Two weeks post-race seems as good a time as any to write a recap of this year's Boston Marathon. I'm proud to say I can now walk down the stairs on my fire escape WITHOUT using the railing OR cursing, so I'm well on my way to recovery and ready to write.
This was truly an excellent trip to Boston. Luck had it that Patriot's Day, the third Monday in April, happened to fall on Easter Monday this year. This was to our benefit since John had Thursday, Friday and Monday off from school! I, as always, had Thursday/Friday off for my normal "weekend" and then took vacation days so that the two of us actually got a nice, little trip out of the thing.
We flew to Boston at 6 am, meaning we had to wake up at 4 am St. Louis time, which was terrible, but worth it when we arrived in Beantown before noon. We spent the cool, sunny day exploring with my cousin/BFF, Katie. Katie and John helped me pick out a new running top for the race, and we enjoyed the sites in Boston Common and The Public Garden
Near this area, I was delighted to find a statue of the one and only Alexander Hamilton. I know I'm a little late to the party, but I started listening to the Hamilton soundtrack during this marathon training cycle and soon became TOTALLY addicted. Let's just say this Founding Father helped me during marathon training non-stop (too corny?).
We finished the day with a dinner near Fenway with my cousin Mary and her fiancee, Chelsea, along with Katie's husband, Markus.
On Friday, John and I headed out to the Marathon Expo. I've been lucky enough to return to Boston quite a few times since Katie moved there in 2014, and every time I'm there I just fall more in love with that city (Side note: I do make a point of never visiting in Winter). So, John and I took the scenic route to the Expo, exploring the side streets on Beacon Hill and enjoying all of the spring flowers along the way.
LOVE all of the flower boxes!
The Expo is a great place to get pumped for the race. All of the runners are excited and happy to be there. The atmosphere is totally charged. As always, the B.A.A. volunteers could not have been nicer. New Englanders, of course, have a reputation for being a bit cold, especially compared to Midwesterners. John is the ULTIMATE kind and friendly Midwesterner. He says "Hi" to everyone he meets on any sidewalk, any time of day, anywhere, and everyone at our local grocery store knows him because he talks to them so much. That's John for you. So, you can imagine the unsuspecting drug store clerks and taxi drivers of Boston were a tad surprised (put off?) by John's continual stream of "Hi, how are you? How's your day going?" throughout our trip. The exception, though, to the cold, New England stereotype, are those involved with The Boston Marathon. Truly every volunteer that we met, from the Expo to the finish line, was just beyond nice to us. In fact, as John and I walked down Charles Street on our way to meet the buses for Hopkinton on race day, we had several random strangers call out to us and wish us good luck. It's as if that stereotype just does not apply on Marathon weekend.
One of the best parts of the Expo was being there with John. John Kelly is actually a very famous name in relation to The Boston Marathon. There are TWO famous John Kelleys in Boston. One is Johnny "The Elder" Kelley who ran in Boston 50 times. "Heartbreak Hill" is so named because of an anecdote involving this John Kelley. It's said that in the 1936 Boston Marathon Ellison "Tarzan" Brown was in the lead when Johnny Kelley caught up to him on the last of the four Newton Hills. Kelley tapped Tarzan on the shoulder as he passed him. This boldness infuriated Tarzan, and Brown went on to win the race. A Boston Globe reporter wrote that Tarzan broke Kelley's heart on "Heartbreak Hill" and that's how the infamous beast got its name. Johnny Kelley finished in the top five fifteen times and he won in 1935 and 1945.
The second famous JK is John "The Younger" Kelley--who also happens to be John Joseph Kelley, just like my husband. John The Younger won the race in 1957, and then went on to coach Amby Burfoot, the winner in 1968. Needless to say, John Kelly is a name of Boston royalty, and every volunteer who my John checked in with commented on this fact. "John Kelly, huh? You gonna sign autographs after the race?" and on and on. It was hilarious and I think John was bright pink the entire morning.
I always say, in my next life I plan to create products marketed to marathon runners. High on the electric atmosphere and pride in the completion of our training, John and I, along with the rest of the Expo attendees, promptly emptied our wallets. Though we did have a lot of fun doing it.
After the expo, the four of us attended what I'll call "Drunk Shakespeare" (except substitute the word "Drunk" for something a little less blog-appropriate). This show involved classically trained Shakespearean actors putting on a short production of Romeo and Juliet. The catch, though, is that one of the actors was given a substantial amount of Maker's Mark before the play began. This time it happened to be the man playing Mercutio. He was completely wasted and, let me tell you, HILARITY ensued.
Later that night we had a "Raclette" dinner with Katie and Markus and their Swiss friends, Emma and Eric. Raclette is a Swiss tradition involving a lot of melted cheese, which we were all for.
We used Saturday for a day trip to Rockport, the small, artsy, seaside town were our Mueller relatives live. As always, we enjoyed the salty sea air, sunshine and a visit with our aunt, uncle and cousins, before heading back to Boston to meet John's parents (who had arrived from St. Louis) for an Italian dinner in The North End.
Sunday was Easter, so we decided to prepare a brunch. Mary, Chelsea and John's parents came to the Schober's place, and it was quite festive. Of course, nothing will replace being with the entire Mueller family on Easter Sunday, and our brunch fare did not compare to my Aunt Susan's strawberry/banana cake, but it was still fun and nice to be with family for the holiday.
That day it was a whopping 85 degrees in Boston! For a city who was still stuck in the 40s prior to our arrival, this came as a bit of a festive, Eastery shock to its winter weary residents. It was a beautiful day to explore The Freedom Trail! I absolutely love The Freedom Trail. I'm a bit of a history nerd, and now that I'm full on Hamilton obsessed, I couldn't wait to discover some Revolutionary War gems. Plus, it's a great way to get some fresh air and see the city on foot.
That being said, it probably was not the smartest thing for us to do the day before the marathon. I don't regret it. I mean, we weren't exactly in the race for the prize money or anything, so why not enjoy being tourists...but still we did have 26.2 miles to cover the next day.
All in all it was a delightful afternoon, and our group was proud and happy to make it to the top of a very windy Bunker Hill!
So, that brings us to RACE DAY! Enough of the touristy crap. Here's the nitty gritty story of what The Boston Marathon is all about (at least according to me).
John and I woke up at 5 am the day of the race. I'd been nervous all weekend, of course, but on Monday morning my nerves struck a fever pitch. This is it, don't get scared now.
One of the best parts of staying with the Schobers (besides the excellent company and German practice, of course) is the fact that we can easily walk from their apartment to Boston Common to meet the buses on the day of the race. It was a cool, sunny morning, and we didn't really need our long sleeve t-shirts, which is not exactly a good sign on when you're supposed to run a marathon.
We easily checked our gear bags and boarded our buses, and before we knew it we were off to Hopkinton! There's something surreal about the drive to Hopkinton. It's scary to ride those many miles down the highway thinking, we have to run all the way back. Yikes. Since we'd woken up so early I sort of dozed on an off during the bus ride. After a while I was very suddenly startled awake by a loud sound, like an explosion! A tire had blown on the bus right in front of us! Luckily, we were just about to turn into the Hopkinton High School at the time, so everything worked out OK, but, damn, I was suddenly wide awake!
One of the highlights of this year's race for me was our accommodations in Hopkinton. Usually, I spend my time in the Athlete's Village, waiting in line after line by the Port-O-Potties up until it's time for the race. This year, however, some of John's running group friends invited us to spend the morning with "Boston Betty."
"Boston Betty" is a woman who lives very near to the start line in Hopkinton. She hosts a group of St. Louis runners each year before the start of the race. Apparently, as I understood it, the previous owner of her house was actually from St. Louis and he was the one who started the St. Louis runner party tradition. When Betty bought the house she simply kept it going! What a kind and generous soul! It was easy to find Betty's house, and once inside we were welcomed into a warm, comfortable runners' pre-race sanctuary. She had all manner of pre-race foods, from pancakes to bananas, to peanut butter and fresh fruit. There was water, coffee, a basket full of band-aids, vaseline, Advil and Immodium and, best of all, four, count them, FOUR bathrooms fully stocked with more toilet paper than a runner could ever dream of! If you've ever run in Boston, you know that this is a REALLY BIG DEAL! In years past I've actually stuffed my bra with TP because of the typical Port-O-Potty sitch.
The other very cool part about being at Betty's was that we got to watch the start of the wheelchair and elite women's races on TV! That definitely got me pumped and ready to run.
The pre-race time flew by. From inside of Betty's house I heard the fighter jets fly over and the National Anthem play. Since John was in a faster start corral than me, he left the house before I did. Eventually, around 10 am, I made my way out onto the street and proceeded to the start.
And then we were off! I've got to say, aside from the massive crowd, there are no easier miles to run than the first four miles of The Boston Marathon. The downhill slope, the excitement, the cheering of the crowds, all add up to an ideal running experience. I had a giant smile on my face the entire time. I was high fiving kids, grinning at clever signs, rocking out to my carefully curated playlist...it was great.
Boston is a course that rewards the patient, so this year I was determined to keep my pace in check for the first 6 miles. Of Boston, John Brant wrote, quoting Dr. George Sheehan, in Duel in the Sun, "Accept your limitation and, with care, the thinking runner will have a comfortable, creditable race. But go for broke and prepare to be broken." That's what everyone says about this race. It's so easy to go out fast in the downhill and have nothing left for the hills and beyond. Think of it like two separate races: A 20 miler and a 6 miler. Yada. Yada. Yada. Prepare to be broken.
I really decided to take this advice to heart and I so had decided to run the first 6 miles at an 8:00 min/mile pace and then drop down to a 7:00-7:30 min/mile pace for the rest of the race (if I could...). I hit each of the first six miles at just about 7:50. I congratulated myself each time I saw that split pop up on my watch. "Good job! Keep it slow! Take it easy...wait for it..." etc.
I thought it would be totally badass to run this marathon with a negative split. Spoiler Alert: This didn't happen.
Around mile 5 it began to sink in that, once again, it was going to be hot. Every time I've run Boston it has been so freaking HOT. And this year was shaping up to be no exception. There was no cloud cover, no leaves on the trees to provide shade, and with my heat starting at 10:30 am the sun was rising high and fast with temps creeping up into the 70s.
Around mile 6 we passed a lake on our right hand side. There were two swans swimming in the lake and one of them dunked its head under the water for an extended period of time. "Wow, that looks nice," I thought. "I'd love to be that swan, dunking my head into that lake." As soon as this thought drifted through my mind I knew I was in trouble. I still had 20 more miles to go and I was already hallucinating about the idea of being a swan??! Yikes. Realizing this, I encouraged myself to take it easy, and to make sure to hit every water station along the way. I wasn't really hitting my 7:15ish pace, but bounced around 7:30-40 or so. Fine, I told myself. Save it for after the hills. Negative split!
Having run the race just last year, I felt more familiar with the layout of the towns and the course. As always, the crowds were incredible. SInce it was a perfect day to watch a marathon, people were everywhere, being loud, positive and helpful in turn. I just loved it.
Before I knew it we were all the way to Wellesley--the halfway point in the race. I took my headphones off so that I could completely appreciate the noise level of the famous Wellesley "Scream Tunnel" and it did not disappoint. I was never a video game person as a child, but at some point in the 90s my sister owned a Gameboy and I went through a brief phase where I would play Donkey Kong. In the game the gorilla (Donkey, I guess?) would sometimes hit these areas that made him speed up and shoot through the course. That's how the Wellesley Scream Tunnel works. It's like you're not even running during this stretch because you're so caught up in the cheering and the creativity of the signs. Of course, I did get bumped by two different gentlemen as they attempted to make their way to the sidelines to get a kiss, so that was unfortunate, but all in all this was a really fun part of the race.
At the half marathon point I was around 1:40, which felt good to me, like I was on track to run about the same time as I did last year (3:25). But, man, it just continued to get hotter and hotter. I tried to drink water at every stop, and I ate Gu packets to keep my energy up, but I just felt dehydrated the entire way. I began to find myself daydreaming about various cold, delicious drinks I might have if I were not currently running a marathon (beer, Kool-Aid, as much water as I wanted...) which is never a good sign.
I could feel myself running out of energy in the heat, and so I dropped my pace back to the 8:00 min/mile mark through miles 14-16 in anticipation of the Newton Hills. I wanted to have something left to charge up the hills and carry me into Boston. Negative split, remember?
The Newton Hills are a series of four large hills that are spread out between miles 17-21. There are steep downhills between the climbs and the final ascent is the behemoth known as "Heartbreak Hill" (see above note involving Johnny Kelley).
It is possible to pass A LOT of runners on these hills purely by NOT slowing to a walk. I slowed alright, but I did not walk. So, I was able to pass a lot of people, but as I climbed up Heartbreak I was nowhere near my 7:30 min/mile pace.
I actually tried to train for these hills this year. After every long run I'd go to the bottom of a hill in Forest Park and charge up it as fast as possible, even after I'd run 21 or 22 miles. I thought that I was ready for them. Ha. Hilarious. I don't know what I'd have to do to be ready for them, but I can tell you I was not. This race is just not for the faint of heart. After 16 miles of downhill my legs were shot, and turned to pure concrete as I made my way through Newton. Ugh.
At the top of Heartbreak Hill I saw a few people holding signs that read:
And even though I was exhausted and totally out of it I thought Yeah, it is. So that helped.
So, I'd survived the hills. Here was where I was supposed to drop into a 7:00 min/mile pace and blaze into Boston with a course PR and a negative split, right? But no, the downhill and the uphill and the heat had done their worst. I couldn't make my legs go fast than a 7:30, but most of my miles were still right around 8:00. At this point I knew that I would finish. I knew that the ever building crowd from there to Boston would at least carry me to the finish line if I needed it. But it also quickly became apparent that I was not going to get a PR nor a negative split.
Around mile 22 I saw Katie. Seeing Katie cheering gave me a boost and I sped up for a bit, but after .25-.5 miles my body seemed to say Hey, now, what are you doing? You CANNOT handle that speed at the moment, and so I slowed back down.
The crowds continued to grow and I continued to fight dehydration and exhaustion. The marathon truly is a lesson in pain management and I just kept repeating one of my mantras to myself in order to keep myself going. Ask yourself can you give more? The answer is usually YES. Yes you can give more. Keep going. (I added that last part out of necessity at the time).
Around miles 23 or 24 I saw a few interesting signs. One guy's said "You're Halfway There!" with the woman next to him holding a sign that said "Don't Listen To This Guy." Another's said "Don't Trust That Fart" with a picture of a poop emoji. Now, both are admittedly funny and clever, but in my hazy, exhausted, overly emotional mile 23 of a marathon brain I actually got really mad at them. How can they say such things?? I don't need to see that now! I need encouragement! I NEED to finish this race! I was seriously so dramatic.
From mile 24 onward it was really just guts and one foot in front of the other. There's nothing better than seeing that "Welcome to Boston" sign, and the crowds are just incredible. They really carried me forward with their enthusiasm.
I hit mile 25 and soon I approached Hereford. The Boston Marathon includes very few turns, but two of them happen right at the finish. It's become a famous Boston mantra--Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. That's the dream. I saw a street up ahead and thought it might be Hereford, but prepared my exhausted brain for disappointment. My heart literally leapt when I saw that it really was Hereford! Almost home!
This street is "affectionately" called Mt. Hereford because it has a slight incline. It's not much, but after 25.5 miles...ouch.
And then there it was...the most glorious lefthand turn! Just like last year I expected that the finish line would be right there, and, well, it's not. It looks SO far away once you turn on Boylston. I almost wanted to let out a sob. Why is it so damn far away!! I decided to sprint for it. My watch was at 3:29 and I wanted to make it in at 3:30. I at least wanted to qualify for next year's Boston if I couldn't get a PR.
Truly though, as tired as I was, as much as I wanted to guzzle a giant glass of water, running toward the finish line of The Boston Marathon is an amazing experience. The gentle downhill allowed me to build some speed and with every step the finish line came closer. The flags, the crowds, the atmosphere, all are simply incredible. I think there is no better place to run anywhere in the world than right there--Boylston Street on Patriot's Day. The best. I know that the memory of that moment will bring fire to cold, lonely runs come winter. When I'm exhausted or feeling unmotivated to run, I'll simply think of Boylston.
With one last final effort, I crossed the finish. I tried to put my arms up in triumph, but none of the pictures from the Marathon Foto people captured me doing that, so I guess I didn't exactly succeed. It felt so good to stop running. I collected my water, banana, medal etc. in a dazed euphoria. It was done.
I finished in 3:31 overall. It was slower than I'd hoped for, but with the day's heat I wasn't disappointed. I do wonder if my "patience" tactic actually hurt my time in the long run. When I was feeling the heat mid-race and destroyed after the hills I didn't have enough of a speed cushion to preserve my optimal time. Had I gone out in 7:30 min/miles perhaps I'd have had a better race? Who knows. I might have also just burned through all of my energy and not even been able to finish. I'll never know. All in all my average pace was easily around an 8:00 min/mile and it was pretty much consistent the entire time.
There were a few "special" events happening at the 2017 Boston Marathon. Last year I was lucky enough to run the race exactly 50 years after Bobbi Gibb's historic run marked the first time a woman ran in Boston. This year's occasion marked 50 years from when Katherine Switzer registered for the Boston Marathon under the name K.V. Switzer, acquiring a bib number and becoming the first registered female runner to participate in the race.
During the course of the 1967 race the director, Jock Semple, attempted to rip the number off of Kathrine and kick her off the course, but Switzer's linebacker sized boyfriend knocked him silly and Kathrine was able to finish the 26.2 miles.
This year, at 70 years old, Kathrine was returning to run the race! She also got to start the elite men and women. Very exciting! On the plane from New Jersey to Boston, John and I sat next to a woman in her late forties or early fifties who told us that she was actually going to run the race WITH Kathrine! This woman was a part of an organization called 261 Fearless. Named after Kathrine's historic race number (261), this group empowers women to be fearless in their pursuits, starting with the very simple act of actually moving, be it walking or running. The woman on the plane and Kathrine would be joined by one hundred other "261 Fearless" women and 7 men (representing the men who ran in solidarity with Kathrine during the 1967 race), all running for Switzer's organization. It was pretty neat to chat with this lady and then to see her in all of the post-race pictures with Kathrine Switzer. Sort of a fun connection to history for me and John.
Speaking of John. I didn't have to wait long to find him after I crossed the finish. I was collecting my gear at the bag check when he just tapped me on the shoulder! The two of us sat on a curb trying to snack on our post race goodies until someone made us get up and move (for the better, of course, but seriously painful...).
I have to say, I am just so proud of John. This race season did not go as he wanted or expected it to. He began training for Boston right around Christmas. He seriously picked up his mileage with his running group and was really working hard. Around the end of February or early March though, he suffered an overuse type injury--a strained muscle in the lower back/upper glute/quad area. John's had trouble with this injury before and knew, of course, that the only fix for it was to run less. So, he essentially had to halt his training for quite a while.
The most John ran during his training was an 18 mile run, once. To put that in perspective, I typically do at least two 20+ mile runs and several 18ish mile runs scattered throughout. If it had been any other race besides Boston he would have likely dropped out. But it was Boston. And he has been working toward this goal for a long time. John has qualified before, but not by a big enough margin to make it into the race. He's a much smarter and faster runner than I am and has always deserved to run this marathon. It was high time he had his turn in Boston and he was bound and determined to make it happen. He qualified this year in 3:01--a great margin for being able to register.
When he showed up on the start line, John was not sure if he'd be able to finish or if he did, how bad it would hurt. Well, he did finish! Despite his legs cramping up in the Newton Hills and having to walk a bit he was able to finish in 3:37, a time to be proud of after the adversity he faced during training. I am so impressed by his bravery. It takes guts to toe the start line any old day, but when you've been injured and unable to truly prepare, well, that's borderline madness. But John stood up to his very realistic fears and ran a good, solid race. I am so proud of him. His strong heart and bravery are what Boston is all about.
Running a marathon is truly like embarking on an expedition or journey. There is so much unknown, so much that can happen during those miles. The distance always humbles me. I respect it. I feel like every time I run this race I learn a little bit more about what it can do to a body and mind. Nonetheless, I suspect that even if I ran in 50 Bostons I still would not be able to figure out this course. It is such a beast.
You never know what you'll face during a marathon. This Patriot's Day John and I battled heat, exhaustion, black toenails, cramps and injury. But I am so grateful for the experience. To run this race feels like playing a small role in history. The spirit of this city is contagious and I love having the chance to fan that flame with my own willingness to run and train. Every day that I get to run I feel lucky. I am lucky. But especially in Boston. There really is no better race.
Some of my Favorites from the 2017 Marathon Season:
Best Music: The Hamilton Soundtrack
Post-Run Snacks: Dried mango and tart cherry juice
Place to train: Forest Park (duh)
Motivational Movie: Boston (a documentary about the race that John and I both loved!)