I was honored to run this year’s 126th running of the Boston Marathon which was also a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first official women’s division in 1972. In honor of women running Boston, I will start this race report with a couple of quotes from two women I admire very much.
“Boston is one of the most magical marathons in the world, but it will also break your heart. And honestly, that’s what makes it great- it makes you feel.” – Kara Goucher
“There are a lot of emotions to being human. Somehow in the marathon, you feel them all.” – Amy Eyler
I felt immense gratitude just to make it to the start line feeling healthy and good. My two boys unfortunately got food poisoning the night before the race, and my husband and I were up over half the night taking care of them and cleaning up vomit. I got a few hours of sleep and was thankful to make it out the door and to the bus pickup area without feeling sick myself.
Miles 1-8: My wave of runners was ushered to the start line in one huge mass. I could see about where the start line was located, but had a hard time seeing the timing mat due to the large number of runners packed into the narrow streets of Hopkinton. Eventually the walking pace turned to a jog and then a slightly faster pace and we all moved over the mat practically in unison. We were off and running the 126th Boston Marathon! It was hard to get into any sort of rhythm or individual pace at the start due to the crowds so I focused on trying to relax and find pockets where I could run without having to weave in and out too much.
I was so excited to see my friend Amy when she ran up behind me and called by name. It’s amazing to me that we were able to find each other in a sea of 30,000 runners and seeing her smile lifted my spirits even more.
On each downhill I reminded myself to relax and tried to reign in the pace while also not braking.
Miles 8-16: Mile 8 is where the trajectory of my race changed. Mile 8 is usually where the marathon starts to feel hard for me, and with 18 additional miles to run, the realization that you are tired at mile 8 can shake your confidence. I was prepared for the Mile 8 fatigue and armed with tools from my mental toolbox. I told myself, “This is normal. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Find your breath and return to center. Keep grinding.” I heard two women nearby chatting about how tired they were feeling already as well which further validated the thought that Mile 8 fatigue is nothing to worry about and just part of the process.
Somewhere between Mile 8 and 9, I must have taken a misstep or rolled my ankle and found myself falling straight into the asphalt. I have fallen multiple times on trail runs and once during a trail race, but I had never taken a tumble in the middle of a road race. Two kind runners immediately stopped to help, encourage and check on me. I popped up declaring, “I’m fine! I’m good!” not knowing if it was true and kept running. One of the runners who stopped to check on me gave me a swift pat on the back and said, “You got this! All the way to the finish!” I appreciated their kindness so much and wish I could find them to thank them again. Although I could see the red mark on my shoulder from where it hit the road and feel the sting on the palm of my hand from trying to break my fall, I didn’t allow myself to inspect them too much. I kept running and as I ran I tried to conduct an internal scan of my body. What hurt? Was I okay to keep running? Did I need to stop at a medical tent?
My body and mind have not always had the best relationship. Could I trust my mind right now to make decisions that were in the best interest of my body? Would my heart interfere? I kept running, assessing the situation, and returning to my breath. At some point I looked at my watch and noticed that my pace had picked up, no doubt due to the rush of adrenaline coursing through my veins, and I settled and slowed the pace back down.
I had no idea that Tommy Rivs was running Boston (if you don’t know his story, read this and this), and I had the surprise and absolute honor of seeing him for a moment and knowing that I was sharing the course with him. His courage, resilience and amazing outlook on life inspires me.
I ran by the Wellesley girls, giving high fives and blowing kisses. The more I could smile and focus on the crowd and other runners, the less I thought about the pain in my ankle and shoulder.
Miles 16-21: Miles 16 through 21 is where the Newton Hills are located, the 4th and toughest hill coming at about mile 20. I reminded myself that the hills are a welcome opportunity to use my muscles differently and made a note to run by effort. As I crested each hill I tried to take a few quick steps to reset my pace and relax on the downhill. I had seen a post from Featherstone Nutrition about how to fuel for the hills and took an extra gel around mile 19. This worked well for me and helped me ingest all six of my gels prior to the final stretch of the race.
Miles 21-26.2: I had told myself that if I had anything left in the tank after the hills, I could pick up the pace slightly after Heartbreak Hill. Although I tried, I did not have anything left in the tank. My quads and hamstrings were feeling the fatigue of the prior 20+ miles and my shoulder and ankle were aching more as the adrenaline had worn off. I thought multiple times about slowing down intentionally or stopping and walking for a bit. However, I remembered my goal to get the best out of myself on the day.
These last few miles of a marathon are a sacred space. We don’t get to this number of miles in training, and for many of us, we will only be at mile 21+ of a run a handful of times in our lives. This is the space where we dig deep, find new strengths, and learn new lessons. This is the place where if we are able to turn towards the discomfort and surrender to the process, we can receive the greatest gifts. We are doing all of this as a collective community with roaring crowds who cheer, hold space for, and support the journey of each and every runner. It is a beautiful thing to witness and an amazing thing to be a part of.
I was hurting, but I held on as best I could knowing each step was taking me a bit closer to to those magical final turns. I saw the Citgo sign in the distance, a landmark to indicate that Boston was near. As I passed the 24 mile marker, I told myself that I could do two more miles and imagined doing one of the two mile repeats I had done in training. It is amazing what the body can accomplish with a little encouragement from the mind and leadership from the heart.
I turned right onto Hereford, then left onto Boylston, soaking in the magic and energy of the final stretch. I glanced at the crowd looking briefly for my family, but knowing that they were likely recovering in the hotel room. I stretched my arms out and up in gratitude.
In spite of being up half the night with sick kids, falling at mile eight, and struggling to hold my pace the last few miles, I crossed the finish line in 3:48:51, a Boston qualifying time, my second fastest marathon, and faster than my time in the fall. Most importantly, I crossed the line full of gratitude and joy.
There are many lessons that I learned from this run, and ones I am still learning and trying to integrate.
- My body is wise and I can trust the messages it sends me. In spite of worrying that I did not have the intuition and wherewithal to properly evaluate how I was feeling after my fall, my assessments were correct. I was fine running through soreness and mild bruising and almost a week later feel mostly recovered.
- The stories that we attach to experiences shape our reality. I could have told myself after being up most of the night and falling at mile 8 that it just wasn’t my day. Or I could tell myself that falling led me to a connection with two amazing strangers and gave me the opportunity to further understand my resilience and strength. Which one do you think would lead to better running for the next 18 miles?
- We are all connected. Those two runners who stopped to help me at mile 8 likely saved my race. The crowds cheering in support boosted me when I was low on energy. There were so many runners who were making the 26.2 mile trek for causes and reasons larger than themselves. We may run with individual bibs on, but the journey from the start line to the finish line is a collective one.
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” – Kathrine Switzer, first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon