Continuing from Part I and Part II….
Spirits were high among the runners in wave 3, corral 5 as we trotted across the starting line timing mat at 10:50 a.m. on Monday, April 18, 2016. No one said much as we tried to navigate the pressing crowd of runners, pretty much running in lockstep and not trying to bump into anyone else. However, the spectators were already making plenty of noise to make up for our silence! The entire Boston Marathon was just a fantastic experience, and I mean FAN-tastic! The spectators could not have been more welcoming and encouraging along the entire route. The race course runs through eight cities: Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston. Each community managed to extend its own unique form of hospitality. As a runner, I could tell that the spectators genuinely wanted the race to run through their town, and they not only welcomed the marathon itself but each and every runner that passed by. The spectators all along the way somehow managed to make each runner feel like a rock star, like we all mattered just as much as the elite athletes! That outpouring of support makes the experience of running the Boston Marathon a good one regardless of the runner’s finishing time.
Speaking of time, while I had said before that I had not planned to run this race for time, that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to pay attention to my pace. I had run the Phoenix Marathon in a PR time of 3:36:58 with an average pace of 8:16 per mile. Every article I had read on Boston warned not to go out too quickly on the early downhill miles on the course or you would regret it around mile 20. So I planned to stay between 8:45-9:00 per mile for those early miles and I thought I might finish in a total time somewhere around 4 hours.
Miles 1-3 (8:52, 8:42, 8:44)
I certainly didn’t want to waste any energy dodging other runners so I just tucked in the crowd and maintained my pace. That became easier said than done though when I factored in walking through the aid stations. In light of the high temperatures forecast for the race, the organizers had sent out an email advising runners to pay close attention to hydration, and indeed I needed to stop at the first aid station at mile 2 along with nearly every other runner. The volunteers did a great job, but there’s just no managing that volume of runners (27,491 runners total). I couldn’t use my usual technique of speeding up a bit before the aid station to “bank” time to walk through the aid station because other runners blocked the way. It was also hard to get going again, and it was odd to run on the road completely covered in Gatorade and cups. Once the road cleared, my shoes were sticky for about another 100 yards! My advice to runners wanting to race Boston for time? Especially in the early miles, skip the aid stations on the right and go for the less crowded ones on the left. Don’t stop at the first Gatorade table — there are 4 at each station (followed by 4 of water).
Miles 4-6 (8:35, 8:50, 8:43)
In mile 4 in Ashland, don’t be alarmed when the course splits in two to go around some cement traffic islands. Volunteers make it clear you can run on either side. Running the tangents on this course is hard due to the crowds and features (spoiler: my “marathon” ended up being 26.74 miles instead of 26.2).
In rare quiet moments along the course, the runners’ footsteps sounded like the pattering of raindrops. The sheer sea of runners in front of me again reminded me of a zombie apocalypse! I kept waiting for the crowd of runners to thin, but it didn’t let up as much as I expected (I might just be a bit biased given that the other six marathons I have run have each had 1/10th the number of participants as Boston). All I know is I got elbowed by other runners right up to mile 25 and even in the finishing chute! No one was particularly aggressive, there were just a lot of people on the course.
Miles 7-9 (8:45, 8:47, 8:48)
In Framingham, the winds picked up, especially by Lake Cochituate at mile 9. At first I appreciated the cool breeze, but then there were times where I felt the need to draft off runners to protect myself from the wind (for once I was grateful for the crowded pack of runners!)
Miles 10-12 (8:49, 8:54, 8:38)
The course enters Natick and I took in the sight of yet another town common with a beautiful clock tower. There are also digital clocks at every mile marker along the race, which is helpful if you can do the math to figure out how that time compares to when you crossed the starting line.
When I entered the town of Wellesley, I kept an eye out for a Wellesley girl to kiss. As I said, I came to this race for the experience and I wasn’t going to miss out on any of it! You could hear the girls screaming before you could see them! I rounded the bend and saw a girl holding a sign that said, “Kiss me — I’m from Cali!” I knew that was my girl and dodged over to the side, pointed to my cheek and asked for a kiss. She kindly obliged, and I ran on with a smile and renewed energy. Later though I thought maybe I should have stopped for the girl whose sign said “Kiss me or I’ll vote for Trump!”
Miles 13 – 15 (8:43, 8:47, 9:12)
The half marathon point is in Wellesley and I passed the timing mat at 1:55:41. I remember my energy dipping a little at that point. I don’t know if was the relief of passing the halfway point, or if the noise of the Wellesley “scream tunnel” took a little out of me, but I felt a change in my ability to keep pace.
Miles 16-18 (8:43, 10:09, 9:41)
The course enters Newton next and the hills begin in earnest. Frankly the whole course felt like rolling hills and I had a hard time distinguishing one from the other. A lot of people on the course started suffering at this point. Talk about the zombie apocalypse — I’ve never seen so many people walking on a race course! I suspect that a lot of runners trained hard to qualify and ended up injured, or got injured in training for Boston itself, but they didn’t want to miss out on the experience running Boston so they vowed to get to the finish whether they had to walk or crawl to get there. Heck, I even saw a girl in the first mile wearing the kind of boot you need for a stress fracture! And as I passed Newton-Wellesley Hospital somewhere between the 16 and 17 mile points, I watched grimly as someone was wheeled off the course and into the hospital on a stretcher.
Miles 19-21 (9:25, 9:45, 10:33)
My family and friends were waiting for me at the mile 20 marker. You can see that I picked up the pace a bit in anticipation of seeing them! The kids made these awesome signs for me out of pipe cleaners, beads, and blue glitter.
I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and then braced myself for Heartbreak Hill. The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize that particular hill was THE Heartbreak Hill until I saw a spectator holding a sign! It was just another hill, and I’d done a pretty good job of training on hills in my hilly neighborhood. I never walked (except through aid stations) and kept on trucking. My pace certainly slipped in that mile though.
Miles 22-24 (9:26, 9:31, 10:05)
Honestly in these miles through Brookline and into Boston, I was simply focused on running and keeping my legs moving. The crowd support became more important than ever. Not only their cheers, but their offers of ice, flavored ice pops, orange slices, banana slices (watch out for those peels on the course — I’m not kidding!), jelly beans, pretzels and M&Ms. I could have even had a full can of beer if I’d wanted one, and I was sorely tempted, not so much by the beer but by the idea of grabbing the can and stopping to walk along and enjoy it!
My favorite bit of course support though was when people had set up their hoses to spray the runners. While the temperatures did drop a bit the closer you got to Boston and the ocean, much of the course this year (at least for those in the later waves like me) was uncomfortably warm.
Miles 25-26.74 (9:45, 9:25, 6:39 pace for 0.74 miles)
Two things encouraged me in these final miles — the sight of the Prudential building (Boston! A building in Boston!) and the sight of the Citgo sign. I used to be able to see that sign outside the window of my on-campus apartment at MIT, so that held special significance for me even beyond the fact that it meant the final miles of the race.
I really picked up the pace when my Garmin beeped to say that I had run 26 miles. At that point I knew I had it in me to sprint and I really wanted the race to be over! So funny that I paid for the privilege to run this race, but I was just so ready to be done at that point. I sprinted for nearly 3/4 of a mile. There’s a little hill when you turn up Hereford but you are rewarded by the sight of the finish line when you turn left at the top and look down Boylston Street. Once again I could hear the absolute roar of the spectators and I felt like a rock star! Could they really be cheering that loudly for middle and back of the pack runners? It was amazing and it made my heart swell. I received a lot of support along the way, from my family, from readers of this blog, and from the race volunteers and spectators, and I was extremely grateful. I came in at 4:05:09 with my arms in the air as I finally crossed the Boston Marathon finish line.
It’s a long walk in the finishing chute. I almost didn’t grab a space blanket to keep warm because I was so heated from the race. Thank goodness I did though because by the time I reached the family meeting area and my family arrived to walk me to the T, my lips were blue! I felt really good though — sore but not injured — and just happy to have come full circle on four years of marathon training from my first marathon at Santa Barbara in 2012 to my seventh marathon at Boston in 2016!
I’ve never been particularly excited about race medals, but this one just symbolizes so much.