“We’re all crazy!”
That was both my first thought at the starting line as well as my last thought at the finish. Most people think you have to be pretty insane to run 26.2 miles in the first place, but if you survived this year's Boston Marathon you've got an extra layer of crazy.
Unless you live under a rock, you probably are well aware of the brutally hot weather that was forecasted for Marathon Monday. At first I thought the Weather channel was playing a cruel April Fools joke on us runners- temperatures in the 80s? Didn't I wear fleece and gloves the last time I did this race? Yes, North Carolina had a mild winter- but I hadn’t even done a training run in shorts yet.
As race day approached, the BAA started sending weather updates encouraging participants to adjust their expectations (this will not be a race! slow your pace by several minutes! speed can kill!) or defer their entry until next year. Although I know folks who had very relevant reasons to table this years race and look to 2013, not starting wasn't an option for me. When I register and train for a race, I make the commitment to follow through regardless of conditions. I've run in snow, wind, and rain...this marathon would simply be an opportunity to push myself even farther out of my comfort zone.
In an effort to make the weekend as enjoyable as possible, I stayed with friends from college, Heather and Jack. Not only was this super convenient (You're a whopping quarter mile from the T, huh?!), Heather and I got lots of QT while supporting Jack achieve a personal record during the BAA 5K on Saturday. Another bonus? We made the Expo a group event; this was something I missed out on in 2009 so it was nice to snap pictures and cross paths with running friends.
On race morning, I purposely took a later bus to Hopkinton since I knew we would just be waiting around in the hot sun at Athletes Village anyway. Previous experience also taught me to get in line early for a Hopkinton sign photo op, bring a pool raft to lay on, and leave headphones at home. With all of the "where did you qualify?" and "where are you from?" conversations, Athlete's Village is the best place to make new running friends and meet up with old ones. You can listen to your ipod tomorrow!
I managed to find a great shady spot for my pool raft and conversations, but porta potty lines were ridiculous and the starting line was nearly a mile walk- great for steps in my company's pedometer challenge, bad for 74 degree sun exposure. The first few miles of the race are gently rolling with quite a bit of downhill. With the understanding that the temperatures would climb into the high 80s, my plan was to "bank" as much time as I could during the first 10K- a strategy one NEVER wants to use in a marathon, but this day was an exception for pretty much everything. I ran the first 5K in 25 minutes. By the time we hit Natick, thermometers read 80 degrees. I put ice cubes in my hat to keep my head cool and made a conscious effort to slow down, which wasn't hard since I was hitting every water stop. I crossed the 10K at 53:45.
In past marathons, I’ve had a few sips of water every 4-5 miles. I generally try to stay away from the chemical cocktails in sports drinks and gel-style supplements, opting to keep my carbohydrate and salt stores up with whole foods instead. On Monday, I had 4 packets of Gu and stopped at every single water station, taking both water AND Gatorade. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed that much fluid in a race and by the time we hit the half marathon mark, I had already stopped to pee three times!
The crowd seemed to be extra committed to making sure we enjoyed race day. People were screaming our names and shouting "You are amazing!" Little kids held out hands for high fives and families lined the streets with hoses, extra water, coolers of ice, and sponges soaked in cold water. Given the heat, I’m not sure we would have made it without them. I saw my personal course support, Heather and Jack, just before mile 9 and it gave me a real mental lift!
I could hear the screaming girls at Wellesley college a mile before we got there. This is one of my favorite parts of the course, where the girls line up, each holding signs that say "Kiss me, I'm ____" (Drunk, Naturally Blonde, a Vegetarian, etc). Legend has it, a kiss from one of these girls means good luck. When I spotted the "Kiss me, I'm from North Carolina", I marched right up and kissed her on the cheek. She promptly returned the kiss as her friends went ballistic! This is something I'd have never done if I were worried about time. 13.1 miles- 1:58:09.
By mile 20, my running skirt and shoes were heavy, soaked with water from running through sprinklers and dumping water on my head. I played some mind games with myself (focusing on things in the distance) but never tuned out by putting headphones in. Sometimes I will use music to dissociate, but it was important to stay in touch with how my body was feeling. I was still stopping for the bathroom pretty frequently, which meant I was faring better than some of the people around me who were collapsing from cramps, vomiting, or being loaded onto gurneys (not exaggerating). I accepted the fact that I needed to slow down, so I did.
Around mile 25, it finally sunk in that I was going to finish and I did something else I'd never do if I were focused on time: I drank a beer offered to me on the course. I've always wanted to do this during a race and in front of a Boston University fraternity house seemed to be as good a time as any...and yes- it tasted fantastic!
It was 89 degrees when I crossed the finish line in 4:09:33, not a personal worst but definitely the slowest marathon I have run in a long time. You know what, though? I don't care. Numbers don’t tell the whole story and I’m very proud of this race. There will be another day to achieve a personal record. On Marathon Monday, I didn't walk. I used my brain. I finished.
Does it make sense that one of the most painful experiences of my life was also the best? Yeah, I must be crazy...!