Where do I even begin to try to start with a race that has been several years in the making? After qualifying in 2013 for the 2014 Boston Marathon with a 3:13:33 at the “Last Chance for Boston” (after battling back from stress fractures in both legs), I missed getting into the race by eleven seconds, since they lowered the qualifying times due to increased interest after the bombings. I worked hard to get even faster so my Boston dream could become a reality by running a 3:10:25 at the 2014 Erie Marathon.
However, the dream to even get to Boston started right after running my first marathon, when I made a solid attempt to Boston Qualify in my second marathon. I realized then if I worked harder, I might just be able to do it. With eight marathons under my belt including three sub 3:15 BQs and two marathons pacing, the Boston Marathon was set to be my ninth marathon in less than five years of running.
The trip to Boston started on Saturday with a 5:30 a.m. flight and then a trip to the Expo as soon as I got to Boston. More sightseeing followed and then continued on Sunday. It was great to run into some of my central Ohio running friends, and also very cool to watch Shalane Flanagan get in her warmup on Sunday morning, and then snag a photo with her. I also managed to get in a shakeout run around the Boston Common on Sunday afternoon before heading to the pre-race pasta dinner.
Marathon Monday finally arrived and with it 40-degree temps, rain, and 20 mph winds. I took the bus to Hopkinton with my running partner Cindy Warner and we arrived with only about 35-40 minutes to kill before we headed to the starting corrals, just enough time to make it through the port-a-pottie line. Once in the corral, we were soon marching what seemed to be almost a mile (the guy on the PA said it was .70 of a mile if we wanted to tack it on to our mileage for the day. Ha ha!). As we all took off our throwaway clothes and rain ponchos that had kept us warm and dry, the rain started. Then, the gun sounded and we were off!
The first mile was super crowded as we all tried to find whatever space we could. I clocked a 7:54, but I was fine with that because I went into the race not knowing what my legs could do since I had been battling a sartorius muscle issue in my right leg for a couple of weeks. However, I quickly settled in and knocked out the first 10 miles with pretty consistent splits – 7:25, 7:21, 7:26, 7:38, 7:29, 7:26, 7:29, 7:26, and 7:32.
The rolling hills started to take their toll on my right knee over the next three miles as my splits slipped to 7:40, 7:36, and 7:44. I hit the halfway point at 1:39:37 for a 7:35 pace I was really pleased with. One of the highlights of the entire race was running through Wellesley College. You could hear the Scream Tunnel almost a mile before you got to it as girls lined the right side of the road for hours in the cold and rain with some of the best signs on the entire course as they tried to get runners to stop for kisses. It was definitely fun going through Wellesley as I slapped hands with all the girls along the line (no kisses although one girl grabbed my hand and nearly succeeded in pulling me in! LOL). However, it was a real letdown emotionally for the half mile or so after Wellesley, as that was probably the one lull in the spectators.
The second half of the race became a struggle for me as by mile 15 I was having trouble extending my right leg due to the sartorius issue. I got through miles 14-16 with splits of 7:57, 8:13, and 8:07 and then I hit the true hilly section. I got through the first four miles of it pretty well considering how my leg felt, with splits of 8:38, 8:46, 8:38, and 9:07. Then, as I crested Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, I decided to make a quick detour into the medical tent because I knew I needed something to perk me up. I ended up with a handful of potato chips and then some amazing broth I took with me in a cup (guess this is practice for an ultra). That mile ended up my slowest at 12:23 with the three-minute pit stop that also included a quick trip to the dirtiest port-a-pottie I’ve ever been in. Just glad I wasn’t planning on sitting down is all I’m saying…
From there, the last five-plus miles were sheer willpower. I was determined to finish and to not walk at all in this one, even if slowed to a shuffle (which I did). I did manage to eat a pretty good meal, thanks to the spectators, as I grabbed orange slices, pineapple chunks, a popsicle, two pieces of licorice, and a Milky Way bar to help me get the rest of the way (again, ultra training). My splits were 9:43, 9:57, 10:26, 10:03, and 10:31.
Turning on Boylston Street was so emotional! My calves were both cramping by this point so there was no sprint left in me, but the crowd was so loud! I managed to get the pace back down to a 9:48 for the final .20 and crossed the finish line with my arms held high. I had done it! I had run the Boston Marathon! (Big thanks to Alex Connell for his great screen capture work on the video feed to catch me running under the clock to cross the finish line!)
The kind volunteers helped me get a poncho on because I was freezing and put the medal around my neck. I slowly made my way a couple of blocks to the corner where I was going to wait for Cindy when she finished. I had only come to a stop for about 30 seconds when she appeared with a big smile on her face. The emotion of the race and all the training that had been done, as well as all the ups and downs of my running journey, hit me hard at that point and I broke into tears as I stumbled towards her and gave her a hug with what little strength I had left.
While a 3:44:27 is my second slowest marathon (not counting the ones I’ve paced) and 34 minutes off my personal best, I could not be more proud of my effort in this one. I was worried going into it I might not finish or that I would finish and it would take me over four hours with a lot of walking. However, I made it! It was also great to see how well my friends did! A bunch of the running friends I’ve connected with through the internet all had great races and I’m so proud of them!
What makes the Boston Marathon so special is definitely the volunteers and the amazing crowd of spectators. They stood out in horrible conditions and willed each and every one of us to the finish line like it was their own personal responsibility to make sure we crossed it. I said “thank you” to as many volunteers as I could, and I gave out more high fives along the route than in all my previous races combined. I may not have had what some would say is a good race based on my finishing time and my qualifying time to get there, but I definitely enjoyed the experience, despite the discomfort in my leg. I was also proud of the way I didn’t let the conditions get to me and how I just embraced them.
I would love the privilege to do this race again and with healthy legs. [As a footnote, I ended up battling the injuries that kept me from running at 100% in 2015, and they compounded to the point I broke my foot on a run on August 13th. Ouch! I was in a boot for 12 weeks with no activity and missed six races for which I had previously registered. However, I was finally cleared in November to ease back into running and by January was pretty much back at full strength and starting my training for Boston 2016. I can’t wait!]
Mount Vernon, Ohio
[Follow Dave Parsons on his blog DP on the Go!.]