It’s been hard to find the words to adequately describe the experience running Boston, my 10th marathon. It’s even difficult to answer when people ask about it in person. It was equally the most challenging, thrilling, exhausting and rewarding thing I have ever done and I would not change one single thing – not even the weather (incase you haven’t heard, it was hot!). We’ve come away with a good story to tell and memories that will last a lifetime.
We had been receiving weather advisories from the B.A.A. all weekend long and one last peak at the forecast confirmed that the predictions were correct: we were in for a scorcher. All along we had planned to run for the experience rather than any goal time, so the conditions only reinforced that decision. I’m sure everyone heard about the deferral option, but we did not consider that even for a second. It was going to be a tough day out there, but we were here to run Boston and nothing was going to stop us.
“Marathon Monday” – April 16, 2012
We set our alarm for 5:30. I had slept pretty well and felt rested and ready to get this show on the road. I had breakfast # 1 in bed and surprisingly, my nerves allowed me to get it all down.
We suited up and headed downstairs at 6:30. We didn’t end up needing half of the throw-away gear we had brought, but packed an extra (light) layer, something to sit on, plenty of fluids and breakfast # 2+3.
There was a different vibe in the hotel that morning – you knew that everyone else who was up and about was either off to the race or seeing their loved ones off. The adrenaline was pumping, but there was also an odd sense of calm. There wasn’t a lot of chatter being exchanged, just a discreet nod or grin to say “Good luck” and “Here goes nothing.” Of course, meeting up with our gang was a different story. We were pretty much giddy and buzzing with excitement. I really couldn’t believe the day was here.
It was about a 15 leisurely minute walk for us to the far side of Boston Common to meet the buses, with a couple of stops for Starbucks, port-o-potties (2x for me, nerves kicking in) and photos along the way.
We were blown away by the lines winding all over the park. For a brief moment I panicked, wondering how on earth we would ever make it on to a bus to get to Hopkinton. I calmed down with a bit of re-assurance that we were all in the same boat and had plenty of time. It was actually amazing to see how quickly the line(s) moved.
We watched as the sea of runners were gradually ushered on to buses, volunteers raised their flags when they were full, and a convoy of dozens upon dozens of buses pulled away in one long, seamless line. An instant later, empty buses pulled right up. What an efficient system! I think we only waited about 20 minutes to board our bus, which was mind-blowing considering the amount of people there.
We were first on our bus so we snagged seats at the front. I felt like a kid on my way to my first day of kindergarten! We had been warned over and over that the ride is long, especially if traffic gets backed up towards Hopkinton. I was careful not to drink too much as we waited for fear of needing the use the washroom, but the fear of dehydration later on was worse so I sipped water slowly all along.
The trip was pretty smooth with the exception of a slight back-up on the freeway. We ate our next breakfast and watched the road signs, getting excited as we started seeing the names of the famous boroughs.
Before we knew it, we were pulling up to Athlete’s Village and piling off the bus. I think it was 8:30 or so when we arrived.
It was incredible walking into Athlete’s Village and finding a sea of runners sprawled out all over the grass, seeking out whatever shade they could find. We were glad to see that the port-o-potty lines weren’t very long at all, and we snagged an open spot in the shade under one of the big tents.
After one potty stop, we settled in for a bit and began slathering on several layers of Body Glide and sunscreen, while munching on breakfast # 3 and continuing to hydrate. I feel like I did not stop eating all morning, but I knew it would be crucial for the late race start. It was already very warm and certainly not the typical pre-race scene where people are bundled up and huddled together for warmth.
At this point they had only called the Wave 1 runners, but we were getting very restless sitting around and couldn’t seem to relax. After another potty stop, those of us in Wave 2 decided to start making our way toward the baggage buses and then to the start line. There were people everywhere, but we never felt overwhelmed by the crowds and the entire process was very easy.
There were plenty of port-o-potties outside of Athlete’s Village as well with minimal lines, so we made one last stop. After that we found the appropriate buses to drop off our check bags and then joined the flow of traffic heading toward the start. The sun was high in the school, there was no shelter and we really noticed was how hot it was. This was a reality check for what we would be in for – we were already sweating just from a slow ~1 mile walk.
There was a station set up along the side with markers so Nicole and I took advantage to write our names down our arms (and “CANADA” on the opposite arm).
We hit the corrals before long and slipped into ours easily with plenty of space; I had expected it to be quite a bit more crowded. I think we were there about 10 minutes before Wave 2 was set to take off.
We fired up our watches, exchanged some last minute good lucks and took a minute to soak it in. This was it – we were lined up to start the BOSTON MARATHON! I think one of us said, “Well we made it!” Or maybe I just said it in my head? Anyway, it felt like a huge victory to have gotten to the starting line and I was ready to pour my heart into it all the way to the finish.
Time to run!
I had expected a slow and congested start, but found that we had space pretty quickly. It was hard not getting swept up in the crowd since we were clearly running slower than most people around us. We reeled it in and tried to hold back on the downhills without hitting the brakes too hard, running along right around my typical long run pace. I knew that discipline through the early miles is what would save me later on, and hubs was a good sport considering this pace probably felt like slow motion.
I settled in, continued drinking a ton of water, took in the sights all around us, sweated like crazy and tried not to think too much about the many miles that lay ahead. I was determined to enjoy myself, but it was definitely daunting to think of how far we had yet to go in this heat, and it was only getting hotter.
We both noticed that this first part of the race was a lot more hilly than we expected. Everyone always talks about the downhill start, but there were non-stop rollers. We cruised up and down, in awe at the long snake of runners ahead of (and hehind) us.
It started off relatively quiet save for the pounding of thousands of feet, but we soon made our way into the first “town” area where spectators were out in full force, and it never let up for the remainder of the route. I could not believe the number of people out lining the road so early on.
It was fun to recognize all of the neighbourhood names that I’ve been hearing about for years, and it seemed like each one wanted to outdo the others with the amount of people that came out and how much noise they could make. There were people screaming, signs everywhere, music blasting and everything you can imagine being handed out by the locals – water, sports drinks, ice, freezies, candy, lube, tissues, damp paper towel (saved the day to get sun screen out of my eyes), beer… the list goes on.
I was carrying my 20oz handheld and needed to refill it at every second water station. Whenever possible, I tried to refill from the jugs which was faster and also meant colder water. I took gatorade occasionally, although it was often too warm and syrupy to get much down. I gu’d every 7-8K and also took a salt pill at the start and every 10K.
Mentally, I was tackling the distance 5K at a time. I looked forward to hitting every 5K milestone, knowing that we would cross the timing mats and everyone at home would get an update. It was uplifting to know how many people were watching and rooting us on.
I was looking forward to Wellesley and the infamous “scream tunnel”, which did not disappoint. As promised, we could hear them long before we saw them and the girls were going nuts. This was exactly as I had imagined it. Although I encouraged hubs to go ahead and steal a kiss, he declined. (It’s probably more fun without permission…)
Not long after that, we were officially half way there! (1:58:41 split) We were running pretty consistently for the first half with our 5K splits all within about a minute. I was sweating like crazy and hotter than I could ever remember feeling, but my legs were doing good.
The hose/sprinkler/fire hydrant/misting stations had started early and we took advantage of every single one. It was hilarious to watch hoards of runners darting from one side of the road to the next for an instant of cold, refreshing spray but it was so worth it! For a moment, I would feel completely cooled off and refreshed – unfortunately, each time it would be short lived. I was so grateful to everyone who was out there doing what they could to help us endure the grueling heat and sun. One guy was even dunking sponges in a bucket of water and squished it on my head and back as I ran by. Amazing!! Of course, our clothes were heavy and sopping wet and our toes were squishing in our shoes from splashing through puddles all over the road, but that didn’t bother me one bit. (Miraculously, my toes survived the race free of blisters!)
We made our way to Newton and I knew the real hills would be starting soon. People were walking and stopping all over the place and it became very clear that the heat was taking a toll on many. We started noticing more and more people filling the medical tents or getting assistance at the side of the road. I was definitely tired and drained, but it made me realize that I was in pretty good shape. We had a long way to go, but we were upright and still happy.
There were electronic sign boards all over the course reading “SLOW DOWN!” and “WALK!” Definitely not your usual motivational peppy words of advice. It was almost comical. I wish I had taken a photo!
A lot of our runing buddies has been telling us that the hills would be no big deal compared to the ones we train on, and that we would be up the last one without even realizing it. Yeah… not so much! One in particular seemed to go on and on and I was convinced in was Heartbreak, only to hit another one shortly after. Turns out that wasn’t Heartbreak either! Ha! We joked afterwards that we had run up Heartbreak Hill three times. I silently gave myself permission to walk at the top of each one, but I managed to keep running.
By the time we reached mile 21 and had made it up all the hills, my legs were just about toast. I felt so physically drained by the heat and sun that it took everything just to keep moving. I was also feeling a “ceasing” sensation all the way down my left side which made me extremely nervous that my whole leg was going to cramp up on me. Hubs had noticed that I was no longer talking but we plugged along. He was often running a few paces ahead of me, which helped me to keep moving. It’s like he knew that running beside me would give me permission to slow down. (It would have!)
We did slow, but not dramatically. (For comparison, our fastest 5K was 27:33 and our slowest was 30:44.) Hubs was taking really good care of me, asking what I needed and grabbing treats like ice and licorice from spectators for me. I continued cooling off in the hoses (etc.) whenever I could and shoved handfuls of ice down my top at every opportunity. One time I heard a guy on the sidelines yell out, “I saw that!” and I gave him a big grin and a thumbs-up. (Hubs asked me later if I had given him the finger, LOL)
The crowds were thicker and louder (and started smelling more like beer…) as we continued on. It had cleared out enough for more people to read my arm and I heard my name or “Oh Canada!” called out often. It’s amazing what a boost it was to have a perfect stranger cheering me on. The crowd interaction was truly incredible. I found that people would make an effort to get my attention, locking eyes and making me feel like I was the only runner out there, saying “YOU’VE got this. YOU are doing amazing. YOU are almost there.” They really made me believe it and while I wanted to scream “HELL YEAH” I could usually only manage a nod, a smile or a thumbs up.
Hubs was suffering at this point too, for a different reason. He wasn’t tired, but his feet were sore from being out there for so long. This was the longest he had ever run time-wise (except Disney 2010) and his body was not too happy. He was a trooper and hung in there, urging me on without complaining. Luckily he knew better and only told me later how much the pace was killing him. We stuck it out together and counted down the miles one at a time.
All along I managed not to walk except briefly at the water stations. It was so tempting to stop and I battled the desire constantly, but starting to run again was more difficult each time so I knew it was not a good idea. Just keep running…
As we neared 40K, I recognized Nicole up ahead. Part of me was disappointed because it meant that her race had not gone according to plan/goal, but I was also happy to see her. We caught up and scooped her up with us. I think she was relieved to find some familiar faces as well. We rallied together and swapped war stories for a minute, but soon became silent again because talking required way too much effort.
Mercifully, we soon spotted the Citgo sign up in the distance. One mile to go from that sign. I got choked up when I saw Mile 25.
Hubs darted ahead to snap a photo of us plugging along.
In my head I had started chanting “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston” over and over. I knew we were close – SO close – but it was starting to feel like we may never get there.
But then we turned, and turned once more. And there it was.
We did it! And I wouldn’t change one single thing.