Yesterday, while flying across the country from east to west, heading home from a five-day adventure, I jotted down some key topics that I wanted to touch on with this post. Without being too long-winded and boring the reader, I hope to accomplish my goal here of giving others an inside view to what running the Boston Marathon is like.
So, as you likely already know, one must “qualify” for Boston, meaning the Boston Athletic Association has set up a grid of qualifying times, depending on one’s age and gender. The female 50-54 age division requires a 4:00 or faster marathon time which has been run on a sanctioned course. It just so happened that I met that requirement at the St. George Marathon in October 2015 with a finish time of 3:57:18 — a whopping 2 minutes and 42 seconds to spare! Oddly, qualifying for Boston was not even on my mind that day. I was simply running my own race at my own pace. When I discovered that it was a BQ time, I discussed with my husband the option of getting registered and making a weekend out of it with him; he gave his consent. I received my acceptance notification from B.A.A. via email about a week after others (who had registered) had received theirs, so I honestly had discounted the idea that it would happen. You see, even though one may run a qualifying time, that is still not a guarantee of entry. There are so many people who are now qualifying and registering that B.A.A. has had to tighten up the requirements with faster times, and even then they skim off the top, meaning they accept the FASTEST times of those who qualified in each particular age division. My bib assignment was #23589, and my calculations lead me to believe that numbers went up to #23600 for those who were accepted (just 11 numbers shy of the cap); once again, I squeaked through.
All that being said, it did not mean this opportunity meant less to me. If anything, it meant far more. I made reservations for airline and hotel last November, then just waited patiently for the time to pass….
There is so much to tell about the entire marathon experience, let alone this experience on a BOSTON MARATHON level. This is the marathon of all marathons, the oldest in the country, celebrating its 121st year. Hence, it gets a lot of attention and lures world-class athletes who compete for the first-place status. I could go on and on about all that, but due to lack of time right now (I would refer reader to the B.A.A. website where all the history is revealed), I will cut right to the chase, so to speak.
As part of my race preparation, I had ordered a black tank top to wear. It is not just any ordinary tank top, though — no sirrreeee! This tank top boasts my running accomplishments to date which include 20 years, 40 marathons (including this one), over 200 races, and 24,901 miles (the circumference of the earth). That is featured on the front. On the back, I have listed the names of 26 friends and family members who are dear to me and who have influenced my life in a positive way. That list could have been extended to hundreds of names, but I chose immediate family members and close friends. Besides that, there was not room for more.
The names are arranged in a column down the middle of the back, looking somewhat like a spine, with the title at the top, BOSTON 2017.
I also chose to wear a pair of red compression socks to commemorate the Boston Red Sox baseball team; we were able to attend one of their games the day prior to the marathon — and they won. 🙂
Getting back to this story, Todd and I picked up my packet at the marathon expo. The packet contained my bib #23589, which was to be affixed to the front of my shirt. The bib also houses the chip which measures the time from start line crossing to finish line crossing. It did not matter that I was assigned to Wave 3, Corral 8, because my personal time only began when I crossed that starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on April 17, 2017.
I have to post credit here to the St. George Running Center owners Kendra and Steve, who have given back more to the community of St. George than they have taken away from it. One of their running shoes brands, New Balance, offered to make shirts for those of us running the Boston Marathon (see below photo). We met at the finish line last Saturday to take a group photo. These are some amazing athletes and people!
The night before the race, I ate shrimp scampi which was delicious and so satisfying. I made a true effort to carbo-load starting the week prior. I tried to spare my legs from too many miles as we toured downtown Boston. I have to put in a plug here for my dear friend Conor, who dedicated his weekend to be our tour guide. He even took the day off work on Monday to spectate with Todd alongside the thousands and thousands of other spectators who lined the course on both sides for 26.2+ miles. Conor currently works in New York City but grew up on the outskirts of Boston, so he knew the ins and outs of the city. His knowledge and guidance were priceless.
Another enormous helper was Tim, with whom I became acquainted via text messaging and Messenger. Tim, it turns out, has his own blog called thevoyageofdh.wordpress.com and started following my son’s blog (Tyson) which is drivetofive.com. Are you still with me? So because of Tyson’s blog, and because he lives in Boston, Tim learned of my pending trip and offered numerous suggestions of places to go, things to do, etc. He was a very valuable resource for us, and I regret that we were unable to connect during the three days we spent in Boston due to his activities or ours.
As per tradition, I set out my running attire the evening before, checking the items off my list in an effort to account for everything I might need. I left the hotel and took the train (Redline, inbound) to Park Street, where I disembarked and walked to Boston Common. It was there that I had arranged to meet up with Natalie, long-time friend and running buddy. We loaded up on one of the dozens of buses (hundreds, more like, maybe even thousands) that took approximately 32,000 runners to the starting line in Hopkinton. It was quickly obvious that the weather would play a role in our performance. It was at least in the high 60’s if not low 70’s when Wave 3, Corral 8 (packed tightly with energetic runners dressed in colorful apparel) was turned loose. Prior to that moment, four of us (me, Natalie, Cheri, and Joann) had been caught up in the long porta-potty line and then temporary-tattoo-application table, not realizing that our Wave 3 runners had long since departed for their respective corrals. We literally ran to our corral to get ahead of the yellow-bibbed runners, those who had registered under the charity option.
And we were off. The first few miles of the course are downhill, which played in our favor. We maintained about a 9-minute mile pace, weaving in and out of other runners while at the same time keeping track of each other. Natalie had asked to run with me and when Cheri showed up at the runners’ village in Hopkinton, I was grateful, for I had considered running my own race (which I had planned to document as much as possible, and documentation takes time!). We lost Joann somewhere along the first few miles, then the three of us stuck together until mile 7. At that point, I felt that the pace was taking its toll on me, and I opted to linger longer at a water station and let Cheri and Natalie run on ahead (but only after a Facebook Live video).
I had my phone on airplane mode up to this point in an effort to preserve the battery, but once I was solo, I kept in touch with Todd and Conor. I knew they were tracking me via my bib through an app the B.A.A. offered, but I also was coordinating with them the specific place where they planned to be along the course. They let me know that they would be at mile 14, just past Wellesley, on the left-hand side of the road.
The heat started to get to me — I mean really get to me — about an hour into it. We had a decent tailwind but I felt zapped to a level that I have never felt before. Feeling faint was my main complaint, and it required more-than-usual effort to lift my legs high enough without stumbling.
At precisely mile 13, I saw that I had missed a call from my parents. I called them back and my mom asked, “How was it?” She was not aware that this race had started later morning as per tradition. I got a little emotional as I described to her, “It’s really hard, mom! But Todd and Conor are just up ahead, and that is my focus right now.” I assured her of my love for her and ended the call with a promise for a full race report later. At mile 14.50 (but who is counting?) I called Conor in a panic, believing that I had somehow missed them. Seriously — this was highly possible due to the 3-deep people lining the sides of the streets. I was prepared to go back if I had to, but Conor said, “We’re just past the streetlight — keep coming, KEEP COMING!!!” And there they were at mile 14.65, on the left-hand side as promised, offering hugs, smiles, and encouragement. It was the boost I needed to press on.
Press on I did, though dizzy and somewhat delirious. My progress had slowed down considerably. I sent Todd a text message that I felt like I might pass out, and he ordered me to ingest some sugar stat. Now this is the truth: I pulled off the course briefly and walked over to a family gathering where there was a variety of food. I approached a young mother and asked if she could spare anything with sugar in it. She selected a mini muffin and handed it off to me. It was dried out and stale, but I ate it anyway. I also accepted offerings of other food items after that, like orange sections, Otter Pops, and…. beer, though I did not drink it (I did not realize it was alcohol until I got a whiff of it, and I don’t drink alcohol, even in dire situations such as that). At about mile 20, when I realized that I might be in trouble, I stopped at a medical tent to ask for something salty. I was given a paper cup full of pretzels, which I ate gratefully.
There were some fabulous distractions along the course, including spectators dressed up in costume.
Besides the 26 names on the back of my tank to think about, I was carrying with me a few tokens to remind me of the support from friends and family, one of them a quarter which I actually found on my last training run before Boston. As it was lying there on the road, it seemed to say, “Please, pick me up and take me with you to the Boston Marathon!” I know it was a sign from Granny (see my prior post) and of course I picked it up and took it with me. Coincidentally or not, I also found a quarter on the Boston Marathon course, and I am pretty sure it was my Aunt Marieta, reminding me that she was there to support me, too. Friends with me since the age of 10, Connie and Penny had mailed me some elasticized bracelets to wear during the race. It was their way of offering support. Let me also add here that they also offered monetary support — as in helped pay my way to Boston! And a band from Tia2 was proudly worn as well.
I admit that not all went as planned during the race. Besides the heat and probable dehydration, I also lost a valuable pin that my sister had provided for me to wear. It was a handmade clay pin of an artist holding a painting palette, about 1.5 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide. I pinned it to the upper strap on the left side of my tank top (as can be seen in pre-race photo above) but somewhere early on it must have decided to give running a try and worked its way off my top to the pavement below, only to be crushed (I imagine) by thousands and thousands of runners. Discovery of this fact made me sick inside, and I had to alert my sister of the bad news. She assures me that she is not upset and that she rather likes the story it made. I aim to make it up to her somehow, though. The blue corn is something that my grandson Beckam had colored and given me.
Another mishap was a house fire which we ran past at about mile 4 or 5. It appeared that the fire was accelerating quickly due to the black smoke billowing out of the garage and front door, and witnessing the family outside scrambling to get hoses hooked up to combat the fire was rather unsettling. I felt helpless and could not imagine how a fire truck could access their home, since runners spanned the road for miles elbow to elbow.
The last 10 miles are somewhat of a blur. I turned my music up loudly to try and drown out some of the spectators’ cheering which translated to a constant high-volume noise that was constant and unrelenting. I have a testimony about songs that match the moment I am in. But that’s a topic for a later blog. Music is a daily part of my life, and without it while running, I would suffer.
Realizing that I was on target to finish under 4:30, but still not able to resist documenting the experience via photographs and videos, I hastened my pace and disregarded the miserable state I was in as I focused on the finish line. The last turn of the course delivered us onto Boylston Street. I ran straight down the three blue stripes that were painted on the road, right smack-dab in the middle. I ran as fast as my tired legs could go. I ran past the places where the bombs had gone off four years prior, the bombs that killed three and wounded hundreds. I thought of my Pal Peg, who shares this blog with me (she was mere feet away from the first bomb near the finish line when it exploded on that fateful day in 2013). I thought of the power of love and the outpouring of support, not just by the people in this town called Boston, but also in our nation, a nation united! My watch revealed 4:31 when I crossed the finish line, and though I wanted to curl up in a ball and suck my thumb (I borrowed that line from Cory, a friend who inspires — he has a blog, also, called factory.com), I had Todd to find, for I knew he would take good care of me — and that he did and continues to do on a daily basis as I quickly recover to baseline. I am forever grateful for his patience and support of this passion of mine.
Now in hindsight, looking back two days since the marathon, there are a few thoughts that stand out. In no particular order, let me share some of them with you.
Support: You can’t even begin to imagine the enthusiasm of the spectators. It’s something that cannot be comprehended unless experienced personally. Energy: It was palpable. It was infectious. Determination: Exhausted runners who resorted to walking were set on finishing regardless of the time clock. Camaraderie: The common bond between runners was unmatched. Complete strangers joined up to spend a few hours together with the same goal, leaving behind their differences. Passion: There was such a sense of dedication which earned all of these athletes the privilege of participating in the Boston Marathon.
Finally, a short video which I took of the spectators just before turning the corner onto Boylston Street and down the final stretch. Can you feel the love, too?
( video to be added when my son can help me this weekend)
I had earlier vowed that this would be my last full marathon, but since there is going to be another party on the St. George Marathon course this October, I had to submit and register! Look out St. George Marathon, here we come!