Okay, the long-awaited Boston Marathon Report.
It all started in the Denver airport. I had just finished eating a taco salad complete with sour cream, guacamole, and deep-fried tortilla shell, wondering why I ate the whole thing, when I noticed all of the runners boarding our flight to Boston. How could I tell they were heading to the marathon? Something about the running gear, impossibly-low body fat, and those little blue and gold flyers that had been mailed to us from the BAA (mine was in my bag waiting to come out on the plane). I started to feel just a little intimidated.
Runners were everywhere we looked all weekend, now wearing official Boston Marathon merchandise. When we were in Chicago in 2002 I don't remember this phenomenon, despite the fact that there were 37,000 runners in town (as opposed to 22,000 in Boston). This could be partially due to Chicago's size, but I think most of it stems from the fact that the concentration of elite runners is so much higher in Boston. I qualified for the race with a time of 3:40 and my number (numbers were in order of qualifing time) was 13,267, meaning that I was one of the slower runners. Marathon runners come in all shapes and sizes (I sure don't look like a typical runner), but this diversity narrows once you're looking at people who can sustain a sub-8 minute pace for 26.2 miles. But enough about my insecurities; after all, I did qualify, and I was there to enjoy the experience.
My race start (wave 2) was 12:30 pm. If I had taken the bus (which was highly recommended), I would have had to board it downtown between 8 and 8:30 am. Since we were staying about 30 minutes south of town, I would have had to leave the hotel by 7:30 am, 5 entire hours before the race start. Thankfully, my parents, who had flown up from D.C. to watch the race, had rented a car, so were able to drop me off at Hopkinton State Park at ~ 10:00 am, just a short shuttle ride away from the town of Hopkinton. So now I had only 2 hours of waiting, but by the time I walked the .7 miles from the shuttle to the "Athlete's Village" (the athletic fields behind the high school complete with live music, sponsor tents, bagels, gatoraid, and port-o-potties), stood on line for the port-o-potties, drank some fluids, and stood on line again, the time flew by. You could tell those who had done this race multiple times by the blow-up rafts, old marathon blankets, and newspapers littering the grounds for resting/reading purposes.
The nice thing about the 2 wave start was that my corral was near the front of the pack. Corral? Yes, the entire experience from the time I was dropped off at the park until I actually crossed the starting line was an experience in herding. Everything was very well organized: announcements were clear, there were lots of port-o-potties, people were collecting clothing for local charities, and at no time was it ever unclear where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do.
So, finally after this circus at the start, the weeks of nerves, the months of training, the run started. I was determined not to start too fast, which was particularly hard because everyone was passing me for several miles. I felt like I had a good pace, though (~ 8:45), so tried to relax and enjoy myself. The course, especially at the beginning, was really pretty. We rolled through small towns and wooded countryside with fans lined up at every point along the course. There was never a point where there was not a group, large or small, cheering us on. Little kids were holding out their hands for high-fives, people were holding signs, giving out oranges, writing out scores to the Red Sox / Mariner's game, and everyone was cheering. The biker bar at mile 2 was blaring music while guys and gals in leather were cheering on runners. As we passed through the Wellesley campus, young women were cheering and holding up signs offering kisses. There weren't too many takers, as most of the runners around me were women, but there was one young male runner having a great time. Jeff and my parents were able to find me just past the 3 mile point and past the 13 mile point, and it was just terrific to see them: Jeff grinning and waving, my mom cheering, and my dad trying to snap as many pictures as possible. Sometime between the 7 mile point where I stopped to use the port-o-potty and the halfway point, I located the one other person I knew running the race, a woman who volunteers at the animal shelter with Jeff. We ran together until about mile 17 at which point I charged up the first of the major hills.
On the topic of hills.. I had heard that the course was hilly and that newbies often burn their legs out too fast on the downhills and regret it later. Looking at the elevation profile, however, made me think that it wasn't so hilly after all, and that the few hills at the end were over-rated. What the profile didn't show was that the course rolled the entire time, starting in mile one. There was no one big tough steep hill, but the constant rolling, while fun for the first 10 miles or so, really wears down your legs. By the time I hit mile 15 my legs were pretty tired. By miles 17 - 20 (the Newton Hills section that's supposed to be the toughest), I had enough left in me to climb the hills alright, but I was wondering how I was going to make it those last 6+. I think I hit the wall at around mile 23. I remember gettting to a point where I wasn't sure how I was going to finish the run. The crowds were no longer entertaining or distracting. I just remember trying to get from one point to the next. Each mile marker seemed farther and farther away. During the last stretch of the race, there is a point at which the course turns left around a corner and you can see the finish line. I almost started crying out of relief at that point as I fixated on that finish sign and finally believed that I would make it. I guess my parents and Jeff saw me at this point (the crowd was too loud to hear them, and I wasn't looking around), and my dad said that he could see the instant I recognized the finish line.
I finished in just over 3:56. My original goal was just to finish, aiming for a sub-4-hour time. Despite the fact that I met this goal, I felt very disappointed for a while. During those last few miles, I was convinced that I'd never run another marathon, my head filled with pessimistic thoughts about how my aging body was in decline, etc. I think I was just tired and in pain, and a had an unrealistic expectation that I wouldn't hurt this much or that I would have run faster (despite not having trained faster). I've since respun the experience, and my new goal is to actually run a marathon with negative splits (running the second half faster than the first). Maybe New York or the Marine Corps? And triathlon season is just beginning, so there's lots to look forward to there...
Overall, it was a great experience. I don't think that I'll do it again, mostly because I don't think that I'll ever take the time to train enough to qualify again. I'm thankful to all of the people of Boston who were such great supporters. My co-workers are amazing; they followed my progress throughout the race via internet updates, shouting out my pace and estimated finish time all morning. My classmates have been great, too, asking for updates and offering congratulations. My family was terrific, especially my parents who made the trip to watch and put up with the crowds and traffic. And thanks most of all to Jeff who has had to listen to me complain and worry through every stage of this process, starting last spring and continuing through Tuesday.
Everything you could want to know about the race, including photos and split times, can be found here