Boston Marathon Race Report

They say that you run the first 10 miles of a marathon with your head, the next 10 with your heart, and the last 6.2 with your guts. If that’s the case, I’m of sound mind and intestines, but I should maybe consider bypass surgery!
Splits:

  Split Time Cumulative Time Split Pace
5K 0:26:01 0:26:01 8:24
10K 0:25:48 0:51:49 8:19
15K 0:25:29 1:17:18 8:13
20K 0:28:23 1:45:41 9:09
Half   1:51:25 Cumul. Pace: 8:30
25K 0:31:27 2:17:08 10:09
30K 0:29:30 2:46:48 9:31
35K 0:29:46 3:16:34 9:36
40K 0:29:04 3:45:38 9:23
Finish   3:57:41 Cumul. Pace: 9:04

Since qualifying for Boston in my first marathon in October 2004, I’d been looking forward to this day. Training all winter, I felt strong and confident leading up to the marathon. A bout with strep at the beginning of April had shaken my confidence a bit, but I had no doubt in my mind I would do fine in Boston.  Mind you, I wasn’t sure what “fine” would mean: I went into the race thinking it would be nice to run sub-3:40, but accepting that anything sub-four would be okay.

I’d read much about the course and talked to veterans, and thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect. If anything, I think I over-prepared myself, and ultimately it was those first 10 miles of thinking that were my undoing.

We all met at the Park Plaza before hitting the buses in the morning: Andy, Meredith, Mike, Helen, Doug, Rich, Mok and myself. I felt a great sense of comraderie as we boarded our schoolbus to head to Hopkinton, but before too long I saw Helen off in her own little world, and I spent some time in reflexion myself as we headed down the freeway for just over an hour. The Athlete’s village itself was great: I joked that it was just like a music festival, but without the beer. We didn’t get to the village til after 10, but honestly it was such a neat environment I felt that I could have arrived earlier. I spent much of my time there waiting to use the porta-potties, but had some nice chats with other runners.

Right before we headed to the corrals, Meredith, Helen and I held an informal porta-potty line race, each picking a different line. The finishing order was Helen, Meredith and then myself. I wondered to myself if we would be duplicating that order in a few hours: as indeed, we did. 

The walk out to the corrals was perhaps the most distressing of the experience: it was semi-organized chaos, with throngs of people fighting past partially-filled corrals to reach their own. Eventually Meredith and I reached corral 12, where we stood for long minutes after the jets flew overhead. I’ll admit, it was somewhat anti-climatic to walk for close to a quarter-hour before hitting the start line. It was pretty incredible to think that the leaders were already close to the 5K mark before we’d even started.

Meredith and I started out strong, hitting our splits about perfectly to run a 3:40 marathon according to our pace bands. I felt ok, although the weather was warmer than I would have liked. As promised, the crowd was pretty incredible. Both Meredith and I had our names on our shirts, so as we ran, spectators would call out our names. However, we mostly concentrated on running: indeed, at about mile 2, I mentioned to Meredith that we weren’t talking – incredibly unusual for us. I therefore had little else to do but worry about what was ahead. This early on in the race, I felt fine, but I was concerned that I was not conserving enough energy for later on. Somewhere around mile 7, I told Meredith I would slow down, but I didn’t want to walk at all. At mile 9, I told her to go on ahead. I had these visions in my head of the Heartbreak Mountains® looming ahead of me, and I didn’t want to crash and burn at their feet.

As soon as I let Meredith go on her own, I abandoned the goal of finishing in 3:40, and decided to truly see this as a ‘bonus marathon’ (as per Mike and Andy). I grabbed the first orange slice a child offered me, and walked a few steps, enjoying it. I was still progressing at a decent clip, but by about mile 11 I felt myself getting over-heated, so I stopped and walked for a decent amount of time. A few runners came up to me and stopped to walk as well, and we chatted. “It’s a beautiful day out, I’m going to enjoy it.” I heard myself saying. And I actually believed myself. 

After I felt quite recovered, I started running again. It nearly felt like a new race for me. I smiled and waved at kids, said “thanks” to everyone who called out “Go Andrea”. Enjoyed more than a popsicle or two. The fact is, I had made it to Boston. Part of what makes Boston so special (in my completely unprofessional opinion) isn’t simply that you have to qualify to be there, it’s that the communities embrace this event. Kids were absolutely overjoyed if you took a moment to slap their hands or take the water they were offering. I didn’t go to Boston to PR (although obviously it would have been nice), I was going to enjoy the atmosphere. So I did. I have no idea what my mile splits were – heck, my FitSense wasn’t even calibrated correctly and recorded a distance of 24.3 miles – so I can’t break down the race mile by mile. Because for me, the experience wasn’t measured in miles, but in moments.

The middle of the race, around the half-way point, were the slowest moments. I was dreading the hills, and I think I ran overly conservatively because of it. Wellesley was actually a bit of a disappointment, I expected to hear the girls’ shouts long before I was upon them, and I thought it would go on for longer. I think I’d been hoping the enthusiasm would carry me further than it did. 

I enjoyed a nice soak with a fire hose (actually moving off the course right onto the firehouse driveway to really get drenched), and at about the two hour mark I sat down on the curb for a moment just to experience Boston from the spectator point of view. I joked to a child next to me “don’t ever do this” and then got up and ran off.

Once I actually started hitting the hills, I felt as though the race had really begun. Perhaps my conservative strategy had helped, or maybe it was all those weeks at Highbanks (or perhaps my surname rendered me well-prepared?), but I found my strength running up the hills, as many slowed to a walk around me. While I had already compromised my “no walking at all” plan many miles earlier, I still held firmly in my mind that I would run up the hills. So I did  (save the water stop that was on an incline). No problemo. It was actually quite anti-climatic to see the giant “you did Heartbreak – 5.5 miles to go” inflatable thing(??) at the crest of the last hill. I knew I would finish in sub-4, and the major challenge was over. All I had to do was coast to the finish.

I’d like to say I picked it up on the last 5.5 miles and cruised in to a fantastic finish. But I didn’t. I was on the lookout for that danged CITGO sign you supposedly see forever. But where was it? I knew my parents were around mile 22-24 someplace, and I kept running and running through Brookline, waiting for the landmarks. I really got discouraged as they seemed to keep eluding me. Boston College was a good pick-me-up, however. At this point I really wanted someone to offer me a beer, but I never heard any offers. Finally I saw the sign, and soon I was running up on 1085 Beacon St (where my parents were watching). I ran next to them, “Did you think you’d missed me?” (It was about 3:50 by this point, I’d planned to run by significantly earlier). My Mom responded “yes”, and rather than thinking of it as she intended it (she was worried she’d missed this monumental occasion), I chose to allow it to drag my spirits down (They expected me to do much better than I was). I actually became a bit disheartened, rather than using the opportunity of seeing them as an increased motivation to push through to the end.

Thankfully, however, it’s hard to think you’re doing horribly in Boston when you have hundreds of thousands of spectators cheering you on. Finally came the last turn onto Boylston and the finish line was in sight. I saw one fellow up ahead walking, and I clapped him on the back and encouraged him. Once I was only a hundred feet from the finish, I tried to put on the signature Andrea speed, and passed a few people around me. But unlike many other races I’ve done before, I didn’t feel any additional energy from the crowd: perhaps I’d simply used too much of it over previous 26 miles. I crossed the finish line, and stopped my watch at 3:57:46 (my chiptime came in at 3:57:41). I’d completed the Boston marathon as finisher number 9738 – close to 3000 places faster than my bib number.

I walked – walked, not hobbled, not stumbled – through to get my blanket, medal and bag. Enjoyed some nice conversations with other finishers. Headed to the park and met up with some of the group. Eventually my parents came by, and we ended up walking home (another 2.5 miles). I was tired, but not particularly sore. The experience was definitely a great one, and I know I would (will?) run Boston differently another time. But above all, I soaked up the experience. Heck, this is marathon #2. If it’s not fun, why do it?