Dear Boston, It’s Not You, It’s Me.

IMG_7867Five. 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.

Katie and I pose with the fake Meb at the crazy crowded expo.
Katie and I pose with the fake Meb at the crazy crowded expo.

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.

IMG_7909So 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.

Recovering corporate hamster-wheeler turned Alaskan hausfrau, mother of two and running enthusiast. Kind of a June Cleaver in tempo shorts...minus the makeup and vacuum. Will run to great lengths to get a moment of peace.

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  1. I shouldn’t laugh, but my experience was similar. For me, the big issue is I wound up being the only person that manages to injure their arm running a marathon. Seriously, how? I still have no idea, but by the end of the race I couldn’t lift my left arm and I spent the next three days requiring assistance to put my shirt on. Also- heat, stomach, etc. Just fun. And can I just say, who thought a mile long finish chute was a good idea?

    I’ve finally decided I need to give it a go again. I think this time, though, I’m not going to worry about running it as a hard effort. I’m betting the race would be a lot more fun if I backed off and ran it a half hour slower. One day you may want a do-over, too.

    1. Your arm? Really! That’s crazy! The mile long finish chute wasn’t my fave either–especially since the mylar blankets were the next to LAST thing they gave us. Sure, sure, thanks for the medal, but WHERE THE HECK IS MY BLANKET?! ๐Ÿ™‚ I think running it as a victory lap/ savoring it and taking it all in might be the only way I’d run it again. Enjoy your do-over! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I could have written this – except make it quads instead of calves (I regretted my decision to wear shorts by mile 3 when I realized my legs were just progressively getting tighter, not looser), and add a nasty head cold. At least I was able to run all the hills (since I trained on them all winter) – but so slow I might as well have been walking!

    Some I know have to run Boston every year. Not me. This was my third and the only way I’ll run it again is if I get a major case of amnesia. I’ll go back to volunteering … it’s a lot less painful!

    1. Ugh, a head cold PLUS that awful weather?! You’re a rock star just for finishing! And yes, those hills. I “ran” up them as well, but I swear I was getting passed by people who were walking….

  3. You did more than finish, you kicked butt!! I am in awe of how you did, especially considering the course conditions and the hip your struggled with during training. You have inspired me, and I hope you feel proud of yourself.

  4. Ha! I feel the same way – and I was there last year, when it was gorgeous and we had no weather excuse (other than it being a tad bit warm for marathoning …)

    1. Glad I’m not the only one who dares to speak less than enthusiastically about the Boston course. ๐Ÿ™‚ I really was so grateful to be there, but I was WAY more grateful to be DONE!

  5. OMG I am dying over here reading this. What a great post. I can totally relate as well. I have run Boston twice, and both times it just about killed me. It is by far my least favorite race. That said, I know I will do it again if I can. ๐Ÿ™‚ Congrats on a strong race, even if it was a bear.

    1. Thanks! But seriously, what is wrong with us that we so willingly go back to a miserable race/ course over and over?! And spend hours and hours and pay lots of money to do it?? We are a special breed of crazy, I guess. Truth be told, the hatorade seems to have already cleared my system, and I’m starting to get race amnesia. Maybe I’ll do it again….it wasn’t THAT bad…..yeah, it could be fun…..

  6. I lol’d about your kids names! I have totally had that same experience!

    I also totally feel you about not really feeling Boston. I ran it in similar conditions which I always assumed clouded my opinion. But I seriously swore off marathons by mile 13 there! To this day i don’t think I have ever felt so miserable in a race! I stopped to walk and swear under my breath with 1200 to go it was so bad! Maybe when we’re 50 we can go back and see if we still hate it ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Nice job, Basil! Very impressive all around- tough course, conditions, less than ideal build up. You rocked it! And thanks for the forewarning on the course!

  8. So glad I read this today! I partially tore my rotator cuff six days before Boston this year and once my physio cleared me to run conservatively, I set off to the hallowed race just to take it all in and enjoy the day with my adjusted ‘just finish in one piece’ goal. Hypothermically cold, soaked to the skin repeatedly, just wanting to finish before I died, wasn’t quite what I had in mind. My 3:41:10 finish time was about 8 minutes slower than last year and I’m sure I’ve got the flu now. My feet are still cold! I have done Boston twice before and always felt the ‘magic’, but not this year. Glad I’m not alone. I will still celebrate but it’s hard to rejoice in the misery of such a tough day! At least we didn’t give up x