Call it a victory lap. Call it a fresh start. Call it whatever you’d like. I needed to run this marathon. I needed to take the past four months to train for a marathon during one of the hardest times in my life simply to know that I could do it on my own. No one would have questioned it if I backed out of Boston due to the personal stress. But who backs out of Boston?? Ba-ha!!! IT’S BOSTON PEOPLE!!!
Surrounded by the most amazing family, friends and community I was able to log all of the miles originally planned for the training cycle. However, it was during those miles that I felt a difference in my run-game. My stress level was sky-high and my thoughts were scattered. Heck there were even a few times where I resented my training plan because I simply wanted to run without all the pressure of hitting splits and keeping the heart rate in check. The reality is that due to being pulled in so many directions I ultimately lacked the focus and drive this training cycle that is necessary to PR.
I can see it so clearly now: when the rest of your life leaves you feeling raw and exposed you need to know that there is somewhere safe to go, where you won’t feel judged, broken and bruised. Recently running has become my rock and the place where I feel like whatever I do is good and enough. Eventually the rest of my life WILL settle down and I’ll be ready to truly burn the boats and feel raw on the road again. When it all comes together, and I know it will soon-enough I’ll be there pushing for my sub 3:15.
What does all of that have to do with my race performance at the Boston Marathon?
It means that spent the previous six months of my personal life learning how to bend without breaking. It means that I know that if I haven’t broken yet, then nothing on this Earth can break me. It means that I am definitely starting to believe in myself. It means that I was ready to run myself a mother f*ing marathon on my own terms and at my own pace. It means I lined up at the starting line in Hopkinton with the seemingly simple goal of feeling in control for the next 26.2 miles.
Run easy. Stay in control. Finish strong and with a smile. Easy peasy, right?
Well I was standing at the starting line of an unforgivable course with temperatures spiking in the mid-70′. It’s a marathon and ANYTHING can happen. Because of this I made a broad list of race goals I had for myself. Here is the list in order of importance/rank:
- Finish with a smile, run happy.
- Control pace, don’t let pace control me.
- BQ (8:11 splits or better)
- Keep it under 8’s.
- Keep pace between 7:40 – 7:50 with most splits hitting 7:45s
How I planned to reach my goals:
- Listen to my body: Was my breathing too labored? Did my legs feel light/heavy? Was my face on fire/ body overheating? Was hitting a 7:45 pace comfortable or slipping away?
- I had a DO NOT GO FASTER THAN X:XX pace (7:35s). Running TOO fast during early marathon miles can seriously burn you out! Be weary of speedy splits early on.
- Stay present: I focused on the mile I was in and only that mile. To do this I turned my Garmin display to LAP PACE (instead of current pace) to show the average pace per mile- this told me whether or not I had to slow down or speed up within each mile to reach my goals.
- Follow the plan: I stayed true to my fueling/pacing plans and fueled with a shot block every 2 miles and rotated water/gatorade at every water stop.
- Keep it all in perspective. It’s just a marathon. One of many that I will run in my lifetime. The real goal will always be to have fun!
The Starting Line & Beyond
The starting line is a powerful place where all of my nerves disappear and I am left with pure excitement for the race ahead. Why? Because there is simply nothing more that I can do to prepare for the event. The legs will either show up or not. It wasn’t until I had entered my wave 2/corral 3 in Hopkinton that I finally accepted that anxiety would get me nowhere for the next 3:XX hours. I took a deep breath, embraced the strength of crowd and smiled the grandest smile. A wave of calm confidence washed over me and I thought, “Today is going to be a good day. Today is my day.” Then I did something I have never done during a marathon: put in my ear buds. The first song on the playlist? Andy Grammer’s It’s Good to Be Alive (right about now, hey!). I thought to myself, “It is good to be alive right now! I think I finally found my hallelujah :).” Off I went over the starting line to Mr. Grammer’s upbeat anthem.
(7:49, 7:47, 7:42, 7:35, 7:44, 7:38, 7:45, 7:48, 7:42, 7:44)
The first 10 miles of the marathon are always the easy ones. The energy is high. The legs are fresh. The mind is focused.
I spent the first 10 miles of Boston gleefully floating along. The legs talked and I listened. I honed in on what pace felt comfortable; the legs wanted to stay between 7:42s and 7:47s for most of the early splits, so that’s exactly what I did.
Right from the start I observed thousands of runners join together like an unstoppable sea cutting a path through the landscape ahead. Together we ran in sync and flowed through the streets like an unstoppable force of nature. The first time I had witnessed this breathtaking force was in 2013 at the New York City Marathon. Fueled with the crowd’s endless accolades I mentally separated myself from the sea that surrounded me and focused on running my own race.
One step at a time.
One mile at a time
Breathe. Enjoy the day. Relax.
You’re running the GODDAMN BOSTON MARATHON!!!
Happiness is waiting for you at the finish line.
Miles 11-15 (7:48, 7:37, 7:43, 7:50, 7:51)
Kristi- just make it to Kristi. Mile 15. Last water table on the left.
There is nothing quite so motivating as knowing that someone you know is out there on the course cheering for you. One of my local athletes volunteered to work at the mile 15 water stop. For five miles I focused on simply getting to mile 15. Instead of unnecessarily worrying about the hills in the later miles I used Kristi’s presence to keep me focused, motivated and in check during the middle miles. I ran steady. I felt strong…. well, except every time I tried to drink Gatorade and somehow got it up my nose and in my eyes (yes, in my eyes. I honestly don’t know how I have made it this far in life :)).
Seeing friends or family at a marathon is surreal. A rush of adrenaline courses through your veins and in that moment you feel as if you are having a reunion with a long-lost relative who was lost at sea decades earlier. At mile 15 water stop I started searching faces of the volunteers for a Miss Kristi Lombardo. Since I spotted her cheerful visage first I erupted with a half shriek half squeal of excitement, “KRISTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!! KRISTIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!” I clapped my hands with excitement when she finally recognized me. Then for about 3 seconds she ran beside me screaming my name, “KASSANDRAAAAA!!! Haha, why are you screaming MY name!! GO KASSANDRA!!!” For a split second I fantasized about Kristi hopping in the race and running beside me for the remaining miles. Alas no, I was quickly swept back into current and made my way towards the hills.
I’m not alone. I’m never going to really be alone.
This feeling, right here, is the beginning of something… something pretty darn amazing.
Onward I pushed along towards Heartbreak hill.
Miles 16-21 (the hills: 7:36, 8:12, 8:11, 7:58, 8:14, 8:34)
Just make it to 21- the top of Heartbreak. Make it to 21 and then you have 5 miles left, just 40 minutes.
I turned right at the firehouse (mile 17) and was met with the wildest crowd my eyes had seen thus far! Bountiful cheers, endless supplies of ice pops and affable posters were present to lift runners’ spirits as they ascended the first of three nasty hills. I thought to myself, “Here we go. Just one hill at a time. Keep moving forward. Left foot, right foot.” By this time in the race my HR was high and my legs were tired. Instead of pushing onwards to maintain my pace this time I allowed it to slow a little. Unlike in previous marathons this time I knew that giving up a few seconds on this hill would increase the likelihood of a strong finish. Rather than leaning into the hurt I pulled back just a little to stay in a comfortable zone.
During each hill I focused on the task at hand: gradually getting up the hill and to never, ever stop running. Not once did I think about stopping. In fact I felt good (not great) but very, very solid during these miles. I had found my sweet spot in this marathon and on the hills it rested in the 8:10’s pace range. Could I have pushed harder and stayed in the 7’s? Yup. But that would have been risky and this season Boston wasn’t about taking risks. It was about ensuring a strong run from start to finish. So I pulled back, I ran happy and I’m SO glad that I did. Up and over I went-methodically, effortlessly and gleefully.
This was my day and no one, not even myself, was going to take it from me.
Miles 22-26.2 (holding on; 8:06, 8:07, 8:19, 8:06, 8:39)
FIVE MEASLY MILES LEFT. Ride the downhill and HOLD ON!
Just because I felt in control doesn’t mean that the miles weren’t adding up. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t hurt. Heck yes they hurt!! It’s a marathon!! IT HURTS! By mile 22 my legs were tired, but my mind was clear. In fact my mind had been crystal clear and present during the entirety of the marathon. No anxiety. No fears. Just a mind full of peace and quiet … well, and the lyrics of Geronimo…
Can you feel it?
Now it’s coming back
We can steal it.
If we bridge this gap,
I can see you
Through the curtains of the waterfall.
When I lost it,
Yeah you held my hand,
But I tossed it,
You were waiting,
As I dove into the waterfall.
So say Geronimo!
This song shuffled to the top of my playlist as I crested the top of Heartbreak and boy was it welcome. Somehow the song’s lyrics have a way of leaping out and shaking me as if they want to say, Don’t lose hope in life’s endless possibilities!! It’s time to jump in because maybe, just maybe something amazing is on the horizon.
With a tight lipped smile on my face onward I pressed to my finish line and all of life’s endless possibilities that awaited me. The legs were tired, but the mind was sharp. With quads that were slowly turning to cinderblocks and a left IT band that was downright ANGRY I started to repeat “HOLD ON! JUST HOLD ON!” Instead of my typical mile 23 pep talk of, “Marathons are stupid! Whyyyy am I doing this???” I simply stayed calm and happy. I knew exactly what I trained for and why ran this marathon: I needed to run my own race, to smile again, to prove to myself that I could do it, to show Lillian that anything is possible and to officially commence the next phase of my life.
The past six months of life and training prepared me for the final right on Hereford and left on Boylston. I wasn’t just completing the Boston Marathon with each successive step I was ushering in a new phase of my life- one of peace, happiness and self-acceptance. No matter the mistakes I have made in the past – and I have made many mistakes – I need to move forward. I need to forgive myself. Even though I very much live in the day to day, I need to start preparing for the future of which I feel has many, many possibilities..
With the crowd 5-7 people deep on each side I approach the finish line at Boston feeling nothing short of STRONG, FOCUSED and DETERMINED. I didn’t CRUSH this race time wise, but that wasn’t the point. Rather. I ran through the finish line with the same sense of peace and serenity that has coursed through my veins all race. Where did this come from and what did it mean? It means I am ready to open up my heart to the possibility of happiness. It means that instead of living day-to-day, maybe I’m ready to plan life out a couple of weeks at at time. It means that deep inside I know that good things are on their way.
I crossed the finish line with a final time of 3:29:15, 7:59 splits (watch read 7:55 splits- stupid tangets!). I finished with a smile! I BQ’ed by about 6 minutes. I kept it under 8’s. I completed most the goals that I had set out to do and because of that I consider my race performance at Boston a SOLID day!!
What’s next for this Lone Runner? I honestly don’t know- but that’s kind of the point right now… embracing the endless possibilities :).
Post race I celebrated with my friends Jess and Katie back in their home by Brookline. I’m super thankful that the T allows for runners to ride free on race day!
Did I have a mantra in the final miles? Of course I did….
NEVER STOP RUNNING!!!
Can’t stop!! Won’t stop!! NEVER STOP RUNNING!!
And that’s a wrap! So much love to all of you- my friends, family, athletes, and my many readers who are just along for the ride! 🙂 Marathon 4 is in the books!
Never stop running,