“Reluctantly crouched, at the starting line, engines pumping, and thumping in time. The green light flashes, the flags go up, churning, and burning, they yearn for the cup…..”
The race began. I started my music, my garmin, and we plunged down the first hill. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be in this crowd, how amazing it was, the spectators cheering, the residents along the course with their tents set up, serving oranges and coffee and water and handing out paper towels and holding jars of Vaseline out, holding signs, yelling and cheering, getting us runners whatever we needed. It was that way for miles and miles. These people are AMAZING.
It didn’t seem nearly as crowded and full of spectators as the race was in 2014. But the road was full. I had to concentrate on the people running slower than I was, the red rover lines of friends chatting it up (it’s cool, if you were behind me and in the corral that corresponded to your pace, but that’s another subject), the crevices in the road, and honestly, I wanted to take it all in. I wanted to race the race and absorb the energy and the beauty of the course.
I don’t think I looked at the distance reading on my garmin more than about three times the entire race, but I did look at pace, especially in the first several miles. “Don’t be American Pharoah” was what I was thinking. Don’t mess this up. You know not to take off too fast. My breathing was even and came easy. My legs felt good. I didn’t feel hungry nor over full. Things were in equilibrium, at least that’s what I thought at the time.
By mile two, I got worried. Sweat was dripping off my elbows, and it didn’t feel as if the humidity lifted, like it was supposed to. It wasn’t HOT hot, but it was WARM, probably mid to upper 60’s (perfect for spectators, too warm for runners). That worried me, and I made sure I started drinking. The small bottle I had in my hand held 5 ounces and you drank from it by biting down on the mouth. Wow, that was convenient. I liked that one.
The song “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” came on my iPod, I sang along…. “…we fight and we argue, you’ll still love me blind. If we DON’T FUCK THIS WHOLE THING UP, guaranteed, I can blow your mind…”
I would listen to this song while running long and at home, and I just didn’t want to fuck this race up. I knew I had to be smart. My husband said “FOLLOW YOUR PLAN” about a hundred zillion times before I left on the bus, and his words rang through my mind. I couldn’t fuck it up, I couldn’t embarrass myself again, I couldn’t come home as upset and sad and angry as I did the last time. I was there for redemption, and it would be mine.
The miles ticked by, and at mile 5, I still felt good. I wasn’t sweating as heavily as I was before (evidently, the humidity did lift right about that time), and it was time to take my first Gu. Instead of throwing the hand held bottle out, I decided to fill it up with Gatorade and drink some water from the aid stations. It was easy, convenient, and I could easily measure how much I was drinking. The only issue was that, since I was holding it, it was really warm. Yuck. But whatever, it’s a race, so I just went on.
In 2014, I remembered a row of people bouncing on trampolines. I had told several people about it, and was hoping it wasn’t some crazy mirage or I was just crazy. I can’t remember what mile it was, but I again, saw a row of mini trampolines along the road with little kids just bouncing away. YES. I remembered correctly. I had to laugh when I saw it, the oddity of a row of trampolines along a race course. Only in Boston.
We passed through the small towns, one by one, and I was having a good time. I sang along to Sweet Caroline, I high-fived so many kids, and I remembered to absorb all I could. But I didn’t feel good. My breathing felt fine, thankfully, but my legs didn’t feel fresh, or at least as fresh as I thought they should be. In my course studying, it says that if I’m still not fresh at this point, I need to regroup and consider slowing down, since the hardest part was still ahead. Because I’m stubborn and didn’t want to, I didn’t slow down. I was scared that my race was going to be derailed already, but I knew I was willing to fight for it and that slowing down wasn’t going to fit into my agenda. The words “The hard is what makes it great” rang through my head. Yes, the hard IS what makes this great. I could see the wind was blowing by the flags and the water cups zipping across the road, but I definitely didn’t feel any breeze on my face, so I figured we had a nice tail wind. Thankfully.
I made sure to keep drinking. I slowed down at aid stations to refill my hand held bottle, and I never used the one clipped to my shorts. It could be hard to clip back on, and I didn’t want to distract myself enough to mess with it. I did end up throwing it to the side eventually. At one point between miles 5 and 10, I got nauseated and felt full. I thought that maybe I’d had too much fluid, so I backed off a little for a few miles.
A good sign was that I needed to pee. I stopped in my qualifying marathon, so I wasn’t afraid of taking the time, as long as I found one that didn’t have a line. In about another mile, I found an open one and quickly did my thing.
Soon after, it was time for the Wellesley Scream Tunnel. This is all it’s cracked up to be. I had requested a Team BlueLine sign and I knew it was made, so I aimed to the right side of the road so I could hopefully find it. It felt like a mile of girls screaming to me, many holding signs to “Kiss me” for various reasons. I sort of wanted to take part in the tradition, but I wanted to run more, so I didn’t kiss anyone. I saw one sign that said, “Fuck Me”, which surprised me and made me laugh. Alrighty then. Way to put it out there.
We had another few miles of rolling hills, and I knew the course would turn, then go down hill, then the real test would begin. There is a hill at mile 16, but this one doesn’t seem like much to me. Not sure why, maybe it’s because you’ve just gone down a hill. Then there’s a set of three of hills, starting around mile 17.5, the first being the longest (almost half a mile) and most gradual. The cue this is going to happen is that you make a turn on the course. I was desperately trying to remember the course from the last time I was there, but it seemed different this time. I wasn’t 100% sure where I was, even though I had studied. I think I over-thought the entire thing, haha, no surprise to those who know me. My legs were not feeling worse than they were before, and I was definitely on pace for my goal, with almost a minute to spare. I was feeling good, followed my nutrition and hydration plan, and was ready to face Newton.
When we started up the first long hill, I shortened my stride and concentrated on the road in front of me. The song “Til I Collapse” came on, and I tried to absorb that feeling. I passed a lot of people, which made me smile, and when I reached the top, I was damn proud of myself. One down, three and change to go. I’d lost some time, but I wasn’t worried and I was still on pace. I knew that last time at this point in the race, I felt good too, but I knew I had armored myself to prevent anything bad from happening. It’s a marathon though, and you just never know what can happen. Don’t get cocky. THAT is something I truly believe. But at that point in time, I was racing well, and I felt good.
Just after mile 19, there was a steeper, yet shorter hill. Again, I wasn’t 100% sure this was actually “the second” in the set of three, but I powered through with little change in pace. We were rewarded by a nice long stretch of downhill running.
Then, this is funny, I started going up and up. I took my iPod off and backed it up to “Til I Collapse”. I thought it looked like Boston College, and I thought it was Heartbreak Hill, but I wasn’t sure if this was it or the hill BEFORE the hill. Last time, it was SWARMED with people yelling and screaming, sidewalk chalk messaging us to “Break This Hill”, and when we curved around a little, I was expecting to see a big blow up thing saying we had beat the hill or some message that this was actually Heartbreak. I almost asked someone if it was, but honestly, I didn’t want to spend the energy, and I didn’t want to sound stupid. When we came to the top, I saw a sign that indicated that yes, you were done with Heartbreak Hill. I almost started crying from joy. I made it. And I didn’t even know for sure THAT was the hill. Ignorance is bliss, I guess! I saw a girl holding a sign that said, “You made this hill your bitch!”. I fiercely pointed at her and said, “YES!!! YES!!!!” She smiled and well, so did I. I made it. I freaking made it up the hardest section of this race, and I was getting redemption. It was happening. I was doing it. I was about 90 seconds off my goal pace of 3:45.
After Heartbreak ends at mile 21, you descend. Five “measly” little miles left (we all know these miles feel more like ten), and a lot of it was down hill. I let the wind and gravity take me. I felt amazing. What happened? Why did I feel so good?
The last time, I was suffering tremendously at this point, so I don’t remember any of the course. I don’t remember the crowds, thick against the barriers, yelling at us, cheering us, the people on the T, looking and cheering. I don’t remember any of it. At some point, you see the Citgo sign, then it disappears behind the trees. I knew Citgo was a LONG ways away, and I giggled, as I had felt the four days we were there, the sign was stalking me. From our hotel, from our seats in Fenway, from everywhere, staring at me to come get it.
My pace quickened to about 8:10’s or so, and I felt amazing. I mean, I felt like I was on the last miles of a difficult marathon, but I was running the fastest miles of the race. I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed my necklace, which is my late grandmother’s, the grandma who started me running in the first place, and I held it, looking up and telling her and my other grandma in heaven, “Look, I’m doing it! Thank you!”. I thought about all the people who had wished me well, and I felt them lift me up. I felt my family there, knowing they were tracking me, knowing I was having a good race. I couldn’t believe I missed so much experience last time. It was so amazing, the crowds, the city, the support.
Yes, I’d picked up the pace, but I wasn’t making up the few minutes I lost in Newton as I was hoping. I struggled with wanting to get a BQ and also knowing I had gotten what I came for: A successful finish to a hard race on a hot day. I knew I had that, so I decided with three or four miles to go, to stop looking at the time, pay no attention to my pace bracelet, and run the thing. Just finish. Finish strong. I didn’t want the lack of a BQ to be disappointing, but I didn’t want to ruin the experience of joy in “just” running it. I didn’t look at my watch again until I crossed the finish line.
But there was race to run, and I couldn’t blow up. I wasn’t going to hold back, but I wasn’t going to be stupid either. I was covered in salt, so I kept taking my Base salt at this point, and I was thirsty. I threw my hand held away, and relied on the aid stations, taking a Gatorade and water each mile, sometimes stopping to avoid extra air. I had NEVER drank so much in a race before.
When the Citgo sign reappeared and the mile markers ticked up, I was trying to find where I was in the city. I was lost. I had no idea where my husband and kids would be, so I remembered thinking it was kind of dumb that we didn’t even plan at all where I could look for them. I wondered who won the races, did Galen or Jared, did Des finally get her victory? I felt sorry for myself that I had missed so much three years prior. NOW I get it. NOW I get why this race is the best in the world. This. It was right in front of me, and I was doing it.
Then with just over a mile to go, you go up a bridge overpass, which wasn’t pleasant, but I expected it, and I knew it was the last hill, besides the slight incline of Hereford. I ended up looking towards the right, and freakin’-A, there was my family. I cannot ever explain how I felt when I saw them, except for pure joy. I jumped when I saw them, galloping towards them with my arms swinging out, yelling at them in excitement, never had felt that feeling of pure exhaustion and pure energy and pure joy at the same time.
After I passed them, our road went under another road, and I felt like I had wings. Then I saw the turn. I had missed it last time. There was the right turn on Hereford. I choked up. I was almost done. Good God, I was almost done. The crowds were so loud, so I took my ear buds out and shoved them down my shirt. I wanted to HEAR and experience everything. It was like nothing else. Then left on Boylston. The finish line was within sight, but it was not as close as what you’d want, haha.
I looked around, I thought about 2013 and what that must have been like, and I felt protected and thankful. I crossed over the first mat and heard my name being called, and then I crossed the finish line of the 2017 Boston Marathon. A few seconds later, I looked down at my watch and saw “3:44:??”. Oh my gawd, holy shit, I did it. I freaking pulled out a BQ. I qualified for Boston at Boston.
I did it. I got my redemption.
Boston Marathon 2017: 3:44:32