I’m back from Boston and happy to report that I survived another marathon! I limped through my work day on Wednesday and I have a few toenails that are not long for this world, but other than that I made it out in one piece.
I finished the race in 3:25–a time I am satisfied with. It was not an overall PR for me, but it was a PR for Boston by 22 minutes. Because the last time I ran Boston in 2012 it was a solid 80-something degrees, I felt like I had a skewed perspective of the race course. I thought that it seemed really hard then, but looking back I thought that maybe my memory of the heat made it seem worse than it truly was. Now that I’ve run it in 2016 I can honestly report that, yep, it’s a really hard course. Boston is truly a beast of a race.
(Finally done! Love my cheering squad.)
Here’s how it went for me…
I was very lucky to be able to stay with my cousin/BFF and her husband at their apartment in downtown Boston all week. On race day I woke up around 5am and John and I walked from the apartment to the bus pickup in Boston Commons around 6:15. It was a nice, pleasant walk, with the sun just starting to light up the city around us, but when I saw those buses damn I was nervous! Hugging John goodbye, I actually teared up a little because I was scared of what was to come.
I rode on the bus to Hopkinton with lots of other runners, all of us giddy with nerves despite the early hour. The girl sitting next to me was pretty quiet, so after a while I stopped asking her questions and watched a drama unfold in the seat across from me. A man was at his wits end about having to go to the bathroom. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and he poured his Gatorade into a mug so that he could pee into his Gatorade bottle. Exciting stuff.
When we arrived in Hopkinton, the Athlete’s Village was hopping. Naturally, I went straight for a Johnny-On-The-Spot line (I wasn’t about to pee into any sort of plastic bottle, no sir…) and that’s when I realized that it really wasn’t cold outside at all. Not a good sign.
(Arriving all fresh and shiny in Hopkinton. Ready to go!)
I found a dry bit of dirt to sit on in the Athlete’s Village, so I just took a seat and watched a parade of absurdly outfitted athletes move by. Because of increased security measures after the 2013 bombing, runners can no longer check their bags in the Village. Therefore, all clothes brought in had to be donated. As a result, runners were clad in all kinds of Goodwill paraphernalia. I saw people wearing flannel pajamas, an awesome, turquoise, silk “Australia” jacket complete with marsupial themed patches, a man in just a speedo and several full length bathrobes. Quite the show.
After making small talk and standing in bathroom lines for a good two hours, my wave was called to the starting line. There’s truly nothing like the starting line of a marathon. It’s the intersection of dreams about to become reality and imminent pain. I felt both calm and impatient. There was no room here for the screaming nerves I’d felt the night before. It was now or never, so help me, God.
The first 16 miles or so of The Boston Marathon are generally downhill. How lucky! Most people say, must be an easy course. Ha. Those downhills are actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing (But since I’m a Carnivore Keeper the wolf probably shouldn’t be the bad guy. A poacher dressed as a rhino? Does that work?). They truly take their toll on a runner’s muscles and ligaments, which Boston marathoners pay for in the latter half of the race and the next day.
Honestly, though, those first miles most closely resemble a cattle drive. There are a lot of runners on the road to Boston (26,000 this year!) and people are packed in quite tightly, forcing you to run a slow and even speed (which is a blessing later in the race). So, for me, those first 4-5 miles flew by in a sunshine-y, cheerful, please don’t let me step on anyone’s heels, blissful pace. There’s a lot of high-fiving little kids during this portion of the race. Spoiler Alert: During hours two and three I did not want to waste the energy it would take to give any high-fives.
I enjoyed seeing the signs people held up on the sides of the racecourse. Some favorites included: If Trump Can Run, So Can You! and All Toenails Go to Heaven.
Around miles 7-10 things got rough. You see, it was hot out there. Certainly 70-plus degrees, a nice temp for spectating a marathon, but much too warm for running it. My start time was at 10:25 am, so we were running with the sun straight overhead in the heat of the day (and I have the fried shoulders to prove it!). I started to get very thirsty and that old adage, if you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated, began to run through my head. I am terrible at drinking water and running at the same time. Usually at the GO! marathon I grab a cup and then speed walk a few steps while I gulp it down. Boston was so crowded though, I felt like if I slowed to drink (at least during this portion) I’d cause a pile-up, so I was only able to choke down a few sips at each station. I could feel my body temperature rising. I remembered how hard it had been in 2012 in the heat and I began to fear the next 16 miles. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. I thought. I was beginning to “lose my head” a bit, as in become so dehydrated that I was unable to really focus, feeling like my head was floating above me. I ate some jelly beans to try to get my blood sugar up and ended up with this lovely picture…
(Yep, those are jelly beans stuffed in my cheek. Attractive.)
Just when I was teetering on the edge of marathon despair, we entered the Wellesley area. Here, there was shade and a breeze kicked up. Wellesley is a famous stretch of the race because a large number of the school’s female student body typically line the course and scream at the top of their lungs creating a “tunnel of sound.” The girls request kisses for a variety of reasons i.e. Kiss Me I’m Irish, Kiss Me I’m A Senior, Kiss Me I’m Fun-Sized etc. and the signs work! Several people stopped to give them a kiss. The cooler stretch and the entertainment of the tunnel of sound really helped me here. I was able to get back into my music and get my head back into the race. I got my pace back and my confidence improved.
There was a man running near me for a while who wrote “Dad” on his bib number. So, for several miles people kept saying “Go Dad!” “You got it Dad!” “Keep it up Dad!” over and over again, which made me laugh.
(The Wellesley Tunnel of Sound gave me a bit of a boost.)
Feeling a bit better, I enjoyed the block parties, music and spectacle of the day. The spectators in Boston are simply the best. Everyone is handing out orange slices, ice and cups of water all along the route. Even though the last thing I’d rather do during a marathon is eat a piece of licorice, people were kind enough to offer twizzlers and other candies too (who knows, maybe that’s someone’s thing…).
(Feeling good and determined.)
I hit 13.1 at about 1:39 and was feeling pretty happy with that as we raced on, eventually crossing over the highway and climbing a bit of a hill before reaching the really hilly section between miles 17-20. The Newton Hills. This is what makes Boston such a little bitch (as my cousin, Mary, said I repeatedly called it immediately after the race). The course likes to throw you downhill at a much too fast pace for 16 miles, giving your ligaments a solid flogging before throwing three huge hills at you virtually destroying what’s left of your legs and then expects you to run six more miles into town. Real cool.
I got pretty confused during this portion. I remember reading It’s better to pass people than to get passed on the Newton Hills, so when we ran up the first hill I tried to pass as many people as possible. I definitely did not stop running. However, since the area approaching the three big hills is quite hilly, I wasn’t sure which hill we were on when we ran the first one. “This is Heartbreak Hill, right?” I asked a spectator. (Editor’s Note: Heartbreak Hill is where dreams go to die.) “No, it’s still up ahead?” the guy said, with something like pity in his eyes. Damn.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t stop running on the second and third hill either, but I was going pretty slow. My legs felt like they were turning to cement. There was one girl ahead of me dressed as Wonder Woman who kept patting runners who were walking on the shoulder and telling them “you can do it!” as she went by them. I made sure to pass her.
By the time I’d made it through the hills I felt pretty much just like I did in 2012. I knew there were only 6 miles left in the race and I wanted to gun it, but I just couldn’t go any faster. Boston did her pretty, little job on my legs and they didn’t really work any more. I remember thinking if only I’d trained more, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, or if only I’d had more water to drink early in the race…who knows. All I know is that by the time I reached mile 21 I hurt.
I did see my family here though, which gave me a bit of a boost. My cousin, Mary, texted some friends who were a mile up the road and told them to cheer for me, so when I reached mile 22 there was a big group jumping up and down and shouting my name. I had no clue who they were but it was really fun and helpful! This section is where the crowds go from consistently packed to madhouse levels–and they stay that way, only increasing in numbers, all the way to Boylston Street. Unfortunately, it was hard for me to enjoy the cheering because at this point I just wanted the race to be done. I was hot, dehydrated and every part of my legs hurt.
Mile 23 was when I’d say “the wheels fell off.” My pace decreased to about 8:30-8:40 minute miles. I was happy that I stayed under 9:00, but this was still far slower than my goal pace. It’s funny now that I’m on the other side to reminisce about the doomsday prophecies of the marathoner at mile 23. I’d most certainly lost my head at this point and all of my thoughts were colored in a dramatic haze. I won’t make it, I thought. I’m going to have to stop. All of those 6am wake ups on my “Saturday” mornings, all of those rain drenched runs were for nothing, because I’m not going to finish this race or if I do I’m going to have to crawl to the finish line because MY LEGS NO LONGER WORK!
(REALLY feeling it at mile 23.)
At this point sweat was coating my iPod, and since it is a touch screen I wasn’t able to switch the songs. Fortunately, it somehow got stuck on The Killers, All These Things That I’ve Done, on repeat, which worked for me. I realize my iPod is an inanimate object, but sometimes I think it knows just what I need.
For the last three miles of the race I had to resort to the marathoners stand by trick for survival. I simply told myself Just run one more half mile, get to 23.5, then get to 24, get to 24.5 get to Hereford, get to Boylston…and it worked, I survived each half mile without grace or glory but enough to keep moving forward toward the finish.
(Seeing the giant Citgo sign during the Boston Marathon is supposed to tell runners “Almost Home!” Unfortunately, it brought little relief to me because it is NOT the finish!)
The Boston Marathon only includes a few turns, and most of them are downtown. Turning right on Hereford brought me little relief. My legs were beyond aching and exhausted. But that left on Boylston, the final stretch, gave me a boost. It’s so amazing and frustrating to know that there is always something left in the tank! !
Boylston is a long, wide, open street and the crowds were roaring! I took my headphones off here so I could truly appreciate the spectacle of the race (even through my marathoner’s dehydrated haze) and I opened up my stride for the finish. Never have I ever seen such a beautiful, blue stripe of paint!
(Going for it in the final stretch on Boylston!)
Crossing the Finish Line brought happiness, sure, but finish lines are complicated places. Yes, there is relief, and joy at the accomplishment and the culmination of so much hard work and so many miles, but it’s not like it just washes away all of the pain either. It’s a crossroads of sorts. I felt so happy to have finished and to get to stop running, but damn my legs were killing me! Fortunately, runners have their comrades around them, and we were all in the same boat, commiserating in our joy and agony together.
(Finish Line! You’ll notice I’m not wearing my headphones in the above picture, but I have them on here…yet I have no recollection of putting them back on at all. Ah, finish lines are hazy places after a hot, long race.)
After crossing the Finish, I filed through a chute with the other runners and was given water, snacks and a heat blanket. Here’s where I have to mention the volunteers. The volunteers at the Boston Marathon are simply incredible. Every one of them, from those handing out numbers at the Expo, to those herding us onto buses so early in the morning, those giving out water and Gatorade along the course or greeting runners at the Finish Line were just exceptionally nice. I probably asked them questions that they’d been asked two million times already that day (I have no idea what that’s like…) yet they always answered me with a smile. Their kindness and the happiness they shared with runners at the Finish was just so appreciated at such an emotional moment. They represent their city well.
In the days leading up to the race, I checked the weather forecast obsessively, dread steadily growing as I watched the predicted temperature creep up and up. “It’s going to be in the seventies,” I told my family, warily. “That’s fine,” my dad said. “You ran it when the temps were in the eighties last time. No big deal.”
My dad was being nice, but it frustrated me because I knew that he really didn’t understand. Yes, I’d run the Boston Marathon with temperatures in the eighties. But that was four years ago. This was a different race. I’m a different person, and a different runner, than I was in 2012. The thing that my dad didn’t know (because he’s a good, sweet dad who believes his daughters can do anything) is that you really can’t take 26.2 miles for granted. Especially in Boston. You never know if you can finish that many miles. Every race is a new journey where failure is a real risk.
This year’s Boston was a special one. Not only was it the 120th anniversary, but the city also celebrated 50 years of women running the race. (Note: I did not say legally running the race…). In 1966, when my mother was 11 years old, so, yes, just ONE generation from me, it was thought that women were not physically capable of running 26.2 miles. Ever. That was until Bobbi Gibb snuck onto the road into Boston hiding behind the hood of her sweatshirt and ran those marathon miles in 3:21.
(Bobbi Gibb in 1966, finishing Boston wearing a one piece bathing suit and surfer shorts. Thank God we now have companies DEDICATED to women’s running apparel!)
The next year, in 1967, Kathrine Switzer registered under her initials K.V. Switzer and became the first woman to run the race with an actual race bib and number, resulting in this historic picture below:
(The man in the suit jacket is race official trying to pull Kathrine Switzer off of the race course.)
Still, women did not “legally” run in the Boston Marathon until 1972–when my own mother was in high school! In 2016 there were 12,168 female runners and the first place finisher, Ethiopian, Atsede Baysa, finished the race in 2:29:19. To put that into perspective, that is running 26.2 miles at a 5:40 minute/mile pace. And fifty years ago it was thought that women could not even finish!
(Atsede Baysa claims victory!)
The Boston Marathon really is a beast. There’s always some sort of risk in attempting this distance. But I had the opportunity to run it, along with 12,168 other women, and so I ran, and I finished it the very best that I could. I don’t want to say I feel “lucky” as a woman to be given the opportunity to race. We should have always had the opportunity, even before 1966. I guess I just want to say that I’m glad for the experience, and that I was able to challenge myself, and I hope that at least that final push along Boylston represented my gender well.
I do, however, feel very lucky to have had the means to be able to go to Boston, and for that I have to thank those that pushed me to qualify in 2015, my cousins, Katie and Mary who welcomed me to the city, John who has always made me a better, faster, smarter runner, my parents for coming to cheer me along and believing in me, my friends and family supporting me from home and Chase Sapphire for their excellent travel point/rewards program.
We celebrated with lobster and wine the night of the race–sunburnt, tired and happy. And just like that, my brain immediately started covering up the pain of the day with the excitement afterward and I began to set my sights on next year’s Boston Marathon…hopefully this time with John!
All in all the day was a success. The Boston Marathon is both a challenge and a celebration of a city, and an athletic feat that I will happily attempt as long as my feet are able. Because, as the city’s residents proudly proclaim every Patriot’s Day, there are lots of marathons, but there’s only one Boston.
Here are my stats from the race:
Carolyn E. Mueller
Net Time 3:25:44
In Gender 1183/12168 (Female)
In Division 950/5948 (F18-39 Age Group)