Coming to race, not just have fun

I can’t say enough good things about Boston. The city, the people, the race. Everything. Even if you’re not a diehard runner, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Boston Marathon. I think sometimes the money aspect of it tends to cloud my judgement of how much I love it, because it’s seriously an expensive weekend to drag yourself through 26 miles. But with two finishes in two years I proclaim Boston to be well worth it!

Going into this one, many folks including myself were stalking the weather forecast. There was a lot of worry about temperatures being warm. If you asked me about it, I was sticking to my guns and saying it sounded glorious, because I was going to race, not just to have fun. I needed to convince myself and anyone around me the weather would be fine.

I was also adding the advice “drink up” to my reply. I pounded the fluids a week prior and added in base salt to my drinks and my food. I can’t handle the salt during the race so I have to load up pre-race. I was pounding bottles of Infinit Speed all week long, and up to the race morning. Yes, I am accustomed to the heat, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Remember what Shalane Flanagan looked like running a marathon in 70-degree weather at 11:00am? I wasn’t going to let that happen.

13000112_10154177077219525_5138874805809776265_nI got in Saturday afternoon and immediately headed to the expo. It’s super cool, but sooooo crowded. Not my thing. I had a great time walking with Sherrie as it was her first Boston and helping her buy all the things. She looked like she was having a blast. I had gotten the jacket last year, so this year I saved my money for some smaller stuff like t-shirts and hats. We met back up with the boys and headed off to Cheers. Great little tourist spot to hit up while you’re there. I’m obsessed with the television show, so I was stoked. Decent food with plenty of options.

Afterwards we made our way back to the hotel, then went out for dessert at Mike’s Pastry. I kid you not, the line was wrapped around the block. This was no joke. However, standing in line with Pat and George, there was never a dull moment. They made it interesting while we waited. When we got to the counter, between Patrick and me, I think we ordered eight cannoli and three other assorted desserts. We brought them back to our rooms and dug in. HEAVEN. Yes, I ate eight cannoli two nights before my race. No, I have no shame in that game. Now the next day, I’m a spaz…

We headed back and Sherrie and I got settled in for the night. I was nervous about having a new roommate. I am such a nightmare before a race, but she was awesome. I felt like we had a general understanding of each other’s routine, and it really worked out great. I’d room with her anytime. I had a great night’s sleep, which is clutch because two nights before is where it’s at.

IMG_2818The next morning the boys and Sherrie headed to church and I headed to meet the other Kennedy Law Racing folks who were racing this weekend. It was really cool to have so many folks up to Boston: a lot of first timers and some returning folks as well. We did a little photo op and then I headed out for some last minute errands, like snacks and hitting the Nike store for a shirt. I met up with Sherrie and the boys, and we hit lunch. I then headed back to the room to take my ritual marathon Epsom salt bath. That was pretty glorious, I must say. After a quick cat nap we headed out for dinner. After dinner we headed back to get into bed. Amazingly, I got another solid night of sleep. I was up and at ‘em at 5:00am ready to rock this race.

We walked down to the buses for the hour or so ride down to the Athletes’ Village. It’s crappy to have to wait, but at the same time, time goes by fast. There are bagels and drinks and coffee, so I grabbed breakfast and settled into our spot on the grass while the boys goofed around and I looked grumpy

McGraw Collage
Resting at Camp Goof Around. (This is my face for three days before a marathon. NO FUN.)

IMG_2838Last year I ran with the boys on a spur of the moment decision and it was incredible, this year they had different plans and shoved me out of the nest into my own corral. I won’t pretend I wasn’t nervous as hell to be off alone. Prior to the race, if you asked me my goal time I’d say, I have some things in mind and leave it at that. It was a number between my coach and some close friends. That number was 3:08. I have realized that for myself and my own personal running prep, I need to aim high and even if I fail, I know I gave it hell. I feel better with bigger goals. I got to the start and a woman who had written a song about the 2013 bombings sang it in lieu of the anthem. It was called “Keep on Running.” I cried. No joke, I stood there and tears totally rolled down my face. I’m not much of a crier, but damn, this race is so special for so many reasons. I stood there and looked at the pace band I had internally questioned all morning and decided I was gonna give it hell. Conservative isn’t fun.

I needed to keep myself under control for the first half of the race. It’s all downhill and it’s hard to do, especially with the crowds. I picked the right side of the course and I made it a point to high five every kid I could find with their hand out. You could see the excitement on these kids’ faces, they’d scream “I got one, I got one!” It is unbelievable the energy there in the crowd. I can’t even begin to describe it.

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Robin Lubbock of WBUR 90.9FM spots me passing the Wellesley “scream tunnel.”

I knew I needed to drink early and drink often. Every single stop I hit a Gatorade and a water, and in between I was grabbing it from strangers. Folks were handing out bags of ice. I took those too and stuffed them into my top. I know from marathon experience you can feel great, and then you don’t. That feeling can come early, or it can hit you from Miles 16-18. For me, those are the toughest. They also happen to be the toughest miles on the Boston course. I made sure I focused on drinking, and the crowd, and trying to keep my pace in line. I was hitting it with a minute over. I’m no dummy, I know how fast seconds slipping away can turn into minutes.

As I got into Newton hills, people were walking everywhere. I knew I just had to hunker down and run as hard as I could, no matter what. I remembered the downhills were a time to recoup, so I made a point to hammer the hills and take it easy on the down. I fell off a bit there, but not as bad as I thought. I felt good and I knew I needed to just keep hammering.

Every so often folks would read KLR on my top and start chanting “GO KLR”! At one point the whole Boston College crowd was screaming it. If I wasn’t trying to run so damn hard I would’ve cried there too. It was like that the whole race. You can’t have a bad day in Boston. At Mile 20 last year, I was able to pick up the pace and cruise in really well. I mentally had that again this year, but my legs were so trashed from the hills it was incredibly hard to maintain.

IMG_2850Usually for me, if things go south it’s early and I stay dead. I knew if I slowed down, I would end up walking it in. It was a tough day, no shame in that game, but I was gonna nail a PR if it killed me. For me this is the best part of running. Miles 20-22 I was OK. But at that point every time my foot hit the ground it was just painful. I had blisters and my quads were on fire. But again, the crowds! There were two other girls with me who had picked it up too, and they were looking strong. I kept them in my sight and people kept screaming “GO GIRLS! YOU’RE LOOKING STRONG!” You hear it enough, you can start to think it’s true.

IMG_2854They shuttle you through the finish and I got kind of delirious, so I had no idea where I was, even though I’d mapped it out twice. You know what, people helped me! Shocking. They said “THANK YOU for racing in our city. Where do you need to go and we will get you there.” That was the whole trip! I have never in my life seen so many welcoming heartfelt gestures from folks. It is truly amazing.

I made it back to the hotel, hopped in the bath and pulled up my app to track everyone else to make sure they all got in. Once everyone was back we hit the leftover cannoli and I kept trying to shove food in me. I have learned the hard way what dehydration and no food after a race does to me. It’s ugly.

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IMG_2856I love sitting back after the race and hearing everyone’s take on the day. No one, no matter how their race went, walks away without some kind of happy tale. I am so happy for anyone who gets to enjoy that day. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There is so much history, and so much meaning behind that race, it pulls you in and gives you a giant marathon hug.

I won’t deny the day after I could barely walk. I saw a set of stairs at the subway and stood there laughing in a crazy manner all by myself until a lovely policeman asked if I was OK.

As usual, Boston was all I hoped for and more, and I hope if anyone gets the opportunity they take it. It’s worth the money and the early wake ups.


Keara McGraw
Largo, Florida
April 18, 2016
Age – 31
Bib # 8927



Follow Keara Thorne McGraw on her blog No Salad, Extra Gluten Please (Runner. Mom. Cupcake Addict).