Smutty Fitness: Boston Marathon Race Report
Three letters are all I need to use to describe my Boston Marathon: H-O-T. The race directors were warning those who were not prepared, had not acclimatized to the heat or those who had medical conditions not to run and for the first time in history they offered all runners the opportunity to defer. I decided early not to let myself become too concerned with the heat; I’ve raced in hot races before and I looked at it like another challenge I needed to overcome. We were warned by race officials to not attempt a personal record and to slow down our pace so in my mind I went from a goal of 3 hours and 18 minutes to 3 hours and 20 minutes as I figured two 1 hour and 40 minute half marathons was doable. Was I wrong!
I was lucky that I did not have to go with the masses in the shuttle buses out to the start line as I woke up at 6am and was excited and ready to go. I had spent the last few days distracting myself from the thoughts of the race by enjoying all that Boston had to offer but April 16th 2012 had arrived, a day that I have been waiting for since I started running and I was ready. I put on my race outfit (no need for throw away clothes today), applied the body glide, pinned on my number and after breakfast, joined one of my new best running buddies Catherine Lui (also Lainey’s cousin) and we boarded our hotel shuttle to the start line. We sat side by side, the silence only being interrupted by a few nervous comments and words of encouragement to each other. We arrived at the athlete’s village (a school field full of runners and porto-potties) but we had been invited to go to a house near the start line and wait out of the heat. A few other runners who were there started bonding with some chatter about the heat, nutrition plans and strategies on how we were all going to stay cool.
We all crowded around the race coverage on TV. First up were the wheel chair athletes and I stopped to watch as they introduced them. My heart skipped a beat when I saw two of my heroes, the father and son team Rick and Dick Hoyt on the start line. I have dreamed of the day that I would run a race that they were in and here they were, in Boston of all races! Then it was time for the elite women and then the main start of the elite men and the first wave of the fastest runners. I was in wave 2, a start time of 10:20am.
10am was slowly approaching and Catherine, a few new running friends, and I headed out the front door and the heat hit us like a ton of bricks. I have NEVER started a race in heat like that before. One more quick nervous pee and we set out for the start line, stopping along the way in any shady spot that we could find. 10:10am, we said our goodbyes, exchanged well wishes and headed towards our starting corrals. You could hear all the nervous chatter around, runners making quick conversations with those around them, anything to help you from thinking about what you were about to face.
10:20, the gun goes off and like a school of fish everyone is running. It was overwhelming; I was crying with excitement and pride – this was it. My time to achieve a dream I’ve waited so long too do. The downhill at the start was steep and like everyone had warned me to do I moved slowly. Everyone was slow and when I saw the first kilometre marker my watch read 5 minutes and 10 seconds. I was off pace already, by almost 30 seconds. I knew right then this was going to be a different type of race but I thought I just might be able to pull myself together. Mile one and my watch read over 8 minutes, still off pace. If I was to pull off my 3 hour and 20 minutes race I should have been running under a 7 minute and 40 second mile. I started searching for an aid station, I was thirsty already (at mile 1) and when I finally arrived at it, it was chaos as everyone was cramming together to drink Gatorade and water. I never drink before the second mile, another indicator this was going to be a tough day.
I calmed myself down and thought by mile two I might be back on pace but as the marker approached I was still off pace, and not by just a few seconds, almost a full minute. I don’t normally race with music but I had to put my IPod on to try and calm myself down. The crowds, the runners, they were all so overwhelming I couldn’t focus on what I was trying to do. Mile 3 the tears were still flowing and I had to tell myself it was time to stop crying – I couldn’t afford to waste any salt in tears! Mile 4, mile 5, mile 6 still off pace and it was getting hotter and hotter out there.
After mile 6 I knew that I had to throw my goal time out the window; this was now just about surviving. Instead of focusing on my watch and my time I focused on the crowd, looking for the next hose, the next person handing out water or ice. Ice was worth its weight in gold; I even stopped to pick up a piece off of the ground that I had dropped. Mile 7 passed and by mile 8 I start to feel dizzy. This isn’t good, I told myself. You need to cool off and cool off fast and just then a young little boy was screaming out ICE! With relief I ran across the street to him, took the ice and put it under my hat. I was starting to cool a bit, that gave me confidence and I kept going. At mile 9 I started to feel better and thought by halfway I could readjust my race plan and maybe I might run fast enough to get a BQ (Boston Qualifying time) so I could come back next year. But by halfway I was worse and I didn’t know how I was going to run another 13 miles in this heat.
Wellesley College was everything people had described to me: hundreds of girls screaming so loud it was deafening. Everything quieted down after that point and a runner even commented that it had become eerily quiet on the race course. People were hurting, people were suffering and it was only half way.
At this point my focus shifted to Heartbreak Hill between mile 20 and 21. I figured if I could make it to the top I would make it to the finish so I just kept trying to stay cool, drank at every aide station (I can’t tell you how terrible warm water and warm Gatorade tastes after running for over 2 and a half hours in 30 degrees).
After each hill I thought to myself, was that Heartbreak? But I knew it came just before 21 miles and when I finally reached the start of it I told myself that there was no way I was walking up Heartbreak: if there was one part of my race plan I was sticking too it was running to the top. I come from Vancouver, we run hills all the time, hills way longer and way steeper than Heartbreak but I would have to say this was one of the hardest and felt like the longest hill I have ever ran. When I reached the top I took a quick walk break and then began the descent into the city of Boston.
I was starting to get very sleepy at this part of the race. I needed a Coke as my eyes were actually starting to close but there was no Coke out on the race course so I forced down a warm energy gel and kept moving.
4 miles to go and I now knew there was no way I would make a BQ. 3 miles to go and I started to walk a bit more, no longer just at the aide stations. 2 miles to go and I was ready to be done. I stopped to walk and then a runner passed me and told me I could do it, to keep going, so I started running again. But my legs just did not want to run and I stopped, only to be encouraged again by another runner to keep moving. So I started running again.
1 mile to go and this mile will go down in history as the longest mile I have ever run. I have never walked in the last mile in a race, not even in an Ironman, but there I was walking again. I gave myself a quick kick in the butt and set a goal of running to the finish. To my right I saw a man who with every step was screaming and grabbing his legs in pain – his body was shutting down but he was doing everything he could to keep going.
I made the last right hand turn and then a quick left to Boylston Street and there it was, the Boston Marathon Finish Line. I told myself this was it, this was why I trained for 4 months, what I had wanted for years, that this was my dream. The smile that I had tried to maintain through the entire race grew bigger and I picked up my pace as much as I could in that last 300 yards. I always try to look strong at a finish line and as I approached the finish I pumped my fist up in the air and crossed the finishing mat. I was done; I could relax.
I have never worked that hard to make it to the finish line. I have never run through so many sprinklers and hoses, I have never drank so much Gatorade, I have never had to push myself that hard to keep moving forward. This race wasn’t a marathon; it was 26 miles of surviving. I have never seen so many people swaying, passing out, getting sick and walking in a race. 2100 athletes were treated for dehydration at the end of the race and last year’s winner, plus 9 other elite runners, had to pull out. 125 people ended up in the hospital and the medical tents ran out of IV bags. I have never been more proud of my 8 minute and 26 second miles or my 3 hour and 41 minutes marathon. Most would say this was the farthest thing from the perfect race and most would probably agree but to me it was the perfect race. When a race is easy and does not present challenges or adversity you walk away from the finish line the same person you were when you started. But everyone who made it to that finish line on April 16th 2012 is stronger. They overcame something that most people would not ever think of attempting. Out of 21, 554 people that showed up to the start line, I started in 10,536 place and I finished in 4853rd. I placed 946 out of 8966 women and out of 4580 people in my division I was 738th.
There were 4 points on the race course where I crossed a timing mat and knew that everyone back home was being notified that I had made it to that check point and I tried to draw from that energy so thank you to all of you for your support, your pre-race well wishes, your texts, your emails and your thoughts. I don’t think I would have made it to the finish without you.
So, another chapter of my life is over, time to start the next. Where will that lead or what will that entail? Now it is time to reflect, time to re-evaluate and time to pick a new goal.
But I have some unfinished business left behind, somewhere between Hopkinton and Boston, so if the legs feel good I will attempt another marathon close to home in 6 weeks to try and get my BQ back. Hopefully I will be at the Boston Marathon start line in 2013, in search of another Perfect Race.
(Lainey: Thanks to all of you for your emails about Hayley and Cat. Cat finished the Boston Marathon at a time of 3 hours and 47 minutes. Please. I would have bailed at the start line.)