April 22, 2010

Race Report: Boston Marathon, Part 2

Click here if you missed part 1

I had been warned by several people (including experienced marathoner Dane Rauschenberg) to do the first few miles at least 10-15 seconds slower than my goal pace. I was very familiar with the second half of the course, having run it backwards and forwards two years prior the morning of the Boston Beer Marathon, but all I knew about the first half was that it was supposed to be lots of downhill. I had previously commented to people that I was surprised that people made such a big deal about Heartbreak Hill – when I had run it before, it didn’t seem too bad. However, the typical response was that it was the early downhills that wore out your legs and made the Newton hills so difficult. Not having any of my own experience to back that up, I assumed it to be true. I didn’t really have a goal pace, so the 10-15 seconds thing meant nothing to me, but I didn’t go quite as fast as I would have liked in those early miles.

The streets in Hopkinton had a lot of spectators, and using my NYC Marathon strategy of running near the side of the road and smiling big led to a lot of people yelling out my name (as written on my shirt), which always helps me get through a race. I had intentionally made the front of my shirt really succinct and easy for non-runners to understand (“48th Marathon, 1st Boston!”), but I knew that the runners behind me would have plenty of time to read my shrit and comprehend it, which was why the back was more complicated (“Quest to become the youngest woman to run a marathon in all 50 states… 6 to go!”). However, I found that my quest is apparently a bit intimidating! I heard a lot of runners behind me muttering to themselves about my shirt (“Oh my gosh, did you see what her shirt says? That is incredible!”), but only about 10% of the people who talked about it actually approached me to say anything. Meanwhile, it seemed like most spectators either didn’t see the “48th marathon” part of my shirt, or didn’t believe me. I add the “didn’t believe me” part because I actually got stopped after the race by someone who wanted to explain to me that a marathon meant 26.2 miles, and that a 5k was not the same thing. I politely told them that I had, in fact, run 48 races that were 26.2 miles (or longer!). YAY!

While I know that Boston is “the granddaddy of all marathons,” and I had been really psyched to run it for that reason, I have to be honest and admit that the part I was looking forward to most was the crowds. It’s been so long since I’ve gotten to run a really big race like that, and I had been told by many people that the Boston crowds differed from New York in that they were much more knowledgeable about the marathon and running in general. Sweet! However, I found that the NYC and Boston crowds really weren’t similar at all. In New York, the crowds were wall-to-wall people throughout the entire race (except for the bridges). In Boston, there were a few sections that were wall-to-wall people, but for the most part, it was as scattered as any suburban marathon. Boo!

The course moved from Hopkinton through various small town and somewhat woodsy areas. I found this part of the course a little bit boring, and was really just counting down the miles until the “scream tunnel” at Wellesley College – I couldn’t wait for that! In the meantime, I tried to just maintain my pace with a minimum of bobbing and weaving amongst the crowds. I found that I was definitely going at a slightly faster clip than those around me, but fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to get around slower people without a ton of dodging. The only trouble spots were the fluid stations.

In the course preview, the presenter bragged about how the water stations were on both sides of the road, so you wouldn’t need to move to one side or the other in order to get fluid. Fair enough… but the BAA failed to take into account that water stations every single mile are just way too frequent, and smart runners probably won’t want drinks every mile. This led to a huge bottleneck if you didn’t want a drink but everyone around you did. There were a lot of people stopping or thrusting out their arms in front of you for a cup, and the road was just too narrow to be anywhere where you could just run right through. Furthermore (and maybe this was just because as a non-BQ runner I was back with the charity runners), a lot of people didn’t seem to get the concept of going to the side of the road if you’re going to walk… there were often people who would get a drink and then just slow to a walk right in the middle of the road. Grr! I thought Boston would have really good runner etiquette, because the qualification procedures mean that most people are experienced, but in this respect, not so much.

By mile 6 or so, the crowds had thinned out a bit though, and I was up amongst people who were running closer to my speed (though I was still passing a lot). My friend Allie sent me an awesome text telling me she was rooting for me and watching my progress from her desk in New York, and it was so nice to get that and know that I had people cheering me on in spirit if not in person šŸ™‚ Shortly after that, though, I heard my name being called from behind (meaning the person couldn’t have read it on my shirt): “Laura, you’re my hero!” I knew that voice in any race, and when I turned around, sure enough, it was my friend Larry. He is truly the most upbeat and warm runner you will ever find in a marathon, and it was so cool to have him call me his hero, since he really is mine. Larry holds the world record for most marathons run in one year’s time (108), and is constantly inspiring me and making me feel less crazy than I really am šŸ™‚

Around mile 9, I met up with another runner I knew: Betsy of EatDrinkRunWoman. I had last seen Besty at Disney, but her husband is Matt of the Hopkinton Hop, so when I called him about that race she had been in the background urging me to make the sensible call. She told me it was definitely smart to skip the Hop, particularly for my first Boston, and told me that Matt had managed to do about 40 miles with the ultra option. I asked about Jess, the runner who was going to do the double, and she said that as far as she knew, she had done it. This wasn’t too surprising though – Jess is an extremely accomplished ultramarathon runner, and regularly does 100 mile races. This would be a walk in the park for her!

Betsy and I ran into a few other Maniacs right as we were about to cross the 15k point, so the cameras captured us all running together. Neat! And now, it was only about 3 miles until Wellesley. I’ve never kissed a girl, and I really didn’t intend to start now, but I had heard so much about the Wellesley girls and how it’s almost a rite of passage to kiss them… so maybe I’d succumb. (That’s right, male readers, eat your hearts out!)

Just as we started coming into that area, a guy started talking to me about the marathons I had done and my goal. Normally I’m totally psyched to talk about this stuff, but now I wanted to focus on Wellesley and the excitement there. Where was this guy when I was bored in the early miles? šŸ™‚ But as soon as I saw the signs announcing Wellesley, I started backing off and being a little aloof. I was getting psyched! Before we could see Wellesley (or hear it), we saw huge banners that read “brace your ears.” I was ready!

As it turned out, the signs came well before the “scream tunnel.” Before we got to the actual college, we traversed the town of Wellesley, which had spectators of its own. My favorite were the kids who were all bouncing up and down on mini trampolines that were set up on the side of the road, cheering as they did so. That’s a neat way to keep up your energy! I kind of wanted to go have a bounce myself šŸ™‚

Now, sometimes I wonder if I go temporarily deaf during a race. I say this because people made a huge deal about the 2nd Avenue crowds in New York City when you come off the bridge into Manhattan, and I was disappointed there. And in Wellesley, while I enjoyed the area for other reasons, I didn’t find it to be “scream tunnel”-like at all. The girls were yelling and cheering, sure, but it didn’t seem to me to be particularly crazy or scream-y… at least no more than the BC or BU kids we’d see later on in the course. However, what I wasn’t anticipating that I thought was really awesome were the signs.

Apparently these days it’s not enough for a few girls to just kiss the runners. It would seem that there are more girls willing to kiss than runners willing to be kissed, because every girl had a homemade sign that explained why you should kiss her over the other girls. “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” “Kiss me, I’m a Southern Belle!” “Kiss me, I’m a Red Sox fan!” “Kiss me, I’m a senior!” “Kiss me, I’m a freshman!” The list went on and on, with every sign describing some random attribute of a girl’s personality or background. However, even with all these girls to choose from, there were still very few runners taking the girls up on their offers of a kiss.

I might have kissed a guy if I had seen one, but the lack of alcohol along the route meant that there was no way I was going to be brave enough to kiss a girl, so I just enjoyed the scene instead. But then I got a little further down the line, and saw someone who didn’t need alcohol to go for a kiss. And when I say kiss, I mean a KISS. Judging from the gray hair and physique, the guy had to be at least 60 years old (if not older), and even over the barrier, he had managed to wrap his arms around some girl for a full on makeout session that lasted at least from when I saw him 20 feet away until when I managed to pass him. Wow! I wonder what was on that girl’s sign… “kiss me, I’m too drunk to know what I’m doing”? šŸ™‚

The line of Wellesley girls wasn’t too long (again, minor disappointment, especially since the weather was really perfect), so very soon we were crossing the halfway point of the race. Now this got me excited: from here on, I had run this route before (backwards AND forwards), so I knew exactly what to expect. I had a strong sense of nostalgia as I was running, too – happy feelings about being back in the town where I had lived and worked for 6 months on a project. I spent a lot of miles reminiscing about the experiences I had had in Boston and the people I had met, and wondered vaguely if any of my former colleagues who lived in Boston were out that day watching the marathon. I wished I had thought to e-mail them beforehand!

As soon as we got through Wellesley, we crossed the chip mats marking the halfway point of the race. Exciting! I crossed at just about 1:58 by my watch, which meant I could pull a sub-4 finish if I just kept up the pace. I knew that the second half of the course was supposed to be tougher and slower than the first (this was where all the hills were), but I also know that I tend to do really well on hills or when faced with a challenge. Plus, I knew that as soon as we came into Brookline (I think around mile 22?), it would be wall-to-wall spectators all the way… and nothing gets me going like that!

As we went further into the town of Wellesley, I started recognizing some of the landmarks. This was where I had gotten lost when I did my Boston Marathon + Boston Beer Marathon! I had attempted to run from the finish to the halfway point and then back, but got lost in the town of Wellesley and tacked an extra mile onto my run. I recognized some of the shops and turns, and I was psyched that from here on, I knew the course at least a little bit. It was neat to see familiar landmarks – in Needham, I even saw the Star Market at which I had stopped to get a bottle of water. Ah, memories šŸ™‚

But if my memory served me correctly, once we crossed the highway, we’d have pure uphills (not rolling) for quite some time. We passed by a hospital, which had TONS of spectators cheering for their charity runners, and soon we were at mile 16. We had been promised Gu at this point, but when I asked the volunteers, no one had any idea what I was talking about. I was getting kind of tired and desperate, and now I regretted my decision to carry only one gel and just grab the other at the aid station. Fortunately, about a half mile later, there was a HUGE gel station – volunteers lined the roads, each equipped with several gel packets, and all under big signs that told you exactly what flavor that volunteer was handing out. Awesome! I grabbed a vanilla one (the very first one that came up), and was pleasantly surprised by the consistency. While I’m not picky at all about my type of fuel, lately I’ve taken so many gels that were Gu brand that I’d forgotten what the other brands were like. However, I definitely noticed a difference – the Clif brand that we were getting was extremely liquid and thin, and somehow I appreciated that consistency more than the thicker Gu. Having been so tired already, knowing that there was no more gel ahead, and also having enjoyed my first gel so much, I opted to take a second one (espresso flavor) at the end of the line too. That should be enough energy to keep me going!

We took our first turn of the course and found ourselves faced with a hill pretty quickly. There were some spectators on the side of the road clustered around a sign that showed a heart broken in two pieces, and then a runner’s name on each side – was this Heartbreak Hill already? Nope, still only at mile 17… 3 miles to go before the potential of getting our hearts broken šŸ™‚ Now, I should point out that everyone makes a big deal about Heartbreak Hill, but in truth, it’s not any worse than any of the other Newton hills (in fact, when I did my back and forth run on the course two years ago, I had no idea which hill was Heartbreak). The reason it’s called Heartbreak Hill is not because it’s super tough, but because years ago the frontrunner in the men’s race was passed on the hill and his heart was broken when he didn’t win. Trivia tidbit! šŸ™‚

The families in Newton were out in decent force, and they were very friendly and encouraging, cheering us on as we went. I was determined to power up at least these hills and not rest until Heartbreak… only three miles away! When I lost focus, I kept checking my watch and reminding myself that I could pull a sub-4 finish if I just kept pushing the pace.

Finally, it was here: the mile 20 marker loomed ahead, and I knew that Heartbreak Hill would be starting soon after. I wasn’t sure exactly where the hill started (I thought it was right at mile 20, but we were still on flatland there), but I knew it was definitely over by mile 21, so every step I took before I hit the hill was another step I wouldn’t have to take going uphill šŸ™‚ Always a good thing!

But then we started going uphill and I knew we were in for it. Just in case, I asked another runner: “is this Heartbreak?” “Yup, sure is,” he grunted. All right. I could do this! My mantra as I ran up (no walking for me!) was “I will not let my heart break. My heart will not be broken.” I repeated this over and over, ignoring the people walking all around me… and I made it to the top! All around me spectators were congratulating us, and in a euphoric moment, I called my mom to leave a voicemail proclaiming “I made it to the top of Heartbreak Hill!” It was smooth sailing from here on out – only 2 miles till I saw my mom, and only 5 miles till I finished the race.

These two miles were a rather fun two miles though – we got to run through Boston College, and the students were out in full force here. Not as concentrated as Wellesley, but I think overall there were more of them spread out over a longer distance. However, it was the oddest thing: they were cheering and making a lot of noise, but they were cheering for themselves instead of for the runners. Their cry was “We are… BC! We are… BC!” I didn’t understand it at all. They got really excited whenever a BC runner went by, which made sense, but I didn’t understand why the rest of the time they were cheering themselves on instead of cheering on other runners. Very peculiar!

No matter – this stretch was a glorious downhill into Brookline, and I took full advantage of the chance to really stretch my legs and fly. I clocked about an 8 minute mile from 21-22, and then we were in Brookline – an area I knew very well. The fans were no longer BC fans with their odd self-promoting cheer, but instead Boston University students. Now these guys knew how to cheer! They were loud, appropriate, and just really inspiring and fantastic. I felt proud that both my current roommate and one of my best friends are from BU, even though they weren’t there. Your classmates helped you be there in spirit!

I hadn’t been able to reach my mom when I tried calling from the top of Heartbreak Hill, so I debated calling now… but decided I didn’t feel like pulling my phone out and trying to talk. I hoped she’d see me anyway! Well, as it turned out, I didn’t have to worry about her seeing me. I saw her from a block away, thanks to her big sign that said “State 44 and only 6 more… go Laura!” My mom is the best šŸ™‚ I started yelling for her, and she actually managed to grab her camera and snap a pic of me running toward her (very rare – she’s usually chatting with other spectators and making friends and nearly misses me entirely!). I gave her a very quick hug, but continued on my way as quickly as possible. Three miles to go and I had no time to lose!

I saw the Citgo sign from mile 23 (I thought I wasn’t supposed to see it until mile 24?), which was a welcome sight – I was almost done. I concentrated on trying to keep my pace steady and strong, but it was now becoming a bit challenging due to the narrowness of the streets as well as the drastically reduced pace of most of the runners around me. Being used to frequently running over 20 miles, I was still raring to go, while most of the people around me were in various states of exhaustion and were about ready to give up. I had to do a lot of dodging and weaving, and it was made even more difficult by the fact that some of the crowds weren’t staying completely behind the barriers like they were supposed to. I decided heck with it – I was a runner and had the right of way, and since the crowds were all looking back toward the runners anyway, I would just run on the side and they’d have to duck back. I suppose it could have been a bad idea, but everyone dutifully stepped back a few steps as I came toward them, hopefully realizing that the sidewalk was where they belonged anyway.

As I came to the intersection of Park Drive, where I had watched the race two years earlier, I was psyched – look how far I had come! At that time, my own first marathon was still a month away (actually, I’m not even sure if I had definitely decided to do it by then!), and I couldn’t believe the amazing feat that all these runners had managed to accomplish. And now, I was one of them! Only two miles till the finish and I was still going strong.

The college students were out in full force in this area, hanging all over the barriers, cheering loudly, and putting their hands out for high fives as we passed. I ran on the left side for a little while, enjoying the extra cheers as I smiled and they read my name. However, I gave up the high fiving pretty quickly – some of the guys especially were pretty aggressive, and their slaps actually acted as a backward-propelling force. Not at all what I needed! But it didn’t matter – I was still pulling 8:30 miles, and I knew I was going to finish with a great time.

Just after Kenmore Square, we had been warned about the last hill in the race – the overpass. It turned out to not be that bad (particularly since I was so close and so determined to get a great time), but I can see why people complain about a hill at that point in the race. We crossed Massachusetts Avenue (less than a mile to the finish!), and the crowds were awesome… but then I saw something I didn’t like ahead of me. Why were the runners going down? We were already at the level we needed to be on to finish… oh no. We had to take an underpass to the main road, meaning we’d have to come back up on the other side before the turn onto Gloucester that would lead us toward the finish! I couldn’t believe it. This was truly the worst place for a hill, and I really didn’t understand why we were taking it anyway. The crowds were all up on the road above us, so clearly those roads were closed – couldn’t they have us stay on the flat side road and then have the cars go under us? Boo. But at that point in the race, you can bet I wasn’t giving up. I gritted my teeth, powered up it, and flashed a huge smile to the crowds when I was back at the top. So close now!

I stayed to the right as we came into the turn at Gloucester, and, knowing the course, managed to cut the left tangent perfectly across to minimize extra steps. When I turned onto Boylston, I couldn’t see the finish line that clearly ahead of me, but I could hear the announcer and I knew where I needed to go. I kicked the pace up just another notch – not quite to a sprint, but fast enough to feel proud. I felt strong, and I loved hearing the crowds remind me that I looked pretty awesome too šŸ™‚

I gave one final surge just before crossing the finish line, and threw my arms up into a big victory V as I did so (gotta look great for the pictures). As soon as I crossed, though, I reached down to toggle my watch. 3:54!!! I had beaten 3:55, and gotten my second fastest time ever!!! I felt fantastic too – despite giving a good effort throughout, I wasn’t exhausted, and actually felt like I could do it again. (Darn it, should have done the Hop)

With a huge smile on my face, I milled around the finish line a little bit, gratefully accepting congratulations from the volunteers. But then I heard a voice behind me calling my name… and it was my running friend Basak, whom I had met at the National Marathon! She was spectating just after the finish line, and was really excited to see me. Not as much as I was to see her! How cool to see someone I knew just across the finish line. She snapped a pic that she promised to send me, and then I headed off to call my mom and meet up with her. How fantastic!

Two (very hilly) marathons in one weekend, and I managed to pull a combined time of 8:02 for both! Wow. I am so proud of myself. And only 6 marathons left to go! Next stop: Louisvile, Kentucky šŸ™‚

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 3:54:10
Pace: 8:56
Overall place: 13920/22540
Gender place: 4721/9468
Age group place: 3014/4951

23 thoughts on “Race Report: Boston Marathon, Part 2”

  1. I totally agreed with many of your comments. Although the crowds were great, from what I’ve always heard I thought they would be larger. Also, I was surprised that the course is not scenic, which really made me thankful for the spectators. It was still amazing though. What a great time for you. I was shocked by all the hills (4:08 for me). I was expecting 16-21, but not the whole way. Congrats!

  2. Nice job, with the race and with the recap. This is the best Boston Recap I’ve read, probably because you have run enough races to no be uptight about it. I was blown away by the gall of the helpful person who felt the need to explain the word “marathon”. I am equally blown away (and completely jealous) of how terrific you look after finishing!
    Good luck at the Kentucky Derby this weekend and with your remaining states!

  3. Awesome job, and great report. I loved that you put the guy who tried to tell you a 5k was not a marathon in his place. Looking forward to your remaining race reports. (and wondering what you’ll come up with next!)

  4. Great job Laura! Congrats on another race and another state! Love reading your race reports! How do you remember all those details!!???

  5. Awesome!! I love all of your details – I only run half marathons and can never remember any of the miles, unless something significant happpens (like on Saturday’s race, they ran out of cups at a water station!).
    Congrats on your first Boston – and such a great time too!!

  6. i looove this report, read through every word šŸ™‚ congrats on boston!!!! cant wait to be there next year šŸ™‚

    SO exciting too you are SO CLOSE to your 50 states. i still remember not that long ago when you hadn’t run your first yet, and then they just started piling on šŸ™‚ so amazing!

    oh and i just read on someones blog that wellsley was quieter this year because they were only allowed on one side of the street (or something like that?)

  7. Aron – the Wellesley girls WERE only on one side of the street, but I hadn’t realized that wasn’t the norm. I wonder why they did that? They allowed crowds on both sides for the rest of the race (even when it was really narrow and it seemed like they shouldn’t).

    Thanks all for the kind comments šŸ™‚

  8. Great race report! I can’t believe that you are so close to being done.

    Hopefully, I will be there next year (if not, 2012). I enjoyed reading your down to earth recap and may come back to it before I run it.

  9. congratulations on a great job. I would love to run in a race with you. I’ve done 26 marathons have not done a sub4. Let me know when you are doing one on the east coast. I see you have already done hartford :(. I love you motivation. I would enjoy being in you pace group šŸ™‚

  10. Nice time, Laura! My friend who ran Boston this year also mentioned that the Wellsley girls weren’t as loud as she had expected. So glad your race went well. Sounds like a blast.

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