At the risk of jinxing myself (my registration hasn't been "officially" confirmed), I'm happy to say I'm going back in April of next year to see what I can do on this notoriously tough course. To see if these last 10 years have taught me anything. To see what this new, "older more mature" me is physically capable of. I know that mentally I'm a lot stronger and sometimes that part is half the battle. I honestly can't wait to toe the line in Hopkinton again. In the meantime, I'll leave you with my race report from my first Boston Experience.
I counted down the days like a kid counts down to Christmas, with that same anticipation and excitement. Now the moment had arrived--I was standing at the start line of the Mother of all Marathons: Boston, surrounded by about 20,000 other runners. It was sunny and HOT. Not what I had hoped for on race day. At 12 noon the gun went off to a loud cheer. 8 minutes later I officially crossed the start line. The race was on. I watched ahead of me as a rolling line of runners made their way down the first downhill drop in Hopkinton. I ran along fairly conservatively. I had a long way to go and I knew it was a hard course so I didn't want to burn out early. I ran along, amazed at the number of people that lined the road along the course. There were kids with their arms out, counting the number of high fives that they got. There were bikers sitting on their Harleys revving their engines. It was amazing. The energy was almost palpable. The crowds were so loud that I couldn't hear my watch beep to signal my walk break. oops. I had run for about 25 minutes before I realized I missed my first walk break. It was VERY hard to stop and walk. I was constantly surrounded by runners and the spectators were packed along the course so tightly there was virtually no room to walk. So I decided to walk at the water stations. First Bad Idea. The water stations were approximately a couple of miles apart. Stopping for water was to risk getting trampled. It was insane. I got to the first water station and promptly doused myself with water. Second Bad Idea. It was hot and sunny and I was working up quite the sweat. The combination of water and sweat basted me like a turkey at Christmas, guaranteed to be done at the end of 26.2 miles.
I continued on, taking some pictures as I went along (I brought a disposable camera with me). I watched my heart rate climb to 180. Yikes. I could feel myself getting really hot. I started to slow down. The first 10km seemed to fly by as I took in the sights and sounds that make Boston the legend that it is. At the 15km mark the course seemed to level out a bit. That was when my quads started to complain. I looked at my watch and thought there is no way I'll be making sub 3:30 today. Maybe 3:35, 3:40. At about 17km I saw Santa and stopped to get my picture taken with him. He wished me luck and off I went, high-fiving some kids as I went along--a big grin plastered on my face. That grin started to fade a bit and began to be replaced with a grimace by the time I hit the 19km mark. We were back on the downhill and my left knee was hurting. I stopped to walk. My calves started cramping so I stopped to stretch. I think I was stopped for at least 5 minutes. I started up again, my legs grateful for the break. I looked at my watch as I crossed the 20km mark. 1 hour 56 minutes. Unless I really kicked it up a notch I'd be lucky if I finished in under 3:50. Did I care? No. I was running Boston. The fact that I got there in the first place was the amazing part. I just wanted to finish. That became my goal. The thought of any sort of PB had flow out the window ages ago. I was almost halfway through and the real race hadn't even begun.
I was heading towards the halfway mark when I heard the cheers of the notorious Wellesley College girls. I could hear them well before I could see them. I ran up a slight incline and the crowds suddenly got bigger and a whole lot louder. The right hand side of the road was packed with girls. All of them hollering, some holding signs, some holding their arms out to high five the runners. Their cheers were deafening and I couldn't help but smile. I even started to pick up the pace a bit. What an amazing sight. That is a memory that will be with me for a long time.
The kms after Wellesley College were a bit of a blur. I struggled to keep going. My legs were very sore and tired. I wanted desperately to stop. I looked down at my left hand, twirled the engagement ring around my finger and thought of Gary. He said "When things get tough just look at the ring and think of me." I wished he was there with me. We trained together so to run without him was strange. I had to get to the finish line, not just for me but for him. I plodded along, trying to visualize myself crossing the finish line, trying to distract myself from the isolation I was feeling. Surrounded by people but feeling so alone: welcome to the marathon. I thought "I am never doing this again. Ever."
At about the 28km mark I started chatting with a woman who had been running beside me for a while. She was a fellow Ontarian, from Cambridge. We were both feeling the effects of what the Mother had served up. We ran together for a while but I really started to hurt so I had to stop and walk. We had gone up one hill and just passed the 30km mark. Heartbreak Hill was next. I started running again, preparing myself for this infamous hill. Boston college was nearby and I had heard all about the boys of Boston college and their beer. Sure enough as I started to climb Heartbreak, the crowd dynamics change and I start to notice the frat boys, shirtless, beers in hand, shouting and clapping. A few of them joined in the run. Some of them tried to offer the runners beer. I couldn't help but laugh. The next thing I knew, I had crested Heartbreak Hill. Hmph. Piece of cake.
On I went, dousing myself with more water, wiping the salt and sweat from my face. I was hot and tired and once again, ready to stop. At the 35km mark I popped a couple of Advil hoping to ease the pain I was feeling in my legs. I ran past a mother and a daughter--the daughter was struggling and on the verge of tears she was so tired and sore. "I'm with you sister" I thought and I smiled as her mom encouraged her to keep going. The next 5km passed in a fog. I just kept hoping to see that CITGO sign (the city marker that marks 1 mile left in the race). All this time, the crowds never thinned out. At some points they were so dense that there was only one lane for the runners to run through. I tried to keep my head up but I was so tired I felt like I was wilting. My whole body was struggling to move forward. Right, left, right, left. And then I saw it. The CITGO sign. It was like a green light went on. All systems go (or maybe the Advil finally kicked in). I started to run faster. The crowds were cheering, I was slapping people's hands and I couldn't stop smiling. I was almost there. I made my way onto Commonwealth Avenue. I could hear the crowds down on Boylston Street cheering. I pushed myself on. Soon I'd be crossing the finish line. Soon I'd see Gary. I turned onto Boylston Street and I could see the finish line, less than 385 yards away. I yelled "WOOHOO!" I was grinning from ear to ear. There was no room on the side walk there were so many people. It was incredible. As I came up to the finish line, I raised my arms in the air and cheered. This journey had come to an end. I looked at my watch 4:04:40. Meh, big deal. I just finished the Boston Marathon!! All I could think about now was finding Gary. After shuffling through the finishing chute, getting my medal and warmup clothes, I hobbled over to the family meeting area, trying to wrestle with all the emotions I was feeling. As soon as I saw Gary, I broke down. It was a combination of exhaustion, joy and relief. Now I could check one more thing of my life's to do list. It was the hardest race I have ever run both physically and mentally but it was the most fun I've ever had at a race. You could say it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Would I do it all over again?
That 2003 race still ranks up there as being one of the toughest race experiences I've had. 10 Years later, I'll be back again for a second helping 'cause you know I'm a sucker for punishment.
What has been your toughest race? How did you get through it?