Boston Marathon: Running against the wind

I came into Boston feeling hugely positive about the race. Not because I was feeling like I was guaranteed a fast time or even that I was at the peak of my fitness, but because mentally I had worked through my lagging self-confident and had finally realized, Damnit, I deserve to be there. And by there, I mean in the elite women's start.

I am not a huge fan of giant races. They stress me out. I cannot even imagine wanting to be in a throng of 10s of thousands of people. That stressed me out just thinking about it. Even going to the expo, I did it on Friday, so I could avoid the rush. I don't really get into the whole scene very much at all. It just not my thing. When Monday morning, I was just ready to go and get going. I kinda felt like an over rip avocado or something after waiting the whole weekend to get racing. I got up at 5am race morning, fiddled around and was outside the Fairmont Hotel at around 6:30am to hop on the elite bus to the start. I chatted with a few of the other waiting ladies and we piled onto a nice plush bus (not a school bus) and relaxed while others came on the bus. My Team USA 100k teammate Meghan Arborgast got on the bus and I hastened her to sit next to me. We fell into chatting when our other teammate and super speedster Michael Wardian got on and we caught up with him. Soon someone came on the bus and told us that we didn't need to share rows since there was another bus that was completely empty, Michael took advantage and Meghan and I just stayed put and chatted. We rolled to the race start with a police escort and were promptly ushered into the church just at the start line where there was coffee, food, water, mats to lie down on and best of all, the cleanest portapotties you have ever seen. I mean, I actually used a portapotty no one had been in yet. What an experience. I was truly living the life! I chatted with the same gals as pre-bus ride and then got to spend some time talking to Michael Wardian, since we didn't get a chance to catch up on Saturday when he was at the expo (and I didn't make it into town). Pretty soon, we were outside warming up and time was ticking away to the start. I didn't really feel nervous ever or out of place. Kara Goucher and the other elite women didn't strike fear into my heart or make me feel like I didn't belong (neither really or imagined). I just felt like I was where I was suppose to be. Sure there was no way in hell I would keep up, but that doesn't mean I don't deserve to be there. Pretty soon we were kicking off our warmups and leaving our bags behind in the church and lining up to be paraded out in front of everyone. It was actually surprisingly warmer than had been anticipated so I didn't wear a hat, but wore a pair of throw away gloves, my black Moeben fleece sleeves, and shorts and singlet. More importantly, I rocked what were probably the best socks in the entire race:

I figured, if you can't beat them, wear better socks. After about mile 5, I had lost track of the number of shout outs I had gotten because the crowd loved my socks so much. I figured, I am here to have fun, maybe run a fast time, but mostly enjoy myself. I also wore them as a shout out to my pink-knee high socks running crew back in Seattle and my beloved peeps there. I knew I would stand out in the elite women's field (that big tall girl in the back), but a little added humor never hurt. Off we were paraded to the start and we had a few minutes to warm up again before we were let loose.

Ignore Kara in the front, who is that freakishly tall girl there in the back with the shades?
Photo courtesy of

After so much waiting, anticipating, nutritionally powering up and tapering, we were off in the blink of an eye and on our way. We started out really slow. I mean really slow. I was sitting in mid-pack just waiting for everyone to disappear off into the distance. It felt so easy, I was enthusiastic. Meghan and I had decided to stay together and try to pace for a 1:20 first half and then see what unfolded for the second. When we passed mile 1, I asked her what our pace was, hoping that it was a 6 min/mile and just felt so easy. but she replied it was a 6:30. Good grief, that is slow, considering we need a sub 6:15 pace to get us through to a 1:20 half. Apparently it is the slowest first mile in a number of years. It was dumb in my opinion, but hey it meant I got a little camera time running behind the big dogs. After mile 1 things sped up and we did as well. Despite the fact that I had been hydrating, hydrating, hydrating for as many days, I felt a little parched. The front of the pack departed and we found ourselves as the middle pack, dropping a decent sized group off behind us. 

And that is when we realized that the forecasted wind was very prevalent. As they had predicted, there was a very strong headwind and no matter how many corners we twisted around, we found no reprieve. I was enthusiastic and encouraged by the massive crowds that lined the whole course. The famed downhill start didn't really faze me or feel all that downhill really at all. Come on, I am a mountain runner who thrives on precipitous drops and then turning right around and heading right back up the mountain the other direction. We averaged about 6:15-6:20/mile depending on the whims of the wind. Not the pace we had hoped for, but felt pretty manageable. I grabbed a sip of water at pretty much every opportunity and chatted with Meghan where I could. I tried to stay focused on pushing myself, but not meting out too much energy and later bonking. 

At mile 10, I got a boost from seeing my friend Jamie cheering me on from the sidelines. I was feeling the taxing the wind was putting on, and trying to maintain goal pace just never got easier. Every 6:15 effort was feeling like pushing 6min/mile, etc. It was a grunt. I imagined it would have been nice to be lost in a crowd of 26,000 people including lots of tall guys who could have broken the wind. By races end, a few fellow runners estimated that we had lost 5-7 minutes because of the wind. I wonder at least a for a moment if I could have gotten my goal time of 2:47 if I had taken the regular start and simply tucked in amongst the speedier (but much more numerous) dudes.

We approached the halfway mark and I was feeling a bit tired. I perked up a bit though as the crowd got denser (the crowd is pretty solid the whole route) and I searched the town to find Jonathan's family who were on the right by the church (so I was instructed). They were holding a giant sign with my name on it and I waved wildly and got a huge boost. We went through the halfway in 1:23 and some change. I knew that the second half of the course was slower and that I wouldn't be able to hold pace if the wind kept up. And it did. Soon after leaving the town of Wellesley, we hit the college where the famous Wellesley girls provided a deafening roar of cheers. If nothing else, when running Boston, whether you are out there alone like I was, or running in a sea of people, you can't help but feel a sort of rockstar status as you are carried 26.2 miles on the cheers of supporters. I started to fall off pace, but Meghan told me to get on her shoulder and tuck in for a rest, but after hitting an aid station, I dropped back to encourage her to run her race and pace. I was hoping I would recover quickly and pick it up again but the wind was just unrelenting. I had moments where I felt like I was not moving or that I was about to go Mary Poppins style backwards down the street.

But despite that, I felt mentally and physically good. I just resolved to relentless move forward as hard as I could. I felt happy enough, not vexed at all that the day had no conspired to aid me in running a 2:47 or faster. I even had a pie in the sky goal of a sub 2:45. Some days just don't conspire to make that happen, I was just happy that that didn't move me, stress me or change my race. I just kept on keeping on, enjoying the day, playing with the crowd at times and keeping a smile on my face. Boston is NOT a fast course inherently and it rarely has ideal conditions. I am confident that I will run my 2:47 sometime, and maybe even sometime soon. I clipped along and around mile 20, a cyclist rode up next to me to warn me and protect me on the coming media vehicles and lead men. I chatted with the cyclist and watched as the blazing speed of the lead men's pack overtook me and disappeared up the hill. The hills of the second half were definitely bigger than the first and I kept wondering which hill was Heartbreak Hill. I hadn't even looked at the course description or ever paid attention to where Heartbreak Hill was. I figured there would be a lot more hubbub around it (a sign even), so I just took it up each hill as hard as I could. 

I crested the hill after mile 20 and just kept on hammering. I had taken a half a gel around mile 18 and a VESPA and decided to pop a Clif Shot around 22. I took about a half of the gel I had so cleverly stashed in my Moeben sleeves (Moeben is the best and Shannon is an amazing generous sponsor who had a great debut to the marathon crowd at the Boston Marathon Expo, go on girl!). I finally saw the Citgo sign and knew (at the very least) that was still a ways to go and often makes people feel like they are closer than they actually are. 

I felt good. I pushed as much as I could. My pace up the bigger hills had not been spectacular but I knew with about 2 miles to go that I would definitely break 3hrs, and certainly break 2:55, which would give me my 3rd fastest marathon time ever. The crowd got more dense and more dense. I headed under the tunnel, urging myself forward, feeling nothing but good, but still feeling like I didn't have another gear. Emerging from the tunnel, I just let the crowd carry me. I have never felt such a feeling of having a crowd cheer you on. And for me, it really was just for me as there was no one with me. I turned right on Hereford Street, then left on Boylston, the massive crowds swelling against the railings. They cheered and cheered, but went while when I raised my hands like a cheerleader flapping indicating raising the volume. I was encouraging them and so they went crazy. That felt pretty cool. I drained every ounce and sprinted to the finish line, crossing the mat in 2:53:20. Not a bad days work.

From the finish line, I was personally escorted to the VIP finishers tent and brought my bag and given my medal, etc. I saw Meghan who had rocked it out to a stellar 2:49 (and 2nd in her age group!) and we rehashed the race. She said and I agreed, " I hope they play up how windy it was out there, that was ridiculous." I changed my clothes and headed out to meet up with my friend Megan and her son Max who I am staying with while in MA (who also enjoyed their own VIP day including the VIP breakfast and sitting in the finish line grandstands). 

Boston was an experience. I am happy to have had it. Do I feel bad that I didn't run my goal time, not at all. I am very pleased that I ran a good race, that I had my head in the game and that I dealt with what I was given with grace and without being moved. I stood up and toed the line with the best in the world and I finished 36th out of over 11,000 women and 30th in my age group (18-39, not really an age group, eh?) in which the majority of those 11,000 woman are in (more than half). I am proud of myself. Really. Running a good race isn't just about the end result. It is about the journey. I have run faster races and hated every minute of it, does that make it a better race? Is that really the point. Boston is not a race about PR's and speed, it is about celebrating what it took to get where you are. It is about celebrating the journey that you are privileged enough to be able to complete. People work their whole life to make it to Boston and to be a part of something that is pursued like that is a blessing. I had a good time. Will I be back, nah. I got my fill. Onward to bigger and better things. The life "to-do" list just got a big item checked off.

Congrats to everyone that ran!

Heading to the finish line.