Thursday, April 24, 2014

2014 Boston Marathon Race Report

Any frequent readers to this BLOG know that my wife, Wendy, is also an endurance athlete. Earlier this week we took the family to Boston so she could run her her first ever Boston Marathon.  It was truly an amazing and humbling experience to watch best friend take part in such a meaningful and historic event.

Here is her race report.
Boston 2014

            It's hard to know where to begin to recap my Boston experience.  After qualifying last year in February in Myrtle Beach, the events that took place at the 2013 Boston Marathon changed everything.  It was devastating and tragic for so many, and in the months following, as I became more determined that I wanted to run in 2014, so did many others.  When I learned that I had gotten a coveted slot, I was honored.  I spent the next several months training harder than I've ever trained before.

            In early 2014, training was going well.  I raced a 15K and a half marathon, and I logged respectable times in both – PRs for me anyway.  In March, I got a new pair of running shoes (same brand/model as the ones I've been wearing for 10 years) and immediately started having pain in my left knee.  I went back to my old shoes, but for a while the pain got worse.  I had runs where I was nearly in tears, and I even skipped a few runs, which, if you know me, indicates that something is very, very wrong.  I was worried.  I was advised to roll, stretch, do some specific strengthening exercises, and wear a knee strap.  I did this religiously (every damn day) until the day I left for Boston, and as I increased mileage, the pain was gradually easing, so I knew I was on the right track.  I bought new shoes (same brand/model), and the knee kept improving.  By the time Boston rolled around, I had no knee pain at all.  Lesson learned – sometimes a pair of shoes is a total dud and will fuck you right up.  Weird but true.  Dear Adidas, I still love you and don't hold grudges.

            When race weekend arrived, I felt ready.  Ashby, the kids, and I flew to Boston on Saturday morning.  It was the first time on an airplane for both of my kids, and my first challenge was pretending I wasn't scared out of my mind.  Fun fact about me – I HATE to fly.  However, I totally played it off like I didn't believe we were about to go down in a fiery crash the entire 1.5 hours we were on the plane, so yeah, mission accomplished.  When we arrived, we checked in at the hotel and headed right out to the expo.  This was complete madness.  We took a bus and two trains and waded through mobs of people, ate a quick lunch, waded through more mobs of people, got my race packet, bought some goodies at the expo, waded through more mobs of people, met Dean Karnazes, couldn't find the exit from the expo, waded through more mobs of people, and took two trains and a bus back to the hotel. That was everything we accomplished on our first day in Boston, and I was so exhausted I felt drugged.  I began to question my endurance but instead ate dinner and fell asleep before my children, who are only 7 and 9.  Here's hoping they didn't watch anything inappropriate on hotel TV!

            The next day we toured Boston on an Upper Deck Trolley Tours bus.  We bought three-day passes, which allow the ticket holder to get on and off any of the company's tour buses along their routes all over the city.  It turned out to be money well spent, as we took advantage of the buses for sightseeing all three days (saving my legs for the race) AND used it for transportation from the race finish back to the door of our hotel.  Score!  After our day of sightseeing, I got all of my race stuff organized and went to bed at a reasonable hour, even though I knew I would be able to sleep in on race day.  Boston has an unusually late start, and my wave (wave 3 of a 4 wave start) wouldn't start until 11:00 a.m.  It was not a restful sleep, and I was wide awake long before the alarm went off.  Boston is kind of like Christmas morning for runners.  At 6:45 I ate my first small meal – a bagel and peanut butter.  Then I took a leisurely shower to relax and got ready to head out.  At 7:45, I caught the shuttle from my hotel to Boston Common, where the runners loaded onto buses to ride to the start in Hopkinton.  The whole process was extremely organized and efficient.  We were supposed to board buses between 8:00 and 8:30, and the buses pulled out shortly after 8:30. 

            We arrived in Hopkinton at the Athlete's Village around 9:30, and I walked in to find massive tents with athletes lounging around on blankets and such.  The whole place sort of hummed with nervous energy.  The outside perimeter was lined with portapotties, and the lines stretched back to where they all met in the middle.  After an hour on the bus, a bottle of diet Sunkist, and my second small meal, I definitely needed a bathroom break, so I hopped in line.  By the time that was over, it was after 10:00, and it would only be a short time before my wave and coral was called to start walking toward the start line (about .07 miles down the road).  It was already getting warm – so much so that I tossed my throwaway blanket and jacket early.  As we started toward the corals at 10:30, I had a gel and water – my last bit of nutrition before the start (I would eat 6 more during the race, one every 4 miles).  Even on the walk to the start, people in Hopkinton were out spectating along the route.  One family had a tent set up in front of their house, giving away free safety pins, Vaseline, Gatorade, sunscreen, water, etc. to any runners with last minute needs.  Waiting in the coral, my adrenaline was pumping, and my heartrate was way above normal.  I could hardly believe the moment was here, and the race was about to start.  I pinned my SPI belt to my shorts to prevent it from riding up and tucked my cell phone into the pouch in the small of my back.  I spent a long time figuring out logistics, deciding what to wear and what to carry.  I wanted to travel as light as possible.  Besides the small belt, I was carrying 4 gels in Fuelkeepers on my wrists, 1 gel in the back pocket of my top, a gel in one hand, and a small handheld water bottle in the other.  I checked to make sure everything was in place, and we were off . . .

            First of all, I have to note that I had a race plan – a very good, workable race plan, given to me by my coach, whom I trust 100%, and I had every intention of following it.  Similar to the plans for the 15K and half marathon earlier in the year, the plan was to start out in a lower heartrate zone and work up – in other words, don't go out too fast, don't burn out, negative split the race, and feel pretty decent doing it. In fact, in previous races, I had given up looking at various fields on my garmin and just looked at heartrate.  The rest, I believe, falls into place, and I don't need times, paces, and distance cluttering up my mind.  But here's the thing . . . and yes, I know these words are inevitably followed by excuses, so brace yourselves . . . I failed to take into account a couple of things.  One, I am normally a very inside my own head runner.  I tune out the world around me, put my head down, and run.  And two, I have done every single one of my training runs since last fall on the treadmill.  Logistically, this is just what works in my life.  I have small children, so I need to be home and/or get my runs done before the sun comes up, AND, as sick as most people think it is, I love running on my treadmill.  But here's the catch – Boston is an insanely amazing and awe-inspiring event, and rather than being in my head (or paying close attention to the numbers on my garmin) I was taking in and appreciating every sight and sound on the course, high-fiving like a lunatic, chit-chatting with fellow runners – EXPERIENCING the race, not just running it.  In addition to that, I had no real experience adjusting my heartrate for hills. Heartrate training works so well on the treadmill because you can lock into a zone and cruise, which translates well when running a relatively flat race course.  Boston, you may have heard, is not exactly a flat course.  ALL of this lame excuse-making is to say . . . that the race plan didn't exactly fall into place.  Honestly, I did attempt to slow down when I took time to notice I was out of my zone, but I didn't do a great job, and a huge part of me just didn't care.  I was having the time of my life! 

            This is the part where I would want to give a play-by-play of what happened for the next 26.2 miles.  I wish I was one of those detail-oriented people who can take note of what's happening at every mile marker on the course, but I'm not.  Most races I don't notice much of anything except what's in my head.  Boston was different.  Spectators lined the course almost from start to finish.  While I still may not have noticed street names or neighborhoods or towns, what I did see and feel was the spirit of the people.  It's hard to explain, but it was overwhelming in a way that made me feel like my heart was going to burst – and not in the way that you feel your heart is going to burst just because you're in the midst of running 26.2 miles.  I was very much outside of my head and filled with emotion.  I am humbled and deeply grateful to have participated in such a historic race, and yet people kept thanking me for being there.  People were cheering for me and congratulating me on my accomplishment (not just during the race – all weekend), but it felt more like a gift I was receiving to be included.  In that sense, there is no race that compares, or probably will ever compare, to Boston 2014.  Bucket list race, for sure; everything I thought it would be and so much more, without a doubt. 

            Of course, there is the other sense – the technical, running/racing aspect – the nitty-gritty details of it.  In THAT sense, it was really, fucking hard.  No question, I did not help myself by not following my race plan to the letter, but I still was not prepared for those wicked downhills!  I don't mind uphill.  Heartbreak Hill did not break my heart or thrash my quads – it was the downhills that did that.  The course is net downhill.  It rolls back uphill here and there, and everyone talks a lot about Heartbreak Hill between mile 20 and 21, but the uphill generally felt like a relief to me because it called on some new and different muscles.  The downhill, on the other hand, was punishing and seemingly never-ending.  Even in the first few miles, I felt it and knew it was probably going to be problematic.  Around mile 5, I also felt the menstrual cramps kick in.  (Side note: anyone who knows me well knows this has been an issue for me for . . . just about ever.  Anyone who knows me really well knows this issue tends to kick in just in time for every big racing event in my life, including the middle of the night before my first marathon in Chicago in 2005, the night before my first iron distance tri in Wilmington in 2011, and the morning of Boston 2014.)  While unpleasant, it was the least of my cramping concerns on this day.  Around mile 12, I remember thinking that I wasn't even halfway done with the race, and my legs were just about fully done.  At the top of Heartbreak Hill, there was a giant sign that read "your heartbreak is over", but as we started to head downhill again, I was afraid it had just begun.  According to my race plan, I was supposed to take it up a notch and race the last 10K, but it was all I could do to keep my legs moving at that point. Another sign in Newton read, "Training got you to Newton.  Heart will carry you to Boston."  But it wasn't my heart; it was the heart of Boston – the crowd carried me through to the finish.  The last miles were like nothing I've ever seen, and the cheering on the last stretch on Boylston was absolutely deafening.  The last mile was one of the hardest and most inspiring miles I've ever run.  It's an odd sensation to want something to end and want it never to end so badly all at the same time.

            After crossing the finish line, the volunteers shuffled people through to pick up medals, water, etc., but every one of them made a point of thanking the runners for being there - thanking us, as they tended to our every need . . . volunteers are amazing!   I was making my way down the runners only area so I could exit and meet Ashby and the kids at our designated meeting spot.  I knew my body was spent.  It had been warmer than expected, my legs were barely functional, and I felt a little dehydrated, but I figured I would walk it off.  As I bent down to throw an empty bottle away, my calf cramped up so badly that I collapsed onto the ground and couldn't get up.  Next thing I knew, volunteers had swooped in and put me in a wheelchair, and I was heading for a medical tent.  As we turned off of Boylston, my only thought was – I'm going to get all turned around and not be able to find our meeting spot.  So I started asking for directions, sort of hoping I could just get a wheelchair ride to the corner of Boylston and Arlington.  No such luck J  But I managed to stretch out my calf after a few minutes and decided to walk away on my own rather than proceed into the medical tent.  When I spotted Ashby and the kids through the crowd, that's when I felt the tears start to come.  The emotions of the entire experience washed over me.  I truly left it all out there, and I can't think of a better place or better people to leave it with. 

Boston by the numbers - my garmin registered 26.55 miles instead of 26.2 for some reason, but the splits broke out like this:
Mile 1 – 8:09
Mile 2 – 7:56
Mile 3 – 7:55
Mile 4 – 7:44
Mile 5 – 8:18
Mile 6 – 7:49
Mile 7 – 7:47
Mile 8 – 8:02
Mile 9 – 7:48
Mile 10 – 7:56
Mile 11 – 8:06
Mile 12 – 7:59
Mile 13 – 8:06
Mile 14 – 7:49
Mile 15 – 8:07
Mile 16 – 7:58
Mile 17 – 8:17
Mile 18 – 8:37
Mile 19 – 8:11
Mile 20 – 8:45
Mile 21 – 8:45
Mile 22 – 8:01
Mile 23 – 8:24
Mile 24 – 8:22
Mile 25 – 8:30
Mile 26 – 8:18
Last .2 or .55 – 7:30

Official time – 3:35:47


  1. What an awesome experience, proud to say I know someone that participated. Congratulations Wendy your times are fantastic! I know your family is proud of you.

  2. Congratulations! And happy to meet another runner who loves the treadmill. :)