Boston Marathon Recap 2011

This year I thought it would be better to get to Boston a little later, save some money, spend less time on my feet etc. At some point shortly after I signed up for the race in October I booked a flight for Saturday evening. Note to self, never again. Just spend the extra money, get there Friday night or Saturday morning so I can relax a bit. Getting in Saturday night just left me with no time to stop and breathe. I had all these grand plans to spend some time on the plane reading through my old race reports and preparing mentally for the task at hand. Instead I decided to spend the airplane ride writing notes to all my girlfriends in the race as I realized I wouldn’t have time to do that when I got into town. The plane wouldn’t land until 7:45ish meaning we weren’t going to get to our hotel until 9ish. Wanting to get up early and get the shakeout run in before our clubs photos at 9 AM, I knew we’d want to hit the hay early. I had fun that morning picking out stuff for little goody bags meant to pamper my girlfriends a bit and let them know how impressed I was with their hard work and how I wanted to see them do well in the race on Monday. I had stuff to make room signs but decided to wait until I was in Boston to make up some fun signs.

Sundays itinerary was a bit daunting but I knew hardly any of it would involve being on my feet so I wasn’t concerned. I even thought it would be nice to be a bit distracted. The plan was early morning shake out run, 9 am photo somewhere near the finish line, bib pick up, brunch in Cambridge, 1 pm elite technical meeting, 4:30 pm dinner, then to bed. We woke to rain and decided we would either postpone the shakeout run or hit the treadmills. I decided on postponing, I knew I would have some time between the elite meeting and dinner. Another note to self, just get out in the rain and get your shake out run done first thing. By the time we did our shake out run around 3 pm the city was nuts and we were in a rush to get back for dinner. My legs had been feeling a bit “funny” since Thursday, but no pain so I was ready to roll after the shake out, get some dinner and get to bed!

Since we had some extra time in the morning I made up door signs before heading to our group photo. Then it was off to get our bibs and head to brunch. Brunch was great, we had excellent food and fun times chatting over our prospective races.

But then it was off to the elite technical meeting. Traffic was nuts and I arrived a few minutes late spending a few more minutes running all over the Fairmont Copley trying to find the right room. Thankfully MY had saved me a seat. I snuck in as conspicuously as possible, we listened to the race director go over all the details about boarding the buses in the morning, following the proper path around the various medians on the course, and proper etiquette when getting passed by the lead vehicles. We also were surprised to find that MY actually qualified for using the races elite water bottle stops each 5km. So we grabbed a few water bottles and I let her know I could tape gels to them and deliver them in the morning since she would be driving to Hopkinton. I behaved and didn’t try to get any photos with any of the famous runner in the room. We were sitting in the same aisle as Kara Goucher and her husband, and in front of us sat Desiree Davilla and Kim Smith. We saw Alberto Salazar and of course many of the foreign runners and men who would be running as elites. We learned that there were actually three “tiers” of athletes in the elite start. John Hancock supported athletes, B.A.A. elites, and then those were divided into those that were permitted fluid stations and those who didn’t qualify for that. Race morning John Hancock athletes would have two elite buses and B.A.A. elites would have four that would take us straight to Hopkinton and to a little church right next to the start line. It was neat to learn all of this, but probably was not a necessity to attend. While I attended this meeting my family drove around the race course to determine their cheering plans and my roommates hit the expo.

Got back to the room and went to visit my friend SBF who had opted not to take the elite start the next morning. I found her chilling in her pjs in her room and was definitely jealous that I still had a short run to get in and dinner before finally being able to chill and go to bed! Good luck wishes were given then it was off for our shake out run. We tried to run backwards through the course a bit to show my friend BH what the finish would look like, but traffic was nuts so we ended up veering off onto the Charles for a bit. I was running a hair faster so I ended up just doing my own thing before heading back to the hotel to quickly shower and head to dinner.

My club had about 19 members running at Boston this year. Most of the year I am fine with the light ribbing that is normal amongst members, but last year I really let the pre race predictions get to me, so this year I wanted to avoid all of that and just focus on myself. I was happy that my family made the drive to Boston and it was really important for me to be surrounded by those that love me and wanted to see me succeed. Turns out I didn’t have to deal with any of the pre race predictions this year as the restaurant really didn’t have a good plan for our large party. It ended up all of the guys had a table to themselves and the girls and my family were together. While I was happy to avoid the ribbing it was a bit annoying that we couldn’t enjoy dinner as an entire group. Gladly the service was good and we had our food on the table and in our bellies quickly.

Exhausted we made our way back to the grocery store to get some last minute goodies for the morning (having already picked up the essential post race celebratory beverages the night before). The fresh air perked me up enough to put my race bag together and tape up MY’s water bottles and gu before passing out. Of course my brain wouldn’t shut off for an hour or two but I did manage to get in a decent night’s sleep.

As usual I woke up a bit before the alarm. It’s always hard to decide when to eat before Boston since you have to be on the bus 3-4 hours before the start. I decided to get coffee and oatmeal at 5:30 when starbucks opened and eat that with plans to eat a banana and peanut butter shortly before leaving the room around 6 am. I wished the girls luck as they headed off to the school busses. I was worried about BH as she seemed to be coming down with something and just didn’t seem happy to be running her first Boston (turns out I needn’t have worried, she ran the race perfectly and had fun doing it despite feeling ill and sore from crashing her bike earlier in the week). Nerves were starting to get the best of me as I was left alone so I decided to see what time SBF was heading over to the VIP buses. I still needed to drop off MY’s bottles so I didn’t want to wait too long. I wished SBF luck and my stomach seemed to settle as I headed over to the Fairmont Copley. I dropped the bottles off with no problem but only saw a few runners sitting around. I decided to strike up a conversation with one of them, and ended up riding the bus over with her. She was from Michigan and we just had a really relaxed ride over learning about each other’s training, previous races, etc.

The ride went quickly; we had motorcycle escorts that cleared traffic for our busses as we headed to Hopkinton. We arrived and were ushered along a small street into a church. The bottom floor was laid out with tons of yoga mats and elite athletes were spread out all over. As we were ushered upstairs we walked by Alberto Salazar. Peeked in a few rooms to see where we should camp out and saw Ryan Hall getting ready. We found a relatively empty room and plopped down. We were joined by a few ultra runners’ who I recognized and another fun runner from Canada before MY and her husband showed up to join the party. Was probably a little too relaxed chatting away pre race as before I knew it we were warming up on the small street behind the church circling around and around with the Kenyans, Blake Russell, Desiree Davilla and Ryan Hall. It was just so surreal. A few butt kickers and then it was back into the church to strip down, hit the bathroom one more time, and head to the start. We were told to just leave our bags in the rooms and they would be taken to the finish for us. I realized too late that I still hadn’t put sunscreen on anywhere but my face. Oops! I decided to go with the gold headband last minute for a little something that would stand out in the crowd.

We trooped to the start line and I was disappointed to see Joan Benoit Samuelsen just getting warmed up meaning she had opted to take the mass start. We got to the start line and I did a few last strides. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my friend MC cheer my name. It was a nice boost to see a familiar face in the massive crowds. Too late I realized I had neglected to do any of my normal pre race dynamic stretches, everything was just happening so quickly!

It was my intent to line up a bit back from the line but everyone seemed adverse to being up front and with so few of us I found myself lined up right behind Kim Smith, Blake Russell, and Desiree Davilla. Talk about star struck! I wished them all luck and was surprised to see they seemed to feel the same I did, excited for each girl on the line and ready for a great day. I looked for Kara Goucher but did not see her as she was tucked in the opposite corner. I did see past winners Catherine Nderba and Dire Tune. It was just so crazy. Before I knew it we were off and running. The crowds were so crazy I had no idea I had several other friends who had come to the start to cheer me on.

My plan was to go out a hair slow, but I was willing to push a little if it meant having a pack to work with. I didn’t look at the Garmin as it had acted funky during the warm up. I was in a small pack with several girls who had confirmed they also were looking to run 2:45. I was surprised to be joined by MY as she had indicated she had planned to run more conservatively as her training had not gone as planned. She commented that we weren’t used to seeing so many women run away from us. That should have been my queue to back it down a notch. Instead I stayed with the pack and was a bit dismayed as we crossed the first mile in 5:55. Not good. Time to settle into pace and focus. I knew we had a tail wind, and clearly the first three miles at Boston have a lot of downhill so I didn’t worry about the fast first mile. I probably should have clued in though when I noted that MA who is a downhill runner wasn’t ahead of us.

The next few miles also ticked off ahead of pace. Nothing insane, but not the planned slow start I had intended. The crowds were great as always and I was doing my best to relax my mind and settle in. The problem was that the pace just wasn’t falling in line. Somewhere after the 5k and before the 10k I fell a bit behind the pack I was with. I told myself it was ok, I just needed to settle in, don’t let them get any further ahead. For about a half mile I was distracted by a motorcycle with a cameraman who snapped photo after photo of me running along. Rock star treatment, but I certainly was not feeling like a rock star as I was now by myself and staring at the daunting task of running 20+ miles by myself.

The crowds were awesome. Just a consistent roar as I moved my way towards Boston. I never took the smile off my face as I did my best to run by feel, trying not to worry about the watch. I would high five kids every now and then and grin for the crowds. Unfortunately each mile was ticking off a bit too slow. 6:20-6:25 when I needed 6:18s. I knew I had a little time to play with from the fast start but it was making me nervous that I couldn’t get into the 6:18 zone. At the 10k I started to look for my family and took my first gel. Fingers crossed that I would get a boost from both and break out from my 6:25 funk. But as I neared mile 8 it was clear I had somehow missed my personal cheerleaders so I began to look forward to the Wellesley girls and my next gel at mile 12. I always seem to struggle with these miles at Boston. The hills here are small, but they seem to be just enough to throw me off my rhythm.

Starting to get a little worried at this point as clearly mile 8 is a little early in a marathon to be giving yourself a pep talk and I had been struggling to mentally relax since mile 4. I was definitely overwhelmed by how quickly my brain started to work against me when I lost my pack. It was crazy to watch as one by one by mile 8 our pack had become a line of girls strung out all running alone.

Around mile 8 I was caught by another runner and I forced myself to go with her. Convincing myself that if I pushed the pace with her I would break out of my funk and get back on track. That mile was on in 6:14, but I was just working too hard to do it. I lost her by mile 10 and the all too familiar feeling of pain and fatigue in my quads was starting. I was determined to enjoy this no matter the result so I plastered that smile to my face and starting grinding out each mile. Before Wellesley I caught another female and encouraged her to join me. She picked up the pace as the girls roared for us, but shortly after Wellesley she fell off and I was again alone. As I took my second gel my new Canadian friend caught me all smiles. She encouraged me but my legs were not responsive as I let her pull ahead near the half way point.

I hit the half almost a minute slower than I wanted but still close and I held hopes that like last year I would still have a day close to my Columbus time from last fall. I thought, you might not OTQ today, but you can still come close to a PR and run well even with the soreness. I told myself to just use the crowds to pull me along mile by mile. Smile and enjoy every minute as this was a special experience.

I started to look forward to seeing my sister around heartbreak. Like last year I stopped looking at the watch. I wasn’t upset and I didn’t want to get upset so I figured it was best to just run whatever pace the quads could handle and get to the finish! Unfortunately apparently despite the better fitness the pace my quads could handle was eerily similar to what I did last year on the back half of the course. I gritted my way through mile 14 and 15 again having to turn down an invitation to pull forward with a female who caught me and encouraging a female I caught and passed.

Somewhere around here I heard a bicycle trailing me. I was running on the right at this point, not doing a great job with tangents, just sort of following the curb. The bike informed me I was doing fine and to just hold my line as the mens lead vehicles were about to make their way by. Sure enough there went the trucks with their cameras and shortly after a small pack of Kenyans flew by me as I climbed one of the first Newtown Hills. Shortly after they were followed by a single runner, then Ryan Hall who I of course cheered for like a nut ball! Little did I know he had been leading the pack on and off all morning and was now surging again to get back into the pack. I couldn’t believe how quickly they had caught me. Had I been on goal pace I had thought they would catch me around mile 21. I thought man they are either flying or I am really stinking it up out here!

The whole morning I was basically at war with my senses. Before the race I had all these plans in place for when it got tough, all these tactics I have used time and time again in training, but they all just went out the window. It was almost like I was having an out of body experience. I knew this feeling of pain, I knew it wasn’t going to go away, but I kept deluding myself that the adrenaline from the crowds, or the next gel, or a good tune would help me get through it. I just kept smiling and telling myself this would pass quickly. It wasn’t going to be the result I wanted, but it wasn’t the end of the world. But I just kept coming back to the realization that this was really freaking hard and wow it is not getting any better!

I have never wanted to walk so bad in my life during a marathon. I just kept thinking you can’t walk, these crowds are cheering for you, they don’t want to see you walk. Time just seemed to be in slow motion. The crowds all seemed to blend into one. All the cheers for F47, or my gold headband, or princess were appreciated and I conveyed that with a smile or a wave, but my body just didn’t delight in the crowds like I hoped it would. I actually was happy to hit the hills, they were slow, but at least they weren’t as painful. But it just wasn’t what I trained for. I trained to hammer up these hills feeling strong. Instead I was on a survival march to the finish.

At mile 20 I was happy to see my friend JV running backwards through the course. He encouraged me to really hammer this last 10k. I don’t even know if I said anything to him but I wanted to convey that I was ok, that I wasn’t having the day I desired, but that I was ok with it, and I was just happy to be healthy and participating in this amazing event no matter the result. I was so happy that I wasn’t devastated by the way the day was coming together for me. It was a bit of a shock that I was really ok with my body not performing the way I would like, and even with how mentally I was letting myself down. Clearly I had had quite a few miles to come to terms with the fact that my mind and body were just not ready this day. I am sure I didn’t express this to him in those few seconds but I hoped that my face and smile told him that I really was ok.

At that point I started to look for my sister. I never did find her although apparently she had the crowd yelling my name and screaming I love you. I really was disappointed to miss her. I swear I would have made her run with me at that point, it was just getting really tough to keep moving forward on my own. Despite getting caught occasionally by men from the mass start I was never near another runner for more than a few seconds. It was just a long time to be alone in your own head pep talking yourself on to the finish. Around mile 21 I was sad to see that my new friend from Michigan was having stomach problems. As I passed and encouraged her we were caught by MA and we all slowed to a walk for a few seconds to encourage each other on to the finish. I can’t lie, it felt so good to just stop for a second. I knew I had to get moving or I was not going to be able to start running again. MA pulled ahead of us and for the next mile or so AH and I struggled together. The crowds loved seeing a pair of us, and around mile 22 we were greeted by one of my favorite get me going tunes “Gotta get through this” but my legs were just trashed. AH had to fall back, her stomach just wouldn’t settle. I started looking at the watch to figure out the damage. Poor math skills told me I might still be able to break 3 hours if I was running under 8 minute pace. Forgot about that last .2 mile stretch :)

The last few miles I just struggled to get to the finish. My quads and hamstrings were completely shot and I just kept looking at the crowds hoping for a break in them so I could walk and spend a few seconds without pain. Alas, those Boston cheerleaders lined the course and screamed for me to keep going. The stream of male runners now was a bit more frequent but nothing was getting me moving. Around mile 24 a baritone sax played a jazz tune I like and I sang along clearly showing my energy levels were just fine. Shortly after the Citgo sign I finally saw my parents smiling and cheering me onto the finish. I gave them my now perfected “Not my Day” smile and a wave.

I was once again frightened for my legs on the last dip under the bridge on Commonwealth before turning onto Hereford. Again I hoped for a break in the crowds so I could walk or slow, but again there were screams of “We love your headband” and I smiled and kept moving. As I made my way up Hereford smiling to the crowd so happy this was almost over I was passed by a small Asian man who I immediately recognized as my fellow club member KL. The joke when I found out I was accepted into the elite start was that I should wear a shirt suggesting Ryan Hall give me an encouraging pat as he passed me late in the race, and then I was told to make sure I didn’t let KL catch me and slap me on the ass. Well thankfully KL is a gentleman and he said nothing as he passed, but I screamed like a crazy woman for him, happy he was running so well for his Birthday.

The last quarter mile you get over your pain for those few minutes and just soak up the finish. I smiled and waved at the crowds and just was so happy to be almost done. Since the clocks were mass wave time I had no idea of my time as I crossed the finish line and heard my name. When I finished I was immediately greeted by a volunteer who wanted to usher me to the VIP tent. But I could see KL ahead of me and wanted to congratulate him. I hobbled and screamed his name repeatedly until he heard me. I gave him a big hug. He informed me he thought he had missed he PR by a few seconds and started to tell me his splits before I told him I needed to peel away and get some dry clothes. From about the 10k on I had been dumping water on my head and now that I wasn’t moving I was getting cold quick. Someone with a videocamera asked me for a quick interview, which just seemed so bizarre to me after running so far from my goal, but I smiled and answered her questions before getting my medal and being ushered to the VIP tent to get my bag. The volunteers were awesome and had my bag to me within seconds of me making it into the tent.

I quickly found all the girls I had met that morning and while most of us came short of our goals that day I was happy to hear that Caitlin Smith had qualified for the trials! And MY had finished in 2:49 after being unsure if she would even be able to finish. The tent was a bit crowded and apparently some of the men felt it was ok to just let it all hang out as they neglected to find a changing room so I said my goodbyes and got out of there to find my parents and get into my dry clothes. I had intended to get back out and watch friends finish, but as usual I wasn’t walking too well and the logistics of getting from where I was to the course seemed awfully daunting. So I called my parents and told them to meet me at the hotel.

As I made my way to the hotel I called my husband and we chatted about the race. He was surprised that I wasn’t upset, fearing I would be upset not only about coming so far from the OTQ but about missing sub 3 here yet again. But I really think it almost would have been worse to come close to the goal but still miss it. The good thing about having such a rough time here last year was that it was not a shock this year when things started to seem eerily familiar. It turns out the past three years here I have run almost exactly the same time on the back half of the course. End results being 3:16, 3:06, and 3:00. Was it what I wanted, no. But it certainly wasn’t the end of the world. Did it sting a little to know I placed behind runners that I know I am capable of running with, sure. But the goal wasn’t to come to Boston and run a safe conservative feel good race. The goal was to OTQ and have a great experience in the elite start. So only one of those goals was achieved. Unfortunately when you set your goals high you are bound to fail spectacularly every now and then. I am glad that I have figured out how to take that failure in stride.

End result was 3:00:46, my second fastest marathon ever, my fastest Boston. It was perhaps one of my stupidest run races, 14 minutes slower on the back half is just ugly. I learned a ton of lessons from this experience, and I learned a lot about myself. This course is certainly not a slow one, clearly the weather and conditions were perfect for doing something amazing on Monday. The fastest marathon ever was run that morning, Ryan Hall ran the fastest marathon by an American ever. Countless elites and friends ran personal bests. No excuses, I just didn’t live up to expectations on Monday, and that’s ok.

I think the farther away from the race the more disappointed I am in myself. Which is a first, usually I feel better about my efforts after things settle down. But this time I can’t lie, I just didn’t run a smart race. I ran like I was in a 10km race, not a marathon. Lesson learned, don’t go out so fast that you won’t recover and be able to hold the pace. How many workouts did I have this winter where I learned this yet come race day I just threw that out the window? That said I am disappointed that despite all the hard work my body just doesn’t seem capable of running an aggressive marathon, yes I went out too fast, but it wasn’t like I did something insane, all the girls I started with have run similar times as me in short and long races, I just wasn’t able to handle the pace on that course, and they were. I realize my strength lies in running a steady effort race, but I can’t help wishing my body was capable of more, that my mind was able to push through better, that I could tap into some deeper well allowing me to run well even if it isn’t the exact way I would prefer to run the race.

I definitely need to work on my mental tenacity here and I need to play to my strengths next attempt. No more hilly courses when the goal is to run a time. A more low key atmosphere where I can focus on running relaxed and steady will be key. But despite how I felt directly after the race I know I am not done with Boston yet. I will figure out how to run my best race here one of these years!

All that to say this Boston is a race I will never forget. It was an amazing experience. I wouldn’t take anything back other than the fast start and my shoe choice (I’m down one toenail, with another looking like it is on the way out). Was the elite start at Boston the best way for me to go about achieving the OTQ, clearly not. A look at the results showed that all but two females from the elite start who were behind me dropped from the race. Not a single female from the elite start ran between 2:45 and 2:46. But as one of the women I started with said, the morning before the race is one of my favorite running memories. For each story of victory at Boston there is a story of loss. And I am so happy for all those that were able to line it up on the day. And I look forward to doing the same for myself soon!


The Salty One said...

Wow! What an amazing experience. It might not have been the time you wanted, but this experience has made you a much more seasoned, mature and balanced runner. Now you can have no doubts that you belong up there behind Desi and Kara and Kim and Catherine and Dire! As G says, they put their shorts on in the morning just like you!

Congrats on another great Boston!!!

Steph said...

What a great race report! I really enjoyed reading this...from hearing about what an elite start is like to all of the ups and downs during the race. You did so great!! Congratulations!!! Thanks for all of the inspiration :)

Thomas said...

Boston is quite possibly the most difficult marathon there is to get it right, and I'm saying that fully aware of the winning times this year.

I honestly think you have an OTQ in you - all it requires is a perfect day on a good course. I wish you all the best!

Quinto Sol said...

You did not race the race you had trained for... BUT I think you cannot second-guess yourself; you went for it and it just wasn't in the cards.

You have come a long way and even when you "imploded" you managed a "nice" course PR.

Keep up the good training and you will get your OTQ.

allanjel said...

You better wipe that "not my day smile off your face!!" And put the "I'm a future OTQ'er smile on it." I told you, you should have had a tiara!!!

You can't win big, if you don't GO BIG!!!

You are a mentally tough meatball every time you run a race!!!

Irene said...

It's so weird how everything seems to hinge on one day, one race, but the truth is that it doesn't. I enjoyed reading your recap and about the lessons you've learned. You certainly have "it" in you to OTQ. Congratulations on another Boston Marathon!

Loved the race picture!

caitchris said...

great recap. you can get sub-3:00 at boston. put in the work, and you will reap the benefits.