As anyone who participated will surely agree, the 2014 Boston Marathon was one of the most inspirational, celebratory and unique races I have ever run. But before I dive into my recap, I have to say, I didn’t fully appreciate just how challenging this race is or how strong and speedy I ran last year until I was back for a second try this past Monday. Nevermind the net downhill or even the years of work it took to qualify – that course is tough!

I may be a bit biased though, as this year’s race was an unintentionally slow one for me, with a finish time of 3:56:25 and average pace of 9:01 min/mile. That’s over 20 minutes slower than my time last year and 15 minutes slower than my previously slowest marathon, which is a huge gap given that I’m a fairly predictable runner (+/- a few minutes). But more on that shortly…

Readytorace Prerace

Race morning was like an episode of deja-vu. Once again, my college friend and I were making our way to Hopkinton in the early morning before the roads closed. We picked up the same runner on the way and drove backwards along several miles of the course to another friend’s house, watching the volunteers set up aid stations and feeling our stomachs begin to churn with nervous excitement. We got to Hopkinton just before 7am and relaxed for a few hours. It was all a bit strange – there we were, the same runners in the same outfits, at the same place, taking the same group photo against the same wall; I couldn’t believe an entire year had passed by already!

This year our friend was able to drive us right up to the entrance of the athletes village, which was jam packed by the time we arrived around 9:15am. The atmosphere was electric! It was also somewhat overwhelming; as last year, I was grateful to be there with a friend. Nearly every inch of grass was claimed by runners and running gear. The Wave 1 folks were moving towards the start (~0.7M away) and everyone else was either basking in the sunshine or waiting in the insanely long toilet lines. We waited for 45min, after which it was time for us Wave 2 runners to exit the village. At this point it was still quite chilly – the sun was warm but there was a cool breeze and my friend and I were nowhere near ready to part with our throwaway clothes. Funny, because just 2omin later, I would’ve given anything to feel that cool!

photo 2 photo 4

BAA did an incredible job organizing the start this year – far more streamlined and orderly compared to last year. As we made our way to our corrals, I felt the same “I can’t believe I’m about to run a marathon” feeling, but with an added sense of pride and solidarity. I had made a mental note last year to leave a bit early for the bathroom line near the corrals and was very happy to discover that there were at least three times as many bathrooms this year – absolutely no wait! And unlike last year (and pretty much every marathon I’ve run), we weren’t waiting around in the corrals. BAA timed it perfectly so that we entered our corral and immediately began walking towards the start as the gun went off.

Crossing the start line was exhilarating; it was impossible not to feel emotional. The amount of crowd support was unreal. Last year, there was an initial big cheer and then small pockets of spectators throughout the first half, but for the most part it was relatively quiet and dare I say boring. This year, the course was lined with spectators the entire way to Wellesley. It was beyond impressive!

This wave 1 runner’s awesome Google glass video of the race gives you a good sense of the athletes village and start line experience (the whole video is worth a watch).

Although I never stopped appreciating just how unique a day it was, unfortunately it did not turn out to be the race I had hoped it would be in terms of my own personal performance. Time was never my focus this year, but I invested a lot of it into my training despite the horrendous winter and constraints of the Dietetic Internship, and I had a strong, injury-free training cycle, so I couldn’t help but have certain expectations about my finish. In other words, if I was going to run what normally is a VERY relaxed pace for me, I would at least feel good while doing it!

But hey, not every race can go as planned. My experience was a perfect example of how training runs only make up one piece of the overall puzzle, along with nutrition, sleep/recovery, stress, weather etc. Some factors are within your control, and others are not. In my case, race day happened to fall right in the middle of the hardest part of my internship. I wasn’t feeling amazing on race morning, but I got a few nights of solid sleep, hydrated/carbo-loaded as per my usual routine, and wasn’t experiencing any GI distress, so I thought I’d be fine.

Several weeks of inadequate sleep and stress, and more importantly, a stomach virus caught 4 days earlier, left me feeling more mentally and physically worn out than I realized until I was out on the course. It was also hot outside (high 60s at the start), which felt like the tropics compared to the polar vortex that persisted throughout most of my training. So while I started out at my usual MP feeling okay, within a few miles I felt surprisingly fatigued and unwell (stomach cramps, nausea). No matter what I did (the usual mental tricks, adjusting pace, hydration, gels), I couldn’t shake it off. My fellow 3:33 qualifiers, and then all the corrals behind me, were passing me right and left for miles. This never bothers me as I always pass a good chunk of them later on, but this time I knew that wouldn’t be the case. It was frustrating, but ultimately all I could do was accept how I was feeling, slow down, and take things mile by mile.

Thankfully, the crowds were AMAZING and I was able to redirect my attention (which usually is intensely focused on my own race) to everyone around me to get me to the finish line. As soon as I would feel myself sinking into my own pain and discomfort, I would come across a new source of inspiration that made those feelings seem insignificant, whether it was listening to the deafening cheers, hearing hundreds of people scream my name as if they were my hugest fans, reading the hilarious “kiss me” signs and running through the “scream tunnel” at Wellseley, hearing that Meb won (GO MEB!), passing by Team Hoyt as they completed their 32nd Boston Marathon, running alongside amputees as they conquered the course, counting down the number of miles until I would see my husband, or taking a much-needed glass of water from one of many generous spectators in between aid stations. I was really touched by the amount of support we received from the Boston community. I can’t say I physically enjoyed every moment of the race, but I felt so lucky to be a part of such a historic and symbolic event and did my best to soak up the atmosphere.

Mile20 Out on the course

RunningtoE4 Mile25 Tothefinish2

Above are a few shots of me out on the course – at mile 20 at the base of heartbreak hill (where family friends, who we stayed with in Newton last year, cheered me on), a random by the official photo company, and at mile 25 (where I gave E a huge kiss). He watched me at the same spot last year, and seeing him (after counting down for so many miles) really gave me the lift I needed to get me through that final stretch!

Running towards the finish line was pretty epic. It was funny because I was nearly there and it occurred to me, oh yeah I should probably sprint! I was so mentally and physically not in racing mode that I nearly forgot!

Check out my Garmin details to see the progression of my race. I also included a comparison of my official splits from last year and this year, just to show the drastic difference between the two. As E said to me later on re: the slowing down of my pace, “that looks like one of my races” haha!

Boston Marathon 2013  photo.PNG

After I finished, I felt very ill and stumbled about for awhile before eventually getting my medal, water, food etc. The sun was so strong I felt like I was under a heat lamp, so this year’s amazing space blanket cape thing with hood provided some nice protection. I’m glad it took E awhile to get to the reunion area because by that point I was finally starting to feel more human again; still overheated and very nauseous but in better spirits with a little water and salt in my system. Here are some photos he took when he found me!

Tough race! P1100456 P1100465 P1100463 P1100460 Finish line1

We slowly made our way to the park, where many runners and spectators were lounging on the grass. So many happy, tired, celebratory people around us! We found a nice shady spot to relax for awhile, given I was still feeling a bit unwell. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be done with the race and to have E by my side. Lying down felt so good – it was nearly impossible to get back up!

Park1 Park2

We made our way to the T back towards Arlington, where there was an awesome local ice cream shop. Two giant scoops of ice cream (and a huge burger, fries and hard cider later on with friends) – that’s how this future RD likes to recover post-marathon!

ice cream2 Post-race dinner

I confess that my frustration returned the day after my race (E had to listen to me vent for a couple hours during the ride back to NYC), but now that I’ve had a few days to process everything, I’m able to appreciate that I ran a really smart and strong race that was appropriate to how I felt on that particular day. I am proud of myself for being flexible, adjusting my goals and prioritizing my health.

Despite how horrible I felt, I didn’t once stop running until I reached the finish line, which was my new goal for the race once I stopped paying attention to speed. For the first time, I wasn’t a slave to my watch or pace band, which was very refreshing. I could have pushed myself a lot harder, but instead I listened to my body and let myself run at whatever pace felt okay so that I wouldn’t end up in the medical tent (as so many others did that day). I didn’t enjoy running a marathon in shorts (mostly I wasn’t used to it), but I avoided chaffing by taking every stick of vaseline offered to me along the course (since my pre-race application didn’t last long in the heat). I took the extra time to hydrate at every water station, and in between stations too when I was able. My stomach hurt but I didn’t have real GI issues, thank goodness.

As a result of all this, I was able to finish in under 4 hours, without any major problems! I went for my first recovery run yesterday and was amazed by how fresh my legs felt. Obviously I wasn’t racing on Monday, and I also got an incredible massage on Tuesday, but still – my legs didn’t feel like I just ran a marathon! Good thing too, because I’m running the Brooklyn Half in less than 3 weeks, and then I have two 10ks over the summer (including NYC Triathlon relay) and the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall. But first – a much needed break from structured training!

And that sums up my Boston 2014 experience! I don’t think I’ll be back there to race for awhile, which makes me even more grateful that I was able to be a part of this year’s marathon. Thank you again to all my friends and family who supported me throughout the long journey to qualification and during the 2013 and 2014 races! I have so many memories across the emotional spectrum from both of my Boston experiences that I will always cherish.

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