Boston the Experience
By: Erin King, Pace & Mind Runner
It is an experience more than a run; a weekend rather than a few hours of running.
My plans to go to Boston were firmly established last May when my sister ran her first marathon in Toronto and qualified for the famous Boston marathon. I had run the Toronto race as well, in a personal best of 3:05, fighting through hip cramps but determined to finish. On that day it was about giving my best in the hope that my sister would give her best. She did. She qualified.
As Fall approached my sister constantly battled pain in her foot, which would later be diagnosed as a stress fracture. The future of her Boston run looked grim. She took several weeks of rest but then returned, not yet healed, to give herself minimal training for the fabled course.
Meanwhile, my training with new running partners in Toronto was teaching me to run faster and juggle the demands of running, teaching, and motherhood. I took a much more relaxed attitude to this season after suffering through pre-dawn treadmill runs last year. As the months wore on, I became more comfortable running faster in the hopes that it would translate to a faster marathon.
The Boston weekend approached with a flurry of activity. Along with continuing to train at a solid level, I was now setting up my children to be with their grandparents for an extended period for the first time as well as prepare for supply teachers at school. My sister was getting her house ready to sell and readying her supplies for the marathon experience.
On Friday morning we were in Kington saying goodbye to my children and enjoying a birthday breakfast with my parents. It was my 42nd birthday and the only chance to celebrate it. So what better way to carb load than to have chocolate cake for breakfast! At least I managed a 12km run beforehand. As a joke, my sister gave me a giant box of chocolate for us to consume after the race.
Our drive to Boston was uneventful. We stayed that night in Burlington, about 20km outside the downtown Boston area. The hotel was fantastic with a small kitchen and room to stretch. We had an early morning start the next day to cheer on my husband as he ran the 5km race. He runs only maybe 10km a week yet he managed a solid 23 min for 5km. Very solid indeed. (Hubby is in yellow.)
It was awesome to run into Kenny and company and watch the 10000 runners fly by. The rest of the day was a little busier than it should be for marathon weekend – watching the 1 mile and 1km races, stopping in to pick up race kits, stopping in to say hi to RunnersConnect folks (my sister’s online run group), going to a frigid baseball game at Fenway, and finally having dinner at 8:30 pm. I never did get a bike ride in due to the late hour. This was an unscheduled day off for me.
Sunday was the day of relative rest with our main activity walking to the expo to spend many $$$ with glee. I finally bought a new Garmin 220 watch at the expo and watched my sister happily buy new Skecher shoes (the company that sends me shoes). I had a great shake out run for 30min.
On to the marathon race…..
I had intended on making this an easy run, coming in at 3:30 or even 3:25. With 2 harder workouts under my belt for this week, my legs would not be fresh. I knew I could handle a 5 min/km pace and bounce back to training fast. A day before race day I happened to check email more carefully and noticed that Coach Rej had changed plans for me, asking me to hit race pace for the last 15km (4:15/km). “Just in time for the hills,” he wrote. Really??!! I just run 2 workouts that week, one fairly comfortable albeit still quick, and the other hard enough that I was gasping. And now I would need to try to hit 4:15 while going uphill. Everything changed when I read that. I now needed to be careful with carb loading and sleep. I now needed to see this as a pseudo race…on tired legs. By the end of the marathon, my 7 day mileage would be 109km.
On Monday morning I reached the buses by 6:30, huddled in throwaway sweatshirts and sweatpants. I was at the athletes village in time for the rain and chilly wind by 7:15 or so. Immediately, I tried to find friends – folks from Ajax and from the Pace and Mind group. I briefly met Helene, only to lose her again within a minute. Gazing at the crowd in each of the tents, it seemed we were in a refugee camp. We were thin, fit people, huddled in whatever clothing we could find—ripped jeans, old sweatpants, ragged shirts, wrapping ourselves in foil blankets, some sitting on tarps, or old mats, others squirming on the wet ground. It was impossible to find friends so eventually I gave up. So I sat and waited. And waited. And watched the rain.
I chose a light long sleeve with dollar store gloves, with compression capri and compression on the bottom. It was the same outfit I had worn at Harry’s Spring 8km two weeks ago. A baseball cap kept my face somewhat dry. I decided against sunglasses, figuring they might fog up with moisture. Perhaps a clear lens would have helped. The real challenge was where to put 5 gels. After shifting them throughout the race, I still managed to cut through my skin on the side of my waist. This is a problem still to solve.
In corral 6, where I started, the mood was light. A guy with only a speedo stood near me (but not too near), others with singlets. We all joked about the stopping and starting before we could even get to the start line.
And off we went. I had forgotten about the steep descent in the first mile. Immediately I wished I had told my sister about this. My legs tried to brake and I reminded myself to take it easy. For the first several miles I watched as thousands of runners passed me. I had a bib 5923 but I was beginning to see people with 7000 on their bibs. I had to repeatedly remind myself to slow down to a 5min/km while I was constantly hitting 4:45s. I even hit a 4:38 when I was pulled by the joyous crowd.
I had bought a new Garmin 220 at the expo the day before and thought I had set everything up the way I like it. I could see elapsed time, pace, and distance. What I didn’t realize was that it was recording my splits in miles. This is now a bit irritating as I have had to convert my data into kms.
I ran the next many miles around 4:45s with a few 4:38s when the crowd made me too excited. I felt comfortable, relaxed, and fully enjoying the experience. Oddly, I had some space between me and the other runners. I had to turn around a few times to see if there was anyone behind me. There was. I high fived many kids, danced when there was music, grinned at the funny signs, and joked with other runners. I felt the energy of the crowd riding through me as I was able to truly love the experience for the first time. THIS is the Boston marathon. I was running an easy pace and savouring the energy from the crowds.
Being careful with my nutrition, I took a gel every 45 min, saving my caffeine gel for the end miles. I alternated Gatorade and water, skipping a couple of stations in the early miles. I was flying high.
As 11:15 rolled around, the heavy rains hit again. I thought of my sister who would be just starting in wave four. I prayed she would have a good experience. I prayed she would finish.
Halfway in 1:40. I barely registered this distance.
The kms in the high 20s were now clicking by, but I didn’t notice. Suddenly I was at 27km. I hadn’t yet picked up the pace although my 5km splits were steadily speeding up, so I primed my brain to get ready for the hard work. By 28km I knew I had to get going, just as the hills hit. My legs didn’t respond. 4:15 you say? Fat chance. Ok, how about 4:20? Soon enough.
Once over the first hill I regrouped and figured I ought to shoot for 4:20s since my legs were not turning over. That seemed more reasonable. Mile 19 I finally hit 7min/mile (4:21). However, those hip cramps from last year and the Chilly half marathon came back. My brain kicked in to high gear. How would I solve it this time? Stand up taller. Use my core a bit more. Lessen the load on my IT band. Get some more Gatorade in. And lastly, try to go faster. Yes, I had to try. I tried everything but still my legs wouldn’t give me the stride that I know I could have. Mile 20 hit 7:03 (4:23).
Mile 21 on my stats shows a slow down (7:19/mile, 4:33.) Perhaps that is the final hill. It seemed long when I went up. Yet, I felt strong enough to cope with it. Many people were walking but I knew I would not. But I just couldn’t hit 4:15. What was Rej thinking? He was thinking to get me in shape for Ottawa. I told myself that if I wanted to make it, I had better turn those legs over.
The crowd was awesome and despite my disappointment with my slowness, I still responded to the cheers and funny signs. “Smile if you are a badass” one said. So I grinned from ear to ear. I AM a badass.
Once along the downhill I knew my husband and brother-in-law would be close. But the crowd was big and loud and I was navigating a right turn. I searched each side but never could see them. Just before the turn I thought I heard my name. Although I didn’t find them, they were in fact there and somehow I heard my name through the jumble of noise.
It was time to work now. I had about 5miles to go. I was not bonking. I was coherent. My legs were turning over, but not at the speed I wanted. I knew I had some downhill to work with. I had to make it happen. My hips cramps continued, light spasms destroyed my stride for brief periods. Thankfully, this didn’t last for more than a mile or two. The downhills were somewhat steep but I didn’t feel the crushing quad pain I felt in 2011. My downhill training had worked. My left shin was creaking though. The crowds were now fairly consistent and I knew there wouldn’t be many gaps of quiet now.
Mile 22 (6:51/mile, 4:15/km)
I began to hit my target pace, knowing full well the downhill was helping. I knew Coolidge Corner was not too far, from there it was close to my hotel at St. Paul’s Station. I had switched my gels for caffeine at 2hr 15min mark. I knew I needed to trick my body one more time. I would no longer swallow large amounts of Gatorade, maybe a mouthful to get rid of the cramps, and I would sneak half a caffeine gel at 2:45 hoping for a blast of speed.
Mile 23 (7:02/mile, 4:22)
Coolidge Corner. I knew I was coming in close to my hotel. I’m not sure why I was slower. Perhaps there was a bit of a rise in this area. My hips were still spasming and I could hear myself grunting in frustration for dealing with this problem yet again.
Mile 24 (6:52/mile, 4:16)
Mile 24 was at my hotel. The crowd was ear splitting but fun. Here I took a mouthful of Gatorade, swished it in my mouth and spat it out. I knew I didn’t need it. I just needed to trick my mind and keep alert. My legs were beginning to listen to my brain. Now, I just needed them to keep up.
Mile 25 (6:47/mile, 4:13)
The Citgo sign. The blessed Citgo. I don’t remember this part of the race from 2011, but this time I do. We had a small hill to navigate but I had my power brain on. I meant business now. My legs were still not giving me a nice long stride so I tried to make my cadence faster. Kenmore Square would be soon. The rain was now pouring, the wind pushing me around. I didn’t care too much except I had moments of cold. Someone hollered out to a runner behind me that they were on pace for 3:15. Wow…..what a training run for me. Since I was speeding up amongst the crowd, I had only myself to pace with. No one else in my area was coming in at this pace.
The final mile. Flat, then into a tunnel, then straight, then right on Hereford, then left on Boylston. I was now weaving in and out of crowds. I had let thousands of people pass me in the first many miles. Now, I was doing the passing. Deeking right and left as I pushed my body to hit “race pace”, I was in my element. My calves were sending me signals that they would like a rest now, thank you very much. My left shin was shrieking. I made a conscious decision not to listen. I could slow down since my main marathon is a short month away. But what if something happens between now and then? No, I would go with it today. It’s only a mile. I’ll ice my shin tomorrow. Today is now. Let’s go.
I barely see the right turn as I am dodging people. I barely notice the slight hill up. This was the hill where in 2011 I saw some poor guy crawling on hands and knees. That would not be me. No, I would finish strong. I did not have a bonk. I did not feel overwhelming fatigue like I usually feel in a marathon at the end. I did not wish and pray for the finish line.
This time I ran. I churned my legs over with whatever was left. It was not a race. It was the end of a workout. It was a fly up University Ave in Toronto. It was the push around the Ex with my training mates. It was training run, but a solid one.
The final stretch. Boylston Street. In 2011 it was a blur, a desperate run for the finish. This time I dodged people, taking the right side of the road. I still didn’t see the crowd. I heard it. It was so loud I could barely hear myself breathing. But I knew I was working a bit now. My watch was flashing 3:45. Trickery. I know I didn’t do that….maybe for a flash. My legs woke up but they didn’t hurt.
Mile 26 (6:35/mile, 4:05/km)
My watch recorded the run as 42.6 so the last segment
650 m 2:35 (3:58/km)
I crossed the finish line knowing I had put in a good effort. With arms raised I celebrated running a solid marathon while being coherent. It was my second slowest marathon but that is ok. I joked with runners afterwards. My legs did not crumple. I didn’t feel the urge to drink the protein shake afterwards although I took two. (I later gave one to a distressed runner in the changeroom.) Although I shivered in the frigid cold, my legs felt fine, my brain was working fully, and I did not need to ask for assistance with opening bananas or drinks.
Final time 3:14:52.
After the long cold walk to Boston Common and changing in a tent changing area just for females (Bless you Boston), I made my way to the Park St train. A free ride on the train, thanks to Boston loving the runners, brought me back to my hotel and cheering on the other runners. Draped in my foil jacket, still carrying my wet gear bag, I danced, shrieked, hollered, clapped, and woo hooed all the runners. I joked with the spectators that it was more fun to cheer than to run this awesome race. At last my sister came in to view. In her bright pink shirt she pranced towards me as I hollered and screamed until I was blue in the face. She saw me at the last second, full of smiles and laughter. She looked solid and happy. Then I knew that the mission would be complete. She would finish happy.
Later I would find out my sister ran a stellar marathon. She ran 4:08, 7 minutes faster than her goal. Her foot still hurt but she carried on. She didn’t requalify that day but she was ecstatic anyway. Not only had she conquered Boston but she had kept her pace consistent to the second, and sped up in the last 2 miles. At the celebration dinner that night she proudly wore her Boston jacket and medal. We both had unabashed pride in our runs. She held that medal like the prize it was. This was her Olympics. She earned it and loved it.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening we celebrated like we had won. The waitress at the local pub didn’t seem to mind that I had gotten ridiculously silly with wine. Indulging in burgers and fries helped soften the blow of silliness but not before I sent numerous crazy messages to my calmer running mates. We eventually met up with most of the Pace and Mind group to high-five and congratulate each other on a job well done.
Now on to Ottawa in a month. Here’s hoping I have the strength to reach my dreams there.
Pace & Mind is an advanced coaching service for runners. We offer advanced and highly customized 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon coaching for runners to improve their performance both on and off the road. Our coaching is based on the principles founded by Head Coach and Co-founder Rejean Chiasson, a Canadian marathon champion, 4x half-marathon medalist and NIKE+ NRC Coach. He is supported by our Online Run Coach, Kate Van Buskirk, an internationally accomplished track and field athlete, bronze medalist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Brooks Elite Ambassador. Unlike traditional ‘cookie-cutter’ or ‘clinic’ approaches to coaching, our Coaches first assesses, then customizes each runner’s training program based on:
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