Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Boston Marathon

Though Boston was not my "A" race of spring and I hadn't been training specifically for a marathon, I'd been excited about it for weeks... First, it's the Boston Marathon!  Second, I had really strong feelings about running after being there and seeing the tragedy unfold last year.  And third, I would be running with an amazing group of friends, with my dad and my husband there to cheer me on.

Packed my lucky shoes and headed up to Boston on Saturday morning
Checked into our hotel and headed to the expo.
After picking up my bib and race packet,
I met up with my family at the Convention Center
Then walked around Boston for a bit
Walked down Bolyston with my family to check out the finish line

On Sunday, I had a lovely brunch with my family and then headed out to Hopkinton to check out the start line before checking into our hotel in Milford.

After dinner, my family dropped me and Brittany off at our hotel, where we met up with Caren and Jennifer.  I stayed at the same hotel last year; it's really convenient to getting to the start but less so for spectators trying to get to the finish, so we had a room for runners while our families stayed in Boston. The only problem was, with the elimination of bag check and no plans to return to Milford following the race, we had to take only things we needed for the race or were willing to part with.  It was a little more work logistically, as we had to sleep in the throwaway clothes that we were planning to leave at the start, pack an extra set of travel size toiletries, etc, but it was worth the hassle to eliminate any unnecessary race day stress.

All decked out in our fancy pajamas aka pre-race throwaway clothes
The great part about staying near the start is that there's no need to get up early to go downtown for bus loading.  Instead, we walked out of the hotel and right onto a shuttle bus at 8:30.  This has multiple advantages, most notably the availability of working plumbing throughout the majority of the morning.  Last year, the hotel bus was able to drop us off right near Athlete's Village, but because of additional security measures, we had to be dropped off at a designated parking area, go through a security checkpoint (wands and people checking bags, similar to most sporting events or concerts), and then take another bus the rest of the way to Hopkinton.  I figured we would still have plenty of time, but an accident on the highway had caused a big traffic jam, and the security checkpoint line went around a block.  The delays caused a slight amount of stress, but not bad.

At that point, my only pre-race concerns were (1) peeing and (2) finding Ellen.  Since we were late to our designated meeting spot and only Jennifer had her phone, I figured the latter wasn't going to happen, but as we made a beeline for the porta-pottys, one of the first people we ran into was Ellen.  Hurray!  We were all together.  My happiness was short-lived, because when I saw the porta-potty lines I was pretty sure either my bladder was going to rupture or I was going to get a ticket for public urination (clearly I had done a good job of hydrating).  Thankfully Caren went to the front and 'encouraged' everyone to be more aggressive in moving our particular line forward, so I have her to thank for the fact that I didn't pee on myself or end up in the hospital.  Yes, I just wrote an entire paragraph about peeing.

As we finally left the bathroom area, they were calling for wave 2 corrals 7-9 to depart Athlete's Village.  My listed corral was 6, but Caren and Britt were in 8 and we wanted to start together, so since you can move back but not up, we all headed over to the big corral 8 sign.

In the corrals and ready for the start
As we walked toward the start line, I realized it had suddenly gotten pretty warm, and wondered if that would be a factor as the day went on.  The thousands of runners around us continued to shuffle along, until we finally crossed the start line and were off. 

Much of the first half of the race is downhill, so we tried to be cautious and start slowly.  The first couple miles clocked of in the 7:50s and then we settled into a pace in the high 7:30s-low 7:40s.  It was a little faster than I'd planned, but I made the decision that I wanted to stick with my friends through Wellesley and would back off the pace after that.  In hindsight, the faster pace most likely played a role in my later struggles, but sharing that experience with my friends was 100% worth it and if I had it to do over, I wouldn't have changed that at all.  

The first few miles went by pretty quickly, filled with chatting, dancing, high-fiving spectators, and reading some of the great signs along the course.  Caren, Jenn, and I were all wearing our Bull City Track Club singlets, so countless people shouted, "Go Bull City!" and we thanked every one of them with a woot, fist pump, or wave.  There were so many people!  Despite having a great experience, around mile 10 I was starting to feel warm and thought it definitely felt harder than it should for such an early point in the race.  Mile 10: 7:34. No wonder it felt hard, I was running too fast.  10-15 seconds might not seem like much, but it can make a big difference in a long, difficult race.  I told myself to not to worry and just enjoy the moment, and that was made easier as we ran through Wellesley and I read all of the "Kiss me" signs.  When we crossed the 25k mat, I wished by friends luck and Ellen and Jenn took off, while Caren opted to stick with me at a more relaxed pace through the infamous Newton hills.  

I'd been eating a chocolate cherry shot block every mile starting at mile 3, and all systems seemed fine until about 16.  Suddenly I just couldn't stand the thought of eating anything else, but I didn't feel I was bonking so I wasn't really worried about it.  What did worry me, though, was the heat.  By mile 16, I was taking three cups of water at each aid station: dump one on my head, drink one, dump another one on my head.    

I told myself to not worry about pace through the hills, and though I'd slowed to about 8:05 pace for mile 17, I was passing quite a few people who looked like they felt worse than I did.  And then I hit heartbreak hill.  Last year, I lost track of which hill I was on and thought I had one to go, so when I saw the broken hearts drawn in chalk on the street, I thought, "This is heartbreak? That's it? That wasn't bad at all!" Well, suffice it to say I did not think that this year!  I don't know how they did it, but the hills were bigger this time around ;)  

Happy to have made it to the top of Heartbreak Hill
At 35K, I knew it was definitely not going to be a PR day.  I turned off the lap pace on my watch, deciding to accept a slower pace and just enjoy the last 10K as much as possible.  I high-fived everyone with a hand out, smiled for the photographers, and tried to not look at my watch at all.  

Somewhere around mile 22
I knew my dad, Monte, and Mary were near the 40K sign, and I was able to spot them, which was great.  Since by that point I was pretty much jogging, I'd decided to stop to hug them.  I normally wouldn't want to add extra seconds to my time, but I really wanted them to know how much it meant to me that they were there to support me.  I think they were surprised by that, and Monte yelled, "Go! Go!"  Definitely 15 seconds well spent. 

Mile 24.5
With some energy from seeing my family, the knowledge that I only had a mile and a half to go, and the amazing crowd support, the last mile, though one of my slowest, was also one of my favorites.

The Citgo sign: The end is near!!
Somewhere in the 25th mile, I passed Larry Chloupek.  It is absolutely amazing to see what people can accomplish if they put their minds to something.

As I made the final turn onto Boylston St, I caught a glimpse of bright orange to my left and looked over to see Jenn.  I yelled over to her, but the crowd noise on Boylston was crazy.  She took off with a sprint to the finish and I thought it would be nice to finish together, so I sped up too.  That lasted about 10 seconds, and I gave up the chase, and finished just behind her in 3:31:41.  Last year I had what felt like a Jimmy V moment... running around looking for someone to hug after they put that medal around my neck, so it was great to have a friend there.  

We collected our medals, ponchos, food bags, and water, and waddled over to the Arlington St Church, where we'd planned to meet up with our families and fast teammates who'd started in wave 1 and long since finished.  

I cannot say enough good things about my 2014 Boston Marathon experience.  I loved almost every second of it (though my quads might beg to differ), and am so glad that I decided to make a return trip.

Bull City Track Club representing in Boston

Two Boston Marathon finishers in the family!
I have the best dad and husband a girl could ask for
It's amazing what a difference a shower can make!
BCTC Reunion at Porter's 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

It's not "just a number"

It's been a crazy few days.  When I discovered other people in my race photos and posted a picture of the bandits to Facebook and Twitter, I never imagined that 48 hours later that photo would be all over the internet.  The reaction has been largely supportive, though there have been some pretty harsh comments directed toward me as well.  There have also been a number of comments to the effect of, "So what? Why do you care?" I've seen a lot of commentary, both thoughtful and otherwise, on both side of the bandits debate, so I will set the bandit issue aside for the moment and try to explain why seeing others wearing my number was so upsetting.

When I registered for my first marathon in 2010, the goal was just to finish, and I told my family that I would be running one and only one marathon, to scratch it off of the bucket list.  I'd never run more than 13.1 miles, and my longest training run was to be 22 miles, so I felt that just covering 26.2 miles was going to be a huge accomplishment for me, regardless of my finish time.  The last three miles were a struggle, but I finished.  My dad and husband were waiting at the finish line, and as my legs cramped like I'd never felt before, I was overcome by emotion.  Did I win?  Of course not.  But I had accomplished something that until only recently I'd never thought I could do, and was very happy with my "one and only" marathon and my time of 3:43:48.  And then I realized that I was less than 9 minutes away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon... The Holy Grail of marathon running.  

Yes, I'd sworn that was the only marathon I would run, especially as I'd worked my way through the training cycle and realized what a time commitment it is to run 40+ miles each week and how much dedication it takes to get out there and run in the cold, in the rain, when it's 90 degrees and humid, or when you just want to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. But the possibility was there... Boston.  I'd have to take 20 seconds per mile off of my marathon pace, which is not a small amount, but not outside the realm off possibility.  

So I set my sights on Boston, and on March 29, 2011, I registered for the Miami Marathon.  For the next 8 months, I ran, added speed work, joined the Bull City Track Club, and really dedicated myself to training for a BQ.  And over those months, running became a big part of my identity.  I became friends with other runners, and when we weren't running together, we were talking about running or planning the next race.  I continued to really push myself in training and really committed myself to becoming a better runner... all as a means to earning a spot in the Boston Marathon.  On January 29, 2012, I finished my second marathon, crossing the line in 3:28:24 and earning my coveted BQ.  

On September 14, at the moment the BAA opened applications to runners with qualifying times of 5+ minutes under their age group cutoff, I registered for the Boston Marathon.  When I received my runner passport from the BAA with my race number in March, my excitement really started to build.  On the day before the race, I picked up my bib.  My ticket into the Boston Marathon.  

From the time I decided that I wanted to qualify for Boston and registered for the Miami Marathon on 3/29/2011 through the moment I stepped first to the line at Hopkinton, I spent 427 hours and 52 minutes running 3,092 miles (thanks Garmin Connect), and finally, on April 15, 2013, I ran the Boston Marathon.  As I ran through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, and Newton, over Heartbreak Hill, into Boston, and finally onto Boylston Street, it was evident that those 3,000+ miles were absolutely worth running because they culminated in such an amazing 26.2.  To me, that Boston Marathon bib number was not just a number.  It represented years of hard work.  It symbolized reaching a personal goal and doing something that for the first 31 years of my life, I wouldn't have thought possible.  It was literally sign that showed I had earned a spot into the most prestigious marathon in the world.  As a friend said yesterday, in many ways it's similar to a diploma: years of work went into it, and it has far more value to the person who earned it just than any old piece of paper.  

The exhilaration of running the 2013 Boston Marathon carried me to a new PR and another BQ, but given the huge expense of traveling to Boston for Marathon weekend, I didn't intend to return in 2014.  The tragedy at the finish line changed that. I had finished the race and was only a few blocks away when the bombs went off, and as we learned details about what had happened, I knew I would be back.  I wanted to support Boston and the Marathon, and, like thousands of others, planned my return for the 2014 event and knew this year's marathon would be a running experience unlike any other.  

Perhaps I did not have the 25 month lead up to the race that preceded my first Boston Marathon, but I worked hard to get there.  I paid to be there.  I earned my spot.  And that is what 14285 means to me.  People can say what they want about bandits, but to me, a Boston Marathon bib will never be "just a number."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Boston Bandits

I haven't gotten around to writing my Boston Marathon race report, but wanted to share this right away...  

When I got the link to "my" official photos from marathonfoto, I found pictures of four other people wearing my bib number!  My guess is they used the bib photo that I posted on instragram or purchased the fake bibs from someone who did.  In either case, this makes me so upset!!  Thousands of people worked really hard to qualify for Boston or raised a ton of money for charity in order to earn a bib, and many who qualified by a minute or less were unable to register because the race was full, so to use a fake bib to bandit the race is just not right.  Not to mention this poses a serious security threat.  They even posed with finisher medals as though they deserved to be there.  Obviously they got away with it insofar as they completed the race and took home finisher medals, but I hope they can at least be identified and disqualified from future races.  

I also hope that this will serve as a cautionary tale... It never would have occurred to me that someone would do this, so I didn't think twice about posting a bib photo on social media in my excitement leading up to the race.  In hindsight, that was probably naive of me, and I certainly won't be doing that again.  Be careful what you post!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rock n Roll Raleigh

I signed up for this race thinking it would make a good, hilly, supported last long run before Boston, and the plan was to run close to my marathon goal pace (7:45).

While waiting for the start, I ran into Emma, a lovely young woman who has joined our running group for a few training runs.  We ran the first 7 miles or so of the race together, chatting about many things, including Art for Hospice, the really great non-profit that she founded while only in middle school, and the upcoming Boston Marathon, which she was also preparing to run.  We were running a bit faster than I had planned (5K in 23:48, 10K in 47:58), but I was trying to focus on effort rather than pace, so I didn't worry about it too much.  It's pretty much all uphill from mile 6.5 to 8, and I slowed down with the goal of keeping my heart rate and effort level in check.  Around mile 7, the 1:40 pace group passed by and Emma decided to go with them so I was on my own.  Shortly after that, I ran through a crowd of spectators in Cameron Village, including Margaret and Ellen, who had made me another fabulous sign!

My watch beeped at the completion of mile 8 and flashed 8:01.  Not bad for me on a hill, and it would be the only 8 of the day.  I passed Monte and Alan, which gave me a nice little boost of energy.   was happy to see my speed increase and effort decrease as I coasted down Hillsborough St and back towards downtown Raleigh.  Monte and Alan were able to cut down to the Bell Tower to catch me at mile 9 before making the turn to Pullen Park. 

Things were going pretty well, and though I had slowed a little from my earlier pace, I just focused on running comfortably and not doing anything stupid before Boston.  By then it was starting to warm up, and the hill at mile 10.4 felt pretty challenging.  And then I passed a seemingly endless line of yard signs, each with the photos, names, ranks, and dates... scores of service men and women whose lives have been lost.  That military memorial really put things into perspective, and I teared up seeing how many signs there were.  After that there were dozens of volunteers holding American flags.  It was incredibly moving, as evidenced by the photo gallery on the Run to Remember page.  We then had another lovely view of the Raleigh skyline (this was definitely a picturesque route) before returning downtown.  I considered speeding up for the finish, but kept reminding myself that I would be running Boston in 8 days, so I just stuck to my steady pace until the watch hit 13, and my only burst of speed was running 6:16 pace for the last .16.  Finish time: 1:41:46, which is 7:44/mile and pretty darn close to my target of 7:45/mile!

After collecting my medal, a guy who'd be running off my shoulder for the last few miles thanked me for pacing him and we chatted for a bit.  Then I headed back over to the host hotel where they had the VIP lounge (thanks, SAS!).  There is a separate VIP gear check, so I grabbed my bag in about 2 seconds, changed into dry clothes, got a massage, and had a snack from the buffet before heading down to the finish line to cheer on some friends.  Heidi ran so fast that she broke the tape in the full marathon before I was back at the finish line, but I was able to see several friends, some who had just finished their first half marathon, which was awesome.

Definitely one of the coolest looking race shirts I've gotten (this is the back)
And a cool medal
All in all, things went according to plan, I didn't feel like I overexerted myself, the course was really scenic, I had company for a good bit of it, and I had a great experience.  I was, however, glad that I was just running at marathon goal pace and not trying to race this one - it was definitely hilly and was pretty warm by the end.  Given the proximity to my house, the fun atmosphere, and the scenic course, I will definitely keep this on my radar for next year.