunity taken away and somehow my body was allowing me to do this thing, to experience this joy, to give it the best that I had. And that was the important thing. 

Lol..apparently just lost in my own thoughts at the firehouse and not QUITE as happy as this guy

These were the thoughts in my mind as I headed up the first of the three Newton hills, "ass panther hill" as I always refer to it. It's a bear of a hill and was no less bearish today, but again, somehow despite the fact that I was absolutely starting to get tired and hill climbing was absolutely becoming something that my legs were no longer interested it, I was able to just put my head down and remind myself that I had the strength to do this, and on the other side of the hill was a downhill. I never had to walk in the race, never really had much of an urge to (I think it may have helped knowing in the back of my mind that if I had to walk, given my hip situation I probably wasn't going to be able to start running again lol). I knew that the hill was slowing me down, but I also knew that that was a very normal thing for a hill to do, and that it wasn't going to break me. I just kept forging ahead. 

I had been scanning the crowds around here as I had a couple of friends who I knew had planned on being in the Newton hills. I never actually saw any of them, but I did have a really funny moment where I locked eyes with a random girl in a BC sweatshirt. "AUDREY?!!" she said. "OMG HIIIIII!" I squealed back to her, a girl I danced with many years ago and haven't seen since probably 2013. It was just a really random and amusing moment and seeing a face that I knew in the crowd was just so delightful! 

We have now reached the part of the race report that I am writing literally MONTHS later, so most things are kind of a blur. I knew I had slowed down but I didn't feel like I was slowing down any more as I ran through the hills, and I was still gobbling up wave two bibs like it was my job. I always enjoy the slightly downhill stretch that comes between ass panther and the last two big hills, and this time was no exception - I felt like I could just lock in and groove, getting ready for the last two big hills, and picked the pace back up into the high 7:20s. Some great songs came on my playlist in this stretch including "Purple Hat" which was basically the theme song of our training group this year and also felt perfect at the time because its such a fun song, and I was running those Newton hills like the giant block party they were. 

Again, while I was never truly uncomfortable from a heat perspective I was definitely warmer than I'd prefer (what I'd prefer is being cold haha). The sun was definitely beating in a legit way, so when I saw a woman on the left side of the course offering up freeze pops, I think somewhere on the second big hill, there was only one thing to do. I made a beeline for her, making direct eye contact so as not to have to stop. "Grape or pineapple?" she asked, offering both up. "OOH, PINEAPPLE!!!" I shouted, grabbing it as I ran by, and let me tell you that pineapple freeze pop tasted so fucking good. Like I guess what I really wanted in the moment was straight up cold sugar, no electrolytes, no fancy amino acid, just...pineapple flavored frozen sugar water. So good.

The hills were slowing me down, no doubt, but again, never in a way that felt insurmountable. It was different than the years when I've had just completely magic days at Boston where the hills never really felt hard, but it also wasn't like any of the meltdowns I've had in the past. Hard, but doable. Isn't that really what a marathon should be? And as I headed onto Heartbreak, I continued to have this feeling that despite the fact that this was most definitely not easy, it was still fun. It was still wonderful. I think I appreciated the crowds going up Heartbreak in a way I never have before - again, in the past I've either been SO zoned in as to barely notice or dying so badly as to not care. But today, as I ran up the hill, I noticed everything - the cowbells, the cheers, the massive Pioneer Run Crew group blasting music and absolutely losing their minds cheering, the runners surrounding me, the press of hands offering high fives, everything. It was my only mile of the day that clocked in over 8 minute pace, and sure, maybe that's not the most impressive mile I've ever run in a marathon...but I would argue that I just took a little extra time to fight the fatigue back and for once appreciate and enjoy this epic climb.

Right at the top of Heartbreak someone had the most AMAZING Wordle sign (ADIEU/HEART/BREAK/HILLS/SMILE which actually WORKS with the Wordle rules!) and I was so impressed and amazed and delighted that I SHRIEKED at the woman holding it "BEST SIGN EVER!" I had topped out now; I was all but home free. I absolutely knew that I was going to have to fight for the last few miles, but I felt the same way that I had all race: I knew that I was up for the fight.

Miles 22-Finish: 7:40, 7:39, 7:33, 7:37, 7:48, 6:51 pace for last 0.2

BC was a raucous blur, as always, highlighted by a guy who was literally shotgunning a beer in the middle of the race to the roar of the drunken college crowd. Again, I could feel some grumblings from my bad hip as I rolled the downhill, but I continued to tell myself that those grumblings needed to go into the "things to deal with later" box. We were too close now, only 5 miles standing in the way of finishing this thing against all odds. I spent the entire mile from BC to the reservoir thinking about how shitty I had felt so many times in this stretch - it was kind of comical having my brain conjure up all of these mental images of me shoveling part of a nuun tablet into my mouth, walking because I felt like vomiting, desperately careening towards a water table like a woman lost in the desert, while in this actual moment I still felt exactly like I had the whole time: strong and capable. It was really just like, oh, how lovely it is to be running this stretch and feeling GOOD!

As I ran the downhill stretch at Cleveland Circle, I could definitely feel my body beginning to revolt against the events of the day. My calves in particular were both making threatening "we want to seize up" sensations (I think maybe I need to do some more calf strengthening in my next marathon cycle? Because they seem to have been my weak link late in the race). I tried to avoid any sudden plantarflexion, keeping my stride as smooth and steady as I could. This long stretch on Beacon Street is so straight and because it's like 3.5 miles long kind of feels like it goes on forever. However, on the flip side, it's so long and straight that I feel like no matter where I'm at I can always find a way to lock into whatever pace is the pace of the moment and just dial it in and go. And that's exactly what I did - right back to mid 7:30s, cruising along, keeping the calves in check. With 3 miles to go I randomly decided that I wanted my extra Gu that I'd brought - I can't remember if I was most interested in the glucose, the electrolytes, or the caffeine, but regardless I was definitely reaching that point in the race where I was grasping for anything that would keep me moving through the last 5K. The Gu was a cold brew coffee flavor, which was delicious, but also had an oddly thicker consistency than any of the other Gu's I've tried, and I found myself laughing out loud as I attempted to kind of chew it. I felt like a cow with cud or something...but hey, it was still better than Maurten. 

Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward - the only refrain you can really ever have in the last 5K of a marathon. The die is cast at this point; barring some massive catastrophe (which to be fair CAN happen), you essentially know where you stand, and all you can do is keep holding on. I kept holding on. I threw some more high fives out into the crowd, I jammed to my music (Gas Pedal and Don't Look Down both came on in this stretch, which were solid choices - Gas Pedal in particular is a perfect beat for just putting your head down and rolling). I started to realized that the race was almost over, and as it always feels in my very best races, got a little sad that that was the case. Because despite the fatigue, despite my calves threatening to cramp, despite everything about the fact that mile 24 of a marathon feels like shit no matter who you are and how fit you are, I was still filled with so much joy, so much happiness, so much gratitude. It was everything I cherish about running; the whole reason I do this sport: to do this hard thing, to do it well, but to love it too.

Circa mile 24: This is what it's all about

The Citgo sign came into view, and with it the knowledge of that one last hill over the overpass. I kind of laughed at this point because "Taking Care of Business" had now come on my playlist - a great song for the early miles of the race; not exactly what I was looking for for the last push to the finish line - but in a way, it was perfect. Because indeed, I was taking care of business. And just like every other hill on the course, when it came to the business of that last evil uphill, I just took it in stride, put my head down, and let the strength that I knew I had, that I'd built over these past several months, carry me through. Up and over the crest of the hill and down into Kenmore, and for the first time in miles I allowed myself a glance at my net time on my watch, finally let myself do some light mental math. Was I going to run...closer to 3:15 than 3:20? Was this a dream? And then suddenly, to make things even more perfect, the next song up on my playlist came on. The song is called "Freaks (Intro Mix)" and is a techno song that I once joked with Andrew makes me feel like I could run through a brick wall. When I ran my first race back after 2020, I had set up my playlist for it to be the last song, but then had accidentally ended up putting my playlist on shuffle. But here I was, the last mile of the most joyful Boston, and that song was here to help me power through. The last mile of Boston...I tell you, it doesn't matter whether I've had an amazing race, a terrible race, or something in between - the last mile of Boston is ALWAYS a struggle. That stupid underpass makes me want to die each and every time and this year was no exception, my calves increasing their threats of cramping, every muscle in my legs screaming at me that everything would be fine if I could just walk for just a second, pretty, pretty please. And from my mind and my heart I answered them with a resounding: NO. Not yet. Not with a thousand meters to go.

Pain cave, this way

AND YET...I'm smiling. Because I'm home. 

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston, I've done it time and time again, and it never gets less special. Never. And today, on a day when I had truly had to let go of every expectation and hope I'd had through 5 months of training and just hope for the best, on a day where joy and love and running happy had been what managed to carry me through, on a day when we were FINALLY making this turn on Patriot's Day for the first time in 3 years, it was something even more. I'm home. Boston, this race, this course, this day, will always and forever be like coming home. I turned left, willing my legs on. Closer, closer, closer. The finish line arch always seems miles away, that last half mile or so on Boylston stretching on into eternity. Closer, closer. Hold on, hold on, hold on. As I got closer, I could finally make out the finish line clock, with a number on it so much lower than anything I'd ever hoped for when I woke up this morning. I have just passed the 26 mile mark, and the clock has just turned to 3:13. And suddenly I think - the 14 in my number, 14, my lucky number, my favorite number - I have the chance to run a 3:14. And I want that so much, want to wrap this perfect day up in an even more perfect bow, that I somehow find some last reserve of strength in my legs, some product of the months of speed workouts and loops on loops around Harvard Stadium and finding ways to get workouts in when there's still no indoor track to be found and forcing myself not to give up, to hang onto the backs of my faster teammates. And with the opening bars of "Come Back Home" playing in my ears, I summon the best kick I have ever found in a marathon, an absolute give-it-all-I-have, tunnel vision, legs churning all out kick. And when I cross the finish line, 3:14 still glowing on the clock, I burst into tears of complete and utter joy.

I genuinely couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe that my clearly injured body had allowed me to run the race I just had, couldn't believe the joy that I'd felt all along the way, couldn't believe the beauty of a 3:14. It was just so completely perfect in a way that surpasses a personal best. It's hard to even articulate the feeling other than to describe it as pure joy. 

And it's funny, I'm almost glad I'm writing this now, knowing what I now know (that as soon as I sat down to put on pants after the race and then stood up again my hip seized up in so much pain that I could barely walk, that I wouldn't be able to walk normally for a month+ and wouldn't be able to run for 2 months, that I would watch every bit of fitness I'd gained over the past year slip through my fingertips and into the abyss of injury). Because the past 2 months have made me ask the question so many times: was it worth it? And yeah, it's probably easier to say this now when I finally am moving towards a full recovery, can run again, am feeling like myself again. But taking myself back to this moment, this day, and revisiting that complete joy, something I've never felt in any of my previous 15 cracks at the distance, makes me feel like the only way I can answer that question is with a resounding "yes". It was worth it. I'd trade it all just to come back home.

Boston Marathon 2022
6294/24822 OA, 832/10564 F, 652/4717 F18-39