Monday, May 25, 2015

Mother's Day Classic 10K, Canberra 2015

In the true spirit of May madness, I've decided to follow up the Boston/Big Sur double with another race just 2 weeks later. What could possibly go wrong? And it presents the perfect opportunity to show Joel our national capital - so it's off to Canberra we go, for a relaxing weekend away and my fourth time at this event. A quick review of previous results just makes me nervous - I've managed to win trophies at every attempt but I'm quite sure my legs are not going to be able to pull anything similar off tomorrow - my usual trick of putting my head in the sand and pretending I'm just off for a nice morning jog with a thousand or so of my running buddies will come in very nicely, thanks.

Previous Mother's Day races in Canberra:

2012: I ran the 5K - 19:17 for 3rd OA female.

10K 2013: I ran the 10K - 39:19 for 3rd OA female.

10K 2014: I ran the 10K - 38:36 for 2nd OA female.

There's no getting around it - this course is a tough one. In the presence of a headwind it's MUCH tougher, and in any case there are two bridges that each need to be crossed twice. My times here have always been slower than in other 10K races and it seems that 2015 may be the slowest yet.

Up, over, down, around, up over, down, around. Repeat.

And did someone mention a headwind? Because the Weather Curse is apparently still in effect: a glance at the forecast has both Joel and myself rolling our eyes and preparing for the worst. The wind is going to be blowing at gale force straight out of the north-west, which will mean a handy tailwind for one side of the lake and a gargantuan headwind for the other. Similar, in fact, to 2012 - only worse. Sigh.

Race Day
We wake easily and have established (by means of an easy afternoon jog the day before) that it's only a mile to the start line from our hotel. Neither of us has any throw-away clothes and we're a bit in denial about how cold it might be, so we put on our race gear with only very light extra layers and head off for an easy warm-up jog. Sure enough the wind is howling across the lake - we run a mile with it behind us and everything seems fine, then we turn back to find ourselves being blown practically to a standstill. Yuk! Our 4th race in a row with a stinking headwind - the only advantage is that perhaps we're a bit immune to the mental side-effects of headwinds, having run over 78 miles in them now, ho hum.

I'm so bored of running in headwinds that I'm actually asleep

We bump into Ewen near the start area; he's running the 5K and we commiserate briefly about the wind, not to mention the temperature which is a chilly 8C/46F. Then we jog up to drop off our thin overshirts at the baggage area, and wander down to the starting line. Might as well get this over with! 

There are a few familiar faces amongst the 4 or 5 women lined up around me, two of whom I know are faster than me, so this is going to be interesting for sure. Rob de Castella shows up and gives a nice speech about the Indigenous Marathon Project, for which he is now almost as well-known as for his 2:07 marathon PR, then hefts the starting gun and prepares to fire.

First lap: miles 1-3: 6:24, 6:32, 6:29  (pace in min/mile)
Whoosh! Off we all go with a gale-force tailwind at our backs. At least 6 women shoot out ahead of me, possibly more - as predicted, today is not likely to bring a podium finish. Oh well, I'm just going to do the best I can in the situation, I guess. Joel is behind me for now; we speed towards the Kings Avenue bridge and by the time I'm on the bridge I've already caught two female runners. 5th place sounds good enough to me at this point.

But oh my god, the wind is insane - I'm being blown sideways towards the guard rail and a few times I'm having trouble staying on my feet. Then as I finally hit the first mile point, another Garmin beeps just behind me. What? Someone else here works in miles?? Ohhh - come to think of it there's a familiar shadow beside me - and then sure enough, my husband appears to my left, grinning and surging ahead.

I guess he's going to make me work today after all; I sigh and step things up a touch to stay close. As the course turns into the wind we both pass a man pushing - of all things - a very large stroller. He remarks as I pass "It's like hitting a brick wall, isn't it??" and yes, the headwind is truly impressive today. At least the equal of New York and probably a fair bit stronger actually. I'm surprised that my pace doesn't take a massive hit;  then again, I'm probably putting in enough effort for 6:10 min/mile but am barely making marathon pace.

The second mile is interesting; I'm distracted somewhat from the wind by the sight of Joel, slowly but surely catching the two women that are now in sight ahead. As he goes to pass the first he glances back and gives me a look that says "If I can catch them, YOU can too!"; come to think of it, he's probably right. Heading up onto the Commonwealth Avenue bridge they are both noticeably closer. And I'm fairly certain they are currently in 4th and 3rd places - if I catch them both, I'll be on the podium after all!

As usual he's looking chipper, I'm looking half-dead.

The wind is still relatively awful on the 2nd bridge, but finally I'm down the other side and can take advantage of the tailwind for as long as it lasts. I make use of the situation to chase down 4th place woman and we go through for the second lap neck-in-neck.

Second lap: miles 4-6.2: 6:16, 6:32, 6:34 then 5:47 pace to finish
Almost as soon as we head back down to the lakeside path, the girl in front slows for a drink and I shoot straight past her. Her breathing indicates that she won't be passing me back - I quickly refocus on my next quarry, who is wearing a pink singlet and black shorts (in fact she's next to me in the photo of Joel and myself above).

She's slowing down or perhaps I'm speeding up, but whatever it is, I catch her on the uphill that leads back onto the Kings Avenue bridge again. Joel is maybe 30 seconds ahead now; all I really need to do is hold of Pink Girl and I'll finish in 3rd, which would be way more than I was expecting today!

The only problem really is this ridiculous wind, which somehow seems to have increased in intensity since the last lap. Running along Queen Elizabeth Terrace is an utter joke - it's so exposed that at one point I feel like I'm not actually moving anymore. The wind has me running on the spot! It's all I can do to hold onto a pace that is WAY slower than even marathon pace, and hope like mad that Pink Girl is suffering the same fate.

Up and over the final bridge, it's tailwind time again and I'm too much of a coward to look behind me. Mile 6 beeps and I throw myself into the final stretch with total abandon - there are slower runners and walkers all over the path around me but I'm coming through like a bat out of a windy version of hell, and there's nothing that can stop me. A bloke is running up the finish chute as I approach and from the side I hear "Don't let her catch you!" - oh god, are they talking to HIM or to ME??

I redouble my efforts and sprint for the line like a madwoman. There are 2 volunteers there, struggling to hold up a tape but the wind has other ideas and it smacks me in the head as I dash across to finish- as 3rd place woman, quite clearly the fastest old chick in the place too - and I've managed to hold off Pink Girl by just 15 seconds. Phew!!

Finish time: 40:15 (6:28 min/mile)

Placement: 12th OA, 3rd female and 1st in AG (F40-49)

Joel stands by the line grinning - he has beaten me by almost a minute and has also won his AG! We shiver in the cold until the presentation finally starts, collect my trophy and then run straight back to our hotel to get warm. Another successful Mother's Day Classic, another race that despite the headwind was quite a lot of fun, and Joel's first race on Australian soil. What an excellent way to spend a weekend!

Photo credits (all but the last one) to Ewen Thompson, with thanks.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Boston to Big Sur, April 2015 - part 2

Several of my crazier running friends have completed the Boston 2 Big Sur running challenge in the past few years, but I never paid much attention until last year at RunCamp. There, my new and fast friend Neil told me he'd placed 2nd in the challenge for 2014, and that if I could do a reasonable job at both marathons, I'd likely be able to place high among the female finishers. Well, who could turn down an opportunity like that? Certainly not me!

The challenge is open to only 400 entrants and sells out in a matter of hours, so I set my alarm for the wee hours one night in early October and was subsequently quite excited to have secured myself a place in the 2015 Boston 2 Big Sur challenge. All I knew about Big Sur was that it's apparently one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world, although not exactly a PR course - one look at the elevation profile and it is easy to see why:

Excuse me, there's a large mountain ruining this otherwise pleasant-looking profile.
Could someone please remove it?

The Lead-Up: Big Sur
The concept of 2 marathons just 6 days apart is an interesting one; as I said in part 1 of this post, it certainly seems like a great idea until you start pulling apart the details. I'm still totally gung-ho and enthused, right up until the morning of Tuesday, April 21st, when I wake up in Boston and attempt to hop out of bed. Ouch, ouch, my legs really hurt!

As I hobble to the bathroom I ask myself, can it really be true that I have to run another 26.2 miles on them in just 5 days? Whose idea was that anyway?? "Yours!" laughs Joel from the comfort of bed - but it's far too late to change anything, so apart from taking Tuesday off as a travel day, we spend the rest of the week limping about on 4-5 mile daily "runs" and trying to pretend we're not worried.

On Friday we travel out to California and are met at Monterey airport by Steve, the unflappable and ever-helpful elite coordinator. He installs us at the official elite hotel - a really cool place right by the coast, which we will discover is amazingly scenic - and has even picked up our bibs and goodie bags from the expo for us.

Very elite accommodations.

Pretty soon we are whisked off to a welcome reception on the top floor of the highest building in Monterey (with an incredible view), where we drink beer, eat canap├ęs and hob-nob with some of the craziest runners in the entire world, by which I mean Dean Karnazes, who oddly enough has brought his parents along. Later we drop by the airport again to pick up the legendary Michael Wardian, who turns out to be a really great bloke, before it's time to try to sleep. Sometimes I think a 3 hour time change is more difficult than a 17 hour one, seriously.

Crazy runners unite!

Saturday morning we head to the expo to take part in Bart Yasso's "shakeout run" - I don't really know what to expect but it turns out to be a LOT of fun, in the form of a huge group of runners jogging along the beach at 10:17 pace, snapping selfies with Bart (who is endlessly obliging and friendly) and generally chatting up a storm. There's a girl called Cristie who is sporting a gorgeous INKnBURN outfit - we bond immediately over our shared love of the world's coolest running gear - and the post-run breakfast put on by Runners' World is full of carbohydrates and therefore thoroughly enjoyable.

RW shakeout group at left, INKnBURN gorgeousness at right

We spend the rest of Saturday hanging out with Michael and Neil, either at the Expo or predictably gorging on anything with carbs in it, and finish up once more at the Marriott where the pre-race pasta fiesta is going on; if there's one thing that stands out so far about Big Sur, it's the excellent treatment that I'm getting as an elite (as is Joel, as an Elite Husband). And they're definitely making sure we don't go hungry! I have truly no idea what the next day will bring, but already I'm thinking that the chances of coming back next year are high - it's on the way home, after all.

Race Day: Big Sur
At 5am our ride departs from the hotel with Steve at the wheel and we spend over an hour driving towards the start line along Highway 1, which is in fact the marathon course in reverse. Once the sun comes up it's quite amazing - the description "the rugged edge of the Western World" doesn't do this incredible coastline justice. A group of relay buses ahead of us overshoot their stop and one by one perform heart-stopping U turns that see them practically teetering on the edge of the cliff. Scary stuff!

The wind has come up - as per the Weather Curse it's a headwind (is there any other kind?) - but so far it doesn't seem too bad. At the start line things are in fact quite calm; once everyone is lined up the announcer goes through the elite field by name (including me!) and it's pretty darn exciting. The course slopes downhill at quite a sharp angle away from us - one thing is for sure, it's going to be a fast first mile!

Miles 1-6: 6:31, 6:38, 6;29, 6:36, 6:37, 6:53
A surprisingly large number of runners (both male and female) shoot straight out in front at an implausibly fast pace; it's hard not to go with them and so when I check my watch after half a mile I'm not surprised to see 5:58 pace showing. Joel is right beside me and we discuss pacing briefly - he has decided to pace me for the first few miles at least, like the wonderfully supportive husband that he is - and although I state several times that Benita has suggested 6:50 pace (or so), and we agree that this sounds reasonable, somehow we end up keeping it closer to 6:30. This will turn out to be a key decision that influences almost every outcome of the day, but more about that later.

Everything is going swimmingly - my legs feel okay, definitely not fresh but surprisingly good for day 6 post-Boston - until mile 5, when the trees start to thin out and a sudden gust of wind almost blows us over. "Where did THAT come from??" asks Joel, and I reply "I ordered a tailwind so I have no idea!", but of course we know exactly what it is: the wretched bloody headwind that was forecast. And we're running right on the exposed edge of the coast where there is absolutely NOWHERE to hide. This is going to get nasty.

Miles 7-12: 7:08, 7;12, 7:08, 6:28, 8:20, 7:42
Joel sees me through the 10K mark and then wishes me luck and drops back. The wind is picking up steadily and is basically blowing me backwards - it's awful, but also by now a very familiar feeling. And with all the experience I have at this now, I know not to panic, to just lean into it and keep my effort level steady. I stop checking the mile splits when I see the first one creep over 7:00 pace; today is going to be a slow marathon compared to my usual abilities, but there's no point freaking out now.

A large pack of runners is not too far ahead of me - and I know at least 3 of the women still ahead of me are in there - but much as I'd love to catch them, I'm fairly sure it's not going to happen. Once again I'm left to face the elements mostly alone (although some of the relay runners who have gone out like bats out of hell are now essentially running backwards and providing some intermittent protection from the wind) but I'm in a really positive frame of mind, somehow. Perhaps it's the sheer beauty that is all around me, perhaps it's the fact that I believe at least 6-8 women are ahead of me so I'm not stressing over placement, or perhaps it's just remembering my friend Ron's admonition to "Remember to take in the view", but even the headwind can't phase me today. It's a good day for a run!

Views like this one don't hurt, either.

Mile 10 is a lovely downhill that sees me back on a reasonable race pace, but I know what is coming up: Hurricane Point, a murderous 2 mile stretch of uphill at a ridiculously steep gradient. The headwind chooses this time to make itself felt once again in full force, and I have that strange feeling that you get when trying to go up the down escalator: I'm running my heart out yet somehow not actually moving.

A very cruel mile marker.

When my Garmin beeps I glance at it and am completely horrified to see 8:20 pop up - it has taken me almost 2 minutes longer than it should have to cover this past mile. Suddenly I notice a bloke who seems to be drafting off me - he sees me look around and promptly moves up alongside. To my extreme surprise he then mutters "Come on, tuck in" and surges ahead - not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I step up the pace and follow.

He drags me in this fashion up most of the rest of Hurricane Point, and I'm gratified to see that my pace up the second mile of the hill is considerably faster than the first. Towards the top I am starting to struggle - my saviour pulls ahead a little; I thank him and ease up a touch, then finally I'm at the top.

Miles 13-18: 6:14, 6:52, 6:58, 6:55, 7:00, 7:13
Downhill! Wheee!! I put my legs into free spin mode and bomb down the hill like a maniac. Numerous people have warned me not to trash myself on the steep descent that follows Hurricane Point but I just don't care anymore; and thus I am rewarded with my fastest mile of the course. I've also got my eyes on the spectacular sight of the Bixby Bridge, where I'll not only hit the halfway mark but am also expecting to hear some lovely piano music courtesy of the musician seated at the baby grand piano on the far side of the bridge. I hear it, but I never see it - I'm too busy grinning and running and dodging walkers. I'll have to pay more attention next year.

There's another hill coming up, and I don't even care!!

I cross the halfway mats in 1:31:31 exactly - by my calculations, then, a 3:05-3:07 finish time seems likely. There's NO way I'm not going to fade and give back at least a few minutes...or am I?

The rest of the course is pretty much undulating until the final hill at mile 25 (so cruel, I know), and the somewhat-strange-but-somehow-also-cool ElevationTat tattoo that Mike Wardian has given me comes in very handy now: hills are much easier to handle if you know exactly when they are going to end. I find myself looking at it quite a lot more than I expected to, and it definitely helps me mentally as I deal with a never-ending series of small inclines.

My left arm has never been as useful as it is today.

I sort of lose focus a bit during miles 17 and 18, and give back a bit of time. The road is clogged with walkers now, some of them ambling along three-abreast, and I have to exert myself quite a few times to bellow "COMING THROUGH!" or risk a collision - and I've already had a couple of near-misses at water stations and relay change-over points. This stage of the marathon is mentally really tough; it's too soon to think "I'm almost done" but late enough in the game to be seriously tired already. Any small distraction can lead to slowing down without noticing - it's time to get back on point and focus.

Miles 19-24: 7:09, 7:12, 6:58, 7:27, 7:06, 6:57
It takes another couple of miles, but I find myself able to gradually speed up again. Mile 22 has a nasty, sharp little hill but mile 23 is a lovely downhill and suddenly I'm having fun, flashing past walkers like a streak of lightning.

Coming THROUGH!!

Ooh, now I'm starting to pass a few men wearing B2B shirts - they must have gone out way too fast and are paying the price - I'm not really giving this any attention until one of them sees me and yells "You're in 4th! There's 3rd - go get her!" He points, and it's true that I've noticed a woman in grey ahead of me for the past couple of miles; she seems to be going around the same pace as me, or just a touch slower, so she has to be a marathoner. But there's no way there are only 3 women ahead of me! I laugh and tell my cheerleader friend that he's mistaken, but he's insistent and I start to wonder if he could be right.....and whether I really could catch her after all? Probably not - she's got to be over 30 seconds ahead - but the idea will give me power over the final miles, and that's totally what I need right now.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:54, 6:59, then 6:17 pace to the finish
With only 2.2 miles to go I can afford to thrash myself a bit now, so I pick up the effort level accordingly and keep blowing by walkers and relayers as fast as my legs will take me. There's a RIDICULOUS hill that starts right after the 25 mile marker, which is totally unfair really, but at least I know from my informative left arm that it's going to be short.

Staring down the final hill; and then at long last it's almost over. Hallelujah is right!

Grey Girl ahead is ever-so-slightly closer than before but I'm fairly sure I won't catch her; however the idea of it keeps my legs turning over as I drag myself through the final couple of miles. Once I can see the finish I accelerate as much as I can, and I can hear the announcer saying my name.....then he follows up with "And I'm hearing that she's our unofficial female Boston 2 Big Sur winner!!"

I'm so excited and amazed that I charge over the line with my arms in the air and a manic expression on my face - I did it!!

Finish time: 3:03:22 (6:59 pace) - splits 1:31:31 and 1:31:41

Placement: 4th OA female, 1st in AG, 1st Masters female, 1st female Boston2Big Sur Challenge (combined time 5:58:34).

Victory!! And - finally - a post-finish photo together.

I will soon learn that I have secured victory in the B2B challenge by only 3 minutes, which equates to roughly the time I banked in the first 6 miles by running with Joel at around 25-30 seconds per mile faster than I had planned. Phew! And thank goodness for fast runner husbands, eh?

B2B podium, extremely pleased with myself.

I get a bunch of plaques, bottles of wine, shoe vouchers and a Big Sur bookmark in my 4 trips to the podium, then it's time to head back to the hotel. I'm still in shock at my finish time - it came as a complete surprise to realise that I had run an almost perfect even split after how I felt at halfway.  And my legs are not even close to trashed: the next morning both Joel and I will end up running 5 miles along the coast (and get lost in the Spanish Bay golf course, but that's another story) with much less discomfort than either of us experienced after Boston.

For the first time in my life I can begin now to understand those runners who do marathons every weekend or every other day - it's not quite as physically impossible as I thought it was! Which is a very good thing, considering the race line-up I have planned for May. Gulp.

The spoils (we drank the wine).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Boston to Big Sur, April 2015 - part 1

Ah, Boston. The Granddaddy of all marathons, it holds a special place in the hearts of runners all over the world, and mine is no exception. For me, so much has happened in Boston: it has been the scene of 3 marathon PRs, my first real "elite" running experience and also a tragedy that shocked the world in 2013. Last year's return was a triumphant one and a truly wonderful experience; there was never any doubt that I would return for 2015.

On a whim I also decided that 2015 would be a great year to attempt the Boston 2 BigSur challenge: 2 marathons, 2 coasts, 6 days apart. This is the sort of thing that seems like a wonderful idea at the time when you sign up for it, and remains like that until the day after the first marathon, when you roll over and try to get out of bed. But more about that later.

The Training
Well, yes. I wrote in my last post about life getting in the way of training, and the same was true for Boston. But for the best of reasons - in February my usual running schedule was very much interrupted when I travelled to Las Vegas to join and marry my soulmate, Joel - and the worst, when he subsequently came down with pneumonia on our honeymoon in the Grand Canyon!

Snow? In Arizona??

All interruptions aside, I did manage to put in some decent weeks of training in March and early April, in particular focusing on back-to-back long runs on the weekend of 17-21 miles each. I headed off to Boston with mixed feelings about my capabilities, knowing that a PR (sub-2:47:57) was very unlikely, but hoping that I'd be able to put in a decent showing at both Boston and Big Sur in any case.

The lead-up: Boston
As ever, it's amazing to be back in Boston and part of the festival atmosphere that envelops the city during marathon weekend. In the spirit of raceaholics everywhere, Joel has signed us up for the BAA 5K and we run it Saturday morning in the most perfect of race-day conditions: 10C/50F and clear with no wind. This contrasts sharply with the forecast for Monday, which calls for similar temperatures but also rain and - worse still - a moderately strong headwind. Pretty much a repeat of New York last November but also wet; how lovely.

So it's perhaps the idea of having at least a few miles of racing in good weather that is topmost in my mind when the gun goes off, because our plan of gradually accelerating towards MP is immediately scuttled when I notice females in front of me (this will not do!) and take off like a maniac. Oops.

Joel commentates on the pace as the miles click by in 7:01, 6:30, 6:20 and then the final stretch at 6:05 pace....we cross hand-in-hand for a finish time of 20:43. Much faster than anticipated and in fact good enough for 6th in my AG and 88th woman of over 5000! Ok, that was rather silly, but also rather fun.


The rest of the weekend passes in a blur of socialising, beer and various other forms of carbohydrate. To my horror, on Sunday morning an email arrives with a weather alert: the second of these I've had for Boston and the complete opposite of the first - it confirms what we already know, which is that Monday is going to be a freezing debacle. Nevertheless, the Elite briefing later in the day is exciting as usual; even more so that I now have a few friends there. Afterwards I sit chatting with my NYC friend Paula while Neil and Joel mob last year's winner, Meb Keflezighi, and pose for pictures with one of running's coolest dudes ever.

Race Day: Boston
Grey skies and a moderately strong wind greet us as we step outside to jog the mile or so to our respective buses; at the Fairmont Copley I quickly locate both Paula and Neil and we hop onto the coach that will take us to the Korean Church at Hopkinton. It's lovely to have company on the bus - for the first time in the 3 years I've taken this ride - and the time passes quicker than usual. Inside the church we quickly head upstairs; I know from experience it will be much warmer up there, and we settle in to one of the rooms to wait for the start.

Around 9am it starts raining outside - at this point I'm pretty much resigned to my fate, which is that today is going to be a nastier repeat of NYC. Benita and I have already talked about goals for the day and decided that 2:50 is no longer a realistic option; instead, we settle on a time around 2:55 and secretly I'm actually thinking that just breaking 3 hours (which I failed to do in NYC) will be enough for me today.

It doesn't matter though, because no Patriot's Day would be complete for me without a Meb Moment, and it happens when I decide to head downstairs to check just how horrible the weather is outside. I spy him in a side room and I can't resist: I poke my head in and wish him luck for the race. "You won't remember this," I add, "but I was the girl SCREAMING her head off when you passed me at mile 19 last year. I hope I get to do that again today!" Meb's whole face breaks into an enormous grin and he says "Aw, give me a hug!" I happily oblige, we again wish each other a great race, and I head downstairs with my day already made.

Outside it is indeed drizzly and cold; I jog around for a few unenthusiastic minutes and then head back inside to get changed. I decide on an outfit that replicates what worked for me in NYC, but at the last minute pull off my beanie and stuff it into my bag. Nobody else has a hat on and I don't want to risk jettisoning what is in fact my favourite running hat. The super-elites are called by name and before I know it I'm back up at my favourite starting line once again.

I'm so busy taking it all in - after all, 2015 is likely to be my last year running Boston as an elite - and smiling for the cameras that I completely forget to start my Garmin. I realise just as the announcer calls out "30 seconds!" and so it happens that my 4th Boston Marathon starts with me hyperventilating and frantically swiping at the face of my watch to get it to start. Certainly a change from previous years, and one that I'm not likely to easily forget!

2nd from left, with thought bubble: "Oh you IDIOT!"

Miles 1-6: ?6:20, 6:28, 6:23, 6:33, 6:31, 6:11 (pace in min/mile)
The GPS satellites usually take a few minutes to load, so I spend the first 10 seconds of the race wondering if I should wait for that or start my stopwatch regardless, before deciding to just start the timer and not worry about it any further. So I have no real idea what my pace is this first mile, but it feels okay and I just go with it.

The good news is that a small pack seems to have formed around me by mile 3; this will be very useful if it continues, a sharp contrast to New York and my expectations of today. Paula is in there somewhere amongst the group of 9 women running together; there is a tall girl right up front and I'm unashamedly sheltering behind her when the wind starts to really pick up around mile 5, bringing on painful memories of NYC once again. One part of my brain feels guilty over this but another is yelling "Are you kidding me? You deserve this!" so I tuck in and try to ignore my conscience. We will see just how long this lasts.

Miles 7-12: 6:33, 6:36, 6:24, 6:31, 6:36, 6:25
The tall girl - whose name will turn out to be Christine - is doing an amazing job of breaking the headwind for those behind her, and I'm still taking major advantage of this at mile 9 when she suddenly suggests "Why don't we take turns?" Immediately I agree and pull out ahead of her - she's done a lot of the work so far and my guilty conscience can only take so much, really.

As I pass Christine mutters "I'm trying to stay around 6:30", which is very convenient because that's what I'm trying to do too. Keeping on pace is going to require a lot of concentration, though: the wind buffets me relentlessly as I lead with another girl beside me, and it's very nice to fall back again into the shelter of the group when mile 10 starts.

We continue to switch positions mile by mile up to and then through the hellish cacophony of the Wellesley Scream Tunnel; by the end of it my right ear is deaf and the runner next to me remarks that she has a headache. So do I! Christine has started to pull ahead now so I am less sheltered than before; the group is inevitably starting to disintegrate. The wind picks up again as we emerge from the shelter of the trees and head towards the half-way mark.

Miles 13-18: 6:26, 6:36, 6:38, 6:24, 6:39, 6:48
Through halfway in 1:25:28, I know today's race is going to be far from a PR. All will hinge on how well I can hold things together through the Newton Hills and then onward to Boylston Street. By mile 14 my nice little group of runners has spread out completely; Paula is still with me as we head into the hills and there's another girl with us but nobody is close enough to affect the wind, which is gusting like crazy now. Mile 15 is where the heavens open and the rain finally catches us - as if things weren't bad enough - thankfully it isn't too heavy. Yet.

There are not enough swear words in my vocabulary to do this weather justice.

But by mile 16 the rain has petered out.......just in time for the first of the hills. This charming combination of weather and terrain brings an inevitable slow-down, but I don't care, I just want to be done. It's gratifying that I manage to get back to a decent pace by mile 17, but the worst is yet to come.

The 18 mile marker is barely behind me when suddenly I hear helicopters, then a bike spotter appears next to me yelling at me to stay right. Already? The men are catching me ALREADY?? I guess it's possible - I'm at least 5-6 minutes behind last year and who knows what pace they are on - but still, it seems a lot earlier than usual. Sigh.

What happens next could not be more different to 2014: an enormous pack of no less than 11 elite men rushes past, among them both Meb and Dathan Ritzenhein. I'm too surprised to remember to cheer, and then they are gone anyway. Oh well! The rain starts up again almost immediately, I'm completely reabsorbed in the misery of this bloody race, and the men are forgotten.

Rain? Just what I needed, thanks.

Miles 19-24: 6:39, 6:57, 7:15, 6:43, 6:54, 6:40
It rains the WHOLE way up Heartbreak Hill, and I watch both Paula and another runner who has been near me until now pull ahead slightly. My first mile slower than 7:00 beeps on my Garmin; whatever, I'm done, this is just completely unfair and ridiculous. What did I do to deserve this sort of weather in two consecutive marathons? Did I run over the Weather God's cat or something?

I could look at my watch and make myself try harder at this point but I just can't be bothered. I can't say I'm actively hating the race at this point - it's pretty hard to imagine hating anything about Boston, even when it's treating me like this - but I'm certainly not expending any energy trying to look good for the photographers. Mostly I'm just looking forward to getting out of the weather; I'm not cold but I'm definitely feeling very windblown.

Mile 23: stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:54, 7:13, 6:24 (final 0.2)
It has to be said that the crowd are still absolutely awesome, even despite the weather. In New York it seemed most of the usual spectators must have been blown away, but here in Boston they are still out in force and screaming their lungs out. This comes in handy over the final miles: more than once as I lumber down through Highline towards the welcome sight of Hereford and then Boylston streets, I make use of their energy by raising my hands and encouraging the crowd to cheer. They respond by trebling (at least) in volume - from deafening to completely unbelievable - and it brings a smile to my face that otherwise has been mostly absent today.

Trying to smile, and almost succeeding!

The sight of the finish line - as always SO far down Boylston St - is a very welcome one, more so this year than any other in fact. I have enough left in me to speed up towards it and reach a reasonable pace before at last I'm allowed to stop; Paula has finished just 29 seconds ahead and we walk together towards the elite recovery tent.

Finish time: 2:55:22 (6:41 pace)

Placement: 82nd female, 5th in AG (F45-49).

I'm only inside for a few minutes when there's a tap on my shoulder and I look around to see Neil grinning like a Cheshire cat - he has finished in just 2:30:03, an incredible performance especially in these conditions! Seconds later we hear noise from outside the tent and look out to see rain pouring down in sheets: we thought we had it bad, but the poor souls still outside are going to be in far worse shape. It's a huge relief to be able to change into warm, dry clothes, and I check my phone to see where Joel is.

It looks like he's on track to run 3:06, which he does, and the tracker on the BAA app enables me to spend just a few minutes shivering by the finish area waiting for him. A volunteer asks me if I'm okay - I say yes and explain that I'm waiting for my husband - and then asks me to move a little to the side. Why? Because she has a train of wheelchairs coming through heading for the med tent, each bearing a blue-lipped, shaking, hypothermic runner. These are the people finishing in 3:05-3:10 - how much worse are things going to be in an hour when the bulk of the finishers are going to be coming through?? I remark that I wish I could smuggle Joel into the elite tent, and when the volunteer replies "I won't stop you!" my mind is made up - he's coming inside with me, no doubt about it.

Elite tent awesomeness.

Once again, the weather has done a number on my race, but somehow I'm still pretty happy with how I ran. I took a full 5 minutes off my New York time and finished 5 minutes closer to Paula than I did there, so that can't be insignificant. In retrospect it will turn out that many of the elite women were around 5 minutes off their expected finish times, so I'm satisfied that I did the best I could under the conditions of the day. It remains to be seen what will happen at Big Sur, but for the next few days the focus is going to be very much on recovery. In the form of rest, foam rolling, and beer. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!