Boston Marathon 2012: 7th Time’s the Charm

1 mile to go to finish Boston #7 and I am in pain!

The 116th Boston Marathon, almost every marathon runner has probably thought about Boston at some point. Either they have qualified and run it, they have attempted to qualify year after year, they dream of being able to qualify, they know a friend who has qualified, or they are one of those special breed of runners who races Boston to win on a huge stage for a large prize purse. And if they don’t fall into any of those categories they likely have a friend who does, or a family member who does, and they have most certainly heard about it’s prestige.

I was fortunate to experience Boston as my second marathon, qualifying by the skin of my teeth in my first marathon way back in 2004 in 3:39:42. Since then I have run Boston 6 times, 6 times getting faster, but 6 times missing my personal goals. While I know runners who come to Boston and dominate the course, I think it is fair to say I am not one of those runners. I love the Boston Marathon vibe. I love the prestige. I absolutely love the after party, but this marathon does nasty things to me. It is not my course by any means and this is likely one of the last times I will race Boston competitively. It is just not the best race for me to utilize my running skills!

A few years ago at Boston it was my goal to break into the top 100 and go sub 3! The goal was not achieved and I was pretty disappointed with my effort and result. This year I had hopes of doing much better on both accounts given my high fitness, and despite the weather predictions I was relatively confident this would be my fastest Boston ever. It definitely didn’t sit well with me last year when I slowed over 13 minutes on the back half of the course and once again narrowly missed going sub 3. Last year we had perfect weather and I ignored all my bodies signals and went out faster than I could hold on the day, paying for it and being humbled yet again. For both my previous two Bostons I placed well below where I was expected to given my fitness and past racing experience.

At the finish line Sunday night with my good friend Barb who went on to win her age group for the 3rd year in a row at Boston.

I was determined this year to race Boston in the best way possible and not to let the hills get the best of my competitive nature or my quads. With each day closer to the marathon the predicted temperature kept rising and many runners kept worrying about it. I made up my mind that it would be whatever it was and that no matter the weather I was just going to race the best marathon I could on the day.

The Motley Cleveland Crew before the race

I am not sure if it was the weather forecast, the lack of a real time goal, or just being comfortable with the fact that this marathon was solely for me, but I felt absolutely no pressure going into this race. The only real concrete goal I had was to be the top female Ohioan and to be as competitive as I could amongst the women’s field. I had an idea of what time I could expect on a good day, and I had an idea about what the weather would do to that, but I had no intention of getting caught up in those time’s or the paces on race day.

Cheesy Fun at the Expo

Race morning dawned and for the first time ever on marathon morning I did not wake up before the alarm. I rested soundly and was more than content to snuggle under the covers before finally rising and getting ready to race! I think this relaxed start to the day was a sign of good things to come!

I absorbed everything, I did the usual race prep while making my way with friends to Hopkinton. I emptied my bladder what seemed like a gazillion times and I started sweating long before we hit the line. Today was going to be a scorcher, no doubt about it! And my thoughts? Bring it!

I was ready to challenge myself, the heat, and the course. We did a brief warm up and my body did not feel good. My left hammy was talking, my left calf had a tiny charlie horse, and the strides felt sluggish, but only time would tell how the race would go so I bullied my way to the front of coral 2 and begged nicely for a spot under a gentleman’s umbrella to await the start and minimize my time in the sun.

From the gun this Boston was different for me. I ran moderately but patiently and just let my legs determine the pace. I wore no Garmin and only checked my splits for the first 6 or so miles. It was hot, but it felt tolerable and I had a plan.

A Much smarter start than last year going through the mile in 6:40. Minnie is in the background waiting to pounce! Photo courtesy of:

To cope with the heat I opted to carry a water bottle with me for the first 5k so I wouldn’t have to fight the crowds at the first few aid stations. My plan was to take water every stop, a salt pill every other 5k and a gel every other 5k. From the start I had to practice patience as I watched a handful of female competitors fly by me in the first 2 miles, and the famed Minnie even went by. Trust me I had to fight everything in my nature to let a man in a Minnie costume pass me so early in a race ๐Ÿ™‚

But that was the name of the game for many of the early miles, I was clocking consistent 6:40’s and knowing that was about a 2:54 finish and right in the range I thought might be reasonable given the heat I stopped looking at the watch and trusted my pacing instincts. I had to turn down friends as they caught and passed me and let them go and I had to watch as new friends pulled ahead. It was just too early in the race to be cocky and overly aggressive.

I don’t even remember doing this, but this is very typical Pepper behavior.

From the gun my left hamstring had been tight and aggravated, I tried to stay to the right side of the course to stay off the left side camber, and also to stay in the shade when possible, and it must have helped because at some point after the half the hamstring let up. The crowds kept me moving along and for the first time in a long time I enjoyed the Boston marathon. I high fived kids, I accepted ice gladly from strangers and stuffed it in my bra, I even chatted with fellow runners. I didn’t even think about how many miles I had to go, rather I took it all in and just enjoyed every moment for what it was. Basically I was determined to remain positive while around me many were sweltering under the heat.

After running through a sprinkler on the course

Other than Framingham I really wasn’t bothered by the heat for most of the day. I doused myself with water every station after mile 6 and laughed like a little kid as I ran through sprinklers and hazmat tents. I stuffed ice in my bra and every time I dumped water over my head I would get a refreshing shower that melted the ice over my body. I gladly accepted freeze pops and held them in my hands to help cool off, and ok I even ate some too! Yes it was hot, but the beauty of taking away any time goal is you can just listen to your body and run by effort, I was taking whatever my body would give me in the days conditions.

I was surprised to catch up to a phenomenal masters runner around the 16 mile mark just after the steepest downhill of the day and encouraged her as I passed. She smartly told me to reel it in until the 20 mile mark and I assured her that was the plan. But as I eased through mile 17 that familiar pain in my quads was rearing it’s ugly head. It seemed despite my conservative start, despite wearing trainers, and despite running my own pace, the hills still wanted some revenge on my body.

Working with Christine Kennedy at mile 20. Photo Courtesy of Jim Rhoades

I kept the effort consistent as I crested each of Boston’s famed hills and kept my eye out for ice at every chance. As I crested Heartbreak my boyfriend was waiting with much welcomed ice and sponges. I had just been passed by my Masters running friend and I was now “in the hunt.” Despite the quads it was now time to get serious about racing and give whatever I had left to give on the last 10k of the course. The heat was starting to have an effect and my focus was definitely trying to slip, but I soldiered on and focused on form as well as when I would next get water, or when I would take my last gel. I did my best to stay with my friend but my quads couldn’t handle the pounding and I had to let her go. But that didn’t stop me from slowly reeling in 4 or 5 girls over the last 10k and many many men who I had seen in the early miles.

I knew I wasn’t running flawlessly as I was passed by two more females who I could not hold off, and a handful of men went by me with ease, but for the most part I was passing runners as I knocked out each mile after Cleveland Circle and did my best to keep my head up and get to Boston. The crowds were absolutely crazy and despite the pain in my quads I couldn’t help but muster a smile for them and a small occasional wave. I knew I was fading but to them I looked strong, they hadn’t seen many women so they were certainly cheering with vigor.

The last 5 miles were very warm and due to the last 5 being in the city sprinklers and ice were more scarce, this combined with the quad pain definitely took it’s toll on my pace. I even opted to take some Gatorade the last few miles which I hardly ever do as I could tell my electrolytes were getting lower than I would like. Despite that I managed to rally (or it least it felt like a rally to me!) and upped the effort the last mile. Each descent absolutely killed my quads but I just needed to get to that finish! It felt a bit like running through water at this point and each step was a bit more sluggish than the one before but somehow you still manage to smile as you run down that never-ending stretch of Boylston to the finish!

Very Happy to be Finishing my 7th Boston!

I crossed the line in 3:02:45 and hobbled around chatting with friends and even had a little interview by the Boston Herald! Despite once again missing that elusive sub 3 at Boston I know for sure this was the best I have ever run here. I finished with shot quads like always, but this time I finished with a genuine smile on my face and a real sense of accomplishment. I am realistic and know that this course really isn’t made for my racing style, but I think this 7th time around I found a way to race it to the best of my ability and that certainly feels good. Despite running 2 minutes faster last year I did do something better this year in that I ran the back half of the course faster than ever before! And I did manage to finally get that top 100 goal coming in 38th overall female, and handily snagged top Ohioan. I know most of this was due to attrition but I do give myself some credit for being smart and racing the race for what it was on Monday and not running myself into the ground like many runners did in the heat. I live to fight another day and to race another race.

You can trust that Pepper had lots of spicy fun before and after the race too which I may share in another post! In the meantime thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more fun posts with you this year! This was a great beginning for 2012 and while the finish time may not scream “comeback” that is certainly the feeling I have after this race.

Post Race Recovery! Feet up, ice on the heel, and two glasses of water before I was allowed to have my wine!

A gal on a mission to save Cuyahoga County streams one storm water facility at a time. An ex runner of many facets including marathons, pacing, ultras and more. Chronic left side issues have me cycling more than running these days but I'm attempting to get back to my running roots.

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    1. Chelle, sorry your comment is just appearing now. For some reason it was labeled spam. I’ve fixed it though so you’re all set and it shouldn’t happen again.

      PS Love the Katie Couric photo ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Incredible time then add in the heat and it’s jaw dropping. Congrats!! Love the Minnie Mouse mentions. He is a favorite of mine.

    1. Thank you Kris! That guy was a hoot! He is there every year, and I knew he ran relatively fast. I most certainly found myself wracking my brain to try and remember about what time he ran every year, but I behaved and did my own thing and eventually I passed Minnie later in the race ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Really impressive race Pepper, on a day when the vast majority just couldn’t cope with the heat, you delivered a remarkable performance. Thanks for representing Cleveland so well! Savor some well-earned recovery time.

    1. Thanks Greg! I figured after 6 times if I didn’t run smart here someone should smack me, hard ๐Ÿ™‚ Obviously I would have preferred a day where I could run a faster time, but it was great to race another marathon and learn how to handle the heat etc over the longer course! There was a bit of room for improvement, but not much! In the midst of at least 5 days off running and most definitely enjoying the recovery!

  3. Great job trusting in yourself and dominating Boston! That is a hard race; to add in 87 degrees, full sun, AND a smile is nothing short of amazing. Recover well.

    1. Thank you Mindi! Even last year I kept a smile plastered on my face despite some serious suffering and major doubt. You just can’t help yourself in Boston with those crowds!

  4. I could tell this was going to be your year at Boston. You’ve looked great at the track and have such a different attitude about everything. I can’t wait to see what you do in the shorter stuff this summer and in C’bus this fall!

  5. Great job! Your race photos are always so fun. Loved the part about holding back toward Minnie Mouse’s pace.

    1. Thanks Jinger! I can’t believe how cool some of the photos were this year. I love the ones where I clearly just went through a sprinkler, they captured my emotion so well!

  6. WOW, super impressive under those conditions! I can’t wait to see what you throw down in your next full!!! Major Congrats! and I hope training continues to go well for you! Are you racing anything at Cle?

    1. Thanks Kristy! Cle is up in the air right now. I’d like to do the 10k if I am not vacationing somewhere lovely with the boyfriend ๐Ÿ™‚