Boston 2016 race report

 

462198_226497303_XLargeIf 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.

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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.

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Boston: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Excited as a kid on Christmas morning

Excited as a kid on Christmas morning

THE Boston Marathon. My third attempt at this storied race. The whole weekend leading up to the main event is so jam-packed with events and expos that you have no time to even think about the 26.2 miles. But finally, what I’ve been waiting for: the moment when there’s nothing left to do but run. I live for this. Loaded in the corral, waiting for the gun. Months of training all leading up to this moment.

Mile one was crowded and off pace, but this was okay and part of the plan. I knew I could make up time later and had to save something for the hills, not trash my quads in the first few miles. The crowd never thinned so it took about 4 miles to work up to goal pace. I took my first gel at mile 5, and it did not go down well. Usually I can suck them down with no problems, but it tasted too sweet and syrupy, hard to swallow. I chased with a few sips of water trying to wash the taste away. About 5 minutes later my stomach started cramping. I thought it was a side stitch (unusual for me), tried to breath through it, and eventually it went away. The same thing happened after choking down half a gel at mile 10. And then again at mile 14. This was not good.

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Boston training update #3: taper madness

passportWelp, here we are. The Boston Marathon is one week away. I’ve made it through a week of tapering, and my body has let out a huge sigh of relief. I peaked at 76 miles/week with everything mostly in tact. There were a few huge, confidence-building workouts that I will look back on the night before the race, including a 16 mile long run with the last 8 at goal marathon pace. If I can feel that good on race day, all will be right.

Taper Tantrums are something I deal with every time I significantly reduce volume. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it still gets me every time. Here are a few examples of the self-induced insanity I’m facing. I’m not sleeping as well since I’m not running as much. And when I do sleep I’m having weird race-related anxiety dreams where I lose my phone and have to trudge through a swamp and get upset about not knowing my step count (yeah, I don’t understand either). I’m having wild, inappropriate appetite swings where I feel like my stomach is about to implode because I’m so hungry, but then I’m full after half of a normal-sized meal. The emotional roller coaster is a trip as well. I almost burst into tears after watching Shalane’s post-race interview from last year. (“I just wish I were better.” SOB)

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Taper Tips

We made it. Just three weeks until the Boston Marathon!!! In past marathon training cycles, my taper has ranged from three weeks to just a few days, with varying results. This time around I’ll be trying out a two-week reduction in volume. It’s a tricky thing to get right. Taper for too long, and you risk losing fitness and dealing with flat legs. Taper for not long enough, and you won’t be rested appropriately to crush it on race day.

Here are my best taper tips gained from experience (written mostly to distract myself from my own taper insanity). Please share with me your favorite ways for making it through the hardest ‘easy’ part of training!

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Boston Training Update #2: when things start to click

The Boston Marathon is just over five weeks away. Just five, short, not-nearly-enough-time weeks. If I do a typical three-week taper, this means I just have two more weeks of hard training left. What?!? Commence freak out… now.

Recovering like a boss with sore feet, plantar fasciitis, and aching knee.

Recovering like a boss with sore feet, plantar fasciitis, and aching knee.

I had a rough start to this training cycle. I began with a bunch of leftover niggling injuries from the 50 miler. I was tired. Workouts felt hard. I was dealing with some major stomach issues, and then my knee started to hurt for no good reason. I felt like I was barely hanging on, in a bad way. I was getting in the miles and hitting my paces, but it just didn’t feel good.

But two weeks ago I had that “turn-around” workout I had been praying for. It was at an Impala practice where we did a souped up version of Yasso 800s: 6 sets of 800m (I was aiming for 3:00 each), 100m recovery jog, followed by 300m at 1500m pace (aka fast). We got a 400m recovery jog between each set. It was tough. But oh man I haven’t felt that good running basically since last year. My legs had pop, I felt like I was cruising. Running with a group of fast women pulls out that speed you didn’t think you had. Sometimes all you can focus on is not getting dropped by the pack, but when things sync up– breathing together, strides matched, ponytails swishing– it’s magic. Your legs just GO. I left that workout exhausted, but so happy.

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Boston training: quickie update

The Boston Marathon is just a short 11 weeks away. Instead of my usual 4 month training cycle I’m working with a shortened 3 month cycle this time around due to my unexpectedly long recovery period after the 50 miler. Just in these past few weeks I’ve really felt like my legs are returning to normal: I have my turnover and speed and springiness back. But my training still isn’t going as smoothly as I would like. I have a weird pain in my right knee. I’m having stomach issues. I quit my corporate job and it’s been majorly stressful. The body can only handle so much stress at once- whether from training, job, relationship, health- it all adds up and once you hit that tipping point things start to fall apart unless you do some damage control (aka recovery). Continue reading