Somehow after running the Boston Marathon last year, my blog–and my running life–seemed to run out of steam. It wasn’t so much that I lost interest in things, it was more like letting the air out of the balloon, very, very slowly. Last summer was much hotter than normal, and I ran a lot less because of it. I got slower, and I lost my running spark. Many of my friends were training for the NYC Marathon and I felt cut adrift–and a little sad that I wasn’t going with them. I bailed on running my planned marathon in November and focused instead on training for the Death Valley Marathon this past February (which will be an upcoming blog in the very near future). I struggled to keep up with my training partner on our midweek sort-of-long runs and couldn’t figure out what had happened to my joy of running. Unlike the Lucinda Williams song that laments “you took my joy, I want it back,” I couldn’t just “go to West Memphis and look for my joy.” Mostly I wondered, what is going on with me?
I suppose everyone goes through cycles of good running and bad running, but this was larger than that. I wasn’t depressed, everything just seemed off. It all seemed to go back to Boston. I was extremely disappointed in getting sick days before the marathon, but in the end it wasn’t a big deal. Qualifying for Boston was a bigger deal to me; running the race was the icing on the cupcake. I remember feeling the same way when I graduated from college. I had busted my butt for four years, taking it all so seriously and checking my GPA over and over, only to find myself in cap and gown wondering, that’s it? I wished I had allowed myself to have more fun in college. In hindsight, I think I did the same thing to myself with running. I had pushed myself mile after mile, always trying to get faster and stronger, but I had forgotten to have fun.
So here I am, still looking for my joy. Though I still seem to be struggling with my running, I have made some changes. It’s Spring Break and I haven’t run once the entire week. Some of that is because of my allergies, but most of it is because I just haven’t felt like it. And you know what, I’m not beating myself up for feeling that way. The pre-Boston me would’ve been mortified to take off from running for a week, but the post-Boston me is okay with being an occasional schlub. I have also decided not to run another marathon for awhile. Six is good for now. As a matter of fact, I’m not planning on racing at all. Most, if not all, of my runs will be for fun and at a comfortable pace. My Garmin died about three weeks ago and I have enjoyed running without thinking about my pace every few minutes. I have also bought a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves, which are similar to Vibrams without the five fingers, and enjoy running in almost nothing on my feet. I’ve even run a mile or so barefoot, and loved feeling like a kid again.
Will it all work? Will I be able to return to the days when I couldn’t wait to get home so I could tie up my shoes and hit the pavement? Will I find my joy again? Only time will tell, but chances are good I will, as long as I don’t forget to have fun.
Every marathon teaches me something, and this one was no different. Usually the lessons come to me a few days after the race, but this time the lessons came fast and furious the last five miles. Since I spent most of the race in my head–and not on the course where I should have been–I was a receptive student.
Lesson #1: Run with friends. I want to travel with friends, run with friends, and celebrate with friends. Running alone is hard. Even though friends are made during the race, they are fleeting, and it’s not the same as running with someone you’ve trained with. I seem to need having someone else there who knows all my strengths and weaknesses, someone who will keep me honest and won’t let me give in when I start to fade. I also think I run better when I feel responsible for someone else’s success, when I know they are counting on me to help them reach the finish line. Even if you only start together, just knowing my friends are out there really helps a lot. (This may not seem like a big lesson, but for someone who tends to keep people at arm’s length, this is big. I’ve only really learned the true value of friendship since I started running.)
Lesson #2: Enjoy the race. This is a lesson I forget and have to relearn every single marathon, so I’m still working on it. I take these things much too seriously. I should have accepted the fact that I was sick and let the crowd help me along the course. Instead, I mostly tuned them out, intent only on finishing the race. Maybe this was a self-preservation tactic, but it wasn’t very much fun.
Lesson #3: Be kind to yourself. Even though I felt under the weather during the race and knew I wasn’t going to have my best day, I beat myself up for 26.2 long, grueling miles. That made the race even more miserable, of course, and certainly had a negative effect on my performance.
Lesson #4: Accept the fact that there will always be good races and not so good races. Every single run is different. We all diligently keep our running logs, analyze our data, and most of us never really know why we run better on some days than others. You can do everything right and still have a bad race. Accept it, learn from it, and move on.
Despite everything, I had a great time in Boston. It was tough, but I learned a lot about myself out there on the course. I made it to the finish line, and that’s all that really matters. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in my time, but when it’s all said and done, who really cares?
Besides, there’s always next year, and revenge is so sweet . . .
Sprinting to the finish line had taken everything out of me, and I suddenly felt completely and totally exhausted. I was still walking, but I can’t say the same for all of the runners who crossed with me. Many crossed the finish line only to collapse on the ground. Some simply stopped and bent over, overcome with pain and emotion. I kept walking, but I had tears in my eyes.
I didn’t know if Michael and Dominique had made it to the finish line or not, so I followed the rest of the runners as we were tended to by the volunteers. I have never been congratulated and fussed over so much by any other set of volunteers after a race. We were immediately offered water—as many bottles as we wanted—and then given space blankets. Next, another person put a little piece of tape at the neck of the blankets to keep them closed, and then a volunteer passed out little black lunch bags that had chips, an orange, and a granola bar inside. We kept walking, and I wondered if I would ever receive a medal. Finally, we made our way to a table where the medals were given out. I noticed that every single volunteer made a huge deal out of placing the medal carefully over each runner’s head and congratulating them. I loved all the personal attention, and thought of all the races I’ve run where someone wordlessly hands you a medal at the finish and doesn’t even put it around your neck.
Next, I needed to find the bus with my bag so I could find Michael and Dominique. Like everything else about this marathon, finding my bag was easy and very organized. I walked to the end of the bus line and realized I had made it all the way back to Arlington St., one mile from the finish line and one block from the hotel. It was too much. I sat down in the middle of the street, wondering if I would be able to get back up. I have never felt such complete and utter exhaustion. I took off my Nike Free’s and socks ( I love you Free’s and Injinjii socks!!!!) and assessed the damage: one small blister on my left big toe.
I called Michael and left a message: “Please come and get me. I can’t make it back to the hotel by myself.” I left the same message for Dom. Come to find out, I really had beat them to the finish line. I threw on my Teva flip flops just as Michael and my daughter walked up, and we made the slow walk back to the hotel. I was very, very tired.
There was a long line of runners and family members in the elevator line at the hotel, but it didn’t matter. As long as I didn’t have to run, I was happy. I saw Will in the lobby and was shocked to hear that he had finished less than two minutes ahead of me. We both qualified at St. George with almost the same time, and we both finished Boston with almost the same results—and I hadn’t seen him once the entire day.
Up in the room, I lay down on the floor for the longest time and didn’t move. Dominique drew a hot bath for me and I spent thirty minutes soaking and thinking about the race. We discussed dinner, even though I had no appetite, and Michael and Dominique decided to go out for a beer so I could take a nap. I have never felt so tired in my life as I did after Boston.
I rested but couldn’t sleep. Steve called to tell me he and his family were downstairs in McCormick’s and Schmick’s, but I was too tired to even go down and meet them. I was amazed to hear that he had also struggled and finished two minutes ahead of me. Just like Will, how could we have missed each other the entire day?
Michael made a reservation at McCormick and Schmick’s for dinner, thinking we could finally get clam chowder, but I ordered lobster bisque and a Caesar salad instead. I had no appetite—which usually happens to me after a marathon—and my head was so congested I couldn’t taste a thing anyway. I ordered a celebratory beer but couldn’t enjoy it because of how I felt. After all the fuss the night before, none of us ordered clam chowder.
Back in the room, I was too tired to do anything but watch TV from bed. Michael and Dominique were both tired as well, and I don’t remember falling asleep. The next day I cried when I said goodbye to my daughter, then Michael and I caught our flight back to Dallas. I wore my Boston jacket for the first time, proud to be a new member of the club. I felt worse than I did the day before, and the descent into Dallas felt like sharp needles were being stuck into the sinus cavity above my left eye. It was all I could do not to cry.
Two days later I went to the doctor. Prognosis: sinus infection and bronchitis. Armed with penicillin, two different asthma inhalers, Nasonex, and a prescription for cortisone, I spent the next two days home from school, resting, writing, and reflecting on this incredible adventure.
Cresting Heartbreak Hill was the best feeling in the world. I surged down the hill towards Boston College and stopped for water. The ground was so slippery with littered cups that I almost fell down. Knowing I had made it over Heartbreak gave me a burst of energy and I took off, passing runner after runner, amazed that I was still able to pull off an 8:45 pace so late in the race. It didn’t last, and it wasn’t long before I was back to playing mind games with myself. Mostly, though, it was one big pity party, and I was the guest of honor.
Running through Brookline into the center of Boston was like coming out of a fog. I was aware of every footfall, every yell from the crowd, and for the first time I realized how much my legs and feet hurt. I looked around and could tell I wasn’t alone in my pain. One older gentleman was leaning sideways as he ran, and I almost asked if he was okay but figured as long as he was still moving forward he would make it in. One young girl who had written “This is my first marathon!” on the back of her t-shirt was visibly struggling, and the girl running with her tried her best to convince her that she could do this, she was almost done, just a little bit further.
Even though I only had five miles left to run, it felt like a million. I continually set small goals for myself: just make it to that sign, now make it to the red light, now pass that woman in the orange t-shirt, and so on. I saw someone being carried away on a stretcher, and could tell it was a female runner in a white cap. I was glad it wasn’t me. I passed a woman running on a prosthetic leg, and felt inspired to keep going. If she could do it, so could I.
The course slowly made its way downhill, but it was not flat. There were numerous small inclines that made me grumble. Some of the downhill portions were actually quite steep, but I was so miserable I couldn’t even enjoy the downhill running. It didn’t seem to make the running any easier. Where’s Waldo, a girl in costume who had stayed near me most of the race, finally pulled away, as did Minnie Mouse.
The course eventually made a wide turn that took us past Fenway Park and alongside the Green Line, and I was in familiar territory. This was where we had gone the other night in our search for the elusive clam chowder. The crowds were so loud and thick, it was almost overwhelming. People hung out of building windows, and the edges of the course were lined with thousands and thousands of outstretched hands. I slapped some, ignored others, and trudged on. I told myself, over and over, that I was never going to run another marathon.
Finally I could see it: The Citgo sign, mile 25. If I could just make it to the sign it meant I only had one more mile to run, and then this agony would be over. That sign was how the Rocky Mountains must have looked to the pioneers heading west, deceptively close, but farther away than it seemed. I became aware of some chafing on my inner thighs, and it really hurt. Why the heck was I chafing there?
I wished I had written my name on my shirt or bib. The entire run I had heard other people’s names being called out for encouragement, but I was glad of my anonymity. I was feeling so poorly, I didn’t want to be noticed or seen. I think, on some level, I didn’t even feel worthy of running the Boston Marathon because I knew I wasn’t having my best day. Now, running the last few miles to the finish line, I would’ve liked hearing my name yelled out.
Mile 25! I pulled it together one more time only to see yet another hill, an underpass. It wasn’t too tough, and I liked the break from the crowds. More running, then I could see the course making a sharp right that I didn’t expect. I looked to see what street we were turning on—maybe it was Boylston!—but was confused to see it was Hereford. Hereford? Did something happen? Did they have to change the course? Where was Boylston? I checked my Garmin to make sure I hadn’t misread the mileage. Just keep going. Of course, like a sick joke, Hereford was another very slight uphill. There was a left turn just ahead, though, and this time there was no doubt about it: Boylston Street and the finish line, just ahead.
That final half mile run to the Boston Marathon finish line is something I will remember on my deathbed. I felt like a champion, and knew how stupid I had been to feel unworthy of being there. I had fought and conquered, and I was going to cross that finish line leaving nothing on the course. As the crowds cheered me on, I gave it all I had, passing runner after runner, and sprinted to the finish at an 8:28 pace. Something I will never forget is hearing “Angela Turnage, Dallas, TX” as I crossed the finish.
Even though I missed a PR by a long shot, and instead finished at “only” 4:32:25, I was happy. I had run the Boston Marathon—sick!—and finished strong.
Making it to Heartbreak Hill was a fantastic feeling. I could hear the crowd in the distance, and the steady beat of a drum calling the runners. We made a slight turn and the hill became visible. Others had told me the hill “wasn’t that bad,” and I could tell it wasn’t as daunting as the first Newton Hill had been, but because of the way the hill disappeared into the trees and you couldn’t see the top, it was impressive enough. I stopped at the bottom of the hill and looked up, seeing for the first time the sight that I had only imagined these past six months.
I was snapped out of my awe by a male voice yelling, “Hey, Pretty in Pink! Get moving! You can do it!” I smiled and nodded, gave a wave, and took off up the hill. A loud cheer went out from the side of the hill, and I understood for the first time that day why so many people came out to cheer us on. I think they realized we runners were all doing something they couldn’t, and they didn’t want us to fail. It gave them hope that one day they might need to push themselves to their own limits, and seeing us do it let them know that they could do it as well.
Other than crossing the finish line, Heartbreak Hill was my favorite part of the race. The hill is very pretty, in a neighborhood lined with homes and families, and the trees seem to bend over the road ahead. For some reason I really connected with the crowd at Heartbreak, and I used their support to help me up. Everyone was struggling at this point, but it was inspiring to see so many runners who refused to give up. There was a lot of heart on Heartbreak Hill, from both spectators and runners.
I started looking for Michael and Dominique on the sides, and was irritated to think they might have decided to wait at the top—where I didn’t need them as much. Thankfully, they were somewhere in the middle, and I finally saw Michael’s bright yellow jacket and my daughter jumping up and down, screaming my name. I made a beeline for them, oblivious to anyone else around me, and hugged them both.
It would’ve been so easy to break down crying, and I think I did shed a few tears. I told Michael I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Dominique kept telling me how proud she was of me, that I was doing great, that I was amazing, but I could tell Michael knew how much I was struggling.
Michael suggested we keep walking up the hill as we talked, and he grabbed a cup of water for me. He was concerned when I told him I wasn’t able to urinate, but I told him I thought I would be okay and wouldn’t put myself in any danger.
Michael told me the hill went up just a little further, made a dip, then went up just a little more and was done. We hugged again and said our goodbyes, and I kept going. A few seconds later Michael came running up next to me and said he would run to the top with me. I wanted to cry again! When we reached the top, he told me I might make it to the finish line before they did. I scoffed and thought “yeah, right” because the finish line still seemed so far away. He veered off and was gone, and once again I was on my own. Only five more miles to the finish. I knew I would make it.
You could hear Wellesley long before you could see it. It was a long climb up to the campus, or at least it felt that way to me. It seemed like I’d never make it. I kept my head down and ran towards the noise. Several runners had told me that Wellesley was their favorite part of the entire race, and it wasn’t hard to see why. I felt like Odysseus being lured in by the Sirens, only I had left my ear wax in the hotel room.
Wellesley was a scream—literally. I had never seen so many young women (and men!) in one place, all screaming at the top of their lungs. I hadn’t expected all the signs I would see either. Most of the signs were small, like the size a beggar would hold at a red light, asking for money, only these signs were solicitations for something else. Kiss me, I’m Irish. Kiss me, I’m Asian. Kiss me, I’m Irish, Asian, American, all of the above. Kiss me, I’m smart. Kiss me, I should be studying. And there was my personal favorite, the one that spoke to me the most: RUN BITCH!
I saw several men run over and garner strength in the form of a kiss from one of the young coeds. As we ran further into town, one young man couldn’t stop gushing about how great that was, and how he wanted to run back and grab a few more kisses for the rest of the race! It was hard not to smile and feel a little lighter on our feet after Wellesley.
However, I was starting to wonder if I would even be able to finish the race. I wondered if I could walk the next 13 miles and still make it to the finish line before the cut-off. I imagined myself hobbling along the streets of Boston, the crowds long gone, asking directions to the finish line, only to find it dismantled and all the officials gone home. Would I still be able to get my medal? Would it be honorable to wear the jacket if I had walked the last 13 miles? There was no way I was going to drop out of the race, so it was a matter of pulling myself together to figure out a way to get through to the end.
The miles between Wellesley and the first Newton hill are a blur. I passed several medical tents and considered stopping in to see if they had an asthma inhaler to help with my breathing, but didn’t want to lose so much time. I decided instead to run the miles and walk every water stop, taking a few minutes to rest and recoup. This plan worked well, until I had a new concern: I was dehydrated. I knew this because I felt thirsty and my mouth was dry, even though I had been drinking plenty of water and Gatorade, but I wasn’t able to use the bathroom.
I stopped twice during this time, feeling the urge, but nothing happened either time. This was something I had never experienced before, and couldn’t figure out. It was alarming, and the only explanation I had was to blame it on the antihistamine I had taken the night before. I had had one other bad experience in the past when I took an antihistamine that dried me out, but had decided to take my chances for the race. I stopped every single mile the rest of the race and drank plenty, and it wasn’t enough.
Again I questioned whether I should stop in a medical tent, and if I was being smart to continue running, but I had a strong suspicion that if I was indeed severely dehydrated they would hook me up to an IV and make me drop out of the race. I was still standing, and that was enough to keep me out of the tent. I kept running. I dug deep and kept my head down, focusing on making it to Heartbreak Hill, mile 21, where Michael and Dominique would be waiting.
I never saw the sign for Newton, but I knew when we had hit the first of the four infamous Newton Hills. Of all the hills, I thought this one was by far the toughest. It wasn’t so steep, but it kept going up and up, comparable to Sperry hill times two. We ran over a freeway, and the smell of car exhaust was nauseating. I was proud that I made it to the top without walking.
There was a nice downhill, then hills numbers two and three. I don’t remember much about these hills, only keeping my gaze low and saying my hill mantra, over and over: just keep going, just keep going, just keep going. There is about a mile of downhill or flatness between each hill, so there was time to rest after each one. I was so out of it, and worried about the way I felt, I never even saw the mile 20 marker, which is usually a milestone for me. I knew that I had one more hill to conquer, and that my family was on that hill, and that they would help me make it to the end. Just keep going. Just keep going. Just keep going.
To already be dreading—at mile 2—all the miles ahead, was unthinkable. This was the Boston Marathon! But even though my legs were conditioned and doing what I had trained them to do, my chest and head were not on board. I felt fatigued and tired, even though my legs felt good to go. I decided to chunk the marathon into achievable goals, and my first was to concentrate on making it to mile 10. After that, it would be to make it to mile 13 at Wellesley, the halfway mark.
Clive, who was running his eighth Boston, had told me if I started to feel bad to use the spectators to help get me through. I did this off and on, but at times they were distracting. I tend to go inward and stay pretty focused when I run, and I sometimes found myself having to block out the spectators and noise around me just so I could remained focused. Maybe this was a mistake, since I wasn’t feeling well, but having to dig deep so early in the race took a lot of energy. I kept trying to convince myself the first 10 miles were feeling easy, but they weren’t.
It is difficult to describe the miles of screaming, cheering spectators. They were incredible. Entire families were camped out on the sides of the road and music was playing everywhere. A four piece bluegrass band played just outside of Hopkinton, and a gym played Rocky from huge loudspeakers. Small children stretched out their hands, either for a slap, or to offer an orange slice or a cup of water. People held signs with friends’ and loved ones’ names and words of encouragement, or with religious slogans that were runner appropriate. The alcoholic beverages were flowing freely on the sides of the road, and it was easy to tell who had gotten an early start. Since the marathon is run on Patriot’s Day each year, which is a state holiday, the entire race was one big party for those watching.
As I continued on the course, I realized it wasn’t purely downhill. There were what others might call “inclines,” but they looked like hills to me. Rolling hills. Lots of them. More than I expected. They weren’t particularly difficult, or long, or steep, and didn’t take too much out of you (those would come later), but they were still there. All in all, the first half of the course was scenic and rural, and gave you just enough challenge to keep it interesting.
My legs were still feeling strong and I wanted to stay on pace as long as I could. It was hard to block out the spectators as we ran towards the train station in Framingham at the 6.5 mile mark, and I let their enthusiasm spur me on. Michael and Dominique had discussed taking the commuter train to this spot to cheer me on, but had decided instead to wait on Heartbreak Hill at mile 21. I looked around for them anyway, hoping they might have changed their minds, but knew they hadn’t. I told myself it was okay, it was too early in the race anyway, and I would need their support much later on.
I saw a row of port-a-potties and decided to make a quick stop. This is very unusual for me, as I rarely have to go during a marathon, but I needed a short break. Unfortunately there were already two people in line, but I decided to stop anyway and rest. Once inside, I was annoyed because I didn’t have to go at all. False alarm. I ran back out and hit the road once again.
Just outside Natick we hit the 15K mark and the timing mats. I regretted that long stop in Framingham and hoped my splits still looked good for everyone tracking me back home. The next few miles were quiet and uneventful and the 10 mile mark came and went. Legs still felt good, the hills hadn’t taken too much effort, and I focused on making it to the halfway mark. Wellesley was next, and my only goal was to reach the wall of screaming women.
I was running the Boston Marathon! Years of dreaming about this moment, months of hard training, hours of reading about the course, and minutes of whispered prayers for a good run—and here I was, in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on my way to a finish line 26.2 miles away. With a shout and raised fists, we took off.
When I had pushed my way into the corral, I had forgotten to unzip my hoodie and was stopped by two volunteers demanding to see my bib. I was somewhat taken aback by this, and wondered how many people would actually try and bandit Boston from the start line and not somewhere further down on the course.
Before I even crossed the start line I decided to ditch the cotton hoodie. I threw it to a volunteer on the side and quickly regretted that decision when I felt several cold gusts of wind immediately afterwards. The regret was very short lived, however, once I started running and the temperature rose. I still had my gloves—which I did regret eventually ditching much later in the race. I could not complain about the weather. Except for the full onslaught of sunshine, it was in the 40’s and would only get into the low 50’s by the end of the day. Even the sun was replaced by overcast skies later in the race, and the wind was never a factor.
Crossing the start line didn’t take as long as I’d heard it would (less than eight minutes), and since I’d arrived at the corral literally seconds before the start gun went off there wasn’t much time to take in my surroundings. I was amazed at how narrow the street was for such a large number of runners. I was also surprised that we started running before we crossed the start line, thinking we would be forced to shuffle first, then run.
Everyone had told me it would be shoulder to shoulder the first two miles, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It was very crowded, but after the first mile it wasn’t too difficult to pass the ubiquitous shufflers and four-abreast group runners. Except for a few chatty groups, most everyone seemed to be running “alone,” like myself. There was very little talking, and it would be that way the entire race. Who could talk anyway with all the noise the spectators were making?
Very soon after starting, at the top of the incline looking down the small two-lane country road, I saw the most amazing sight I have ever seen in a marathon. I can’t even describe it. It was simply the sight of thousands and thousands of runners filling up every single inch of road as far as the eye could see. The magnitude of it took my breath away.
We passed the 1 km sign and I heard a man say next to me, “Jeez, I really don’t need to know how many kilometers I’ve run. Am I going to have to see those the entire way?” My thoughts exactly! For some reason, those km signs irritated me the first half of the race. I was only focused on one thing, and that was peeling off the miles, not the kilometers!
Everyone had told me to hold myself back the first few miles because they were all downhill. For the most part this was true, but it was hard not to let go and fly down those hills. I love downhill running, and my legs felt great. Even though I was keeping around an 8:45 pace, I felt like I was holding back. However, by mile 2, I was already aware that my stamina was very low, and that even though my legs were strong and well-trained, I was fatigued from being sick.
I had taken two puffs from my asthma inhaler before I dropped off my bag, but was struggling to catch my breath. My head was still congested and wasn’t clearing, and even though I was well-hydrated, my mouth felt dry. I was definitely not in the best of health, and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to simply shake off the symptoms as I got into the run. I had been kidding myself about how bad I felt, and I knew it was going to be a tough day.
We finally arrived at the Hopkinton high school and Athlete’s Village, and I told Emi, “there’s no going back now, we’re really here.” Everyone nodded their heads in communal commiseration. Everywhere you looked, there were happy, helpful volunteers in bright yellow jackets, ready to direct the runners to the places they needed to be. With anticipation, nervousness, and excitement, Emi and I stepped off the bus.
Large white tents were set up with bagels and water, but most runners decided to stay out in the open hoping to catch a few rays of warmth from the sun. The weather was beautiful, but the wind was bitterly cold. The ground was wet but not too muddy, and most people had brought plastic trash bags to sit or lay on. One ingenious guy had even brought a blow-up air mattress like you see in swimming pools, and was comfortably fast asleep (he must have been here before).
Emi and I found a place to sit out the long wait until we got called to the starting line. There was loud music blaring from huge loudspeakers, and an announcer telling the wave one runners where their buses would be located to drop off their bags before the start. People came and went, plastic bags were abandoned and reclaimed by others, and everyone was anxious to begin.
The port-a-potty lines were getting longer and longer, so Emi decided to go one last time before her 10:00 wave one start time. Steve Johnson called from his charity center and asked where I was sitting so we could see each other before the start. We never found each other. I looked for Will, whom I knew was starting in my same corral since we qualified with almost the same time in St. George, but I never saw him either. With almost 26,000 runners coming and going, I knew we could easily not see each other the entire run.
As I waited for Emi to return, I took it all in. Though all ages were represented, most of the people around me seemed to be my age or slightly older. I wondered if this was because we were mostly second wave runners, who were the slower, older qualifiers and charity runners. The announcer kept telling which start numbers should begin making their way to the corrals, and the field slowly became less and less crowded.
Two fighter jets flew overhead and I knew the race had officially begun. I thought about the elite runners, and what a momentous feeling it must be to win the Boston Marathon. I imagined what it must feel like to be Ryan Hall, so young and talented, and how fast he would run the same course I would follow. I thought of the elite women, and wished Kara, Deena, or Paula was running Boston this year.
Emi eventually returned, and I asked her if she was trying to PR today. She said yes, and she told me she never wears a Garmin. I gave her a confused look and she shrugged. Because I constantly strive to be less concerned with pace and time, but have so far failed miserably, I am in awe of Emi. We said our goodbyes and good lucks, and she rushed off. The runner from Boston on the bus had told us it was a .7 mile walk to the start line and would take about 30 minutes to get there with so many people, so she would have to hurry. After she left, I felt alone once again, even though I was still surrounded by thousands of runners.
I offered to let a woman from Florida share my plastic bag, happy for the company and conversation to fill the time, and we talked about how cold it was. This was her second time to run Boston, and the first had been two years earlier when it was even colder and wetter from a nor’easter that had blown in the day before. We discussed the agonies of training in a warm, humid state, and the joys of running races in cold locales, and if we had worn the right clothing for the race. Starting to get antsy about the long port-a-potty lines, I considered darting over to a grove of trees and bushes but noticed the area was being patrolled by National Guardsmen. I wondered if they were protecting me from terrorist activity, or protecting others from my indiscretions. We lined up for the port-a-potty one last time before the race, and I never saw my Florida friend again.
By this time it was around 10:00 and I knew Emi was starting. I wished her well in my head, and thought of Nick, Michael, Clive, and others I knew who were starting in the earlier wave. I also realized that if it was true that it would take me 30 minutes to get to the start, I better hurry. I found my drop-off bus, shoved my $7.48 Target Hello Kitty girls size XL sweat pants and St. George jacket in my bag, and joined the crowd heading to the start line.
A seemingly never-ending line of runners walked together down a long narrow road between historic wooden houses, and almost all of the homeowners stood in their front yards clapping and wishing us good luck. One nice woman told us not to worry, it would get warmer, she promised. Volunteers were collecting throw-away clothes on the sidelines, but I decided to keep my $3.48 Target motocross boys size XL hoodie on until I at least got to the start line.
A young college student from Long Island struck up a conversation with me on the walk down, and even she had run Boston the previous year. She was training to be a teacher, so I guess my “teacher look” gave me away even in my runner’s garb. She assured me that the hills weren’t really that bad on the course, and that this year she didn’t care what time she finished the race in, she just wanted to enjoy the experience. I asked her how she got to be so wise at such a young age.
We arrived at the corrals, which were bursting with runners, and she stepped off to the side to stretch. I had lost another friend and, once again, amidst thousands of runners, I felt totally alone. As I stepped into my official corral, I heard the starting gun go off. I was running in the 114th Boston Marathon.
Getting sick two days before a marathon is bad luck. Running a marathon when you’re sick is miserable. Running the Boston Marathon when you’re sick is like your worst nightmare come true.
I slept probably the best I’ve ever slept the night before a marathon, but I still woke up at 4am, one hour before the alarm was set to go off. I still had the congestion, still had the sore throat, and still had the aches and chills. I took two puffs on the asthma inhaler and hoped the antihistamine I took the night before was working. I pushed it all to the back of my mind and started mentally preparing for the race ahead of me. I envisioned myself at the start, rested and ready to go. I imagined running through Wellesley at the halfway point, still feeling great and right on pace. I saw myself making it to the Citgo sign and knowing I was one mile out from the finish. I felt myself running down the finish chute, knowing I had successfully completed the marathon everyone wants to run.
While Michael and the kids slept, I dressed in the dark and got my things together for the race. I planned on checking the yellow BAA bag that was given to us with our bibs, knowing I would need my phone and the extra clothing because of the cold. I woke everyone up, kissed my son goodbye (he had to fly back to Portland, OR and would miss the race entirely), and walked to the elevator. I felt so alone.
It was in the upper 30’s when I left the hotel, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It wasn’t hard to figure out where to go to catch one of the buses to the start line. All I needed to do was follow the line of runners with their yellow bags slung over their shoulders. Incredulously, a young runner from Jersey asked if this was the way to the buses. I told him it better be, or we were all going the wrong way. He was running his first Boston as well, and was just as nervous as I was.
Emi texted to say she had just left her hotel. It was 6:30am. There were quite a few different lines for the buses, so I picked one and waited for her to arrive, thinking we might miss each other completely. There were hundreds and hundreds of runners. Thankfully, she found me and we spent the next 15 minutes or so slowly creeping toward our bus. Everyone was dressed in a variety of throw-away clothes, hats, and gloves. Even though the sun was shining, it was breezy, and the wind felt arctic (at least to this Texan). There was a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. We even got to see Paul Revere in running shoes before we boarded the bus.
Everyone had told me that taking one of the official BAA buses to the start was the best way to go, and they were right. Everything was incredibly well organized, and all the volunteers seemed genuinely happy to be there. Barricades were lined up along the streets and it was evident something BIG was going to take place in the city that day. I tried to imagine what it would be like later in the day when I returned, an official Boston Marathon finisher.
There was a lot of lively chatter on the bus headed to Hopkinton, but the trip there seemed to take so long. I couldn’t help but think how I would have to run all that way back into the city, and how far it seemed. It was very pretty outside of Boston, and we drove past small forests and trees barely in bloom. I was somewhat familiar with the route beforehand, but wasn’t completely cognizant of the fact that 26.2 miles from Boston meant “rural.” 26.2 miles from Dallas meant “suburb,” and the two couldn’t have looked more different.
Emi and I were surrounded by repeat Boston Marathon runners. The guy sitting in front of us lived a mile from the finish line, and was running his seventh Boston. The man and wife across from us were from Ohio; he was running his sixth, she her fifth. The man in front of them was from Pebble Beach, CA and was running his eighth. He was also running Big Sur the following weekend, in what is known as “Boston to Big Sur.” He said Big Sur was the “tough one” and made a face. Overall, during the entire weekend, I met very few people who were running Boston for the first time.
After awhile, the excited talking subsided and everyone grew quiet. I tried not to think about my sore throat and stuffy head. I was sure that once I started running my head would clear and my asthma would disappear. My legs felt ready, and that was all that mattered. It wasn’t even 8:00, though, and we still had a long time until the start.