Five. That’s how many times Meb stopped to lose his lunch before he reached the storied Boylston finish line. I suppose I should be grateful, then, that my stomach never followed through on its threats to hurl my Honey Stingers. I know that Boston is a privilege–one for which so many mid-packers like me fight tremendously hard.
What I didn’t know was that my fight wasn’t over, that it would be just as hard to finish Boston as it was to earn a place at the starting line.
I’d apparently forgotten how terrible, awful and (literally) gut-wrenching a marathon can be. The marathon is a beast, one deserving respect and apparently much higher mileage than I’d been able to log. By the time I reached mile 20, the only goal I hadn’t let go of was to finish.
So many people told me to “savor it”, to “soak it all in”, to “enjoy every mile because there’s NOTHING like Boston.” And like the naive rookie that I am, I believed it might be possible to take their advice. But no. Not at all. Because YOU GUYS. That was the most miserable race I have ever run. I can’t think of a moment I enjoyed besides the “IT”S FINALLY EFFING OVER” moment, also known as the finish line.
I know. Start throwing the rotten tomatoes. It’s total sacrilege to bash the Boston Marathon. But please, let me explain. I was amazed and impressed and almost enamored with how the city steps up to host the marathon, how well orchestrated every single second is leading up to and during the race. That part was flawless. So I guess it’s a classic case of “it’s not you, Boston, it’s me….and also the crappy weather that neither of us could control”.
But it didn’t start out entirely miserable. I had planned to meet my friend Katie at the shuttle buses, and to avoid missing each other in the mayhem, I hatched the brilliant idea to meet up at the Starbucks near the loading area. Except there were two Starbucks near the loading area. OF COURSE THERE WERE. So in classic “you went to the wrong Starbucks” style, we boarded separate shuttle buses and then went on to run almost the exact same race, with perfectly matched blow ups in the second half.
In a stroke of good luck, I was able to find a short line for the port-a-potty and make it to my corral just in time to shed some layers and start. And bonus–it was just misting, so we were all relatively dry when the gun went off for Wave 3. It only took about two minutes to reach the start, but by the time we got to the line, we were all still slow-mo jogging. If your strategy is to not go out too fast, then Boston’s definitely good for that.
I don’t remember the chronology all that well, but here are a few highlights (and lowlights) from the course:
1. For the first four miles or so, I felt borderline claustrophobic. I remember looking ahead at a hill about a half mile away, and it was a sea of bobbing heads, every square inch covered with color. I had intended to take the downhill start a bit faster, but without considerable weaving, there was no way I was going any faster than the flow, which turned out to be an 8:05-8:10 mile. I remember telling myself not to worry–that I’d just have more in the tank to go for a negative split. Bawahahhaha. Negative splits! Yeah, that didn’t happen.
2. Within the first 45 minutes, it started to pour. There were pockets here and there when it wasn’t torrential, but I remember hitting Wellesley (half way mark) and thinking that the brim of my hat had so much run-off it was worse than a clogged gutter. I also remember thinking that the next time I plan a milestone birthday trip it will be someplace warm and dry and equipped with a pool side bar.
3. My feet were sloshing wet from mile 7 onward. And I thought the sound of my breathing was going to be what bothered me…
4. Can we talk about the Newton hills for a minute? I’m from Alaska, so I know hills. Heck, I know freakin’ mountains! But I’m not quite as familiar with them at mile 17, 18, 19 and 20. Going up Heartbreak (that’s mile 20+, for the record, not mile 19.5, as Boston newbies like me might be tempted to think), I was so determined not to stop to walk. I’d poked fun at Heartbreak Hill after running it in a simulated treadmill run. It really was a silly little hill. Except back then my calves were still working properly and hadn’t decided to tighten up into the shape of very angry rolly pollies. (You know what I mean, right, those little bugs that just curl into a ball whenever they feel threatened? Yeah, that’s what my calves were doing, except they were decidedly less graceful about it.) Anyway, to motivate myself not to stop, I started chanting my children’s names “For D, For C, For D, For C…” as I took every step. That lasted about 30 seconds before I decided that I was going to hate my kids’ names if I didn’t curtail that nonsense immediately.
5. Have I mentioned the headwind yet? Because that s.o.b was everywhere I turned. We’re talking 40 mph gusts. Please God, make it stop.
6. I was on pace for a 3:35 marathon until mile 16 or 17 when the Newton hills started. My quads felt relatively great, but my calves were a mess even before the big hills began. My pace dropped dramatically in the last 10k. The legs just wouldn’t go, and my calves were definitely on the brink of mutiny.
7. I remember seeing the Citgo sign. God bless the Citgo sign. One mile to go. But are you sure it’s just one mile? Because it felt like a meeeelllion years before I finally reached the finish line.
8. And the finish line. THE FINISH LINE. It’s true I did some major ugly crying. I’m not sure if I was shaking/ face ticking from the joy-crying or because I was just so. darn. cold.
As I shivered my way through the finisher’s shoot a solid 10 minutes slower than I’d hoped to be (3:40:54), there wasn’t one bone in my rain-drenched body that was disappointed. I gave those 26.5 miles (way to run the tangents, Jo) every last drop of what I had. Nothing in the tank, and no regrets.
So no, Boston, it’s definitely not you. It’s most certainly me. I know I said I hated you (and that I’d never ever run another marathon, ever). But I didn’t mean it. In fact, there’s a part of me that loves you now that we’ve parted ways. I’m stronger for having known you. And I want you to know that should we ever meet again, it’s only because I managed to forget what a horrible jerk you were to me in 2015.
I guess it’s true. There’s nothing like Boston. The course and the weather tested my resolve over and over, minute by minute, mile by mile. It was a wicked hard awful test, and I’ll be honest, I don’t want to sign up for that test ever again. But I passed. I PASSED THE TEST. I finished, and I have a medal and a hideous purple jacket to prove it.