If you had asked me in early March if I was going to be running the Boston Marathon, I would have replied with a “maybe.” Because of a minor four week setback with my calf, at that point my training was not near where I had planned to be. I was running again, but with my end goal being a 2:43 marathon, anything less than knocking it out of the park was not going to cut it. Then on Friday the email pictured below popped up in my inbox. I reread it about ten times, while mumbling “Do they have the right Kristen Lawrence?”
“Selected to participate in the Elite Women’s Start (EWS) for the 2015 Boston Marathon…” No exaggeration: this was the best running related email I’ve ever received. I have dreamed about standing in the Boston Marathon elite field, listening to the Star Spangled Banner, seeing Shalane Flanagan & Desi Linden take off, then later watch Meb and the rest of the elite men fly by me at low five minute pace (The elite women start 30 minutes earlier than the men). I really wanted this experience, I’d worked so hard for it, and felt like I earned it. So barring any unforeseen incidents in the next month, I knew I would be on that Boston Marathon starting line, wearing a “Running Etc.” top, bib # F32, and a HUGE smile on my face. I might not be the speediest one there, but I could argue I might be the happiest! I couldn’t wait to take it all in, earn my third medal with a unicorn on it, and leave Boston with a better experience than I did in 2013.
Obviously I needed to get fit. My running was going well. I seemed to have finally kicked my calf issue. I wasn’t running nearly as much as I was, or as I wished I was, but I was running. The majority of my time was spent cross-training and, while I miss my miles, I loved doing something different! I’ve always enjoyed indoor cycling, but the rower and elliptical kept me busy too, plus the strength work. There was some sort of strength workout every single day of training. One day would be squats, lunges, step-ups; and the following would be upper body focused. Tons of core work thrown in there as well.
The additional strength work led to one of my goals for 2015: to make me a better overall athlete, instead of just a better runner, with the hopes it will translate to a better marathon time through less injuries, additional strength, and speed. For the first time in my life I could do two pull-ups! Four weeks earlier I could only do half a pull-up. I didn’t do pull-up specific exercises at all, just regular strength, but we have a pull-up bar my kids love to play on, and I can get a little competitive with my seven year old. He busts out a half dozen pull-ups in a row!
In the following month, I was amazed at the support I received. Thank you to everyone who sent me kind messages before (and during and after) Boston. Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to go to Boston even though I wasn’t race ready. Thank you to my in-laws who watched my kids for me as I ran my dream race while my husband was deployed. And thank you to my coach, Jerry Frostick, for reeling me in and reminding me the memories are sometimes (most times) more important than the time on the clock.
Boston 2015 was a dream come true for me. My high school running coach Dave Symonds, who drove me to Boston for the race, is from Boston and wore a Boston baseball cap every day of our high school practices. When I was 16, he told me about this crazy race called “The Boston Marathon.” I didn’t even know what a marathon was! Then when I watched the 2009 Boston Marathon on television and saw the elite women start, I told myself “I want that.” That love of Boston was driven even deeper after I experienced that awful race day of 2013. Simply put, it’s been an over-the-moon goal of mine to make that Boston Elite field and the countless miles and painful races were all worth it to get two thin pieces of paper with the number 32 on it. My husband was named after a baseball player who wore the number 32. It’s now my new favorite number, and will be for life. I have never kept a race bib before, but this one is an absolute keeper.
As Patriots Day approached, I found my small injury in January had set be back a good seven weeks, so my buildup was not ideal at all. I could go in racing 100% and come up with an okay time, but risk tearing a strained calf; or I could swallow my pride and run conservatively while enjoying the miles. My coach and I chose the latter, and together we came up with a plan that set me up for an exciting race, but most importantly kept in mind the big picture is a fall marathon to chase that Olympic Trials Qualifying Time (2:43). We had more details laid out I won’t go into, but the plan for Boston was basically this: Make memories that last a lifetime and come home injury-free. Spoiler alert – I was successful!
Pre-race was busier than I usually am before a marathon. Usually the goal before a marathon is to get the bib and get to the hotel to rest the legs. Instead, my roommate Michele Gonzalez and I spent time chatting with everyone at the expo, visiting the new Boston Marathon Runners Base with my training partner Megan and her husband Rick, and taking finish line photos. Later in the evening, I attended a Runners World VIP party (so fun but of course I regretfully didn’t take any photos). And that was all just on Saturday!
[Here I am meeting Bart Yasso at the expo. Everyone knows Bart for his incredible endurance running, but I know Bart’s name because of the famous Yasso 800’s (a marathon time prediction workout). I didn’t tell him they are probably my least favorite workout ever. More agonizing than a mile, more time to feel the pain than a quarter mile, not lengthy enough to justify eating half a dozen donuts afterwards.
When I saw him again at the Runners World VIP party, he remembered every detail I had mentioned earlier in the day, despite me being one in 500+ people he met. Amazing guy, but don’t ask him to babysit because he will let your kids watch South Park.]
Sunday was a little quieter. I only had to attend the Elite Technical meeting. I was awe struck seeing Meb, Shalane, Hastings, Ritz, etc. Sharon Cherop sat down next to me and when we chatted briefly I think I must have been beaming. She WON the Boston Marathon in 2012. I also met a few new friends I know I will keep in contact with over my running years, and I learned just how incredibly detailed the BAA is about race day. One speaker’s job title was “Captain of Hydration Stations.” I just love the way that sounds. I didn’t ask for any photos with the pros because it was business time and it never felt appropriate. My eyes were definitely darting around the room looking at everyone, though!
The night before the race Michele and I hung out in the hotel room and ordered in pasta. I was so relaxed hanging out with her. She is an incredible woman and a perfect marathon roommate, so in turn, being so calm, I slept like a rock. Probably the best night’s sleep I have ever gotten before a marathon. Before I knew it, it was time to wake up, throw on the race gear, grab coffee, eat soft pretzels (my pre-marathon food), and walk to the Elite meeting area.
Once in Hopkinton (the town where the Boston Marathon starts) we were lead to another elite staging area, this time in a church near the start line. Again I was a bit awe-struck seeing all the pros and watching them prep. Chairs, yoga mats for stretching, and nutrition were laid out for us. We were also able to leave our bags there for them to transport to the finish line tent for us to pick up immediately upon finishing the race, so we could change out of our wet clothes in the elite staging hotel (so thankful for that!).
Our start time was 9:32am and about 20 minutes before, the staff started to line up the front row of elites, then the rest of us not on that first starting line were lead out. Running out to the start was INCREDIBLE. Inside the church I couldn’t hear a thing, but when we came out the doors and ran to the start, the crowds were deafening already! Running out there was more exhilarating than I could have imagined. I was wearing the black sunglasses. It was a dreary day, but I knew we would have a strong headwind full of rain and I hate rain in my eyes!
The plan was to run the first few miles comfortably fast. Normally I would NEVER do this. My advice is to start the first three miles of a marathon slower than you would like your overall average pace to be. This being an experience I knew I wanted to enjoy though, I ran by feel. I have no idea how but I ended up on the side of the front pack. That was not purposeful but in retrospect it was pretty darn cool to be so close to my running idols for a few moments. That first mile felt like I was running on clouds. We hit the first mile around 5:38.
About a mile and a half in, the lead pack started to pull away on a downhill. I’ve seen these women race dozens of times on television, but being just feet away made me realize just how effortlessly efficient they are. They glided away and for awhile it was just Andrea Duke and I. I have a million favorite moments of that race, but one in particular was Andrea looking over at me and saying “What a view we have.” Steps in front of us were the fastest female marathoners in the world, the pace truck with camera crews and official time clock, and a motorcade of police escorts with screaming crowds on both sides of the closed Boston Marathon course. The awe of that moment didn’t escape either of us and gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. She posted a cool photo on her blog of us. Her race recap is incredibly inspiring, so check it out!
A few miles in I knew I had to reel in the pace. I had to remind myself my longest training run had been 16 miles, and none of those runs started with a 5:38 mile or 20 mph head winds. I held back on the pace, gave about 1,000 high fives, and tried to permanently ingrain every moment into my brain. It was the best long run of my life.
I finished the first half in 1:29 and immediately thought I was running too fast for a training run into a headwind. Later my calves and hip would pay for those speedy miles! Through Wellesley College I saw a sign I had requested made for my friend Megan and I that told us to “Run for the Cupcakes!” Megan and I live dangerously close to a bakery and are known for our bakery walks. I told the Wellesley girls I was the Kris in “Kris & Megan” and they went absolutely insane cheering. My ear drums almost burst! Another fun moment I won’t ever forget.
At mile 14, a lead biker pulled up alongside of me and a helicopter hovered overhead. I knew what that meant: The elite men were coming! The biker was wonderful and chatted for a bit, letting me know I had plenty of time and not to worry. I kept looking over my shoulder, concerned I would get in the way of the men’s lead truck or lead men. Turns out my worry was for nothing as there was plenty of room for them to fly by me at a crazy fast pace. Dathan Ritzenheim was in the lead then, and I thought “Can this day get any better?” It did get better because I saw so many friends cheering on the sides, some even with signs that made me pick up the pace with excitement. I gave almost all of them a side five or hug. So fun.
Around mile 18, my right hip was getting sore. Nothing serious, but enough to make me wise up and relax the pace. Also the rain started. A cold, headwind rain. Nothing could stop my happy flow, but I will say this was the first time in my racing history I actually felt cold. I always run hot. By mile 22, I was shivering terribly, but I kept thinking “Only four miles left? I don’t want this to be over!” When the sub-elite men caught up (they start later than I did) I was very happy to see them. Running mostly alone is tough! With a sore hip I would stop every mile or so to stretch it out. The crowds were AMAZING. Every time I stopped they were worried I would quit (nothing was going to stop me from that finish line!), and when I would start running again, they would go crazy screaming “Go F32!!” Much earlier in the race I hopped in a porta-potty and when I came out, the crowd went wild screaming. I thought “They even cheer when I go to the bathroom!” Ha ha! I love Boston so much.
The last two to three miles were a grind. I was loving it, but my calves were yelling at me that I hadn’t run for that length of time in about four years. The rain really started to come down hard. I’ve read a few reports online by people who did not run, who say the weather was not that bad. Nope. Wrong. The weather towards the middle/end of the day was horrible, which makes all the PR’s even that more admirable. Michele killed her race, and one of my closest friends Megan set a huge PR as well. So very proud of them!! I finished in 3:21. I have no problem saying this was the slowest marathon I’ve ever run, because it also happened to be the best race experience of my life. I got to run in my favorite race, with an elite bib. I can choose to be upset I wasn’t in a position to be competitive, or I can be absolutely grateful for the best race day of my life. I am grateful.
After I crossed the finish line, I was immediately escorted to the elite tent and staging area where I was given my medal. I started shivering terribly and couldn’t even hold my heat blanket on myself. The BAA staff was wonderfully attentive. They brought me hot coffee, food, my gear, etc. Then I hobbled into the elite staging hotel and cleaned up and changed. It took me a good thirty minutes before I felt like I could defrost. A female member of the race staff patiently stayed with me (outside the dressing area) the entire time to make sure I was okay. I had never been that cold in my life! It wasn’t the temperature but the rain that kept me so chilled. I received a massage which immediately loosened up the hip that had been troublesome. My coach called and it was another one of those moments I will never forget. He was so happy, I was so happy, and we were chatting about the excitement of the day, while Meb and the other pros were hanging out in the same room. Fantastic.
After saying goodbye to a few new friends, I walked back to my hotel, and found Michele, who as I mentioned set a big PR, on a tough day on a tough course. Rockstar. I had to clean up and pack up quickly before heading to the airport, but we took a quick photo before we said goodbye. I know many people hate traveling the day of a marathon, but I get antsy and can’t wait to get back to my kids. It wasn’t hard to say goodbye to Michele though because I know we will run another race or five together.
Boston was the springboard I needed to change my momentum into a positive direction for my racing goals. I’m hungrier than ever to recover, train, and get after that OTQ this fall. Thank you to all who have supported me. Congrats to all the Boston Runners! I am SO glad I was able to meet many of you. Congrats on surviving that cold, windy rain. Enjoy that well deserved recovery! Eat lots of donuts. I know I will. 😉
Boston, I love you.
Virginia Beach, Virginia