If you’re a runner, the 3rd Monday in April is like Christmas, New Year’s, and July 4th all rolled in to one glorious celebration. Good luck to all of my running buddies in the Boston Marathon tomorrow! ~Chris K
These words gave me chills on Sunday night before the big day.
What’s the big deal, you ask? To understand this sentiment, you must understand the history behind this event. The Boston Marathon is hosted annually on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April. With an inaugural run in 1897, it is the country’s oldest annual marathon. It is one of five world major marathons, with the others being New York, Chicago, London, and Berlin. (Yes, running all five of them is on my ‘someday’ list.) For one day every year, amateur and professional runners from all over the world brave the tough terrain and unpredictable weather to become a part of history. From its humble beginning of 18 participants, the Marathon now attracts over 24,000 runners every year, most of whom met rigorous qualifying standards just for the privilege of reaching the start line.
The course runs 26.2(ish) miles of typically quiet roads through eight Massachusetts towns: Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston. (Technically, Newton, Boston, Brookline, and then back into Boston, but who’s counting?) The sense of community among these otherwise distinct towns is never more evident than on Marathon Monday. Over 500,000 people descend upon these towns every year, which makes the Marathon the most widely viewed sporting event in the country and makes each town’s cooperation and participation critical to the Marathon’s success.
Seeing the “Now Entering” sign for each town is a huge relief because it means you are one town closer to the finish line.
This year, thanks to some creative marketing by Adidas, each town had not only its trademark “Entering” sign (replicated above at the local Niketown), but also a large green banner with one word capturing the town’s spirit as it relates to the course.
Hopkinton with Excitement
“Excitement” is an understatement. The start of this race was so unbelievable that I have no recollection whatsoever of crossing the start line on race day! (Thank goodness we checked it out the day before.) Part of me was still fretting about whether I’d made the right decision to race. And another part of me couldn’t believe it was really happening. With one blow of a horn, the day I’ve been dreaming about for over a year is finally here? How can it be? I think my race partner Tami could tell that my head was spinning because the one thing I do remember is her turning to me and saying “This is it. You are running your Boston Marathon.”
Mile 1 — 8:14. With all the crowds, I’m not sure I could have run any faster if I had wanted to. In this case, that turned out to be a good thing because I was dead on goal pace.
Mile 2 — 7:59. A few seconds fast, but still within the 5 second rule.
Ashland with Stride
“Stride” seemed cheesy at first, but looking back, it’s a perfect description. I couldn’t believe how quickly and easily the first five miles went by.
Mile 3 — 7:44. Four seconds fast, but feeling good.
Mile 4 — 7:42. Two seconds fast. No sweat.
Mile 5 — 7:59. Another two seconds fast, but we’re finally breaking free of the crowds. It was hard to believe it was time to eat my first gu shot here, but I did it anyway.
Framingham with Confidence
Right or wrong, “Confidence” is exactly what the first 6 miles of Boston gives you. This is the first race where I wore a pace band, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to succeed on this course. Left to my own devices, I would have soared down these hills way too fast! If there’s one single piece of advice that everyone gave me before Boston, it was “Don’t go out too fast.” And, now I know exactly what they mean.
Mile 6 — 7:50. Two seconds fast. Noticing a trend here?
Mile 7 — 7:49. Four seconds fast.
Mile 8 — 7:55. Another few seconds fast, but nothing too alarming – other than the rising temperature. While the elites who started at 9:20 a.m. had perfect weather for most of their race, us common folk who started at 10:30 had slightly different conditions. With no cloud cover from the blazing sun and temperatures creeping into the 60s, I was already dumping an extra cup of water over my head at each aid station.
Natick with Nerve
About halfway through Natick, the crowds thinned out a bit. I finally looked around and saw a gorgeous view of Lake Cochituate. I remember saying, apparently out loud, “Wow, this is beautiful,” which prompted a few others around me to look away from their watches and agree. I also remember feeling like I was dragging around Mile 10. I never get this feeling so early in a marathon, so I was a little nervous. I kept telling myself, “Just a little bit longer until Wellesley. You’re almost at the halfway point.”
Mile 9 — 7:56. Spot on.
Mile 10 — 7:55. Six seconds fast. Second gu shot eaten.
Mile 11 — 8:00. Spot on.
Mile 12 — 7:44. Four seconds fast.
Wellesley with Screams
As we approached Wellesley College, the seasoned Boston Marathoners started shouting at anyone wearing headphones, telling them “You’re about to miss it! Take those off!” You could hear the screams from at least .5 mile before Wellesley College. It was amazing! Then, all the men suddenly started gravitating towards the right side of the road – something about a pretty girl with a “Kiss me, I’m from Texas” sign gets ’em every time. Tami and I stayed to the left to avoid the crowds and attempt not to speed up with all the crazy energy.
Mile 13 — 7:55. Four seconds fast. I said attempt not to get caught up in all the energy, right? I remember Tami telling me to be careful here.
Mile 14 — 8:01. Four seconds slow.
Mile 15 — 8:02. Spot on. Third gel down. One to go.
Mile 16 — 7:48. Seven seconds slow. Looking back, I’m convinced this slow down was all mental…. I let the anticipation of the hills get into my head.
Newton with Grit
It is in Newton that the heart of the Boston Marathon really begins. Even among the elites, this stretch of the course separates the real contenders from those who have simply been hanging on for the ride. And with good reason. At mile 17, you encounter the first of the four Newton hills. Though not the steepest or longest hills I’ve ever run, their timing relative to each other and the overall course is brutal.
Mile 17 — 8:10. Eight seconds fast. Was I thinking that going up the hills faster would make it be over faster? While technically true, probably not a good strategy.
Mile 18 — 8:28. Ten seconds slow.
Mile 19 — 8:06. Fourteen seconds slow.
Mile 20 — 8:14. Three seconds slow. It was really hard to eat my fourth gel shot here; the taste of it sounded awful. But I forced it down and kept on moving.
Mile 21 — 8:33. Two seconds slow. Not too shabby for my first encounter with the infamous Heartbreak Hill. When you crest the top of Heartbreak, all the volunteers and spectators go nuts, yelling “You did it!” It’s a great moment. I even found the energy to raise my hands and cheer. They also yell, “It’s all downhill from here.” If only that was true…
Mile 22 — 7:57. Six seconds slow.
Brookline with Ambition
“Ambition” was exactly what I needed to think about for this three-mile stretch. I desperately needed it to be 5k to go. The problem was that I had been telling myself, “You’re almost at 5k to go. Just keep moving.” for the last 2 miles. So, guess what: I still had 5k to go!!
Mile 23 — 8:12. Sixteen seconds slow. At this point, I think Tami knew that she was pulling me along. I’m so glad she was there or who knows how slow this mile would have been.
Mile 24 — 8:07. One second slow.
Mile 25 — 7:59. Spot on. After I grabbed a Gatorade and a water at the last aid station, something snapped. I looked at my watch, saw the time, and finally kicked it into gear. I was almost at the finish of the Boston Marathon!!! (And, oh how I wanted the pain to stop!)
Boston with Pride
Like “Excitement” at the start, “Pride”at the finish is an understatement.
Mile 26 — 8:06. Seven seconds fast. But, truth be told, I hadn’t looked at my pace band since my crummy split at Mile 23.
Last .2 (or .4, in my case!) — under a 7:00 min/mile pace. I will never forget turning onto Boylston Street. From here, you can see the finish line. I looked at my watch and thought had a 3:30, so I gave it everything I had. Of course, I also was thinking I only had .2 to go because I’d forgotten about the extra two tenths of a mile that I ran somewhere in the first five miles of the race. Still, I was thrilled with my 3:31:24 finish! It is 2 minutes faster than my qualifying marathon in St. George on (what I believe is) a much tougher course. How many people can say they PR’d in Boston? Woohoo!
Running up to the finish line was an incredibly moving experience for me. Finishing the Boston Marathon is the culmination of not only one season of hard training, but also the prior season of training and another hard marathon run to qualify for Boston.
Normally, in the last stretch of a race I am filled with surprisingly negative thoughts. I get competitive and think about people whom I’d like to beat. I suppose I’ve always thought that getting “angry” will give me the extra kick I need to cross the line.
This time, in Boston, I was filled with only positive thoughts. I thought about the girl who couldn’t even run one block around the neighborhood 2.5 years earlier. I thought about every late night movie, glass of wine, and sleep-in Sunday I had given up for the last year and a half of training so that I could have this moment. And, I thought about how many thousands of gifted athletes had crossed that finish line in the prior 114 years of this historic race. And, wouldn’t you know it, armed with these happy thoughts, I ran the fastest pace I’ve ever run at the finish. Even in a state of complete physical exhaustion, I was waving my hands in the air and grinning from ear-to-ear.
Tami and I waddled through the finishers’ chute, stopped for a few photos, grabbed our bags, quickly consumed our recovery drinks, and made the necessary updates to our FB status. Big PRs and BQs = Big news in the running world! 🙂
Then, I turned around to get back to the finish line (now, over .5 mile away) to find Brad. People kept telling me that they wouldn’t let me back through, but I was on a mission. I put on my best salmon face and pushed through hundreds, or probably thousands, of runners until I made it. Then, I waited.
I hadn’t gotten any runner tracking updates since the 25k mark, so I phoned a friend to see if she could pull up Brad’s split and get his estimated finish time. (I completely forgot it was a Monday, which meant she was at work. Thanks for humoring me, Meagan!) Nearby volunteers asked me who I was looking for and what he was wearing so they could help me look. A medic yelled at me to keep moving before I froze to death and my muscles cramped, so I started pacing around the announcer’s chair. Then, three different medics asked me if I needed a wheelchair. Each time, I responded, “No. Why? I’m fine.” I should have known this was a bad sign, but I was singularly focused on being there to see Brad cross the line. (I didn’t notice the lovely limp I’d developed in my left leg until the walk back to the hotel.)
I heard my phone ding that I had a text message, and looked down to see that Brad had finished. I started shouting, “He finished! He finished! Where is he?!?” And, a few seconds later, I finally spotted him in the crowd. He was grinning from ear-to-ear, and I was beaming with pride and shouting “You did it, Mr. Marathoner!”
As great as it was to cross the finish line myself, standing there to watch the emotion as others finished and seeing the look on Brad’s face when he finished was probably the highlight of the race for me. I saw tears, hugs, laughter, a tap dance, prayers, and even a marriage proposal. That’s what this sport is all about. Overcoming your fears; breaking down your own physical and emotional barriers; and bringing people from all walks of life together for a common cause :: To prove to themselves that they can do it. To finish what they started.
What an awesome thing! I hope each and every one of you gets to experience it for yourself some day.
P.S. We still have a ways to go on the fundraising agreement that made this day possible for Brad and me. Please take a moment to surf on over to the donation page and consider giving whatever you can. Your support means the world to both of us! xoxo