Saturday, April 23, 2011

Boston Report (or, How I got a small PR with oddball training and positive splits)


I have written this a few hundred times in my head. Thanks to each of you for reading it (even as late as it is), and especially to those of you have encouraged me along the way to this race with your emails, comments and prayers. 

At the moment, I am still undecided if this is a story or epic failure or a glorious return from injury. Either way, God is AMAZING, good, and worthy of praise...and I am, well, I am just another person like you.

The following is my best shot at an honest account of my experience at Boston.

I woke up to cool, breezy, partly cloudy skies in Easton, MA on race morning.

With my racing gear on and everything extra packed in the expo bag, my awesome hostess, Amy, hussled me out to Hopkington where I caught a shuttle to the (high school) Athletic Village. I arrived there with 2+ hours til the race. I wandered around the windy football field, wondering how I was going to stay warm until the race (even with two layers on and a jacket and gloves).

Village craziness included loud music and a line for coffee & bagels and many port-a-johns with good sized lines.

Even that close to the start, I had no idea what pace I would try to run the race.

I had on three pace bands, hoping the one in the middle (which I am kind of shy to admit was 3:20) was realistic. After an unconventional and interrupted training cycle, I know I was blessed just to be able to run in this race, let alone try to actually race it.  But my heart was set on something BIG.

Boston training a nutshell ...
This is missing a few easy taper runs of 5 and 3 miles.
No excuses here- I don't believe in that. But how do you determine a goal pace after a cycle like this?

The two ladies pictured below were here for their second Boston and came out from the Santa Barbara area. Both are 50 and had PRs in the 3:20's. They were pretty funny and had a lot of good advice :)..
I re-read a letter my friend Cathy had written to me last June in an effort to get my heart and mind prepared to race. I struggled to focus with the loud music blasting in the village, and couldn't hear the Christian music I had with me, so I shut it off.

As the second wave was announced to proceed to the start, I made the final decision to ditch my tights and wear shorts. Thank GOD I did. Everything else, including my ipod, went into the buses headed to the finish.
People were packed in as far as I could see. I never heard a gun, I just moved with the masses.

When I reached start line, I started my Garmin (unfortunately not on autolap, since I hadn't figured out how to use it yet).

As we crested the first hill, it became instantly warm out. After mile 2 or 3, I found a pair of high school girls and gave them my gloves and long-sleeve shirt and told them to keep em. I hope they like the gloves! I will miss them!

This being my first race over 5,000 people, I could NOT get used to the sheer numbers of people all around me. I had this incredible urge to get around everyone and just started weaving and passing. Keep in mind, that usually it puts me ahead of people in a small race, and leaves me free to run a mostly clear path. It's just NOT possible to do in a race this big. And it's not something you usually want to do in a marathon.

I was advised to go out slowly by many wise people, and I completely forgot all about that.  I was a rookie on autopilot.

I passed the 5K at 23:56.

My pace felt easy and I kept looking for opportunities to move by other racers. I can remember speaking to one man who wore a shirt with a verse from Hebrews on it. I had a fish drawn on my calf and the words BE FREE written beside. He thanked me, with a large smile, for telling him that we were both running for an imperishable crown. I wish I had kept that as my number one thought for the rest of the race.

Boston is very well organized, and for the first 20 miles, water stations were on both sides of the road for every mile. This gave plenty of opportunities to hydrate well. I accidentally left my straw in my gear bag, but I took 6 or 7 cups of water or Gatorade along the course, that were 1/3 to 1/2 full, by pinching the cup and trying to pour. 

Here and there, people handed out orange slices and I took one somewhere. There were people with Otter Pops somewhere near the half-way point at Wellesley and I SHOULD have had one. In fact, I almost turned around for one when I realized I missed my chance!

Things started to get tougher for me around mile 13. I could maintain the pace, but it was getting a bit harder on the legs as fatigue started to set in. This is where the mental battle began.


At mile 15 I started looking for my sister and Amy, who said they planned to be near the Newton Fire Station. This was a GREAT point to have friends waiting. I FOUND them!! And I tried to high-five my sister, but instead she went for a photo op. =D Thanks Sis!!

I can't tell you how much it means to me that she flew out to watch the race, and that Amy and her son (age 4)  went to such lengths to spectate this race.
Newton fire station cheer area, my sister holding her cheer sign.
Amy's son and his sign =D

Amy- an awesome hostess AND friend,  sporting the Oregon Pride.
After seeing them near mile 17, the thought crept in my head, "I still have nine more miles left?".

You don't want to be thinking this type of thing this early- it should be, "Only 9 miles? I have ran that a bunch of times before. I can do this". At this point, I believe hydration was becoming a big factor, only I didn't really realize it yet.

At the mile 21 water station, I took a drink at a full stop...the first time in the race. My legs felt like rubber and I realized that I could NOT stop, or I might not ever start again. So I told myself, "only 5 more miles. "  At this point, my pace was starting to slip. The rest of the race is pretty much a blur. I had tunnel vision. I either crossed the 35K mat or the 40K mat and there were loads of people cheering and cowbells everywhere, but all I could think was "Get me to the end".

My prayers, which had started off as prayers of gratitude and prayers on behalf of other people, became desperate cries to God asking Him, "Lord, please help me make it to the end. Please get me there." I realize this might scare others getting ready for their own marathons- and I apologize if it does- but I had a very hard last 7K.  Maybe everyone's last 7K is that hard, but I just don't remember it being that way for Eugene.

I took a big nose-dive at 40K, taking almost 13 minutes to travel 1.2 miles. I couldn't focus on anything except countless people zooming past me with their "final kick". It took seemingly forever to get through what should have been the most exciting and inspirational part of the course- downtown Boston, Boylston street, lined  with cheering crowds, deafening cowbells.

All I could do was keep my feet moving in the direction of the mat - and the promise of rest and water. God kept my feet moving and I found the strength to raise up my hands as I crossed the mat at 3:28:16.

My feelings upon finishing were two-fold: relief that I could stop running and get water, and disappointment that I had executed the race so poorly. I realize that second part may be difficult to understand for some,  but making a plan and executing it well is part of the accomplishment in a great race. Thankfully God saw fit to help me make it to the end, feet still moving and ready to collapse.

At the end of a long line of space blankets, water (I drank and drank), medals, food, and finally buses, I found my gear bag and contacted my sister and Amy.

After I took off my shoes, I realized that the swelling I had in my hands from mile 20 on was also in my feet. I now can say I have earned a new merit badge- the toenail award.

And the blister on each foot award.
Afterwards, I was hungry for real food. We had to get to Amy's car first and it was back in took the train.

I had not been on the train yet (since I was staying in another town), and had no idea of the fun ahead of me. I think I went down three flights of stairs backwards. :)

Then we got on the train. It was crowded...packed, really. I squeezed in between people and tried to protect my feet- now in flip-flops.

As soon as the doors closed, it felt like all the oxygen left the car. It started moving and I thought I might vomit. I sat down in the middle of everyone and tried to take my jacket off. Some very nice girls were sheltering me and my bag and feet. They were so kind... And a race medical person got to me and held my wrist- he said to press an acupressure point, but I think he was taking my pulse too. And he got me to a seat. Then the nauseous feeling evaporated and we got to our stop.

Dinner was AWESOME! Best fish and chips I have ever had.

Post Race Reflections
The more time that goes by, the better I feel about my race.
I am still heartbroken that I didn't meet my middle goal, but I know I could have been a little closer with better pacing and hydration. I also realize how blessed I am to have been able to make the trip, to have been able to run this race as a RACE and not just walk it. I have learned new things. I have been reminded what it feel like to be a small fish in a big pond. I will have a new strategy for the next marathon (if there is promises at the moment).  Running this race with friends at a similar pace would make Boston a totally different experience. But, I got a once-in -a-lifetime experience, and I have lived to tell about it.

Unexpected Blessings
God is often surprising, and He has given me two gifts I am most grateful for since my trip:
1) The joy of seeing my family after my absence. I haven't felt that deep love for my kids in a long time, and seeing their smiling faces when Mommy came back will be in my memory for a long time.
2) The joy of running (once my toe can bend again and fit into a shoe), just to RUN without training for anything, without pressure or time goals, is going to be incredible. I can't wait for that first run - just me and God's beautiful creation.