You’re going to Boston. This is the day your going to BQ. Enjoy it and take it in.
This is what I told myself over and over during the 26.2 miles of the Baystate Marathon. I’ve talked about it on the blog before, maybe even in my first post, but I’m not a natural athlete. Growing up I didn’t play sports, I don’t come from a family of athletes, I sat the bench during my freshman year of high school soccer and didn’t make the cheerleading team again after my freshman year, and hated the mile test we had to take each year in high school. Each time I would finish with my lungs burning, out of breath, and barely finishing within the 15 minutes required to pass. When I started running 7 years ago, I couldn’t make it a mile without stopping. Now, at 36 years old with two kids, I’ve earned my way into the Boston Marathon!
I LOVE reading other people’s race recaps – how they fueled, what mental techniques they used, what the course was like, etc. I always find these helpful so, for other people who like them too, here it goes!
I slept really well the night before and woke on my own about 4:30. My alarm was set for 5:00, but I decided to get up at 4:45 and get going. My outfit was laid out the night before – an old Lululemon skirt that has amazing side pockets in the shorts underneath, a lightweight Gap breathe tank, the Lululemon Run Stuff Your Bra, and an old pair of sweatpants and zip up hoodie as throw away clothes. Weather was picture perfect. About 40-45 degrees at the start, with a high of 70 for the day – though I don’t think it was above 60-65 when I finished, sunny, and a slight breeze.
We arrived 90 minutes before the start of the race and parked in the garage directly next to the finish line. Race day packet pick-up was in the Tsongas Arena which meant we had a warm place to wait and real bathrooms to use before the race! This may have been the strangest part of the race – the mens room had a huge line all morning long while the women’s room had almost no line the whole morning! My husband had come with me and we hung out, I did my MYRTLS, and like before my half-marathon, I visualized myself crossing the finish line in 3:34:33.
About 15 minutes before the race start I headed to the corrals. I saw the 3:35 pacers and stopped to ask them their race strategy. It was the first time I felt like I could actually do this. I decided against running with a pace group and headed further back in the corrals. I chatted with a few other people in the corral, discussing our goals, and wishing each other luck.
Immediately on taking off I felt good. My plan was to use the first mile to warm up, no jockeying for position, no worries about pace. The ladies I’d been chatting with at the start commented that it felt like we were running 9:00 miles and I looked down to see that I was already running just over an 8:00 mile. It felt effortless and I forced myself to hold back, telling myself to not go any faster than 8:07. This was the best I’d ever felt at the start of a race. At mile 2 I saw a buddy from my local running group who’d come to cheer on the nearly dozen of us running the half and full. A mile later I saw my husband and after I passed him I popped in one earbud and thought how I just had to get to mile 7 from there. From mile 5-6 I took a few Honey Stinger chomps and started telling myself I was going to Boston. I was going to BQ. Keep holding back and stay steady. I tried to take in the scenery and thank the volunteers and spectators out along the course. I had been staying steady about 15-20 seconds behind the 3:35 pace group, which had about 30 people in it, and water stops were a major bottleneck. They were stationed every 2ish miles which was great, but around mile 7 I had to turn and go back for water because the volunteers couldn’t keep up with the amount of people.
Splits: 1) 8:04 2) 8:10 3) 8:05 4) 8:08 5) 8:07 6) 8:12 7) 8:05
Miles: 8 – 17
Just before the 8 mile mark we crossed over the above bridge for the first of two times during the race. It was so beautiful and I tried my best to take it in without tripping. After we crossed over I was running out of water in my small handheld bottle and started thinking about when to fuel next. My husband had another water he was going to hand me at mile 12, but I wanted to take a GU around mile 10. Shortly before the 10 mile mark was another water station and I slowed down a bit as we approached – hoping that the 3:35 group would be far enough past that it would be easier to get water which I was desperate for at this point. The water stop was a shit show and I ended up completely stopping to grab my own dixie cups of water off the ground. It was enough water to take with my GU, but I was super annoyed and it threw me off.
Race karma for being annoyed (I’m sorry!) bit me and I started to feel like it was getting hard to hold pace. This was the one part of the race where I started to have doubt and feel worried. Going in I prepped myself that I was going to need to “embrace the suck” to get my goal, but the idea of struggling for another 13+ miles scared me. I pushed that idea out of my head and thought back to my long tempo runs where I had to stop over and over for traffic lights and traffic, always getting back on pace and settling in.
The cluster of the water stop broke up the runners quite a bit and I found myself running with just another woman and a guy who turned out to be Dave McGillivray, the race director for the Boston Marathon and an amazingly accomplished runner! I wasn’t positive it was him until we saw my husband and he yelled “Go Dave!” (after he passed me a new bottle of water – ahhh!).
After we saw my husband we crossed another bridge to repeat about 10 miles of the loop we had just done. This bridge was filled with spectators and they went nuts for Dave! The half marathoners were running up the bridge from the opposite direction and cheered on the marathoners as we ran by. It was a really fun part of the race and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of spectators. My running group buddy was here too and snapped a picture as I went by.
We weren’t far from the 13.1 mark of the race at this point and I focused on getting to that point. I knew when I crossed that my splits would be sent to family and friends tracking me and that was a huge motivator to stay on pace. I reminded myself that another good mile would be around the corner, don’t push, but don’t back off, get to my check-in points – the half way mark? Made it, okay, 2 more miles and you’ll fuel again. Fueled? Okay, make it back to the bridge. The bridge, that beautiful bridge marking no more loops and a mostly straight shot to the finish? Okay, you did it. You’re going to Boston. You can do this.
Splits: (8) 8:03 (9) 8:11 (10) 8:05 (11) 8:08 (12) 8:12 (13) 8:14 (14) 8:10 (15) 8:02 (16) 8:11 (17) 8:12
Miles: 18 – 26.2
Lo and behold, by the time we crossed over the Tyngsboro bridge again and hit mile 18 I felt amazing. It honestly felt like I had just started running and I couldn’t believe how fresh my legs felt at mile 18. Suddenly the 3:35 pace group, which had pulled further away from me, were just ahead of me again and I was forcing myself to hold back on pace. I enjoyed feeling great and thought how I just had 2 miles to get to the 20 mile mark where I’d take another GU. I chatted with an older gentleman who was also shooting for 3:35 and we talked about what a lovely day it was. We also started passing a lot of people at this point. Soon I was at mile 20 and took my last GU of the day and was relieved at how good my stomach felt.
Around 21 I started to feel tired again and was really looking forward to seeing my husband at 22. This was when I noticed how tired I was. He asked if I wanted the Gatorade I’d had him bring and how I was feeling and I felt too tired to answer. We were now out of the shade for the rest of the race and it was starting to feel warm. At the bridge where my husband would cross to head to the finish line he told me I looked strong, that I was dead on 8:07 pace, and that I was crushing it. I remembered wondering to myself if he was lying and just trying to help me stay positive!
My watch was set to show overall average pace, total time, and lap pace and at this stage of the game I couldn’t do the mental math to figure out where I was expecting to finish. The 3:35 pacer was long gone, but my overall average pace was still showing 8:08 so I thought I was still within my A & B goal range, but I couldn’t figure it out. My breathing didn’t feel labored, I hadn’t hit the wall, I was just tired. I went up an overpass with a sharp embankment to cross the river one last time and head to the finish line. I was still passing a lot of people and don’t think anyone had passed me since mile 20. It felt like I’d sped up, but I wasn’t sure. At the bridge, which is a mile from the finish, I was met with a wall of wind. It felt like I was barely moving and I had the smallest flash of thought to just stop and walk.
Across the bridge, left towards the finish, just .2 miles away, quick right, oh look, there’s my husband, should I wave? (I didn’t), quick left, almost there, just count to 60, look at my watch, holy shit I can make it under 3:35!, quick left, just count to 30, you can make it in before the race clock hits 3:35, sprint, I’m freaking going to Boston! 3:34:26
Splits: (18) 8:08 (19) 8:08 (20) 8:09 (21) 8:10 (22) 8:11) (23) 8:15 (24) 8:07 (25) 7:53 (26) 7:59 (.2) 7:53
A BQ with 5 minutes & 34 seconds to spare, a PR of 13 minutes, AND I ran the last half only 22 seconds slower than the first half! It was far away the best I’ve ever felt in a race and I’m still floating on cloud 9. Thanks for all the well wishes and support!