*Part 1 of the race recap can be found HERE.
If running twenty six miles in a sea of thirty thousand strangers doesn’t make you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, then I simply don’t know what will.
Before I started running I thought marathoners were crazy. I thought they were impressive creatures, sure, but they were irrefutably insane, impressive creatures. And I for one was not one of them. I just didn’t get it. Why would anyone voluntarily run 26.2 miles? What’s the point? So you can run really, really far…. Ooooookay? So what? You want a medal? Fine, you’ll get one. But who really cares. You’re not doing anything special; it’s just a silly running race. My thoughts were strung together like those of a true non-runner.
Just a silly running race? I can understand how my old self felt this way. It’s nearly impossible to grasp the full extent of the marathon experience until you’re actually in the thick of it. Running a marathon is about making friends with the complete strangers starting line, high fiving children in Ashland, Newton and Coolidge Corner, jokingly powering up like a Mario-man at the “touch here for power” handmade signs and giving yourself one day to be completely free of your worries. Running a marathon is about hundreds of thousands of people coming together to put more “good” into this world by supporting each other mile after mile.
Just a silly race? Yea, I don’t think so.
I’ll meet you at the willow tree.
“I’ll meet you at the willow tree. I’ll be there, I promise.” Since Chris’ start time was 25 minutes before mi ne and he runs about 40 minutes faster we agreed on meeting under a specific willow tree in Boston Public Gardens after the race. His idea, of course. Beautifully poetic, right…. errr as long as my legs would be able to carry me there post-race. Good god I hope I can walk that far!! He walked away, but this time I wasn’t alone.
I was accompanied by my athlete and close friend, Lisa Grafton who earned her BQ at Baystate 2015. Together we sat and shot the shit simply passing time until I felt a tap on my shoulder and a “Hey Kass!!” Who was it? None other than my Boston marathon friend, Amanda Jacob. I say that because we only know each other because of the Boston Marathon. I met Amanda while I was waiting in the porta-potty line at the 2015 Boston Marathon. A blonde spunky dietitian from Nashville she had BQ’ed but was running Boston for a charity she holds close to her heart: Race4Chase. Back then we stood at the rainy Boston start together waiting to be released upon the roads of Hopkinton. While I was a ball full of nerves she was beaming with lighthearted energy. Her goal? To have fun and run the best race she could. Yea, she PR’ed that year- I believe with a 3:16 give/take. I, on the other hand, crashed and burned in the frigid temps and dreary rain and shuffled my way to a 3:23 finish (not really bad, but BAD when you’re aiming for a 3:15)- yay running! Since then we FB friended each other: I’ve seen her get engaged and married (congrats again!!). She’s seen me get divorced and start a new career. Our lives are completely different and yet year after year Boston brings us together.
Then in 2016 I was standing in the portapotty line again (naturally) when Amanda bopped me on the head to say hello. Out of 30,000 runners we just kept bumping into each other! Seems fitting that in the sea of thousands of people our paths once again crossed at this year’s Boston. When wave 2 was called our paths parted: speedy Amanda went to the 1st corral and I made my way to the 8th corral.
As I approached the 8th corral waiting area I heard an announcer greeting runners walking in. He was on a platform about two stories high and started picking people out of the crowd based on the name written on their shirt. “John’s here! Have a good race John. … Kate’s here! Good luck Kate!! And THE LONE RUNNER is here!” I made the shirt in 2013 during a spike night held at the running store and I’ve only worn it about 3 times since. Somehow Boston felt like the right day to bust it out and wear it with pride. I glanced to the sky, waved to the man and then heard someone in the crowd shout, “THE LONE RUNNER?!?! HEYYYYYYYYYYY! I’ve been following your blog since you ran Chicago! I’m not a stalker tho- I swear!” I searched the crowd to finally find Abby Coers, a 28 year old runner from Illinois (NOT Chicago! J lol). This girl made me LAUGH. Any anxiety I had about the race completely went to the wayside as I got to know Abby, her running story, her job, her newfound love for Under Armor running shoes and her plot to take down Chi-town 2017 (I’ll be there too!!). This girl was FUN.
I sat there at the starting line chatting away with a complete stranger and realized that THIS is what running marathons is about: making friends with strangers, sharing passions and doing exactly what you love.
My Pacing Plan
Prior to running Boston I ran a max of 68 miles/week, had raced the FLAT Eastern States 20 miler during a heavy build week in 7:40 splits and completed a 20 and a 22 miler. Not only did I start to feel more physically comfortable covering the 20+ mile distance, but this cycle I have felt more confident with knowing how my body feels at different exertion levels.
Given this info I determined that IF Boston was flat and cool my fitness was about 7:30 splits. BUT Boston isn’t flat so I estimated 7:40 splits… AND THEN IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE 70+ degrees on race day. So, once again I adjusted my goals/race plan for the race.
My primary goal was to feel in control during the final 10k of the race. I did NOT want to blow up. So my plan was to chunk the marathon into distinct sections:
- Warm up during first 5 miles (run 8 min pace give/take)
- Settle into comfortable pace during miles 6-15 (estimated about 7:45)
- Run to effort NOT pace on hills; keep effort/breathing the same and “ride the downhills” – miles 16-21 (I figured I’d run 8-8:30’s)
- EMPTY THE TANK miles 22-26.2 (hopefully sub 7:45, fingers crossed)
My fueling and hydration plan was as follows:
- At 6 am I ate a peanut butter cliff bar, ate 4 fig netwons at 8 am (because I like them, that’s why) and ate one Honey Stinger caramel waffle at 10 am (I started running at 10:35).
- During the race I ate a GU every 5 miles REGARDLESS of how I felt (took GU at miles 5, 10, 15 and 20).
- I also took cups of Gatorade for extra calories at about 4-6 of the tables.
- For the first time EVER I decided to carry a handflask of water with me during a marathon. I didn’t want to think about grabbing water during the first 5 miles
- My plan was to drop the flask when it was empty- BUT this plan changed as I started refilling the flask on the run with bottles of water I grabbed from the sidelines.
- Hydration became my absolute #1 priority during this race. It was more important than hitting paces… well, sort of. I quickly realized that I was reaching for my flask more than 1x/mile. This meant that grabbing 1 cup at every aid station WASN’T GOING TO BE ENOUGH water for the race. I realized the extent of the 70+ degree temps and started taking ANY and EVERY water offered on the sidelines. Race approved aid stations? Of course! Water bottles from strangers? Give to meeee! Dixie cups o’ water from little snotty-sneezing children? Come to mama!! I took everything. The fear of dehydrating at the race made me extremely cognizant of taking in fluids and I’d estimate that I took in sips of water approximately every half mile to ¾ mile.
Warming up: Miles 1-5 (7:59, 7:55, 7:54, 7:49, 7:58)
It took all of the restraint in the world to run the early DOWNHILL miles of this course slowly. I held back- A LOT and hit my paces pretty darn close to target (8 min/mi pace). I kept my music off, ran alongside the sea of marathoners and simply took in the experience that is the Boston Marathon. I’ll be honest- I felt good.
My mind often flickered to Chris at the willow tree and the words of wisdom he had sprinkled for me this training cycle… “You are fitter and stronger than you realize Kass…. Take the early miles slow and ease into it just like at Eastern States.” I repeated his words to myself: I’m stronger than I think I am.
Settling in: Miles 6-10 (7:48, 7:46, 7:47, 7:48, 7:48)
Around mile 6 I started to ease into my goal pace. It was warm, VERY warm and I felt it. Getting water at the approved stops was an absolute PAIN in the a**. So many people walked through the stations!! I get it, trust me I do. And yet, it also presents a challenge to those who aim to run through all of the stations. Lots of time was lost going through those stations and yet even more time would be lost if I didn’t take in water. A necessary evil, I suppose. It was at mile 7 where I encountered another marathon first: I started taking water bottles offered by spectators. Safe? Mayyybe. Mayyyybe not. But I did it.
Pulling back: Miles 11-15 (7:52, 7:49, 7:51, 7:56, 7:56)
By mile 11 the heat was starting to take its toll. My forehead was roasting and my lungs started to burn. To put it simply: my body felt hot. Even though I have ran in 70 degree temperatures plenty of times, the first long run after a winter of cold temperatures is always a rude awakening. It was at that time when I actively decided to slow my pace from 7:45 to 7:55. I was determined to still finish this race feeling in control.
At mile 13.5 I moved from the right side of the road to the left. Even though the majority of my friends would be spectating from the south side of the course another blogger and friend, Pam Keenan (of Two Runners Travel) messaged me to tell me she’d be spectating on the north side between mile 14 and 15. I turned off my music and searched the crowd for her; I longed to see a familiar face. By mile 15 I knew I had missed her.
Saddened, I pressed onwards. I refocused my thoughts onto something positive. Jillian- get to Jillian! My friend and previous athlete, Jillian Pereira had told me she would be spectating in Coolidge Corner. Just get to Jillian. Power up from the strength in her smile and then make my way down the road!
Hitting the hills: Miles 16-21 (7:56, 7:31, 7:57, 7:52, 7:35, 8:15)
While giving myself a pep talk I heard a loud screech on my left side- KASSSSS!!!! Out of the blue I saw my neighbor (from my previous home) drop everything in her hands, leave her husband and two children and start running next to me. “Oh myyyy Goddd!!! IT’S YOU! TRISH!!” I screamed out- RUN WITH ME up the first hill over 95- can you? Please, can you!” In loose kacki shorts and a standard t-shirt she hesitated for a second so I peer pressured her with runner guilt, “You’re wearing running shoes!! COME WITH ME! I’ve seen you on Strava- you can hold this pace!” I hadn’t seen Trish in over a year, since Friday December 4th, 2015 to be exact. That’s right, Trish brought over pizza on my first night in my new apartment. We’re busy moms so our paths simply don’t cross that often, but when they do- like at mile 16 of the Boston Marathon- we’re there to support each other.
I can not possibly express how energizing it was to run with Trish for the single mile. That mile was a marathon game-changer where all of my thoughts when from anxious worries to focused and confident. The hills were upon me and I was feeling… dare I say it… pretty damn good. I wasn’t focused on nailing the final 10k, I was focused on getting up each hill one step at a time. I approached the hills and kept my effort even; I actively tried to not slow down, but rather focused on my breathing and using my arms to get me up the hills. Once at the top I told myself, “ride the downhill,” and allowed my pace to hasten slightly to make up some time.
Walkers were everywhere on the hills. Marathoners were starting to blow up and break down. Several times I was running behind another marathoner who suddenly stopped short to start walking nearly tripping me in the process. My thoughts couldn’t be deterred: my pace was steady, my legs felt strong, I was having an awesome race!! Nothing was going to stop me from having a kick ass race.
Emptying the tank: Miles 22-26 (7:33, 7:48, 7:33, 7:31, 7:47)
Solid training? Well executed nutrition and hydration plan? PART MIRACLE? Yes, yes and hell yes!! Somehow I hit mile 21 and felt AMAZING. My mind was working for me as I thought, “Five miles of rolling downhills. Forty minutes. Jillian at mile 22. Jess, Kristen and Justine at mile 23. Dana at mile 24. Two miles of BOSTON ANARCHY then fly into the finish!”
I started to do the unthinkable. I hastened my pace and it felt GOOOOOOOOD! I had held back for so long that I actually had gas in the tank. Unlike my previous marathons, my feet didn’t feel like cinder blocks, my thoughts weren’t fuzzy and my body wasn’t running on empty. I was ALL SMILES as I searched for Jillian in the crowd. Sadly, I missed her but before I knew it I came upon my friends from Bucknell at mile 23. Friends who I haven’t seen in a year since last Boston. Friends (and a life) who I have felt immensely disconnected from since separating from my ex. Friends who I truly miss a lot. There they were- screaming their heads off for me and suddenly in that moment the year of distance between us felt completely irrelevant. Their energy, smiles and support was all I needed to power me through the final 5k.
By mile 23 I felt more in control than any previous marathon I have ever completed. My thoughts turned to my final 5k experience at Eastern States where I was able to negative split and run each of the final 3 miles under a 7:20 pace. I assessed my body’s system (how was I breathing, how heavy did my legs feel, how much spring in my step did I have left) and dare I say it: I felt indescribably strong. Energized by my friend’s cheers my thoughts started to grow louder and louder,
“Am I going to negative split the Boston Marathon? Is that even possible?? F* YEA IT IS!! I AM GOING TO NEGATIVE SPLIT THE BOSTON MARATHON!!!”
I pressed on the gas and threw down a 7:33 for mile 24. I was so focused on the finish that I nearly missed Dana, another friend/athlete who came out to cheer. If it wasn’t for her humongous crowd of awesome friends who screamed SO LOUD for me I would have missed them entirely! THANK YOU DANA!
I spent the final miles in complete awe of the Boston Marathon. The darkness of the winter months, the repetitive nature of the rat race, the rebirth of a life without a husband; this past winter and really, this past year has been hard.
And yet here I was hanging out with my marathon friend from Nashville, making friends with a reader from Illinois at the starting line, being cheered on by friends whom I haven’t seen in a year and running side by side with my neighbor whom I haven’t properly sat down with in 16 months.
THIS is why running can change your life.
A city that has felt so big.
Rebuilding a life that has at times felt utterly daunting.
Like I said earlier, it can be very hard to be on your own without feeling alone.
But I wasn’t really alone. I’m NOT alone. I’ve never really been alone.
I glided through mile 24 at a 7:33 pace feeling immensely thankful. Thankful for my parents who were tracking my run from their home in Jersey. Thankful for my athletes, many of whom trekked out to the course to cheer me on. Thankful for complete strangers who used their own money to buy the bottles of water which truly made a difference in my race. Thankful for Amanda and Abby- kind-hearted people from other corners of the country – people I wouldn’t know if it wasn’t for our love of running and Boston Marathon.
The Citgo sign came into view and I instantly felt relief: I had made it to Boston. One more mile. Four laps around a track. Two songs on my iPod. SO CLOSE. Yet, so many walkers. Like running through a minefield I darted left and right around walkers. I felt their pain, heck I was there in 2015, and yet I was somewhat frustrated. The extra energy it took to dart around the other marathoners was costing me effort and time.
You want a clear path to the finish? Run a smaller race. This is Boston. THIS CROWD. THEIR ENERGY. THIS IS WHY YOU RUN BOSTON.
My conscience was right- I needed to calm down and let it be. As I turned right on Hereford a familiar song came on my iPod: Downtown my Macklemore. I bopped my head to the catchy lyrics…
Know I run the streets boy… better follow me towards… DOWNTOWN!!
Utterly energized I leaned in and completely emptied the tank running the final .2 miles in a 7:17 split. I crossed the finish, threw my hands in the air and screamed YESSSSSSSSS! Only then did I look at my watch. That’s right, I spent the entire run with my watch displaying the lap pace, and didn’t actually know my finish time.
3:25:59. Nine minutes faster than my BQ time. Three minutes and sixteen seconds faster than Boston 2016. AND a negative split. I NEGATIVE SPLIT THE BOSTON MARATHON. The fact still astounds me!!
The willow tree… My excitement came to a screeching halt when I realized that the one person I desperately wanted to share this moment with was just a few blocks away. I hobbled my way to the willow tree to find Chris recouping after his own tough race. Let’s just say that Chris doesn’t like the heat.
Smiling from ear to ear like a wind-up toy that doesn’t need to take a breath between sentences I excitedly chattered away to Chris about the race, the high fives and the amazing experiences at every mile. I simply didn’t want the day to end. He gazed at me with a deep look in his eyes and I paused to meet his eyes. What? What is it? He paused, allowing for a sweet moment of silence to fill the space between us. With a calm, serious tone he noted, “You are so happy right now. I love seeing you so free, so happy. You a happy girl.”
He was right. In that moment I was completely free and utterly happy.
I felt strong and loved. I was living my life to the fullest.
I’m not alone and I never really was.
It just took me racing 26.2 miles through the streets of Hopkinton to Boston to set me straight.
Thank you to my friends, family, the other marathoners and the complete strangers who spectated at the 2017 Boston Marathon. On April 17, 2017 we put more good into this world than bad, and that’s something to be proud of <3
See you next year
But first, ON TO CHICAGO FALL 2017!!!
Kass/ The Lone Runner