The Marathon, in Full
I’ve heard it said that you never get over the fear of the marathon. No matter how many times you’ve done it, 26.2 miles is a long way and no matter how well-prepared you are, there is plenty of time and space for unpredictability. And also, it hurts. Most marathon runners I know have had bad races, and as race day approaches, you always wonder if this race might turn out to be another one. (All this has nothing to do with random acts of violence.) This is especially easy to dwell on in the weeks of tapering when you are running less and the memories of your good, strong runs are farther away in your mind. Combine that with arriving at your race destination and seeing nothing but extremely fast looking people and you have a recipe for “What On Earth Am I Doing Here” Syndrome (which I just made up). Honestly, seeing all these human whippets walking around was a little intimidating.
I was pretty indecisive and vague about my goals leading up to the race. There was a part of me that simply wanted to avoid disaster. Just please let me finish the race, I prayed. There was another part that thought maybe I had it in me to PR. I went back and forth on my training: It had gone much better than expected, but then my expectations had been really low. I had killed it in February, but March had nearly decimated me. I should be happy just to be there, but I wouldn’t be happy knowing I hadn’t given it my best.
The morning of the race I woke up plenty early to give myself enough time to eat, drink, dress, nurse my baby, take pictures, etc. and everything had gone smoothly – until I got to the buses and realized I’d left my bagel at the hotel. And suddenly I was worried that I would be hungry and cranky halfway through the race. But once I was on the bus, I settled down my seat and, after a while, started chatting with my seatmate and her two friends who were sitting behind us. This was her 4th Boston marathon, and she knew her stuff. Like how they have bagels at the athlete’s village before the start. (Phew! My little rookie self breathed a sigh of relief.) And how even though it is pretty much downhill after Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, it’s still going to hurt and you shouldn’t plan on things being easy. Have fun. Enjoy the experience, the crowds, the course, she counseled.
And after we parted ways, that is exactly what I decided to do. I didn’t wear the pace bands that would tell me how many minutes I should be running each mile if I wanted to make a certain time. I didn’t listen to music, and I tried not to pay too much attention to my Nike+ app telling me my pace. I decided I wanted to run a pretty consistent pace and to have a good time. I didn’t want to be too worried about the clock; I would listen to my body and run by feel instead. I hoped that by the end, no matter what my time, I would feel like I had run a smart race, that I had enjoyed it, and that I had given it my all. I wanted to be sore in the best way the next day. And that is what I did.
I started off a little slow, hoping to avoid burnout near the end. But by mile 3 I was feeling my knee (IT band syndrome) and started to be a little concerned that it would give me trouble. Thankfully, I’d read some things and talked to some people about staying positive, so rather than focusing on how my knee hurt and how it was going to ruin everything, I reminded myself that it would only hurt if I stopped. I told it that I was proud of it. I noticed that my stomach was feeling great with my fueling/hydration plan (a Gu every 6 or so miles, a swallow or two of water every 2-3 miles) and thought about how I’d be fine as long as my stomach didn’t rebel.
In the other marathons I’ve run, most of the spectators have been near the end, but each little town on the way to Boston was out en force to cheer on the runners. I was really touched at how many people were handing out orange wedges, or had set up their own water stations. And, with my name written across my chest, I found out that I had a lot of friends in Massachusetts (much to the annoyance of many of my fellow-runners, I fear). It was such a boost to hear people call my name and tell me that I was looking great, that I was strong, that I could do this. As I neared the scream tunnel of Wellesley College, where all the girls are begging for kisses, I was both near tears and laughter at their enthusiasm. I can’t imagine what kind of endurance they must have to keep that up until the end of the race.
Micah and Abby had planned to take the kids on the train and find a place near mile 18 to watch for me, and I spent a lot of the race counting down the miles until I saw them. When I got to mile 18, I scanned both sides of the road hoping to see them. I was nearly to mile 20 and had thought I’d missed them entirely when I saw them off to the right and veered off the road to give them all hugs and kisses before running on. It was perfect timing. I was so happy to have caught them, and so happy to be that much closer to the end, that I didn’t even notice Heartbreak Hill until I was nearly over it. In fact, I saw a man with a sign proclaiming that Heartbreak Hill ended right there and was so surprised that I asked a guy running next to me if it could possibly be true. It was. My 3-day carb-load must have paid off because I didn’t feel like I hit any wall anywhere. And from then on, I tried to push myself and not hold back. My knee had quieted down a bit by then, but my calves and quads were burning,and my feet were . . . tired. “Ride the crowd,” I told myself. “Let them carry you.” And I did and they did. So many people yelling my name, so many people telling me I could do it. I believed them, and I counted down the final miles: 22 . . . 23 . . . 24 . . . 25 . . . One mile to go! Right on Hereford Street, left on Boylston, and there was the finish line. So close!
I wanted to take a picture of the line, or a video of me approaching it, but just as I passed the 26 mile mark and I pulled out my phone, the battery died and there was nothing I could do about it. I crossed the line, slowed down, got some water, some Gatorade, a banana, a heat blanket. My feet hurt, but I didn’t have any blisters. My body ached, but I didn’t feel sick. The clock had said 3:26:59 when I crossed the line, but I knew I hadn’t crossed the start line for at least a minute after the starting gun fired. It was definitely not a PR, but it was a solid race – everything I could have hoped for. I’d pushed myself, I’d stayed positive, I’d run a more consistent pace than I had before, and – most importantly – I’d had fun. I’d enjoyed myself, soaked in the atmosphere, avoided heartbreak on the hills, and let the crowd carry me home.