The expectation for this race was insane. The entire city was buzzing with anticipation. Every person I saw seemed to be involved somehow. Everyone knew it was happening and was excited. [Warning: another long post]
Like I said before, I was really nervous. Yes I had no time goals per se but I was genuinely worried about my hamstring (in true Anna fashion, there’s always something, right?). The tightness had popped up the week before and I could feel it when I stretched it. In any normal circumstance I’d have probably given myself a few days off…but I had an expensive race I needed to do. I was worried how it would fair over 26.2 miles. It was just a hint of a niggle, but what if all those miles turned it into a full blown injury?
Anyway, I was going to run it and see what happened. I decided to go for 3:40 and perhaps better if I felt good later on. I was confident with those paces – it wasn’t going too fast and should feel comfortable. I had my mile paces printed out and laminated (with Cellotape) that would be tucked into my sports bra (I’ve done this for previous marathons).
My alarm was set for just before 5am. I had a black coffee and got myself ready. I put on some throwaway clothes to keep warm (one of my dad’s hoodies and a pair of tracksuit bottoms I’d had since senior school!). My mum waved me off (she would be coming down later to stand somewhere on the course). I took my oats downstairs in a container. Handily the hotel had put on a tuck shop of breakfast items and coffee so I used some of that milk to create some cold porridge/gruel which I’d eat later in the race village (mmm…).
I bought a handy container from Tesco the week before
I caught the water taxi with a few other marathoners. I was probably too early as my (white) wave didn’t need to catch the shuttle buses until 6.45-7.20am but I wanted to get out there.
Early morning selfie before the taxi
We walked the mile to the common where the shuttle buses were waiting. It was all fairly easy. We had to make sure we were using clear bags and that our stuff fit into another plastic bag to make sure we weren’t taking too much to the race village (as there was a proper bag drop near the Common) and that security could see what we were taking. I had my phone, some nuun water, a banana, my gels and my porridge. There were security everywhere. You had to get your bag searched before going on the shuttle bus. But it was very well organised, like clockwork.So many yellow school buses lined up
I got on a bus and was off in no time, about 7am. I sat next to a girl from Chicago who I briefly chatted to. I was so nervous that I honestly didn’t fancy chatting too much and I think she felt the same. Instead I ended up listening to some girls behind me talk about all the track workouts they’d done. Joy. I wondered how I could sustain these nerves for another 3.5 hours…surely this can’t be healthy!
That bus ride was so boring. The roads were dull, there was nothing to look at and all I could think about was how bloody long it was taking us to drive away from the place we were going to run to. It was funny though to see so many school buses going in convoy along the motorway. It was also a novel experience to travel on an American school bus!
Finally we arrived about an hour later at the race village. I was in need of a wee and just wanted to get into the race village.
It was nice and sunny but still quite cool. I did my business and then found a piece of cardboard going spare to sit on and ate my porridge. The cardboard idea was a popular one and was easy to get as there were so many boxes of free bagels, bananas, Clif products and Gatorade that new boxes were being opened all the time. The grass was damp from the dew so this was a good plan. There was also free coffee. It was quite the buffet.
I found the one area where my phone picked up free WIFI and stood there for a bit checking up on social media, posting some pics and updates. It was so lovely to get so many well wishers and kind messages. I felt truly loved and buoyed. But it suddenly occurred to me how many people knew I was running and the pressure suddenly heightened. I also realised that as it was Monday lots of people might be bored at work and there was the tracker…
I decided to conserve my battery on my phone and laid down for a bit on my cardboard. It was now very sunny. People all around me were sitting or walking around or snoozing. This was like no other race I’ve been to in that everyone looked fast. Everyone was lean, prepared and focused. The vibe of the place was very different to other races. There were no fun runners here. Everyone had run a marathon before in order to qualify. And, to me, it seemed everyone was well-trained and ready to go-go-go. I felt so out of place. I know this sounds ridiculous as I earnt my place there like everyone else, but I honestly felt like I didn’t belong. I know not everyone was actually running for a fast time, but it definitely felt that way.
Eventually I thought I better go to the loo again. Good job as it took 40 minutes in the queue despite the obscene number of portable toilets! And I was just in time for when they called my wave to go to the start. Again, everything was super organised. And the place was full of police, military and sniffer dogs (and snipers on the roof!).
At this point I was really concerned with the weather. I kept my hoodie on as long as possible, not from the cold, but from the sun. It was beating down and I knew I needed to find some suntan lotion or I’d be in trouble. Luckily as my wave made our way to our corral at the start there was a collection of Vaselines, waters and suntan lotion bottles that people had kindly left behind before going to the start.
Lots of runners were stopping to use this pop-up facility and I joined in slathering myself with lotion.
Just before we headed down to our corrals there was another area of loos. Honest to god with the many, many loos in the race village I’ve never seen so many for one race. I knew I didn’t have the time (or patience) to queue up again but mentally I needed to be certain. I saw lots of people going over the material fence to some bushes to have a quick wee so I followed. There was nowhere to hide though. I say bushes but really I mean leafless branches. Girls just squatted down as best as they could and I will unashamedly say I joined them. Needs must! The funniest thing was that if I turned to look one way all I’d see were the men lined up to pee right in front of us. So many willies on display!
Anyway after that lapse in human dignity, I headed to the start feeling ready.
I hung about in my corral, doing my leg swings and dynamic stretches – more to calm my nerves than anything. It was hot. I was sweating already. Then we were off. I was actually that distracted by everything around me that I almost forgot to start my Garmin as I crossed the start line!
Miles 1-3: It was very crowded at the start but I didn’t really mind this as it kept my pace in order. I was surprised that people weren’t zooming off but I did get overtaken a fair bit. I kept in the middle of the road and felt happy. There weren’t a huge number of supporters but there were sprinklings of people cheering and people on their front lawns, set up for the day with chairs and drinks. It was full on downhill right from the start and I felt comfortable at my pace. But there were a few rolling hills as the initial miles tick by. I glanced at my pacing paper each mile to check where I should be for the next mile and it gave me a good indication of where the hills would be.
Miles 4-7: So far I’d been keeping nicely to my plan, though perhaps slightly quicker but I expected this. I heard one man suddenly gasp when he realised he accidentally turned off his Garmin by mistake instead of switching the screens and he hadn’t realised. I felt his pain – what a bummer! He was then in a dilemma as to what to do. I never found out…
I kept looking at my pace paper and felt on track but it was starting to feel really tough. It wasn’t supposed to feel as tough as this. I grabbed water from the aid stations (thankfully they were so regular) and began pouring one over my head and sipping the other. Annoyingly they were cups which meant drinking was tricky but I squeezed the top together so I could create a spout. I also had to dodge the Gatorades as they were always first (could you imagine if I accidentally dumped one of those on my head?? #sticky).
The course was fairly dull. As a non-American I wasn’t sure what was significant and what wasn’t. There were spectators along the way but not as many as I thought they’d be. As the course is pretty much a straight line to Boston you could occasionally seen straight out in front of you and the 1,000s of runners ahead. It was mentally tough to see that. I crossed over the 10k chip mat and thought how my time would ping back to my dad (I thought it was only significant markers. I’m thankful I didn’t know it was every mile as that might have freaked me out).
Miles 8-12: At this point I knew things weren’t going well. I was struggling. My hamstring was fine (just a tiny niggle barely noticeable) but my brain wasn’t happy. I was losing motivation fast. The heat was really getting to me and I was struggling with the paces. I heard a girl next to me say to someone else, “It shouldn’t feel this hard this early”. I was so thankful that someone else was feeling the strain like me. I realised the heat was affecting everyone (of course).
My piece of paper was difficult to read now as I’d sweated through to the ink. Then a gust of wind blew it away – I kid you not. I watched it fly over my shoulder and gave a little scream which scared a nearby runner. I briefly contemplated going back for it but realised it was for the best. My 3:40 (and definitely 3:35) goal weren’t going to happen. Now I just wanted to finish. I switched my watch to miles rather than the pace I was doing.
Water wasn’t helping and I wondered about Gatorade but knew that would be dangerous having never tried it and the thought of a sickly drink made my stomach heave.
I was in marathon hell. Nothing about the course was helping, there was no shade and I was quickly spiralling into a dark, dark place. I took my gel early in the hopes that it would perk me up and then decided “sod it” and put a podcast on. I needed something to take my mind off the race. I wasn’t enjoying the race and was having a mental battle with myself about stopping. But stopping would be a) embarrassing and b) I’d have no idea where the hell to go or what to do.
We then came into the Wesley area. I didn’t think it was this soon but suddenly there was a long (and I mean LONG) line of girls hanging over the barriers with bright red lipstick on screaming to be kissed. They had signs with funny messages and it took my mind off the race completely reading them. I’d heard about this before the race so it was fun seeing it live.
Just a small section (Source)
Their screaming was deafening. I found myself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Some runners went over to have a quick peck and I even saw one guy get a selfie. It hugely lifted my mood.
Miles 13-16: Suddenly I was back in the groove. I was back in race mode and pulled myself together. This is BOSTON, I told myself. Don’t waste it. I saw a girl in the crowd handing out bottles of Vita Coco coconut water and I decided to grab one. Hands down this probably saved the race for me. The water was deliciously cold and tasty, and it perked me right up. I kept pouring water on my head at each water station but I kept that coconut water with me to sip on as I went on. Now I was just ticking the miles down until the hills would begin at Newton (mile 16). I saw a guy with a parkrun 50 shirt on and this made me smile too. I had my second gel.
Miles 17-21: I hit the first hill after a sharp decline and it was a long slog. It was tough but there was lots of support and I just remembered that after every hill there was a decline. I also envisaged myself running up my local hill. I could do this. I remember reading a sign saying “May the course be with you” with a picture of Yoda and this made me smile. Another said “Motivational message for people I don’t know”. Random but funny. And my personal favourite “If Trump can run, so can you”.
When I was at the race village my mum had text me saying she was on the left next to a fire station (I do love my mum’s vagueness). I had no idea where that was. I assumed it wouldn’t be early in the race but at best 17 miles onward. So I now spent lots of time searching the supporters for my mum and any fire stations (thankfully I wasn’t aware that she was actually about 800m from the finish…).
The hills kept coming but I didn’t really notice them. It broke the race up nicely and I found myself overtaking people who were walking or struggling. Amusingly I was only aware of Heartbreak Hill after I’d climbed it and saw a huge sign saying I’d conquered it. Personally I’d say the first hill was the hardest as it dragged on, Heartbreak was more of a sharp but shorter hill. I enjoyed the downhill and found my quads were fine (I’d be warned that your quads could seriously hurt on these later downhills) and felt giddy that I’d gotten past the worst of the race.
I grabbed a Clif gel from a volunteer at the energy station (this was always my plan as I only wanted to carry two gels). I realised it was Vanilla flavoured and that there were other flavours going so I picked up a few more and then made my selection (oh the luxury!). I went for Citrus in the end, and threw the other gels back to the energy people’s feet. I took it at mile 18 and it was gloriously tasty. Like lemon curd.
22-26 miles: Aside from Bournemouth, these miles have always been good for me. I felt I was almost home, I was running strong and was happy. There was a gentle breeze which had a lovely cooling effect. The crowds were thick. I finished the coconut water and ditched it. I raised my hands and smiled and this made the crowds louder (other people were doing this too, I wasn’t the only loon).
My only annoyance was a painful stitch in my side. I tried stabbing my side, breathing differently, putting hands on hips, stretching upwards…nothing shifted it. My only relief was bending over as I ran – this, I know, looked weird but it provided me with minutes relief after I did it. At this point in the race you do whatever you can to stay comfortable. I saw that famous Citgo sign in the horizon and smiled – finally another landmark I recognised.
We went under a bridge where the words “Boston Strong” were painted.
I took this photo on our last day when we drove back to the airport
And then it was time for the only two turns in the entire race, the famous: “Left on Hereford, right on Boylston” (I’d only heard about that the day before). And then the crowds were crazy. I pumped my arms and smiled and smiled. I could see the finish in the distance. Still so bloody far away but within my grasp. I felt strong and overtook people as I headed to the finish. And then it was done.
Finish: My time was 3:38:46. I am fully shocked by this – somehow I managed to get my goal despite giving up earlier and ignoring my watch.
I stumbled along, my hamstring now saying hello to me, it was very tight. And within minutes I had text messages off people saying congratulations and then my dad rung me. Blimey! I answered saying “I’ve finished! I did it!” and he goes “I know, it’s just said on the tracker. I’ve been tracking your every mile.” I blinked, my every mile!? Thank god I didn’t know that.
Looking behind at the finish line
I plodded along talking to my dad, telling him it was the hardest road marathon I’ve ever done. He replied that he could tell by my splits (thanks, Dad). He also said he could see from the TV coverage that it was a hot day and the elites struggled too. Hilariously my dad had said he’d already text my mum to tell her I was finished as she didn’t know. I got my medal and thanked every volunteer I came near. I was euphoric. I’d have probably given away half my savings to a charity at that point I was so glad to be finished.
After getting my medal I walked along to collect the various food items, a goody bag and water. I asked a kind volunteer to take my photo…
And then stumbled along to get a foil wrap. I wasn’t cold but I knew I would be soon.
I’d pre-agreed to meet my mum at the Prudential Centre which was such a good idea. I could see it because it was so big so I couldn’t get lost and it wasn’t too far away.
It seemed every single person I passed congratulated me. I got to the Prudential Centre, saw my mum and she ran towards me and grabbed me in a hug. She said, “I’m so proud of you! I saw you! You were smiling!” I hadn’t seen her, which is such a shame but I’m so glad she saw me. Apparently the lady next to her said, “How can she be smiling at this stage!?”
I almost cried hugging my mum but managed to hold it together. My dad is such a supporter of all my races and has seen so many and of course I know my mum supports me too but to have her there at a marathon and to be so happy for me, it was really very special. She always tries her best to come and support me but she worries about leaving their dogs for too long so she’s never seen me at a marathon. It was a lovely, lovely moment. She was so excited for me and buzzed by everything. It made my day as I was worried it would be a long, hard day for her that she would grin and bear it (as mothers do). But she was smiling from ear to ear.
We headed straight to the Barnes and Noble Starbucks where I could finally sit down, have a giant iced coffee and just absorb what had happened.
It was strangely quiet and peaceful in the shop, whereas outside was mental with runners and people. It was the perfect location to decompress. And the goody bag had an APPLE. A GLORIOUSLY CRUNCHY TASTY APPLE. It was absolute bliss. No apple has ever tasted that good. Big words.
It was definitely the hardest road marathon I’ve done, despite going into it without a time goal. My easy pace I’d planned didn’t feel easy – I’m assuming because of training through winter and than having a very sunny and warm race. It was definitely a fantastic experience. But not one I’d do again. I’ll save my reflections for another day!
How do you motivate yourself when you find yourself in a dark patch during a race/workout?
Would you prefer to train cold and race warm, or train warm and race cold?
The best thing to find in a goody bag is…?