Thursday, April 26, 2012

Boston Marathon, April 2012

Three years ago I don’t think I knew the first thing about the Boston Marathon. After I ran NYC in 2010 that all changed, because I had run myself a qualifying time for Boston 2012, and of course that meant I had to enter, right?

I bettered that time in April 2011 (Canberra, 3:12) and again in December 2011 (CIM, 3:05), so I was given a number in Wave 1, corral 5.

The training
Over summer the MRT Holiday Mileage Challenge, although a total debacle in many ways, taught me a lot about myself as a runner. I always used to think I could not do high mileage (over 60 miles/100km per week) or doubles, I’d be sure to get injured, but there I was running 190 miles in 10 days and feeling totally fine. So for Boston I ended up doing Pfitzinger 12/85 but adding miles to top out at 92mpw with a weekly average of 82mpw pre-taper.

The travel
How considerate of the BAA to put their marathon right in the middle of my son’s school holidays! We headed out a week early to Florida and Disneyworld, where I walked around way too much and put my feet in constant peril at the water parks for two whole days, but had a ton of fun as well.

Then we moved the whole circus to Boston and watched the weather forecast for Patriot’s Day steadily worsen until it was actually going to be hotter than it had been in Florida. I started to get warning emails from the race medical directors, including one that said everyone but the elites should just do it as a fun run, NOT A RACE.

Well, bugger that, I thought. That’s not my style – but just about everyone I met up with during the weekend was telling me they were doing exactly that. Many were already talking about a new goal marathon in a few weeks, and running Boston as just another long run. But in Australia I don’t really have that option, so I stuck to my guns: I was going to run the best I could on the day and in the conditions, whatever they turned out to be.

I did my own version of carb-loading the day before, and bought myself a new (very skimpy) race outfit to make up for the fact that this race was probably going to be a total debacle.

Picking up my bib at the most crowded expo EVER

Race Day
Overnight I wake up at 2:30, 3:30 and finally 4:30am for good. I walk to Boston Common, chewing on a bagel and drinking some Gatorade, where I meet up and ride the buses to Athlete’s Village with a group of RW buddies. At 6am it’s already warm.

We hook up with some others under the tent and although it’s a nice temperature there, outside the sun has started to bake. I spend 10 minutes waiting in line to get this photo taken,

and walk back to the tent thinking “hmm, maybe 3:15 is the way to go after all"..... but I keep my 2:59:30 pace band on anyway.

Walking to the corrals, people around me are visibly sweating already. I’m carrying the Gatorade bottle I bought with me and sipping on water, but I ditch it after a brief debate with myself about whether I should keep it for the first few miles. In corral 5 I stand unobtrusively in the shade of an enormously tall guy (he has to be at least 6’4”) and try not to get too hot. Finally the gun goes off, we shuffle forwards for a bit and then YAY! we are running the Boston Marathon!

Miles 1-2: 6:50, 6:47
Downhill. Woo! It’s hot but plenty of shade. The crowd is thick but I’m on pace, which is a bit of a surprise since I feel fine. Mile 2 is still downhill but WOW, it’s hot. Is that a drink station up ahead? I’m actually already thirsty. I grab a cup of water and power onwards.

Miles 3-4:  6:44, 6:38
Rather than just drinking, I start dumping water on myself at the water stations now. Checking my Garmin it seems I am going a bit too fast, and I wonder if I’ll pay for that later. I pass Tony (one of the 3:20 gang from Runners World) and we exchange complaints about the weather, then I press on.

Miles 5-6: 6:46, 6:42
Ewww. My shoes are squelching from all the water I’m pouring over myself. It’s working, though: I’m neither uncomfortably hot nor thirsty. I can’t say the same for the guy dressed as Minnie Mouse (complete with ears) whom I pass at this point. I high-five a few little kids as I pass and hope that I’m going to still feel this good in another 15 miles or so.

Miles 7-8: 6:43, 6:49
The crowd support starts to impact on me: it’s totally incredible. Everywhere there are people holding out cups of water, passing out handfuls of ice, freezie pops, slices of orange – there is no way I’m every going to want for anything during this race.

I catch up to another RW friend, Zab, who coined the term “BOTT goal” – it stands for Balls On The Table, an aggressive race goal that is borderline insane but also possible if everything aligns. He tells me he’s pulling back from his original goal of sub-3; I think hard about doing the same, but then tell him “Well, my balls are still on the table”. He laughs and says “Go for it!”, and in that second I realise yep, I’m going to do exactly that.

Miles 9-10: 6:46, 6:48
Running over the timing mat at 10 miles, I know there are quite a lot of people at home tracking me, and I imagine at this point that many of them are yelling at the screen, telling me I’m going WAY too fast and why the heck haven’t I slowed down like everyone else? By now I’m 45 seconds ahead of my pace band so that’s sub-2:59 pace. I can almost hear them cursing my stupidity, and I have a bit of a semi-hysterical giggle to myself. Onward!

Not drowning, waving....

Miles 11-12: 6:49, 6:36
At the start of mile 12 I hear a strange noise that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. I realise the Wellesley scream tunnel is approaching….and sure enough, there they are, a mile-long line of shrieking girls holding signs saying “Kiss me, I’m ____”. By halfway I’m almost deaf in my right ear and I’m running right in the middle of the road so as not to get grabbed and kissed by an overzealous freshman. Trying to get past them earns me one of my fastest miles in the race.

Miles 13-14: 6:40, 6:35
Through halfway in 1:28:45 and feeling okay. I’m still dumping water all over myself at every opportunity and passing people in a steady stream. I accept a handful of ice from a kind woman and shove half down the front of my bra, half down the back. Aahhhh, feels good. I run by a store with a temperature display out the front: 85F. That’s 29.4C for us metric folks – I really wish they would have turned it off because it’s not something I need to know at this point.

Miles 15-16: 6:45, 6:36
The Newton Hills are approaching, but there’s a nice downhill first. A wonderful little boy by the road gives me a full bottle of icy cold water and it cools me down very nicely for the upcoming challenge. I carry it for at least 2 miles, taking small sips and then pouring most of it on my head. I look like I’ve just had a shower, but I’m still not too hot, which is a bloody miracle at this point.

           Wet, wet, wet. And concentrating really, really hard.

Miles 17-18: 6:56, 6:56
The first uphill comes and goes without my really noticing – was that really a Newton Hill? Mildly surprised, but the worst is yet to come, so I’m not counting my chickens yet. I grab some freezie pops from another small boy and stick them in my top. This is kind of gross but also very effective at cooling me down, so whatever.

Miles 19-20: 6:40, 6:47
In there somewhere is another uphill but it’s not too bad, and then the one I’ve been told is the worst. Somehow I get through it on pace, though, and then there’s only Heartbreak Hill to go. My pace band tells me I’m almost a minute ahead now. I start seeing people with bibs that have an M or F before the number, but I’m too busy concentrating on running to realise what this means.

Miles 21-22: 6:59, 6:47
At the top of the hill there’s a sign that says “The Heartbreak is Over!” and someone yells “All downhill from here!” but there’s another small incline right after that, which gets me feeling rather annoyed. I decide to stop checking both Garmin and pace band, and just run as hard as I can.

Miles 23-24: 6:45, 6:48
By now the crowds are doing LOTS of yelling but very little handing-out-ice-or-water. It’s all self-service now, and we are running in full sun. There are more people walking than before and I’m starting to get hot and mighty pissed off that of all days for a record high temperature in Boston, it had to be THIS freaking day. Add that to the minor sprained ankle I got at Disney last week and the massive bruise I have on my left hip after slipping over by the hotel pool on Friday, and you’d think the universe is trying to tell me something. But it’s too late to give up, really, so I just keep going.

Mile 25: 6:53
My family see me during this mile but I’m not seeing much of anything other than the road right in front of me. I toy with the idea of “assassin mode” – picking off and passing runners ahead – but actually I’m passing people in droves now and I can’t concentrate anyway, so forget that. Just keep running.

Mile 26, final 0.2: 6:17, 5:43 to end
Maybe I do have a bit of a kick left! Turning right onto Hereford and left onto Boylston is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done as a runner, and I briefly feel very emotional, but I pull it back together when I realise how FAR away that bloody finish line is.

                              Wait, what?? How can it possibly be that far away still? Nooooooo

And the clock is ticking over towards 3:01 – I can no longer remember how much time it took me to get over the start line, maybe 90 seconds? – so I put my head down and run as hard as I can.

I hit my Garmin right after the finish mat and there it is: 2:58:14! OH MY GOD!!

Walking through the finish area seems to take forever, although after a single small wobble as I stopped running, I'm totally fine. Quite a few other runners come over to congratulate and compliment me on my run, and they all have either seeded bibs or numbers below 1000. I don’t even remember running past many of them, but I congratulate them back and go to get my bag.

Most hard-earned finisher's medal ever

The Analysis
Placement: 22nd female, 5th in AG (40-44) and 454th overall.

I'm not entirely sure how to explain how I pulled this one off. 80+ mpw certainly has something to do with it, as does the fact that I am small and small bodies dissipate heat better than larger ones. Having just trained through summer probably also helped, although it was a ridiculously cool summer and at any rate it's never 85F at 5am when I am usually out running. But pull it off I did, and I'm stunned, excited and really proud of myself all at the same time.

People tell me I should have been able to run 2:50 in colder weather, but I disagree. I was never targeting that sort of pace - however  in better conditions I certainly might have been able to speed up a whole lot more after Heartbreak Hill. That might have gotten me 1-2 minutes, but I guess we'll never know.

Next up: Gold Coast Airport marathon on July 1. I can get a seeded start based on my Boston performance (someone pinch me! Is this real??) so I'm really excited and also already nervous to experience something like that for the first time in my life.


  1. Great marathon Rachel! As I was tracking you I was excited to see you were going for it from the start (in spite of the heat). Then the splits looked good all the way - knew you'd do it once past the hills in good shape.

    It looks hot! GC should be a great one for you - bound to be cooler, flat course, starting at the front. A substantial PB for sure. I'm thinking about going up for the 10k so might see you there.

  2. Wow! ....impressive!