They filed in. The seasoned pros knew where to go and lost no time heading into a dark room. Where it led I don’t know. Some ended up upstairs. I saw race-favorite Shalane Flanagan’s chiseled and determined face stretching on the balcony above.
I’d been there for an hour and a half already, in the church where the elite runners waited before the start. Since I was staying with relatives in New Hampshire, it made no difference whether we drove straight to the church or to downtown Boston, where buses took runners to Hopkinton. We chose Hopkinton, so my husband could see me off at the start. But we had to arrive early because the roads into town for regular traffic closed at 7am. A kindly volunteer had let my husband in to the church too, so at least I’d had company in the early hours before the bus came.
As I waited, I reflected on my fitness. The groundwork had been laid with solid workouts. This was a body that had thrived on the miles and intensity. Sure, there had been one bad workout about ten days before the race. It was unfortunate, but easy to dismiss as irrelevant overall. I felt ready.
Before long, we got chatting to some of the other runners. I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly they were. I guess expected everyone to be pretty intense and uptight. Accurate or not, that’s the reputation of competitive road runners, in contrast to the community that characterizes the ultra scene. But by the end of the race I’d even made some new friends. The kind you really hope you see again.
I was nervous about the weather. It’s been a year for testing my mettle in varying conditions. I’ve had freezing cold and ice at Bandera, scorching early season temps at Black Canyon and now strong headwinds at Boston. While I don’t exactly enjoy it, I seem to do ok with the heat. But headwinds? As I was about to find out, headwinds suck.
About 20 minutes before we were to head to the start, I joined many of the other elite runners in the warm up area. I felt like a bit of an impostor next to all that sleek speed. Luckily, before I had too much time to dwell on this, it was go time.
Back in the church, I peeled off my layers. Up first were the “real” elites. By that I mean the ones who might win. Lined up, called out by name, and applauded by all as they filed out. A few minutes later, the rest of us ladies joined them (also to applause from the male elites – super cool!). I called out a final “go get ‘em, Sage!” to my coach, and he echoed the sentiment right back.
Running Boston was the realization of a dream. The race filled me with inspiration. The crowds were absolutely incredible. I passed many runners who embodied what it meant to be Boston Strong. The blind. The wheelchair racers. The amputees. The military, who were walking the course in full regalia.
I’d envisioned this day for so long. Every time my mind’s eye saw me running strong and confident, the stars aligned for a magic day. Come Marathon Monday though, I knew from very early on it wasn’t to be. I tried to keep it in perspective. My race is a small and insignificant part of the Boston whole. I was proud to be there, proud to run. Amazed by the courage of those who, against all odds, rise to the challenge of the Boston Marathon. Having a bad race-day performance doesn’t change any of that.
Still, it’s hard to reconcile when your dreams and the reality are so far out of whack. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that only three weeks of specific training — and a hectic travel schedule during that time to boot — didn’t result in my fastest marathon time. But somehow I am.
That’s because my race day performance was far worse than I could even conceptualize going into the race. Heck, my C-goal was to break 2:50. I’m so much fitter and faster than I was in September when I ran 2:51:49! Since I’m not struggling with any injury and my workouts going into the race indicated a 2:45 finish or better, it had simply never occurred to me my race could be this bad. (To put things in context, we’re talking about a 20-25 second *per mile* difference here. I’d done a 15 mile long run workout at 6:25 pace just ten days after my race at Way Too Cool, and workouts had only gotten better from there. There was NO WAY I wasn’t running under 2:50.)
To find my legs heavy and uncooperative after a proper taper was a shock. My heart and lungs were ready to party, but my calves and hamstrings ached and dragged even in the early miles. Not that I had much choice, but the headwinds blew away any remaining resolve to gut through it no matter what. In the end, I finished in 2:54:08, 69th woman finisher (9th in age group). The women’s Master’s winner (my division) ran 2:46:44 — a finishing time I’d hoped to reach. As Shalane put it following her disappointing Boston run, it sure was a “bad day at the office.”
You know what else she said? She said:
“Despite a rough race, I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to race the best in the world on the most storied marathon course. Races that don’t go well always make me appreciate even more the ones that do. Success is not linear. Time to keep pushing on.”
I can’t say it any better.
[Follow Caroline Boller on her excellent Ultra Runner Mama blog.
A relative newcomer to running, racing and ultra-distance, Caroline Boller’s passion for her sport is matched only by her desire to inspire others. “The first time I ventured from the treadmill onto dirt, it was nothing short of an awakening, and I’ve never looked back.
“I have two young boys and hope I am setting the right example for them by being active and committed. The juggling act of wife, mother, and professional (I’m a part-time attorney) isn’t always easy, but then again, nothing worth doing ever is.”
She encourages each of her readers “to nourish your inner athlete.”]