Before Boston: injury after the New York City Marathon
I'm very lucky that I qualified for Boston in the very first marathon I ran – the Philadelphia Marathon in 2014. In that race, I also qualified for the New York City Marathon – one of the majors, so of course, I had to run it, too. I PRed in NYC on November 1, 2015 by a hair: 3:41:45 (and requalified for both Boston and NYC). I went out way too fast and I think, in retrospect, I could have done much better if I had only had the discipline to hold back at the start.
Why am I telling you about New York when this is a Boston Marathon recap?
Because, with all of its ups and downs, the New York marathon course is very hard on your body. I returned to running after NYC way too quickly and ended up injuring my illiosacral joint. (Since then, I have learned my lesson about coming back from an injury.) I had to stop running over December-January and instead did some intensive physical therapy to further strengthen my core and stabilizing muscles. At that point, I was not even certain I'd be getting to the start line at Boston. I just managed, but since I was not in top shape. I knew Boston was a marathon that I would be running and not racing.
There was something liberating in accepting this as my fate. My A goal was to finish and my B goal was to just have fun – difficult goals for someone as Type A as me.
Accommodations for the Boston Marathon
On the advice of a friend who used to work in Boston, I stayed in Cambridge, right across the bridge from Boston proper. Hotels near the finish line were ridiculously expensive, and I was super happy with my quiet, modest room at the cheerful Fairfield Inn. It was on the Green Line, just a few stops from the Convention Center, where the Expo/Bib Pickup was held. It was also not a far ride from the finish line back to my hotel.
Day before the marathon
I started out the morning before the marathon by doing an easy 2-mile shakeout run with a few strides along the river in Cambridge. The park boasted great views of the Boston skyline.
After showering, I went to the expo to pick up my bib, and I was overwhelmed. I had never before witnessed such crowds at an expo, not even in New York. Excitement buzzed in the air, and people were literally packed in like sardines. Many running celebrities and elites floated about, including Bobbi Gibb, Shalane Flanagan and Scott Jurek, signing books and mingling with the crowds.
This year's hideous color combination
Like most runners who do Boston, I was looking forward to purchasing the Boston Marathon jacket, a coveted "tribal" garment denoting serious runners. When I walked into the Adidas store area at the expo, my heart sank and my eyes burned – from the neon bright palette laid out before me. The colors for the women's jacket this year were not the classic BAA blue and gold; they were classic 80s Miami aqua and blazing hot pink, or as a friend described them, "My Little Pony fab." I inspected the jacket for a long time and put it down. I decided not to buy one. Instead, I purchased a classic blue and gold short-sleeved Boston Marathon shirt and a couple extra GUs for the race. After a carbolicious lunch at Wagamama, I made my way back to my hotel on the Green Line.
When I returned to my room, I was plagued with doubt about the jacket. My Instagram feed vibrated with photos of runners trying on their jackets (most of which included disparaging captions confirming the questionable colors).
"This is the Boston Marathon, and you're not buying a jacket?" I said to myself, out loud.
Within a half hour, I hopped back on the train, hauled my ass back into the expo, and bought the jacket. And you know what? It grew on me, It really did. I knew I had earned that jacket and that I would wear it with pride back home in Philly (if only because nothing but pride would go with it).
In retrospect, it was a good decision. Not getting the official Boston Marathon jacket would have been a huge mistake that would have resulted in regrets.
With my mind at ease, I laid out my kit (adjusted because of the steamy forecast), scarfed down some last-minute carbs and Gatorade, put on mindless TV, and tucked in early.
My hotel was uber-runner friendly. On race morning, they set up breakfast extra early. The dining area was crowded with runners like me, chowing down on bananas, bagels, cereal, waffles, fruit juice, and anything else that looked or smelled remotely like a last-minute carb. The staff even prepared "goodie bags" for marathoners, which included water, a bagel, Gatorade, a banana, and a Kind Bar. All conveniently all plant-based. How nice was that?
I was prepared for a cool weather race. Boston is 5 hours north of Philadelphia, and it was only April. Temperatures on Marathon Monday are typically in the 50s. But it turned out to be a remarkably warm day. It was 71 when the elite men took off in Hopkinton, and much warmer by the time my corral got started, more than an hour later. I certainly did not need to wear the throwaway thrift store sweaters and sweats I'd come prepared with.
I sat on the lawn with the other runners, chilling and marveling at the sea of humanity about to run 26.2 miles in the heat.
I also marveled at the labyrinthine porta-potty lines, as well as the mountains of unnecessary "keep warm" throwaway clothes, all of which would be donated to charity.
Running the Boston Marathon
When the gun went off, I was already sweating after standing in the corral in the blazing sun for 30 minutes. After only one mile, perspiration rained down my neck. I was not at all heat acclimated, having trained during the winter in the icy northeast. But hey, I wasn't feeling any particular pressure because I knew I was only running, not racing. As I looked around, I felt bad for the runners who were actually chasing a PR. They would truly suffer.
I had heard a lot about Boston being a net downhill marathon and about the first 6 miles being brutal on the quads. But it's a rolling course, so the beginning did not feel at all like downhill. It seemed that every time I looked up, another mini hill was looming.
The crowds were unbelievable. Friends had told me about this, but really, it is a phenomenon you need to experience yourself, with all of your senses, to fully understand. The streets were literally lined with fans, shoulder to shoulder. Music blared. People shouted awesomely supportive words of encouragement to complete strangers. As we hit miles 10-13, the searing heat started to take its toll. Spectators handed out moistened paper towels (I gratefully took more than a few), water, Gatorade and even cold ice pops, not to mention high fives.
Back in Philly, my friend Shanae and I did a lot of hill work on uber-steep hills to prepare for the Newton Hills and Heartbreak Hill. And the work paid off. I didn't think the Boston hills were particularly hard but I did notice a lot of runners walking up them. I remember asking a spectator "Is this Heartbreak Hill?" She said it was. To me, it felt more like Heart Flutter Hill. Leverington Street in Manayunk back home in Philadelphia where we trained – now that's Heartbreak Hill.
This may sound strange, but aside from the heat, the marathon did not feel particularly difficult to me, probably because I was viewing it more as a long run (okay, a very long run), rather than a race.
As if by magic, somehow among a sea of 30,000 dehydrated and overheated runners, I ran into Shanae, my friend from Philly and training partner in crime, at the finish line. We trained together and traded tips and insights back home and seeing her there was like having the entire experience tied in a bow. My time was pathetic – my slowest marathon to date: 3:49/age 51. But I didn't care. I was grateful that I was able to have run it in searing heat after overcoming my injury. Plus, I had achieved both my goals: I finished and I had a blast while doing it.
Even with my sad time, I managed to qualify for Boston and NYC again. Will I run either again? Probably not. Next time I run 26.2 miles, I want to make sure I run them while viewing a new and exciting vista.