Monte and I flew into Boston on Saturday afternoon. After a great carb loading pasta dinner with friends, we drove out to our hotel in Milford, which is only about 15 minutes from Hopkinton. Sunday we drove out to the start and though to that point I had mostly been nervous about my lack of preparation and in the mindset of "let's just get this over with," being at the starting line really got me excited about the race and the whole experience of my first Boston Marathon.
From there we test-drove the route that I'd mapped out for Monte to use on race day, and then took the train from Riverside into Boston. First stop: packet pickup at Hynes Convention Center. My stepdad, aunt, and uncle met us there, and my four spectators were great sports as we went through the expo, picked up my packet and checked out the marathon gear. I bought the official jacket (of course), and some sweet new Boston edition Kinvara 4s, which I might actually save for next year's race. I also ran into my teammate Nancy, who was set to start in my corral, and after discussing her pace plan - a very conservative start and then consistent miles with the goal of finishing in about 3:25, we decided we'd run together. With this new plan to have company for the run, I was even more excited and optimistic about the run. After getting lunch and visiting with the fam for a while, we headed back to our hotel and I proceeded to lay in the bed without sleeping for a few hours, as is usually the case on the night before a big race.
Staying out near the start is a bit challenging logistically, but the upside was that I was able to leave on the hotel shuttle bus at 8:30 and still make it to the start area before 9. I immediately went to the porta-john line, and then met up with Ellen, Allie, and Sarah near the bag drop bus line. We heard from Nancy, who was stuck in a bathroom line, and didn't see her at the planned meet up spot, so as we walked to the corrals, I decided to start with Ellen and Allie, who were one corral behind my assigned one. I thought they'd be going faster than what I had in mind, but figured I'd start with them and just hang in there as long as I could. After Ellen and I made one last pit stop (behind a rock and dumpster, respectively - we're classy like that), we got into the corral and got ready for the start. To our pleasant surprise, Nancy and her husband found us in Corral 5, and the five of us started out together.
It was really crowded at the start, of course, and this helped us to keep the first mile in check. Even with us all in agreement that we should start out slowly, I worried about going out too fast, but we came through the first mile in a little over 8 minutes as planned. The first few miles to Ashland were downhill and uneventful, and we stuck to the conservative start plan, coming through the 5k at 24:46. I knew this was downhill and it was so tempting to run faster, but from everything I've read, that is the worst thing you can do on this course. Keeping that in mind and following the advice of far wiser runners, I shortened my stride and tried to minimize the impact on my quads, hoping that would benefit me later.
The next 5k into Framingham were also conservative and uneventful, and we covered those miles in 24:41. We then started looking for Monte, and ran by him somewhere around 6.5. It's always such a good boost for me to see him! Still feeling good and comfortable, so we hadn't blown it yet!
I ate my first gel, and was feeling really great about my decision to run with my friends. At that point, the race had flattened out some, and we set about keeping our pace around 7:45. Right on pace again as we went through the next 5k split in 24:09. As we came into Natick around mile 10, Allie needed to make a stop and said she'd catch up in a bit, so we continued on as a group of 4.
Coming through Wellesley was really fun - reading the Kiss Me signs and feeling the energy of the crowds cheering us along. We did the YMCA, chatted, and I found myself smiling most of the way. Before we knew it, we crossed the halfway mark. 1:43:05 - right on schedule! We saw Monte again around mile 14, and were all still feeling great and having a fabulous time!
I ate a second gel, and had a little sloshing and stomach cramping, but nothing major. I noticed that we'd fallen a bit off of our pace, so I picked it up and just focused on keeping it around 7:45 until the Newton hills. Nancy and Ellen fell a little behind at that point, but I knew I'd slow on the hills and figured they would catch back up then, so I continued along.
I think the first of the Newton hills is the worst. You can see the wave of runners going up, and I thought, "oh crap, I guess the race starts now." Again I tried to use a shorter quicker stride, and slowed a little, aiming to keep my heart rate and breathing low, because there were several more hills and 8 miles left to go. Surprisingly, the hills didn't slow me down as much as I'd expected, and the 5k split at 30k was 24:13. I knew there were three hills before Heartbreak, but somehow I lost track and as we climbed another hill I noticed a broken heart drawn on the pavement in chalk. Was this Heartbreak Hill? As we neared the top, I asked a runner next to me if it was indeed that storied hill, and when she said yes I was shocked! Wow, that's it?? I'm almost to the top! On PR pace and it's all downhill? Can that be right? I'd made it through the toughest part of the course and the 35k split was 24:47.
I was definitely starting to feel it, but just in a 'my legs are tired' way, not a 'I might die, need to walk, or maybe vomit' kind of way, so that was great. I calculated that I could average a 9 minute mile and still re-qualify, and was sort of amazed given my lack of preparation for this race. Since I've been focused on triathlon training in preparation for the Raleigh Ironman 70.3, my running volume has been pretty low - staying in the 35 mile a week range - and I did only one 18 mile long run. To see a potential PR as a possibility with only 5k to go was surprising to say the least!
From the time I could see the Citgo sign, through the turn onto Hereford, I just kept waiting for something to go terribly wrong, and didn't want to push myself too soon. I also kept waiting for Ellen, Allie, and Nancy to go flying by with a strong finishing kick as I just held my steady pace, but to my surprise I didn't see them again. I heard Alan yell, "Go Kara" and it was so nice to know that they were there for this race, and I thought about how my mom would be cheering like crazy, and that she probably was from heaven. Definitely a bittersweet moment.
Making the final turn onto Boylston was awesome. I tried to pick it up a little, but despite my effort I only managed to go slightly faster. I concentrated on taking it all in... the crowds, the runners, the finish line of the freakin' Boston Marathon!! It was definitely a highlight of my running career, and I crossed the finish line in 3:26:02 (average pace of 7:52/mile). A PR of over two minutes on the toughest course I've run to date. And I'd run a negative split (by only a few seconds, but still!)... could not have been happier. I waited for Nancy, who came in just behind me, and then made my way though the finish area, collecting my water, gatorade, snack bag, and mylar blanket. When they put the medal around my neck, I almost cried - running Boston was such a big goal, and to have run the majority of it with my friends, finish with a personal best marathon time, and still feel relatively good... wow. I couldn't have imagined a better race day. Of course that was soon to change, but I will save that post for another time...
Congratulations to everyone who ran today - the BCTC put in some really stellar performances and came out with a bunch of shiny new PRs, and I am so proud of all of you and happy to be a part of such a great group of people.