Any story of Boston 2012 has to begin with the weather.
Runners anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard were well aware of the brutally hot weather forecast for Monday, April 16th. At first I thought weather.com was playing a cruel April Fool’s joke on us – 89 degrees and sunny in mid April?! I’ve run three marathons before this one and temperatures for all were in the 50’s. Yes, New York had a mild winter, but that meant long runs in the 40’s and 50’s… I hadn’t seen the thermometer break 80 for six months.
As the weekend grew closer, the BAA began sending out weather updates encouraging runners to adjust their expectations or defer their entry until next year. When the last email was sent out (“this will not be a race! slow your pace by several minutes! speed can kill!”), I called my mom and shed a few tears. I had trained so hard for this, for so long. Sunrise miles, 11:00pm post-work runs, 70+ mile weeks, missed happy hours, early bed times in preparation for long runs… Did I think about bailing on Boston and trying to find another (cooler) marathon a few weeks down the road? Yes, it crossed my mind, but not starting Boston was never a real option for me.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I sign up for a race and train for it, I make the commitment to follow through regardless of conditions. Of course, PR-ing is always at the top of the list, but running and racing are about so much more than numbers to me. I run to push myself out of my comfort zone, to accomplish things I never thought I could, to become stronger. And it’s days like Monday that help me grow as a person and a runner. Was I terrified on the starting line as the sun and heat beat down? Yes. Did I think about stopping at the 10k mark when I realized I would be running for another THREE hours? Yes. Did I want to walk up heartbreak hill? Of course.
But I didn’t stop. And I didn’t walk. And I finished the thing. Sure, it was a full 21 minutes slower than my PR, but I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of finishing a race. I accepted the fact I needed to slow down, so I did. I stopped at every (omg crowded) fluid station, poured dozens of cups of water over my head, and ran through all of the sprinklers. Did doing that cost me time? Absolutely, but I don’t think I would change a thing. The race was tough, but I was able to hold myself together. Despite the conditions I was extremely fortunate and able to avoid any sort of dizziness, nausea, etc. Others were not so lucky. It’s a scary thing to watch fellow runners collapse from cramps, vomit, and stumble into med tents. Not exactly the kind of thing that motivates you after 20-some miles, you know?
I certainly don’t want to make the marathon seem completely awful – there were plenty of wonderful things about the experience. I’m a New Yorker through and through, but my goodness Boston, you made me love you. Runners are usually seen as a pretty weird bunch (you’re going to run 20 miles for fun?!), but for that one day, the entire city of Boston was on our side. People turned the 26 miles into a party, screaming our names, telling us we were amazing. Little kids held out hands for high fives, families lined the streets with hoses and extra water.
Given the heat, I’m not sure we would have made it without them. I stopped at nearly every official water station and still couldn’t get enough. Running through those cold sprinklers felt like heaven. So thank you Boston, you’re awesome. And believe me – that’s not easy for this New Yorker to admit!
Does it make sense that one of the most painful experiences of my life was also the best? Because, man, crossing that finish line was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The feeling of relief and elation from finishing something that hard is like a drug. It’s addicting. Before you realize it, you forget how much the running part hurts and sign up for another one.
I won’t bore you with too many details of my pre-race prep. I’m sure I made plenty of mistakes, but I did the best I could re: sleep, carbs, hydration, etc. As far as my pre-race and on the course fueling, I’ll let you know what I did, but keep in mind what worked well for me, could be a disaster for someone else.
Pre-race: The tough thing about big city marathons is the waiting. My wave didn’t begin until 10:20am, but I was up a good five hours before that. Around 5:30am, I drank a Starbucks double shot espresso. Once I got on the bus to Hopkinton (~6:30am), I ate my banana with peanut butter and a large salt bagel. Once we arrived in the Athletes Village (~7:30/8:00am), I drank some Gatorade and ate a Power Bar.
In the final hour leading up to the race, I sipped on more water and Gatorade and took a fast-food salt packet on the starting line. I would estimate that before I started the race, I consumed about 1,000 calories and that seemed to work well for me. In the hours before the race, I tried to minimize sun exposure and standing, but it wasn’t easy. There was little shade at the Athletes’ Village, the lines for the porta potties grew longer as the race approached, and the starting line was nearly a mile walk from the staging area.
Miles 1-6: The first few miles of the race are gently rolling with quite a bit of downhill. The original plan was to run 7:35 pace, but I had to re-adjust that goal to account for the heat. Instead, my two teammates and I tried to stay as close to 8:00/mile as possible. The plan was to stay relaxed at this pace until the half-way mark, and then try to pick it up a bit. Around the 10k mark, I took my first gel.
Miles 7-9: To be honest, I was freaking out during these miles. I still had nearly three hours of running ahead of me and the day was only getting hotter. At this point, the runners who had started out too fast were starting to pay for it and I knew if I wanted to finish in one piece, I needed to slow down a bit. 8:00 pace wasn’t sustainable – mostly because I was losing a good 15-30 seconds per mile due to the water stops. In past marathons, I’ve had a few sips of water and/or Gatorade every four to five miles. On Monday, I stopped at every single water station and most of the time I took Gatorade AND water (to pour over my ahead). I don’t think I’ve ever consumed that much fluid in a race, but I still felt parched most of the time.
Miles 10-17: Due to my slowed pace (8:20/8:30 pace), I started to feel a little better after the ten mile mark. I kept things relaxed and took my second gel right before the half marathon mark. As I approached Wellesley College, I could hear the screaming girls before I could see them and let me tell you – that crowd is every bit as wonderful as you’ve heard. By the half way point, you’re already tired, but you’ve still got a long way to go. A mile-long gauntlet of cheering fans was exactly the pick-me-up I needed.
[And to the Wellesley girl holding the sign that said “You can do it Megan Kretz!” – THANK YOU! And also, who are you??]
Miles 18-24: These were some tough miles, man. It was hot. My shorts and shoes were soaked with water. I really wanted to take a walking break, but I knew I was going to see some friends soon, so I focused on that. I kept telling myself…you can walk if you make it to the next water station…you can walk up Heartbreak Hill….you can walk after you see so-and-so….but luckily once I got to those points, I somehow managed to keep on running. There’s nothing wrong with taking a walk break if you really need it, but from personal experience, I just know that they make my legs feel worse. Big thanks to Susan, Lauren, Kelly, and my CPTC teammates for lining the course and cheering!
Miles 24-26.2: At this point, it finally sunk in I was going to finish this marathon (through Mile 9, I was afraid I wouldn’t). The crowds were great and I played some mind games with myself to make it to the finish. Sometimes I would focus on something in the distance (the Citgo sign, the man 50 meters ahead of me), other times I would count backwards from 60. The final mile of the course includes the famous “right on to Hereford, left on to Boylston”. Believe me, I was on the lookout for those streets. After the fiasco in Philadelphia, I did not want to miss the finish line this time around…
Kidding. Except, not really.
The final stats:
The time I was hoping for? No, definitely not. But honestly, I had nothing left as I crossed that finish line. I’m pretty sure my final mile was my slowest which is pretty telling…usually I have SOME sort of kick. But you know what? I’m not disappointed at all. Numbers don’t tell the whole story and I’m proud of this race. And there will (hopefully) be another day to PR.
Post-race: The 15 minutes immediately following a marathon are always pretty awful, but I fared better than some of the people around me who were being loaded onto gurneys and wheelchairs (I’m not exaggerating…). Anyway, I immediately downed a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade recovery drink. After walking ~1/2 mile or so back to my hotel, I showered, ate a banana and an orange, and started looking forward to an ice cold beer.
Just kidddinggg. We totally staged this awk pic. Shelby and I are buddies in real life and I’m still sort of heartbroken she doesn’t live in NYC anymore. She invited me up to her friend’s apartment overlooking the finish line and we traded marathon war-stories (Shelby ran the Gansett Marathon on Saturday) over a few beers and turkey sandwich. I felt surprisingly good, all things considered and I’m pretty sure the company had a lot to do with it!
I can usually only wear my marathon medal for a few hours before feeling self-conscious, so I had to document the occasion and send the photo to my parents. Yeah, I know. It’s a classy iphone self-portrait. Taken in the Amtrak train bathroom. You’re welcome Mom and Dad.
I took a 7:00pm train back to NYC and by the time I arrived at my apartment it was nearly midnight. My goodness, what a day.
Brooklyn, New York
[Megan’s blog The Runner’s Kitchen (Fueling the Miles with a Healthy Balance) documents two passions – running and experimenting in the kitchen. Check it out for more running and recipes]