What happens on the third Monday in April in Boston? Ask a Bostonian and they’ll say it’s Patriot’s Day. Ask any runner and they’ll tell you it’s the day of the Boston Marathon, the granddaddy of all marathons.
One day in 1997 while on a run, my friend Miles and I were talking about Boston – he’d run it a few times. I told him since Bill worked at Digital, one of the race sponsors, I could run with one of their corporate bibs. I hit a nerve… A nerve I later completely understood. Miles said I should only run Boston if I earned a spot in the race, and based on my track and long run times, he felt sure I could qualify. That fall, with Miles’ guidance, I qualified for Boston at my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon.
A few days before we left for Boston, I set our VCR up to record the race. My eleven-year old son said, “Mom why are you recording it? You know they will have the cameras following the fast runners, and not way back where you are.”
On Thursday evening before the marathon, Bill and I dropped Joseph and Daniel off to stay with friends so we could fly to Boston for our long weekend getaway. Upon arriving in Boston, we spent several hours at the race expo and packet pick-up, before heading to lunch. My race packet included a blue long-sleeved cotton shirt and race bib.
Bright and early race morning, Bill walked me to where all the school buses waited to take the runners to Hopkinton. Looking like a nervous little girl on her first day of kindergarten, I said goodbye to Bill, as he headed back to the hotel until it was time for the first athletes to find their way back into Boston.
On the bus ride, we had a lively conversation about in which race we’d qualified, what our times were, etc. One runner said this was going to be his first marathon, because he was running for a charity… SILENCE! I now knew what Miles meant by saying I should earn my spot in Boston. The rest of us had worked very hard to qualify, and we suddenly realized there were runners among us who hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve coached for a charity organization, and I think they’re great. I just don’t think as hard as it has gotten to qualify for Boston, they should be giving away bibs to charities. It’s like allowing minor league baseball teams into the World Series playoffs if they raise enough money for a chosen charity…
Since it was cold and damp outside, I ventured into the tent to wait with the masses for the start of the race. I quickly made friends with a girl named Diane from New York. Diane had qualified for Boston at her first marathon as well, and like me, this was only her second marathon.
Finally it was time to head to the starting line. We made a final stop at the porta potties, and then dropped our extra layers of warm clothing and bags off at bag drop.
As we made our way to the starting line, there were little girls standing along the side of the street asking for our autographs. I was flooded with such mixed emotions – I was proud, yet humbled. There I was, a measly runner feeling so very honored to be able to run her first Boston Marathon, yet to these little runners, we were elite athletes.
There were no waves at the start, we simply seeded ourselves according to our expected paces, proudly listened to the national anthem, and waited for the race to start. It took several minutes after the gun went off for us to actually start running. When we finally ran, we took only a few steps until we stopped, ran again, and then stopped yet again. This went on for a few minutes until we thinned out, and were actually able to start running at a consistent race pace.
Diane and I ran together until about Mile 17, when this photo was taken, and then I pulled away. I didn’t see her again, but later saw she finished about ten minutes behind me (her qualifying time had been ten minutes faster than mine).
For some odd reason, tucked away on a little piece of paper in a running folder, I only have my splits from some of the final miles of the race. My finish time was 3:39:57 which is an 8:23 pace. Based on what I remember to be a very slow first mile, and these splits, it’s safe to say I probably ran a pretty evenly paced race, and didn’t let the hills from Newton to Heartbreak Hill slow me down too much.
Mile 16 – Start of Newton Hills
Mile 17 – 8:39
Mile 18 – 8:32
Mile 19 – 8:55
Mile 20 – 8:51 – Heartbreak Hill
Mile 21 – 8:40
Mile 22 – 8:24
Mile 23 – 9:33
Mile 24 – 8:13
On a cute side note, when I crested Heartbreak Hill, a volunteer shouted, “Congrats, you made it to the top!” I asked her which hill, and she said it was Heartbreak Hill. Incredulously, I said, “THAT was Heartbreak Hill?” Later, when I told Bill the story, he said I had laughed in the face of Heartbreak Hill!
While I was running from Hopkinton to Boston, Bill was hanging out in Boston waiting for me to finish. He got to take pictures of the winners and see a lot of finishers before I came along.
And I was only an hour and sixteen minutes behind the women’s winner!
Finally, Bill saw me heading down Boylston Street! I was thrilled to shave ten minutes off my previous marathon time and set a new PR at my second marathon with a time of 3:39:57.
After the race, I quickly found Bill in the family meet-up area. A rookie mistake I made back then as a new marathoner was not pulling my hair back into a ponytail.
Before we set out in search of Ed, Bill snapped a picture of me proudly holding up my medal. After a few minutes we found Ed, and were able to hang out with him for a little while before heading back to the hotel.
Back home in Virginia, I received these gorgeous congratulatory flowers from my mom and dad with a note that read, “To a national sport celebrity. Not just anyone can run in the Boston Marathon. We love you, Mom and Dad.”
Without a doubt, running my first Boston Marathon was one of the coolest experiences in my life, and I’m so happy Bill and I decided to turn it into a long weekend getaway! I think watching this race planted the distance running seeds into Bill’s brain!
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