Time has flown. It’s hard to believe it’s been four weeks since the Boston Marathon. Running the 2014 Boston Marathon was a privilege, a singular experience. Here’s a little (or a long) post about my Boston experience.
My friend, Susie, planted the seed to run the Boston marathon as we were hobbling around the Lincoln High School track two days after finishing the April 2013 Eugene Marathon. We were meeting for a post-marathon “shake-out” run (which felt pretty rough), and Susie said she wanted to run Boston 2014. She was all in. Just as you shouldn’t ask a woman right after she gives birth when she’s going to have another baby, I have a theory that you shouldn’t ask a runner right after they’ve finished a marathon when they’re going to run another marathon. I wasn’t ready to commit. However, over the next several months, so many of my lovely “Boston Strong” Team Athena friends committed to running Boston 2014, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to train and race with them.
Fast forward a year to April 21, 2014. I woke up race morning around 5:40am in my hotel room at 88 Exeter, just a short jaunt away from the Boston Marathon finish line and Copley Square. The beautiful sunrise outside was hinting of the gorgeous (and warm) day that lay ahead. After showering, dressing in my race shorts and tank, and layering on gobs of warm clothes, I grabbed my fanny pack and headed down to the lobby at 6:15am to meet my friends Susie and Derek. (Side note, a fanny pack is generally not my race accessory of choice. However, because of heightened security around the marathon this year, marathon participants were not allowed to gear check anything at the start or take bags on the buses. We were allowed to take a fanny pack for any supplies needed, so my fanny pack was stuffed full of sunglasses, inhalers, UCAN, a Thermacare wrap (for warmth), an almond butter sandwich, and a few other odds and ends. I ditched the fanny pack before the start of the race.) Susie, Derek, and I began walking towards Boston Common to catch the buses to Hopkinton (the town where the race starts), picking up several Team Athena friends along the way. I barely recognized some of them in their funny old-school throwaway clothes.
Upon arriving at Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton, we were required to flash our bib numbers at several points, another feature of the enhanced security. Our first priorities were navigating the long porta-potty lines and finding a spot on the grass where we could chill until we were called into our corrals for the start. Prior to race day, we were all concerned about freezing as we waited for the race to start, but as the start approached, we were peeling off layer after layer until we realized we were comfortable in just tanks and shorts. In Athlete’s Village, the national anthem was sung, the names of the 2013 bombing victims were read, and the athletes and volunteers observed a moment of silence in their behalf. A fleet of planes flew overhead, carrying some of the first responders after the bombs went off last year.
My friends Susie, Sarah, Stephanie and I lined up in our corral in Wave 1 and nicknamed our small group SASS (an acronym for our names). When the gun went off at 10am, we were so packed in our corral, all we could do was walk/shuffle towards the starting line for a few minutes. I can’t remember the last time I had to walk to the starting line of a race, but by the time we reached the start, we were up to a slow run and smiling and waving at the cameras above us.
Here are some of my memories from the 26.2 miles of the race:
- There were so many runners around me the entire time, like no other race I’ve run. Because you have to qualify to run Boston and you’re lined up according to your qualifying time, you’re surrounded by people of similar ability the entire race. The field is packed. At times, it took concentration to just stay on my feet.
- Trying to stay with Susie, Sarah, and Steph proved to be a challenge. After the first water stop, it took me a while to spot them and catch back up. We were constantly weaving around people, cutting gaps, and after about eight miles, I cut through a gap of two runners and SASS was gone. I didn’t see Susie again until she passed me around mile 20-something.
- Soon after the start, as we were all running downhill. I looked ahead and saw a colorful river of runners ahead of me. Runners everywhere.
- After the start, there is a section where the course passes through a quiet wooded area. All I could hear were thousands of footsteps softly striding off the pavement.
- Is this another downhill? And another? And another? I totally underestimated the amount of downhill I’d see in the race, thinking it wouldn’t be too bad after all my hilly trail runs in Portland and Camas. I became really worried about trashing my quads, probably too worried.
- I went into Boston thinking the actual race was going to be SO MUCH FUN. I imagined it being a huge party, running with 36,000 people in front of the anticipated 1,000,000 Boston-legendary spectators. However, at one point I clearly remember thinking, “I’m not having that much fun.” I didn’t feel that great. My mechanics felt off those first several miles, so I was super-focused on my form. I felt the best during miles 10-16, and then it went downhill again (figuratively this time). I still tried to take moments to smile at the crowd, observe, and take it all in.
- I was inspired as I passed two runners with prosthetic legs, two people running pushing wheelchairs, and one man running barefoot. I heard the crowd murmuring, “Barefoot, barefoot” which prompted me to look down and see his shoeless feet.
- One of my favorite moments was around mile 10-11 when we passed through a town blasting “YMCA” on the town speakers. The whole town and the runners ahead of me were doing the “YMCA” and singing along. It made me laugh. Running through that small town did feel like a party.
- I loved the crowd and how the runners and the crowd interacted. I heard runners thanking the volunteers who were handing out water and Gatorade, and I heard the volunteers and crowd thanking runners for coming back to run, for restoring what was lost last year. I loved seeing little kids giving out high-fives. I loved hearing the girls from Wellesley College screaming and offering kisses to passing runners. I loved seeing runners ahead of me pumping up the crowd. I loved hearing people cheering for me – “Go, Team Athena!”, “Go Portland!”, and “You’re beautiful!” Those words lifted me and carried me through the final miles of the race.
- The race was warm. It was really sunny, in the 60’s, no breeze. I felt really thirsty and ended up drinking almost every mile, much more than my original fuel plan. Navigating water stops and weaving through runners, I was just trying to stay on my feet and get in a few sips. My electrolytes started to feel off, and when I finished the race, my body was really salty.
- The last few miles of the race were really tough. I began telling myself, “Just run to 22, just run to mile 22.” “Run to 23, just run to mile 23.” I had to literally take the race one mile at a time. Thinking of running “Boston Strong” and of my husband who came to Boston at the last minute to support me are some of the thoughts that got me to the finish.
- Coming into the finish, I tried to take a moment to smile at the crowd and soak up the whole experience.
- At mile 26, literally only a couple hundred meters from the finish, I saw a runner’s legs just ahead of me begin to cramp and buckle. Without hesitation, a girl next to him reached out her hand to help him up, and another runner quickly came to help. So cool.
- After I crossed the finish line, a couple volunteers brightly asked me, “How was it?” All I could answer was, “It was really hard.” I wanted to cry and almost did, partly because of how tough it was and partly because of how personal the thoughts were that got me through. I wish I had shared something a little more inspirational, but at that point, I had trouble staying on my feet and a couple volunteers held my arms to steady me.
- I walked through the finisher’s area for what felt like forever until I met up with my friends and my husband. We hobbled back to our hotel rooms where I found I had a super bloody sock, salty skin, and some major salt cravings. I downed a banana, yogurt, lots of WOW cookies, over half a big bag of potato chips, some OJ, and some pineapple. After cleaning up and laying around for a little while, I felt well enough to hobble outside to watch other runners finish.
- I was so excited to see Team Hoyt finish their last Boston marathon together! Epic.
- I loved hearing a 20-something-year-old spectator just in front of me yell, “Hey everybody, that’s my Dad! Everybody cheer for Paul!” His Dad came over, hugged him, and gave all of his friends high-fives. I loved witnessing that moment. It made me want to run a marathon with my girls someday.
- I loved the opportunity to run the race, and also the opportunity to be a spectator, part of the crowd.
Catching up with my friends after the race, I was in awe and impressed with the strength and physical and mental toughness they demonstrated throughout their own races. With Susie, who wanted to drop out at mile 16 but knew she was going to break 3:00 anyway. She toughed through to run 2:58, setting a PR on a warm day on a tough course. With Brittney, who ran with pain from mile one from a calf strain and still finished the entire 26.2 miles. With Tyler, who had to make a lengthy stop at a medical tent but insisted on finishing the race, setting out from the medical tent with a space blanket wrapped around her shoulders and sippy cups of chicken broth and Gatorade. With Nicole, who nursed and treated a hamstring injury throughout training but persevered to make it to both the start and finishing lines and could tell the story of her Garmin totally malfunctioning in the race with humor and grace. With Stephanie, who fought nausea but raced tough to the finish; and with Sarah, who knew she wasn’t having her optimal race so took a few moments to wait for Steph so they could finish together. (We affectionately call them “the twins”.) With Mara, who set a PR and enjoyed every moment of race weekend. With Derek, who cross-trained (and ran a little) his way to the starting line but felt great and ran a stellar race, shattering his PR and finishing in 2:32.
I was so impressed with my friends Kim and Brittney who were near the bombings last year but chose to come back in 2014 to heal, to replace fearful, negative memories with positive ones. This story ran in the Boston Globe on April 22, 2014 and reminded me of their courage:
“Mark Blosser didn’t get to finish the Marathon last year. The Middleton man and one-time Penn State fullback had about 2 miles to go when the runners were halted. His wife, Shona, was between the two explosions near the finish line with their three daughters – an experience that gave the 3-year-old twins nightmares for months. This year, they didn’t tell the girls Daddy was running again. The kids stayed with a baby-sitter Monday. Shona cheered her husband along Commonwealth Avenue. She had reservations about coming back, thinking it might be traumatic, but decided it would be worse to give in to fear.”
I ran Boston without looking at my watch the entire race. Due to a rocky training cycle, I wanted to run by feel and see what my body could do that day rather than worrying about mile splits. My chip times showed I ran a consistent 6:44 pace until the last few miles when I began to struggle. I ended up averaging a 6:54 pace overall with a finishing time of 3:01. I didn’t have the personal race I had hoped for, but in the end, I don’t think Boston 2014 was about any one person’s race. It was about regaining what was lost in 2013. It was about Boston and the running community standing together with strength, unity, courage, and resilience. Having an American man, Meb Keflezighi, win the men’s race for the first time in 20 years was icing on the cake, tying up a beautiful race weekend in Boston.