The headline of the Boston Globe on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 read “UNSTOPPABLE.” That sentiment could not have been more true. Meb Keflezighi, the American winner, was unstoppable; Shalane Flanagan, the Boston native women’s favorite who despite coming in seventh broke the American women’s record, was unstoppable; the 31,878 runners were unstoppable; and all eight cities along the course were unstoppable. The entire marathon weekend was a dream, and I didn’t want to wake up from it. I didn’t want it to stop.
My two littlest daughters and I flew to Providence from Orlando on Friday. Pete and the two oldest ones took the auto train and were going to drive up the rest of the way to meet us Saturday afternoon. Saturday afternoon turned into Sunday afternoon because of train delays. Needless to say, I was relieved to have flown. We rented an awesome (note “awesome” will be used multiple times throughout this story) red Dodge charger for two days and too much money. Budget Rental advertises only $36 a day, but then they push the ridiculously overpriced insurance on you and if you’re a sucker like me, you bite. Live and learn. Anyway, we drove 40 minutes north to the Marriott Courtyard in Norwood, Massachusetts, where we checked in for four nights.
APRIL 19, 2014
Pete called me Saturday morning about the train delay. The girls and I had nothing planned that day, so I decided to do the expo. I didn’t want to take a chance waiting for the others Sunday only to miss packet pickup. That would not be good. We went out to breakfast at IHOP. I ordered whole wheat pancakes topped with bananas. You know, the “healthy” choice. Of course, what are pancakes unless they’re smothered with maple syrup? Carbo loading at its best. Halfway in, I was already stuffed. I saved the rest for the next morning.
I plugged 900 Boylston Street, the address of the Veterans Memorial Convention Center where the expo is being held, into the GPS. Only 34 minutes from Norwood! The sun is shining, the temperature is going up to 60 degrees. It was a gorgeous spring day in New England. We were cruising in our awesome car busting out the tunes. I was singing and dancing, the girls…not so much. My 4 year old started crying that she was hungry, and the two year old always does what her sister does. How could this be? We literally just piled pancakes into our faces moments earlier. Suddenly, the good mood was turning sour. Luckily, we were entering the city…or unluckily? The traffic surrounding Boylston Street was worse than Rockefeller Center at Christmas. The red lights seemed to last a minute longer, then once they turned green, we would crawl ten feet only to stop again. I looked for a parking spot on the streets which was a joke. There was a garage right around the corner from the expo, but it always seemed to be on the opposite side of the street. I made a U-turn and backed into the garage, cutting off a pedicab. Desperate times called for desperate measures and in seconds I just turned into that asshole driver. Sorry, dude!
I made it into the parking garage. Everything was going to be okay now. Ha! There was less rhyme and reason in this garage than out on the streets. There were no spots. Cars were turning around in aisles. As soon as you left an aisle, people would walk to their cars in that aisle. Dang it! I followed signs to more parking, but really to less parking. Eventually, we were led to free valet. Thank God! We headed upstairs to the expo thirty minutes after entering the parking garage.
Thank you, Good Samaritan photographer!
Eh, I didn’t need the statue in the picture.
We finally got inside the expo. The packet pickup was on the third floor. There’s a huge 2014 Boston Marathon banner hanging on the wall where people were having their pictures taken. I saw a tall blonde woman with a flower in her hair and immediately recognized her from Spirit of the Marathon 2: Rome. I said hello and she smiled. I asked another Good Samaritan if he would take our picture in front of the banner.
I went to the woman sitting behind the letter M sign to pick up my number. I showed her my driver’s license and she gave me my bib. As I was walking away, she said, “I was surprised when I saw your name because my first name is Amy and my middle name is Mae!” My name, by the way, is Aimée May. “That has to be good luck!” I responded. She nodded and gave me a thumbs up. The negativity from the sh*t show car park experience faded instantly. I went into the next room and got my goody bag including my awesome blue tech race shirt.
We made our way down to the second floor to the vendors. The place was packed. I was worried about losing the girls, but they were probably thinking the same thing. They stayed close the whole time. I bought myself a pair of cheap black sunglasses and four caffeine free Gu’s. It was hard to navigate my way with the kids, so I decided to leave as soon as I could. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Meb or Shalane, but I had to settle for Julie Weiss, the Spirit of the Marathon 2 lady. Actually, even though she was a little kooky in the film, she BQ’d, ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks, and raised a lot of money for pancreatic cancer research. On the way out, I went back to the banner at the number pickup and asked yet another Good Samaritan to take my picture. This time I specifically requested the unicorn.
APRIL 20, 2014
Pete and my eldest two children arrived Sunday afternoon. I went for a quick four mile shakeout run near the hotel, and then we headed back to the expo. I wanted to pick up an emergency sports bra from the Marathon Sports vendor. They also had a great Boston Strong t-shirt, but by 5:45 pm on Sunday, all that was left was extra large.
We headed to the pasta dinner. Pete dropped me and the kids off at the Boston City Hall Plaza while he parked (hassle free, I might add). We got on the end of the line which seemed to wrap around half the block. The line moved along quickly, however. We passed a “pay toilet booth,” something we had never seen before. My 12 year old suggested I carry a couple of quarters with me during the race in case I had to go. As we got closer to the front, the two little ones had to use the restroom. Pete took them to the pay toilet. When they returned, he said it was actually a neat little adventure.
The door opened with a startling Star Trek swoosh, and it was pretty clean inside. When they were done, the door swooshed open again. The line had moved forward since they entered, so the new people standing outside pointed, ooh’ed and aah’ed when they emerged from the bathroom.
As we got nearer to the entrance, loud music was blaring from inside. Young dancing volunteers from Wellesley and other local colleges greeted us with smiles and endless energy. They set the tone, which was perfect. We were handed cardboard trays and then had a choice of penne with tomato sauce or pasta with alfredo sauce. There were also meatballs, sausages, salad, Greek yogurt, and bread. They were very generous with their portions. After getting our food, we were led indoors and down a couple of flights of diners. We shared a table with a lovely family from California on the lower level. The husband and wife take turns marathoning. This year, it was her turn. While we ate our yummy dinner (light years better than the Mohawk Hudson Marathon pasta), videos of past races were being played on large screens. With the loud music playing in the background, it really got you pumped up for the race. The announcer kept reminding people not to linger so other runners could be seated. We quickly finished our meals and headed out the door. More volunteers handed us goody bags filled with chocolates and chips. Again, they were very generous, making sure all four of my children had their own bags. I thought if the race was as fun and organized as the dinner, it will be a pretty good day. And I was right.
April 21, 2014
I woke up at 6:00 am and took a shower. As I put on the clothes I had laid out the night before, I realized I brought the wrong shorts. The ones I thought I packed had an inside pocket in the front, plus a small zippered pocket in the back, enough for four gels total. The ones I actually packed had just one small inside pocket. This mistake will bite me in the ass later on, literally. I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it. I just put the gels that wouldn’t fit inside the front of my sport bra. I peanut buttered my plain bagel, and Pete drove me to the Braintree T station. I couldn’t finish the bagel because my stomach was twisted up from the excitement. A train was waiting on the tracks when I arrived at the station, so I hopped on. There were a handful of other runners on the car. One girl had on a goofy pair of pants with dogs all over them. It’s fun to see people’s throw away clothes. They can get pretty creative. I spoke with her a little and she said her mother gives her doggy pants every year for Christmas and they usually get donated at races.
The train ride was only 35 minutes to Boston Common. I didn’t need to ask anyone directions because the school buses were lined up right in front of you as soon as you exited the station. I wasn’t allowed to take my clear plastic bag on the bus so I just carried my sweat socks/arm sleeves, pen, and New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. There was still room on a couple of buses at the end of the line. I jumped on one that was half full. I wanted to be up front, so I sat next to an older gentleman. The rest of the bus filled and we were off. The man across the aisle from me was extremely chatty. He was giving advice to his seat mate, but all I could focus on was the plastic bottle he was holding with “URINE” written on it in big red letters.
The bus slowed down around Framingham and I started to get a little worried because now I had to go to the bathroom. Perhaps it was because I was thinking about my neighbor’s bottle? My seat mate might have seen me get antsy because he struck up some conversation which helped distract me. His name was Rudy and he’s a 65 year old psychiatrist from Cambridge. He ran Boston many times in the past, his best time being 3:15 twenty years ago. He was very proud of the fact that his wife ran her first marathon last year, at the age of 65. He really was so sweet and made the rest of the ride go by quickly.
I immediately got on line for the porta potties. The line wasn’t long, but it took forever. The Athletes Village was very crowded. People were sitting on the grass and also milling about under the large tent. When I finally had my turn at the porta potty, it was almost time to line up. I made my way to the exit and discovered there was a whole other field filled with runners. It was a sea of humanity.
At 10:30, the announcer asked Wave 3, corrals 1-3 runners make their way to the start. That would be me! A crowd started forming at the Village exit. The volunteers wouldn’t let us leave yet. Some people starting pushing and I started to get a little panicky. I hate big crowds for this reason. Thankfully, it didn’t get worse and we were soon permitted to exit. I didn’t see the “It all starts here – Hopkinton” sign, but I did get this picture:
The walk to the corrals from the Athletes Village seemed like a mini marathon itself. I was thinking, “Whew, I’m tired! I’m supposed to run a marathon after this?!” It was fun, though because the local spectators were already outside their homes cheering us on. I felt like a hero and I hadn’t even started running yet! One of the best signs was right there at the start. A group of fraternity looking dudes who appeared to still be partying from the night before had a big sign that read “BEER, DONUTS, CIGARETTES”.
We finally made it to the corrals. The volunteers were wishing us luck, as well as making sure everyone was in the right spot. I got into corral 2 and hung around the back. I didn’t want to get overrun or overcrowded at the front. I saw a couple of women from corrals farther back try to sneak into corral 2. One woman said she wanted to be with her husband, while the other tried hiding her bib under her sweatshirt. There was no way they were getting by our tough volunteer. C’mon ladies, play by the rules! Only a few minutes passed and then I heard the starting gun go off. It was on!
The first few miles of the Boston Marathon are basically downhill. Everyone advises not to go out too fast, which can be easy when you’re caught up in all the excitement. My strategy was to run the first few miles at an 8:20 pace. My training this past marathon cycle had been mediocre at best. I missed a lot of runs or cut runs short due to the northeast polar vortex, family commitments, poor motivation, and fatigue. I discovered quickly I am a one marathon per year gal. Boston was my second in six months. Not for me. Anyway, my goals fluctuated over the months between sub-3:30 to PR to just have a blast and enjoy. Once I was out on the course and saw all of the unbelievably joyful spectators, I decided to enjoy and relish in this once in a lifetime event. I started high fiving in Hopkinton and didn’t stop until Boston.
I hit my first mile at 8:16, and my second at 16:40. Huge banners marking our entrance into Ashland (and every town after) stood on either side of the road. I crossed the 5k mat at 25:49, an 8:19 pace. Wow, pretty good pacing, for someone who can’t pace herself. The spectators’ presence and enthusiasm never relented. They offered water, orange slices, damp paper towels, ice cold sponges, ice, beer at a couple of points, etc. If you had your name written on your shirt or body, as I did, someone will call it out. The constant cheers and visual stimulation made the miles tick by. In fact, they were going by so quickly, I was surprised I wasn’t running faster. Early on I was having issues with my shorts. Wedgies were happening. Once when I was fixing myself, I realized I was doing so right in front of a professional photographer. Lovely. Maybe my wedgie would make the evening news!
We entered Framingham and the 10k mat which read 51:15, an 8:11 pace. Natick was next. I thought of my running buddy, Emerging Runner who grew up in Natick and watched the race every year from his yard. I recognized the Hanson Electric store from the Runner’s World Online Message Boards. The owner sat up on a ladder shouting in a megaphone, “You look great! You’re so good looking! Take a look at yourself!” The windows of his store are mirrored so all the runners could see themselves run by.
After Natick comes Wellesley and the infamous scream tunnel. Girls lined the right side of the course screaming, holding signs with reasons why they should be kissed, and high fiving those who opted for the more platonic greeting. They were fantastic! I was amazed they could scream for so long. Wellesley is also the half marathon mark. I hit it in 1:48:32, an 8:13 pace.
At another point in Wellesley the cheering got really loud again. I ran by a group of people walking in red t-shirts. When I glanced over my shoulder, I saw it was Team Hoyt, with Dick and Rick Hoyt in the center. I was star struck. I have admired this father-son team for years. I stopped in my tracks and decided if I was going to take one picture during the race, this was going to be it. The 2014 Boston Marathon was going to be their last rodeo after 37 years of racing. I had powered off my phone earlier so it took a few seconds to power back on, and then I had to walk back to them for the photo. Although the elder Mr. Hoyt had been an accomplished racer, this time he was walking the course. I’m sure they were enjoying every moment, like the rest of us.
The heat was starting to get to me. I felt faint a couple of times so I made sure I drank enough. When people were giving out ice, I grabbed a fistful and stuck them down my bra. I poured cups of water on myself and even stopped a couple of times to chug water bottles. The chafing would begin very soon. My 25k and 30k times started to reflect how I felt, an 8:49 and an 8:56 pace. We entered Newton and I prepared myself for the hills. We crossed over the highway and cars below us were honking at the runners. I’m sure it was an awesome sight because in the past I have seen New York City marathoners in the distance while driving on the highway. Very cool stuff. The hills weren’t great because of their appearance so late in the game, however they were manageable. I tried to take advantage of the downhills to make up for some time. I didn’t walk at any point because I felt it would make the ascent that much more gratifying. Once I crested Heartbreak Hill, I threw my hands up in the air (singing Hey Ho! Baby, let go ’cause I’m dyn-o-mite…no, I didn’t really sing) for my own private victory. The homes along the Newton hills are really pretty, by the way.
Boston College is after Heartbreak Hill and the students were just as rowdy, if not rowdier than the girls at Wellesley. This might be due to the guys in the mix. Their hands were outstretched and although my arm was exhausted at this stage, I slapped almost every one of them. When they saw my hand, they would scream my name and shout, “Yeah! You’ve got this!”, “You’re awesome!”, “Run, Aimée, run!” Talk about a second wind! Thank you, Eagles!
Next we entered Brookline and the beginning of the home stretch. Spectators lined Beacon Street along some tracks. My legs were beginning to feel like balloons of fluid, but I would not stop. I was running slow, but I was still running. We crossed over some tracks and I had to take extra precautions not to trip. At the top of the last incline, I saw the Citgo sign and knew we were near to the end. At Mile 25, I looked for my family who said they would be on the left hand side right before Hereford because there was a park for the kids to run around. Before the race, they didn’t expect a large crowd as in years past. Uh, not so much this year. Spectators were four or five deep and my family was nowhere in sight. This was disappointing for obvious reasons, but also because I was looking for an excuse to stop for a couple of minutes at this point. But I kept running. Right before a small underpass, a sign read only 1k left! Whoo hoo! I tried to figure this out in my 26 miled out brain and could not. This 1k was the longest kilometer in my life! Holy smokes! We finally came to Boylston and the finish line was in sight. Those last few yards were a blur. I saw an elderly gentleman lying on the side of the road being attended to by volunteers. There was a lot of encouraging screaming and shouting by the hordes of spectators. I crossed the finish line in under 3:47 (3:46:59 to be exact).
Once I crossed, all I wanted to do was sit my numbed legs down, but I knew I should keep walking. I immediately got texts from friends. Freighbor congratulated me from New York! The Petite Pacer, who was in Boston to watch her sister run, sent me my unofficial time. The Nun let me know she actually saw me finish! My daughter’s camping friend’s mom let me know her daughter would be returning to camp this summer (?)… I called Pete and the kids who were with our incredible friend Dana (a Martha’s Vineyard native, multiple Boston finisher and sub- 3:20 marathoner). Dana turned out to be of great assistance to Pete with the kids throughout the race. They missed me on the course because the girls had to go to the bathroom, no easy feat without Dana. I told him I would meet them at letter Z in the family meeting area. We decided on Z because M is the probably the most common first letter of a last name.
I grabbed a delicious Gatorade chocolate protein drink and a goody bag. I found “Z,” which happily was the closest letter to the finish, as well as the least crowded. I sat on the curb, ate my fruit cup with my fingers because there were no utensils, and quietly contemplated what just happened. I just finished the Boston Marathon. It was the best marathon I had ever run thanks to the amazing organization of the BAA, the dedicated volunteers and the best spectators a runner could ask for. It was one of the best days of my life. I am getting choked up as I type this. I didn’t want what I was feeling emotionally to end. I felt Boston Strong. (My quads felt differently!) Thank you, friends and family! Thank you, Boston! After surviving the worst day in running in 2013, you gave us the best day in running in 2014.
Rockville Centre, New York