If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ultrarunning, it’s that the tough times don’t last. You may feel like you need to curl up on the side of the trail and die a slow and painful death, but usually when you crest the hill or take in some calories, your brain realizes everything is cool and you continue on like nothing ever happened. I’ve never had to deal with that feeling during a road marathon until now.
It was warm, but not excessively so like 2012. There was a slight breeze, but not the hurricane headwinds like 2015. I had a sound plan for my pacing and nutrition. My training went well and all signs pointed to a sub-3:00 marathon. I had gotten a note of encouragement the day before from a friend that read “This is your day” and I really, truly believed it was: my comeback Boston; the year my race time matched up with my training and potential. I was prepared to race, and just needed all the little things to fall into place.
Well, as you can guess those things did not fall into place and were in fact scattered all over the road like my dog got ahold of them when I wasn’t looking. I felt off from the beginning, through the first few crowded miles, never able to settle into the zone. I hit the half in 1:29, right on pace for my sub-3:00 goal. But I knew my effort level was too high. The miles weren’t clicking like they should have been, but I kept pressing. By mile 10 I had stopped sweating, my face was crusted with salt, and I was getting occasional chills (uh oh). The heat was getting to me, and I was just. So. Thirsty. I began taking in a lot more water and gatorade than I would on a normal day. And naturally, my stomach got crampy and sloshy. Perfect. The small hills started to feel tougher, and it took longer and longer for my legs to recover on the downhills.
Then a tough time hit. I mean REALLY tough. So tough that I found myself actually hoping I would pass out so I could have an excuse to stop moving. And that tough time lasted from mile 16 to mile 26.2. It was just like the worst anxiety dream I routinely have about my races: I am trying so desperately hard to run but it’s like my legs are in quicksand and all I can do is watch people fly by. I walked a lot those last 10 miles, sometimes on the verge of sitting down on the side of the road to cry. But I kept forcing myself to look at the crowds. Those drunk college kids (god bless ‘em) would look me right in the eyes and scream “COME ON! YOU GOT THIS! RUN!” and I couldn’t let them down so I would force a few sloppy strides before the pain in my quads took over and slowed me to a crawl again. And speaking of my quads, I have run two 50 mile races, both with over 9,000 feet of descent, and my quads felt infinitely better after those runs than they did in the latter miles of Boston. What the hell?
Those last few miles were some of the hardest I’ve ever run. At some point I realized my time goals were completely out of reach, so to salvage my race I tried my best to enjoy the experience. I ran along the edge of the road, high fiving kids, cheering back, trying to smile. I took a freeze pop (best thing ever) and an orange slice (not so great, it turns out) from some young kids. At mile 25 I saw my sister in the crowd, made a bee-line over to her, and gave her a big hug. “I feel so awful!” “Noooo, you look great!” “You’re lying, but okay!”
Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. My teammate, Pam, flew by me on Hereford and I tried to give chase. My quads just laughed at me. Pam waited for me at the finish line (thank you!) and gave me a big hug. My legs almost gave out at that moment so we walked together through the finish chute. Water, space blanket, gatorade. That’s when I got tingly all over and started seeing black spots. Oh shit, here we go. I saw a wheelchair and asked if I could sit down before I passed out. The amazing medical crew wheeled me over to the tent where I had to lay down with elevated legs for about 20 minutes. My pulse was erratic, blood pressure way too low. The med crew was threatening to give me an IV if I couldn’t suck down gatorade. After focusing on my breathing for a while I slowly returned to normal. I sat up, got dizzy again, and had to wait a few more minutes. I eventually made my way back to the hotel to find my mom and Pon waiting for me. And there you have it.
I’m now 1 for 4 at Boston. But I’m not beating myself up about the result this year. I did everything I possibly could to prepare and I felt ready. The mistake I made, along with many others, was underestimating the weather. It was hotter than predicted. Nobody had a good race. Nobody. But I never thought about going out conservatively despite sweating before the race even started. I was there for one thing only and I knew it would involve some time in the pain cave. Marathoning is tough business. You train for months and beat up your body and make sacrifices (I gave up sugar for a whole month!!) on the off chance that the stars will align one day out of the year to give you a perfect race. To have your race blow up is a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the risk we take. If I wanted things to be easy I’d run 5Ks (just kidding 5K-ers, that shit HURTS).
I finally understand why people return to Boston year after year. It is a different race every single time. Sure, the course is the same, but I’ve been there four times and had four wildly different experiences, ranging from the best marathon I’ve ever run to the worst. The constant throughout it all is the energy and excitement and the best crowds of any marathon ever. You will feel like a superstar walking around that city. But Boston is a tricky bitch, and even when your training and preparation is perfect, she will throw a wrench in your plans and laugh as you get heat stroke or hypothermia. Typical New England. To control freaks like me, it is insanely frustrating. But I’ve experienced the pure elation of a perfect race there, and I will keep going back until I find it again. See you in 2017, Boston.
I want to end this by sending out the hugest thank you to every person who called, texted, emailed, and wished me luck. To all the people out there on Patriots Day cheering. To my team for sharing the miles. To my coach for giving me confidence. To my dad for handing me that bottle. To my mom for being at the finish. To my sister and brother for their insulting signs. And the biggest, most heartfelt thanks to Pon for listening to me complain and giving up sugar with me and understanding what it takes. I love you all.