On Monday, April 18th, I ran the 120th Boston Marathon. It was my second time running it and I was thrilled to be back. This is a pretty lengthy post, so here is a quick visual summary of the 4 stages of my race for those of you with short attention spans and great skimming abilities:
In preparation for the Boston Marathon, I followed a pretty high mileage plan for this cycle- higher than plans I had completed in the past. I put in 50-60 mile weeks with my peak week at 67 miles. I ran 6 days a week; Mondays alternated between an easy run or a tempo run, Tuesday mornings would alternate between easy, speed or tempo with Clocktower, Wednesday evenings were intervals or tempo runs with Fleet Feet, Thursdays were off running days, Fridays would be an easy 7-8 miles, Saturday long runs, and Sunday recovery runs. I added more strength and cross training classes into my schedule as well, attending a class at least 2x a week and then doing November Project workouts on Wednesday and Friday mornings. For more detailed posts, I consistently cataloged my training every Monday with a Marathon Monday themed post (find them here).
My favorite part, like last year, was being part of a group (in this case multiple groups). While grinding it out on the hills of Barrington in the cold on Saturday mornings, or doing repeats in a dark Lincoln Park Zoo lot on Wednesday evenings, I made new friends and deepened existing friendships that will last a long time. I anticipate lots more runs (and post-run donut hunts) with them even though the training cycle has ended.
Expo (TALK ABOUT HUGE)
The Boston Marathon expo is the biggest (and most hectic) I have ever attended. It’s multiple floors of the Hynes Convention Center on Boylston street, and when you throw a bunch of super excited and anxious runners (the majority of whom want to buy as much Boston Marathon gear as possible), the expo can be overwhelming. In the runner’s passport there is a list of the vendors, but otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tell where any booths were.
Race Strategy: Be smooth, Be steady, Be Strong (Beyoncé)
My A goal for this race (“great” goal) was to run a 3:20 or under
My B goal for this race (“good” goal) was to run better than last year. I knew I was better trained this time around, so I didn’t think this would be too hard.
My C goal for the race (“I can do this no matter what goal”) was to be aware on the course and soak in the fun atmosphere and get at least 1 high-five every mile.
For me, the Boston Marathon is very easy to chunk into more mentally manageable sections. The first 4 miles are straight downhill; when your adrenaline is pumping and you have a downhill course, you can go out WAY too fast and tear up your quads. For the first part of the course I wanted to take Dan Daly’s advice and be smooth, that is, I wanted to stay slow and controlled in the decent and not let my ego and excitement propel me to fast splits. I planned on holding a 7:45 pace for these guys.
The next portion of the course, from miles 5-16 are relatively flat with a few occasional rolling hills. The exception being mile 16 which is a pretty steep downhill (I definitely had forgotten about this guy). The plan for this section was to get into my groove and drop to marathon pace miles (7:25-7:30). I wanted to be steady throughout this part and get into a good rhythm before facing the hills.
The third part of the course is the town of Newton from miles 17-21 where you encounter the three major hills. The plan was to run strong up the hills and maintain my effort from the previous section. I knew my pace might slow to around 7:45-8 minutes, but I figured I would have enough rest on the backside of the hills that it wouldn’t matter.
The final part of the Boston Marathon course goes from the top of Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 to the finish line on Boylston street, downhill the whole way. This is where you can really start to fly past people if you ran a smart race. My plan was to feel out my legs for the first mile and hopefully bring it back to 7:25s for the remaining miles, maybe even a 7:20 if I was able to. As Lucas joked during training, this would be the “Beyoncé” portion of the race (we had run out of “Be ___” mantras).
Woke up at 4:30 to have some peanut butter banana and strawberry toast plus tea in my hotel room and then headed to the lobby around 5:15 to get ready to board the bus. We left for Hopkinton at 5:45 sharp and Hayley, Katie and I were sitting with each other trying to take our minds off the race. I brought a few crossword puzzles with me as well as my new running playlist, and some more food to eat (more toast and a packet of UCAN). At Hopkinton, we met up with Lynton and went to explore the Athlete’s Village.
My pre-race experience this year was SO different than last year. Last year it was sleeting and freezing so we didn’t leave the bus until the very last second; this year it was sunny and warm so I walked around a lot. One thing remained the same though- fretting over the weather. At the beginning of the week it had said 50s with a tailwind but come race day it was going to be in the 70s with a headwind. Instead of worrying about not having enough layers, I was worrying about having too many!
I was in Wave 2 so my start time was 10:25. I left for the start line around 9:45 and did a little jogging, karaoke on the way over. Wasn’t able to do drills or strides like normal, but since I planned to take it easy in the first 4 miles I wasn’t too concerned. I decided to listen to music in the background for this race (something I NEVER do), but I thought I would need it on the last chunk of the course once I crested the hills.
By the time I hit the first aid station, I knew it was going to be very hot because I was already starting to feel warm. I decided right away to start grabbing a cup to drink and a cup to pour over my head. Normally in races the station is on both sides at once, but in Boston they stagger them, with the right side coming first and then about 30 yards later the left side has one. At first I panicked because I was running on the left side of the course (left side, strong side) and the aid station was on the other side. Crisis averted as I saw the runners ahead of me shift towards the left and start grabbing cups. Phew. I made sure to get one high-five each mile as well.
I intended to go out in 7:40s, which I honestly thought I was doing, but each time the watch beeped I saw I was going out at basically my marathon pace already. Splits: 7:30, 7:24, 7:19, 7:17.
Once the course leveled out, it took my pace a while to level out as well. I knew my friend Brian would be around the mile 6 marker so I just wanted to run to him. From there, my next mental landmark was at mile 12 with the Wellesley College “Scream Tunnel” (it’s a tradition for guys to stop and get a kiss mid-race, so I was going to be on the lookout for any guys!). I put the song “Steady As She Goes” on my playlist to come up right around mile 6 to remind me to settle in and enjoy the race.
It was much hotter than I expected and I knew I was losing electrolytes fast. Before leaving for Boston, I had spoken with my friend Emily, a Nuun Ambassador about eating a tablet and chasing it with water. She said it sounded fine, and I did test it out on a short run before, so I had put a tablet in my bra pocket. I also spoke with a Nuun rep at the expo who told me there would be a rogue Nuun stand along the course where I could get a pre-mixed cup. I HATE Gatorade, I think it tastes disgusting and has way too much sugar, but it was the only thing available for me on the course, so I started grabbing cups to take quick sips or swishing it around in my mouth before spitting it out and chasing with water. I didn’t want to use the tablet I had saved yet, so I was just hoping I would make it to the Nuun stand before it was too late!
I saw Brian among the fans and shouted to him as I approached for a high-five and I definitely took him by surprise. After that, I continued to hold out my hand for high fives, especially whenever I would see some kids. I was having a blast!
I forgot about the severe descent at mile 16 before you come into the hills. When I reached it, I felt my quads go “Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute there Becca! What the hell are you doing?” and I knew I might be in trouble.
Splits: 7:29, 7:18, 7:22, 7:33, 7:25, 7:27, 7:30, 7:25, 7:30, 7:29, 7:32, 7:13 (hello downhill).
My next mental landmark was the Newton Firehouse because that’s where we make the first turn of the course and hit the hills, and then immediately following that I knew there would be a Rogue Nuun water stop about half a mile later. I turned the corner and saw that the fire station had put out a spray tunnel for the runners. Don’t mind if I do. Up ahead I saw the same Nuun guy I talked to at the expo, wearing a gigantic Nuun costume (man he must have been sweating buckets), and I grabbed two cups from him with a big THANK YOU. Used it to wash down some more Honeystingers.
My next landmark was the November Project cheer station at Mile 18. Man did I feel like a rockstar running through there! I was wearing my grassroots gear and had dozens of people shouting and cheering just for me. My hand is still sore from all those high fives, and the adrenaline definitely made me pick up my pace.
After the NP station I just thought about getting up and over Heartbreak. I hadn’t really noticed the hills throughout this section because the fans were unbelievable, but once the excitement and adrenaline wore off, I realized that my legs were pretty tired and that these next couple of miles might not go so well…
Splits: 7:42, 7:35, 7:19 (mix of NP cheering and downhill), 7:43, 8:09 (woof, Heartbreak).
After cresting Heartbreak I cruised down into the Boston College area and again began collecting as many high fives as possible in an effort to regain my pace. Definitely felt blisters coming on as I pounded down some pretty steep downhills. At first I could get my pace pack to pre-hill rate, but pretty quickly it dropped off and I started to crawl. Started to chug Gatorade and water and I even tried to grab some oranges/bananas from the fans but I kept missing.
Splits: 7:46, 8:01, 8:17 (oh hello there, Wall)
I was VERY dehydrated and hot at this point; I had been drinking a lot of Gatorade and shoved some more Honeystingers into my mouth as a last-ditch effort to get through the wall. I noticed myself weaving, and my knees were hitting into each other (definitely need to work on my hip strength…) I reached the infamous Citgo sign and knew that Elyse would be up around mile 25.5. It felt like it would take me forever to get there, but when I passed her I was still smiling!
From there I just needed to get up and out from under Mass Ave and down Boylston. I picked up my pace (SLIGHTLY) and made it down the home stretch.
Splits: 8:16, 8:59… final time 3:22:00.
I crossed the finish line, happy to have gotten my B Goal of beating last year’s time, but slightly disappointed in my epic bonk.
I turned around at look behind me and immediately saw Ben, a guy I train with during the summer. I loitered around the finish line, seeing a number of people I knew and people wearing November Project gear. Got my medal and wrap, and turned my phone off of airplane mode, only for it to buzz almost immediately to notify my that Katie had just finished the race. I hobbled back towards the finish so I could give her a big congratulatory hug, then we went to find some dry clothes and air conditioning. I found Elyse and headed back to the Marriott to reunite in the Runner’s Lounge with other Fleet Feet members- as well as take some celebratory pickleback shots!
After a nice hot shower and change of clothes, we waked around to dinner, the finish line, and then a bar for more celebrations!
I am so happy that I paid more attention to the fans and course this year. THANK YOU to everyone who went out to cheer, hand out water, hand out oranges, bananas, ice cups, cold towels, anything to help the runners out. Boston, ya’ll are the best! At all points along the course I found myself smiling and having fun, even during my last mile struggle to the finish. Of course as soon as I crossed that finish line I wanted to plan the my next race! The Boston Marathon is one of those bucket list races for so many runners; I feel lucky to have run it two times now, and hopefully many more to come!