Editor’s note: To get y’all revved up for Boston we thought we’d share Pimento’s Boston race report from last year, 2018. Spoiler alert, this year the weather will be a LOT better. Enjoy!
It’s been a tough year … a new job with a very rocky start and a long dark winter battling depression along with regular day-to-day ups and downs. As for my running, 2016 was my most intense training year to date, and resulted in PRs in every distance and burnout by the end of the year. With that in mind, I committed to take 2017 off marathoning. My running buddies thought I’d fall off the wagon, but I didn’t. I ran, a lot, but did whatever I wanted. I raced a 5k, a first for me, and did a relay with my husband. I got back into the gym and started lifting heavy again and putting on muscle. Toward the end of 2017, I was ready to return to marathon training. Several of my friends were going to Boston for the first time, and my last 2016 race (CIM) was in the qualifying window … perfect!
Training went exceedingly well; I returned to my coach/running dad/friend for my plan, which included three quality workouts a week. I continued lifting two times a week, and kept my mileage relatively low (topping out at 67 miles with most weeks in the 50s) to make sure I did not burn out. My new muscles from lifting boosted my speed out of my 2016 plateau, and on my hardest long run, a 20-mile Boston Simulator with hills in all the right places, I averaged 7:36 with my last mile in 6:27. I met a new training partner, Sid, aiming for a 7:05 pace at Boston like me, and he and I really made a great team during our long run workouts. When taper arrived, I felt confident, calm, and ready.
As everyone knows now, the weather reports for Boston looked grim. While some started to panic, I shrugged. Maybe it’s that I’m an Oregonian and cold rain is something I train through all the time, or maybe it’s just that I’m a veteran marathoner at this point. I put in the work and knew I was capable of my goal, but the weather is uncontrollable so it wasn’t worth worrying about. You can be prepared as all get out and shit can happen, so accept it.
Or maybe, it was that my first Boston was the highlight race of my running career and I knew that I’d be able to tap into that magic again. When I first ran Boston, in 2010, it was only my third marathon. I was a solo runner at that point, entirely self-coached, and had no idea what I was doing. I ran a 12-minute PR that day … Boston magic.
Eight years later, my husband and I traveled on Saturday before the race, a long couple of flights from Eugene to Boston, arriving at a rental right on the Commons around 5:30. We dropped our stuff and headed to a Nike shoe testers event at a local brewery near the Expo. I got to meet the shoe testing analysts I email with all the time and talk all things shoes and running for a couple of hours before we took off for an east coast seafood dinner and a stroll around downtown before hitting the sack. My friend had an apartment on the other side of the park, so we met her for a shakeout run the next morning; and ran back and forth on Boylston from the shuttle pickup point to the finish line.
When we met more friends at the expo before lunch, the excitement of “THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!!” was bubbling over in our group. The weather was cold, wet, and blustery as hell already but we had a blast and feasted on oysters on the half shell, crab salad and sushi. We went back down to the finish line area to check off a tradition from Boston 2010: a shot of Tullamore Dew at Sola’s Irish Pub. I made it two, for good measure.
After a risotto dinner, we parted ways and I got all my race gear ready: way more than normal because I had so many throwaway items, including shoes, due to the weather. On top of thick flannel PJ pants and an old sweatshirt of my husband’s, I brought along my NYC Marathon poncho, which is basically an amazing felt-lined, hooded, waterproof personal tent.
Race eve I slept like shit. But I often sleep like shit and get up to run long anyway, so it didn’t really phase me. I ate, bundled up, then walked a quarter-mile to the shuttles. People watching at this point of the race is interesting: most were bundled up like me- more garbage bags and plastic ponchos than normal, and even a few other NYC ponchos. A few runners were in singlets and shorts with absolutely zero throwaway gear on. It was pouring and windy and they were already soaked waiting for the shuttles. Unbelievable.
I snagged the front seat on the bus to avoid motion sickness, then tucked into my poncho and napped the entire ride to Hopkinton. For real. I slept the whole trip. Getting off the shuttles was like stepping into a hurricane: the trees swayed precariously in miserable gusts of relentless wind and the rain was that Forrest Gump rain, coming at you in all directions. The Athlete’s Village was a march through deep and slippery mud past port-o-potties with sludgy snow drifts barely melting in the chill. I used a port-o-pooy then found a spot in the mud under a tent to sit and contemplate the utter shittiness of the situation. The runner anxiety in the tent was high as we watched a gust blow the lid off a Gatorade cooler. I listened to several conversations, the general theme was that no one was going to try to attain their goal because the weather was too awful. I huddled in my poncho-tent, ate my Clif bar, and figured I’d stick with my race plan and just see what happened.
Soon the time came for the nearly mile-long march to the wave 2 start. I switched into my race shoes and used the the laces from my throwaways to tie plastic bags on my feet. I kept every other piece of gear on and tucked hand warmers under my two pairs of stretchy gloves, looking around for Sid, my training partner, as our plan was to meet up in my corral and run as much of the race together as we could.
Suddenly there he was. The comfort of seeing a familiar face warmed my soul (but not my feet). We hugged and chatted, shivering, and bitched a little about our already frozen, wet feet. I ditched my pants and poncho at the last second but kept on my husband’s sweatshirt for the first two miles.
Our plan was to find our 7:05 pace quickly, then ratchet it down to 6:55. The density of runners and the lake-sized puddles in the road made that impossible. We weaved and bobbed and slowed then sped ahead when we found an opening in the crowd. My watch bumped Sid’s elbow at .67 in, making my watch beep .67 laps for the whole race… oh well, I thought. We’ll just stick together and I’m going to focus on effort.
Honestly, the vast majority of the race is a blur: the wind was a constant struggle with moments of unbelievable ferocity. Sid and I took turns being in front but spoke little. We couldn’t, really, since the rain was relentless until the times when the sky opened and poured sleet rivers on us. I kept my head down and tried to to feel the energy of the screaming crowds. I stuck to my fuel plan of a gel every 4th mile with water a mile after and focused on getting through that next four miles after each Gu. I reminded myself to relax from my head down because the cold made me clench up so hard.
At mile 17, as the Newton Hills loomed, I heard my name and caught sight of my beaming husband. Boston magic caught fire. I stormed up the hills, passing, passing, passing … runner after runner. I felt Sid falling back, but we knew that at some point we might split up and there would be no judgement. The emotional joy-crying feeling of being in Boston started to surge and my survival instinct against the elements kicked in. Get done … get dry! I knew I was off pace but I was giving my all and battling against a wall of wind and wet, so pace really didn’t matter. I knew my effort level mattered most. With 5 miles left and the hills behind me, I flew. Passing, passing, passing with the surges of joy/tears filling my throat.
The sky opened in an utter atmospheric river burst at mile 23 and I yelled, “WOOHOO!” at the top of my lungs. Fuck it. Fuck this hard year. Fuck this weather. Fuck depression and insomnia, I was here and I was winning against all of that. I began to calculate my finish time. It was going to be a PR of at least 4 minutes and I started to cry off and on again. The joy and the strength filled me and I turned onto Boylston and charged toward the finish line. 3:13:54, a near 5-minute PR.
The aftermath? Huddling in an auditorium in near-delirium until I got my wet clothes off. My husband found me, then left his phone with me to run to our place to get warm clothes. The auditorium was like a war zone, with medics swarming around shivering wet zombie-runners. I helped strangers take off their shoes and texted and called family members for others, then heard Des won. My heart warmed even more. As I chatted with runners and we talked about the task behind us, I told one guy I actually PRed by 5 minutes. He announced to the other runners in our area that I was obviously a robot because how else would I get a PR in those conditions? We laughed.
Boston is magic for me, and my pursuit of the unicorn, despite what the elements and life have thrown at me, is relentless.