The gun sounded and we were off. I always choose a "first song" for my iPod and then let shuffle take care of the rest of the race, since there are times when my iPod just "gets me" (don't ask). So I launched across the mat with "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons blasting in my ears, the people at the start cheering and applauding us as we hurtled down the hill. I hit pause and just absorbed all the positive energy from the crowds, making eye contact, smiling. I had to gulp a couple times to hold back tears of joy (probably some tears of sadness, too, for everything that led up to this race) as we started. I'd worked really hard to get here and I realized as I started my watch that I would finish this race, even if I had to crawl across the finish line. Then I shook my head to clear it and said to myself (probably out loud -- I tend to do that when I run), "OK, get it together, Mirjam." Because I had NO intention of crawling across that finish line. I was gonna race this marathon. And I had my eye on a pretty significant PR. So with that, I hit play on the iPod again, turned my attention to the road and got to work.
For the first 6 miles, I really just focused on dialing into my pace. I stuck to my pace band like crazy glue. Same for my fueling plan, taking GUs at all the right spots and alternating Gatorade with water at each aid station.
It was HOT. I started pouring water on my face and neck by 8 miles in -- also managing to pour some part directly onto my running shoes every. single. time. (Seriously? Do I need this extra weight??).
The heat changed the way I ran this race, too. I used EVERY resource out on the course -- official or not. When I was thirsty, I kept an eye out for neighborhood kids handing out dixie cups of water and made a beeline for them. I saw people around me cramp up and limp through parts of the course. I'd read some study recently about how pickle juice is effective in stopping cramps, and while nobody was handing out pickle juice on the race course (darn) I somehow convinced myself that the sourness in orange slices might have a similar effect (I made this fact up, I honestly don't even know if it's true, but a placebo effect is better than nothing). I ate SO many orange slices and every single one was SO good. At one point, I felt my armband (in which I carried my inhaler) scratch the underside of my arm from chafing, so I actually made use of the Vaseline sticks people were handing out at aid stations. I even used the face wipes spectators offered us. I've usually been much more self-sufficient during races, but I figured for this one, I'd take all the help I could get.
I concentrated on not pushing the downhills, like everyone had warned me. I didn't go more than maybe :05 - :10 faster than my goal pace, thought about staying relaxed, shortening my stride, and said to myself, "Controlled falling" over and over again.
My favorite part of this race was, by far, Wellesley. The phrase "girl power" is definitely overused, in my opinion, but that was exactly what the Scream Tunnel felt like to me. I even got a little teary-eyed. So much positive energy from these women. One girl had a sign that said, "Kiss me, I'm vegan!" but seeing as I was trying to PR, I didn't stop for a smooch. I did, however, point at her as I ran past and yelled, "Go, VEEEGGGGAAAANNNN!" She responded with a loud whoop for me. I turned to a woman running next to me and said, "Omigod, this is amazing!" She didn't respond. It made me feel a bit silly for getting so emotional, but it just really touched me, all these women cheering us on. They made me feel like every one of them was out there for ME.
I saw my running friends shortly after the halfway point. I'd broken my wrist in January, during a silly easy 5 mile training run. I'd slipped on some black ice and landed full-force on my right hand. Spent the day in the ER, and didn't begin genuinely crying until the resident treating me told me I probably wouldn't be able to run for a couple months, if I wanted to avoid surgery. I thought my chances for racing Boston had just gone down the drain. Thankfully, it turned out I didn't need surgery and my doc was amazing at getting me a light cast so I could workout and not smell too bad (haha). My friends rallied around me during those dark moments, cheered me up, listened to all my hand-wringing over losing hill running fitness due to weeks spent avoiding wet pavement and running on treadmills (that included a 20 miler on a treadmill!). They were so supportive, gave me workout ideas to maintain the fitness I feared I was losing -- and seeing them on the course was such a great boost. I sprinted towards them when I saw them on the sidelines. They'd made a sign that read, "Make like 3:30 is your wrist and BREAK IT." So great.
I'd also promised another friend I'd get a "jazz hands" shot for him after he saw my garish race day outfit (lots of pink and purple, I looked like an Easter egg!). I'd forgotten on the first photo point, so I made a mental note to pay attention at the next spot. I must have looked so odd, but I held the jazz hands pose for a good :30 just to make sure they got it. The shot turned out kind of great and he called me his hero and made it his profile picture when he saw it. Haha.
I was starting to feel the hills, felt my legs burning and I wondered if my race was over, if maybe I'd pushed too hard on the downhills after all, if I was gonna start letting my pace slip. My friend had told me he'd walked a LOT of aide stations when he PR'd in NYC this past year with a 3:27 and I began to tell myself, "If he can PR with walking, so can you." I never walk during races -- short of allowing a couple steps at the aide station to avoid (unsuccessfully) waterboarding myself with Gatorade. But this time, I talked myself into allowing a BRIEF walk at mile 16. Ten seconds, I said to myself. Walk for 10 seconds, catch your breath, give your legs a break for TEN measly little seconds -- you can make that up easy. So at the top of one of the hills, I stopped running and I counted them out. 10, breathe, 9, breathe, 8, relax, 7...
At zero, I said, "OK, let's go," under my breath and took off again.
Shortly after that, I passed a sign that said, "Meb won! (Yes, really!!)" -- and through my marathon-induced haze, yelled, "Really?!" The lady yelled back, good-naturedly, "YES! REALLY!" You could feel the energy in the crowd pick up, this amazing jolt among the runners -- MEB WON. An American won. Meb! My favorite! I have such a runner's crush on Meb. I thought, cool. If Meb can win, I can PR. I don't know why I thought the one could possibly follow the other. Maybe I thought it to give myself the motivation to get through those hills. Because they were starting to hurt. A lot. My pace felt like it was slowing, and I hadn't gotten past Heartbreak yet.
The worst one was actually BEFORE Heartbreak. Going up that hill at around mile 19, I turned to a woman running next to me and asked "is this heartbreak?" She didn't know. I asked another woman, more frantically this time -- "Is THIS Heartbreak??" who said, "No, it's not, but don't worry, Heartbreak is easier than this one."
"OK," I gasped back, hoping she was right. I didn't believe her.
But when we got to Heartbreak (it was obvious that it was, of course, silly me) -- it turned out she was right. It wasn't easy, but the previous hill had hurt way more. I distracted myself by thinking that this was it, this was the last hill, once I got over this one, I was home free. I could do it, just get to the top.
I read and laughed at the signs spectators were holding ("You're wicked pissah" and "You think this is hard? Try growing out bangs!").
And then, at the top of Heartbreak Hill, something clicked. I felt the relief in my legs of no longer climbing, tentatively tested out a little extra speed -- and realized I had enough left in me to bring it home. I knew I would RACE the final 6 miles and I knew I would do this. (That feeling dissipated a couple times, but somehow I just knew it was going to be ok). It was an amazing feeling, one I can't say I've ever had at mile 20 of a marathon. I started digging into my pace, working harder to maintain my average than I had for the first 20 miles. But still -- I knew it was in the bag. I'd built my engine and I was letting it drive the last 10k of the race.
The section right before Commonwealth turned out to be another great cheering section -- people made me feel like a rockstar, they made eye contact, pointed at me, seemed to be cheering ONLY for me. It was amazing the strength of the positive energy out there. And I began counting down the miles. I saw the Citgo sign as I got closer, knew the end was near. That little bridge before was evil and I mentally cursed it. I couldn't do the math, but I was still nailing all my splits, even though it felt so much harder. So I tried to trust it was going to be ok. Kept reciting to myself the mantra, "Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston."
Then the turn on Boylston -- I felt so amazing making that turn -- until I saw the finish line in the distance. Omigod, I thought. The finish line is SO. FAR. AWAY. I felt something break inside of me. I thought, I can't cover this distance in less than two minutes. I freaked and went into a full on sprint (my Garmin later showed a 6:50 min/mile pace for that last 0.2, which my friend informed me just means I could have gone faster for the first 26. Ha!).
The crowds were awesome, I tried to soak it in, but I had tunnel vision -- I just wanted to get to the finish line before 3:30! I kept glancing at my watch, trying to figure out if I was beating the clock, but my brain was a sieve. I retained zero of that data the moment I looked away.
As I came up to the finish line, one last look at my watch told me I'd done it. It read 3:28 something, I didn't know what, but I knew I'd done it. I'd PR'd, I'd gotten in under 3:30 -- I'd even beat my estimated goal by thirty seconds.
I raised my arms above my head and cheered silently for myself. I crossed the finish line and felt...amazing. I've never felt so amazing after a race, both emotionally and physically. No excruciating pain in my quads (uh, that came 24 hours later -- ha!) -- I felt like I might skip to the people with the medals. I wanted to hug someone. I got my medal and I thanked the guy so profusely, he said, "Did you have a good race?" I exclaimed "YES! I PR'd, I broke 3:30!!" and he replied, "I'm gonna give you a hug!" This seems to be a theme with me and races. It's hilarious and wonderful. I gave him a sweaty hug, grabbed my finishing bag and headed back to the Commons to get my stuff.
I could not stop grinning.
What would you do differently?:
Not break my wrist in the first couple weeks of training and relegating the vast majority of my training to a treadmill. Other than that, nothing. I trained for this pace, trained for this race and I feel I executed it way better than I could have ever hoped.
I walked back to the Commons, chitchatting with other runners, one guy who'd had a rough race. I tried to cheer him up and he congratulated me on my race. Said the heat had gotten to him and I felt so relieved I hadn't cramped up during the run. I stretched a little, got my stuff from the bag check (super easy set up, way better than any other marathon I've done), changed in the women's changing tent and called Dan to meet up with him and friends at the designated bar. :)
What limited your ability to perform faster:
More mileage might help me get faster, though I'm not sure I'm interested in doing more mileage. The new training plan I followed for this race (Pfitz's 18/55) really got the job done.
This was my first, but hopefully not last, Boston marathon and it was everything and more than I could have dreamed of. WONDERFUL race. Can't wait to do it again!
Last updated: 2014-03-05 12:00 AM
Boston Athletic Association
55F / 13C
Overall Rank = 8759/31926
Age Group = F18-39
Age Group Rank = 1407/6976
I got up early and got dressed as quietly as I could since Dan was still fast asleep. I did have to wake him up to get my pace band on my wrist, which he did with minimal taping and ripping of arm hair (ugh, seriously, there has GOT to be a better way than packing tape...). I was super organized and there was minimal stressing out about anything. Which was kind of bad, because I had nothing to distract me from my nerves. I went downstairs and waited in line with the rest of the people staying at the Renaissance for the shuttle that would take us to Boston Commons. Lots of nervous and excited chitchat, but I was able to eat my banana. It was a little chilly, but I could feel it was going to be a warm day.
Once I dropped off my bag at Boston Common, I hopped in line to get on a bus (so many lines!) and sat next to a woman from Wisconsin. She was super nice and we talked a little bit about our training and the race. At one point I got really quiet looking out the window, and she asked, "You OK over there?" to get me out of my head. I was pretty nervous about not getting my sub-3:30. I ate my almond butter sandwich (the whole thing!), did not drink ANY water while we drove over on the advice of Salty (THANK you, great advice!) and watched the scenery flow by (it felt so FAR...was I really gonna run all that way back to Boston??).
I parted ways with the bus lady (I never got her name) and headed out to where, as best as I could tell from my really horrendous sense of direction, the group of runners I'd met on the Facebook forum were hanging out. It was a zoo, so many people to pick over and around. But then in the distance, I saw BernardDogs's beard (I'm not kidding, that is actually what I saw -- a beacon of hope in the insanity of the 2014 Boston Marathon Athlete's Village) and headed over to them. It was like camp -- people joking, teasing each other, lying on blankets, napping, taking photos, sharing food, body glide, sunscreen.
Slowly but surely, the faster ones among us siphoned off to their waves. I stood around not knowing what to do, alternating between listening to the conversations around me and feeling like I might puke from nervousness. But once I saw the line for the bathroom, I decided to head over there, well before they even called for Wave 2 (I was in Wave 3). This turned out to be a smart move, since it took a full 45 minutes of waiting and there were tons of people from Wave 2 who were freaking out...we let as many of them ahead as possible, but at some point there was a mass exodus and everyone rushed to the fences to pee in the wild. LOTS of attractive runner butt, so that was entertaining.
There was a group of ladies from the forum who were "fun running" the race -- all speed demons in their regular lives, but injury or I guess everyday life got in the way and they'd decided collectively to just enjoy the day. So they were all in my wave and walked me over to the start. They'd all done Boston several times before and the advice I got from them during that interminably long walk was so incredible. It calmed my nerves to hear them recite strategy and reassurances. They reminded me to run the race strategically. Run to mile 20. Get over those hills, don't go out too fast, don't kill yourself on the downhills. Just get to Heartbreak Hill and then after that, see where you're at. If you have anything left, then go for it. A couple people had asked when I would take my nutrition and I'd been a little waffly about it. Now, hearing the other women talk about it in such detail ("I think I'll do 6, 12, 17...") I realized I shouldn't be relying on my brain-while-running to make key decisions like that DURING the race. So I actually made a plan and repeated it a couple times. Around mile 6, 13, 17 and 24. The last one would be my ultra caffeinated GU. I never take that many GUs in a race, so this was basically "trying something new" on race day, but I figured I had to be aggressive about fueling my pace.
We made one last stop at the porta johns along the walk to the corral (I actually had to go again!!) and they sent me on my way. I hustled up to the first corral (yay!) and edged to the front so I could see the podium.
A little bit of waiting (but not a lot), I set my Garmin, did a couple stretches, retied my shoes three times, some speeches, and then Bang! The gun sounded and we were off!