126th Boston Marathon Race Report
I am going to start this race report a bit differently and share with you a paragraph from a journaling assignment my therapist made me do. It was called “A Day in My Life When I Am Recovered.” For some reason, when I woke up at 4am on April 18th (too early for my 5:50am Uber to the bus), I found it on my computer. It was quite fitting for the day that awaited me.
“I am on the starting line of the Boston Marathon. I have qualified again, I’m not sure how old I am or how long it took, because I suppose that now that I am recovered, I did not set such a rigid timeline and I did not give up because of a few subpar performances. But it is not that far off from now (oh God please tell me it isn’t). Even though I already have a bib and do not technically have to raise money, I have fundraised a ton of money for eating disorder awareness. This run is not for a personal record, it is for raising awareness and for celebrating the sweet victory of being truly free. Everyone knows now and I am OK with that. My story has helped other people not to feel ashamed.”
I wish I could say that my entire assignment was this uplifting, but the paragraphs that followed basically outlined why this would never happen, and how I would eventually be revealed to everyone as a fraud, not a real athlete or a real scholar.
I am still a work in progress. BUT reading this did remind me just how meaningful this race was, and it reminded me that I should not be focused so much on my time, but on the experience. I also, right then and there, decided to really dedicate this race to all the people who in some way or another helped me quiet the voices in my head that told me such awful things, and who believed in me.
The week leading up to Boston had me way more nervous than I expected, even more nervous than before Chicago. While Chicago was the race that proved to me that I could run sub 3:30, this race had so many people following me and tracking me. A couple of days before the race, my mom said with pride, “you have quite the fan club there!” Having so much support touched me, but also freaked me out. I feared not finishing or getting injured and not even making it to the starting line. Even harder than training for the marathon, I started sharing the story of my eating disorder recovery publicly. Of course, I am happy that I did that. Most of the feedback I have received has been positive, and I raised $4,000 for ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders). Yet, I still, deep down, harbor this fear that people look at me differently (and some really do though I keep telling myself I’ve gained way more than I’ve lost).
Although I ran Boston once before, it was on the old qualifying standards (the standards were made five minutes faster after the 2018 race) and I had hypothermia for most of the race. I was miserable and barely remember it. So, for me, this felt like my first Boston Marathon. Without overdoing it, I tried to soak in as much of the experience as possible.
On the Boston Marathon Facebook group, people constantly joked about one of the items on the Adidas website. We are still not quite sure what it is – a purple sweater dress? On a whim, I decided to purchase one for myself so people would recognize me on marathon weekend. Yes, it was an $85 well spent to make people laugh and to be honest, it’s quite cute and comfy!
Bryan and I went to the Expo on Friday hoping to beat the crowds. It was still super crowded, but enjoyable nonetheless (at least for me anyway since Bryan was disappointed there were a lot less vendors than 2018). When I picked up my bib, the volunteer exclaimed that I had a great number and that I must be pretty fast. I felt so honored and thrilled. Although at the back of Wave 2, I was so happy to be in Wave 2 this time!
I am also excited to be running the marathon on the 50th anniversary of female runners being able to race. During training, I read the memoirs of Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb, and felt so inspired. It still amazes me that during my parents’ lifetime (in other words, not that long ago) people thought women could not handle running 26.2 miles. We sure have proven them wrong!
The first thing we saw at the Expo were a large basket of Spike the unicorn stuffed animals. I already have a Spike from 2018, but I instantly fell in love with the 2022 Spike. When we noticed he was wearing a shirt with a white bib, it signaled to me that Spike was in my wave. Bryan offered to get me one. I also bought a pink unicorn headband to wear during the race.
I met up with friends on Saturday afternoon and evening. The running community is so supportive, but many of us interact solely online for most of the year. It is so fun getting to finally put names to faces, or catch-up after having not seen each other for a very long time.
When I was dealing with my stress fracture, I read a book called “Rebound” that helped me so much in overcoming my injury. I got to meet and have coffee with its co-author, Cindy Kuzma, which was absolutely amazing. I came out of seeing everyone feeling more confident. I kept reminding myself that all of these people were there for me at my worst, and that their pride for me now was not based on what time I will run, but that I made it to the starting line at all.
On Saturday night, I finally got to see my parents, who drove all the way from New Jersey for the marathon. While I was doing marathon socializing, they spent the afternoon at Fenway Park (not exactly the place of choice for two Yankee fans, but they felt that as baseball fans, it was something they needed to see at least once in their lives). My parents bought Bryan and I Boston shirts, and gave me a unicorn stuffed animal in honor of my running Boston. It was perfect.
On Sunday, we went to church at Emmanuel College, which is where I work. I received a blessing both from Fr. Terry, the main celebrant of the mass, and from Sr. Janet Eisner, the president of the college and longest serving female college president in the country. My parents came in from NJ and my mother brought her famous spaghetti and meatballs to help me fuel.
On my long run three weeks before race day, I agonized over whether or not to wear my Athletes Against Diet Culture shirt. Then I said to myself, “if people don’t like what you stand for, do you want to run with them anyway?” In the end, I was so glad I wore it. First of all, it was in appreciation for everyone who belongs to the Athletes Against Diet Culture group. Second, a few people told me they recognized who I was because of the shirt. After that I decided that it was going to be part of my Boston Marathon outfit.
On race morning, after reading the journal entry I mention above, I headed to Boston Common to board my bus. Thankfully, I was able to get on a private bus, and I met a lot of great folks on the ride up to Hopkinton. I also got really antsy. It is not easy to arrive at your destination at 7:30am and not be running until 10:25am. Thankfully, I kept getting a lot of text messages wishing me luck. Between answering those and making sure to continuously hydrate, I kept occupied.
The walk up to the start line was long. When we got to the area of lining up in our corrals, I saw a long string of porta-potties with tons of people waiting. I suddenly realized I had to pee. I kept looking at my watch and at the lines. Finally, I decided I could not hold it and it was not worth it ruining my race. However, the line seemed to take forever, and I kept wishing people would hurry up. It also meant that I missed meeting up with my friend Bobby who I had been doing some training runs with and who was planning on a similar goal. By the time I got to the starting line, I was in the back of Wave 2 and it was 10:31am.
I was disappointed to be starting late, and a bit frazzled, but I quickly let it go and decided to get into gear. As some people reminded me on the porta potty line, “it’s chip timed, all that matters is the time recorded between start and finish!”
Up until the week of the race, I had been very iffy about my goals. For most of training, I told my coach that I just wanted to do Boston for fun. My coach was supportive of this. After all, I had already qualified for both 2022 and 2023 with my time at Chicago. However, he also reminded me that since I am paying him, he is obligated to always let me know what my potential is. Deep down, I think he knew that I thrive on competition and on pushing myself to the best of my ability. I also had a remarkably strong training season, not having to miss any long blocks for injury or illness and running a 5k PR twice. Sure enough, with the perfect weather, I made a secret pact with myself that I was going to “go for it.” I decided to set four goals as usual.
A goal: PR (sub 3:22:14)
B goal: qualify for Boston again (sub 3:30)
C goal: qualify for Chicago again (sub 3:40)
D goal: PR the Boston course (sub 4:02).
I start to tear up when it hits me that I have crossed the timing mat, and my loved ones are getting notifications that I am now running the race. This is it. I am running the Boston Marathon again. The first mile is way more congested than I had hoped. This is both a good thing (prevented me from going out too fast which is very easy to do on a course like Boston) but also a bad thing (I felt like I kept weaving in and out of crowds of people and trying to pass people). I am pretty happy with my pacing, and most of it is just by feel. My coach said to expect the downhills to be faster and the uphills to be slower, and not freak about it so long as my miles were not faster than 7:20s. At mile 3, I pass a group of guys and hear one of them say, “ugh come on, we are getting beat by a unicorn woman!” I just smiled to myself and said “yes, you are!”
Mile 1: 7:36
Mile 2: 7:25
Mile 3: 7:38
Mile 4: 7:27
Mile 5: 7:37
I wave and smile as much as possible, enjoying the signs of when we enter a new town. However, I still feel like I have not quite yet found my people. I am constantly weaving in and out, and know I am not doing a good job of running the tangents. When I get to mile 10, I assess how my stomach feels. The voices are not as loud as they were during Chicago and my gut has gotten used to more fuel. I do not feel that awful bloated feeling I had at mile 10 back in October, and I continue with my planned fueling strategy.
Mile 6: 7:24
Mile 7: 7:30
Mile 8: 7:42
Mile 9: 7:38
Mile 10: 7:44
In the middle of mile 11 are two men dressed in bumble bee outfits. “Hi bumble bees!” I yell. This is what it’s all about, the spectators. I at least tell myself that I am enjoying what I could not notice back in 2018 when I felt so sick.
However, seeing two miles creep into the 7:40s, I get a bit freaked out and start to increase my speed. I also see the Wellesley scream tunnel and it gets me super motivated. Some of their signs are also hysterically funny. I do not stop and kiss anyone since I am on a mission to run this to the best of my ability and so far, I am on target pace.
I look down at my watch and see that I have crossed the halfway point at almost exactly 1:40. This is right on target for a 3:20 marathon, but I know that I have yet to conquer the Newton Hills. Expecting myself to positive split, I already feel slightly disappointed.
Mile 11: 7:42
Mile 12: 7:23
Mile 13: 7:28
After mile 13, I decide that I need to focus on savoring Boston and running by effort. I make the decision to stop looking at my watch, at least for the time being. I tell myself that I can always check it later on in the race. After all, a friend had given me a 3:20 pace band on the bus and I put it on my wrist at the last minute. I still feel really good, but know I need to save my energy. Bryan and our friend Elodie have said they will be around mile 15-16, so I get excited knowing I can start looking out for them. Unfortunately, I am still running in a huge crowd. They have a hard time seeing me, but spot me when I am zooming past them and I get to give them a brief wave.
Mile 14: 7:21
Mile 15: 7:40
Mile 16: 7:20
I brace myself for the hills, reminding myself to try to enjoy them. After all, these are the hills I have trained on the past couple of months and they are “home” to me. I channel my high school cross country coach who used to tell us to act like we were chomping up a flight of stairs and to remain calm. I also channel my friend Susan who likes to shout, “I love this hill!” Knowing that the hills were a challenge for me during training since I had a hard time keeping up with my friend Bobby whenever there was an ascent, I wonder if I may be pushing too hard. I start to feel pain in my right hip at mile 18. I search my Roo Pouch for Tylenol and cannot find it. Realizing I am not going to get Tylenol in me before I reach Boston, I try my best to block it out. I keep telling myself “You are OK. You’ve got this, just keep focusing on good form and get to the finish.” The pain keeps coming and going. This has happened before and usually just takes a good foam roll. I remind myself that it is likely not a fracture or anything awful.
When I get to Heartbreak Hill, I keep telling myself, “just get over this and the hardest part is over.” At mile 20, I briefly contemplate looking at my watch to see how I should pace myself for the last 10k, but then I decide against it. I want to enjoy this last 10k, not be riddled with disappointment that my goals are already off the table or pressure to meet them because they are still on the table. Suddenly, I hear my name being called. I look over and at first, I am confused. Then I see my friends Eddie and Kathy, and I smile and wave. After I wave to them, however, I realize I am so tired that I am not sure if I really saw them. Post-race I find out that that indeed were there (at least they say they were!), but we now have a running joke about marathoners having “Eddie hallucinations.” When I get to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I feel a burst of emotion. People are holding signs telling us that we’ve conquered it, and I feel super excited.
Mile 17: 7:38
Mile 18: 7:44
Mile 19: 7:24
Mile 20: 7:42
Mile 21: 8:10
Coming down Heartbreak Hill, I get another burst of excitement. I am still not looking at my watch, but I know the hills must have slowed me down, so I try to speed up. As a Boston College alum, running down the other side of Heartbreak Hill gives me a burst of energy. My parents have said they will be at Cleveland Circle, so I begin to look out for them. My quest to make sure I see them is keeping me occupied and able to forget the pain. Finally, at the corner of Commonwealth Ave and Chestnut Hill Ave, I see them. They picked a great spot to spectate since I can see them pretty clearly. I hear my mom shout, “I love you!” I blow them a kiss and yell “I love you!” back with a big smile.
I thought the hardest miles of the race were the Newton Hills. I was wrong. It is definitely miles 23-25. After seeing my parents, it suddenly hits me that I am starting to struggle and that I want this thing to be over already. I feels like forever until I reach the mile 23 and mile 24 markers. However, the crowds are amazing. I am wearing my unicorn headband and people keep yelling “go unicorn!” and “yeah unicorn girl!” I try to soak in all of their love.
At this point, I assume I have slowed down and try to just focus on finishing strong. I am hoping that maybe I will see my husband soon and he can give me some sort of indication of how I am doing time wise.
Mile 22: 7:42
Miles 23: 7:47
Mile 24: 7:57
Ironically, while miles 23, and 24 seem to drag on forever, I seem to feel a newfound energy when I see the “one mile to go” sign. I also remind myself to not go too crazy since, for most people, the course ends up being a bit long due to the crowds and not being able to run the tangents. I briefly consider looking at my watch again thinking it could motivate me to move faster. However, I decide against it. What if it makes me upset?
Before I know it, I see the sign for Hereford. I actually felt like I had longer to go on Beacon St, so this is a nice surprise. I shout out loud, “Hereford!” It’s such a spectacular moment. I know at this point that I am going to finish the race. I do not even feel the small incline. When I make the left on Boylston, the finish line seems so close and yet so far away. I am so tired, but the crowds are so loud, and it is just incredible. You feel like a superstar the entire way. I consider peaking at my watch again to get a sense of where I am. I literally could not tell you my time if you paid me! However, I start to remember that this has been a longtime dream of mine. I want to feel nothing but joy when I cross that finish line. I can deal with the time later. I decide to be oblivious and just give the best finish line pose that I can possibly muster.
Nevertheless, when I get closer to the finish, I notice that there are time clocks for Wave 1 and Wave 2. Wave 2s time clock reads 3:29 something. Wow, I have to at least be under 3:30! And I know I started later than 10:25, so I have to be a few minutes faster than that at least! I speed up really fast to make sure that I at least get my B goal. I put my hands up in a victory pose! This is it! I made it!
Mile 25: 7:49
Mile 26: 7:48
When I cross the finish, I look down at my watch and see 3:22 something. I am ecstatic. Wow, I really did not slow down as much as I thought! I feel surprisingly OK, but I have a lot of trouble walking. Another difficulty of the Boston Marathon course is that there is a lot of walking after the race.
My phone rings and I immediately answer it. “Congrats, baby! New PR!” It’s Bryan. Did I? My watch does not say so, but perhaps I have turned it off late. I will have to check the official results.
It takes a while to reach the place where they are handing out blankets and medals. For a while, I keep fearing that I missed getting mine, but then quickly look around and realize the people next to me do not have their medals either. When a volunteer finally puts a medal around my neck, I savor the moment. I have zero pictures of myself wearing my medal from the 2018 Boston Marathon due to being placed in the medical tent immediately after finishing. A nurse had to bring my medal to me almost two hours after I had already finished, and by that time, I was in no mood for happy photos. When I reach the thermal blankets, I hear screaming. It is my friend Sophia from elementary school! We have not seen each other in years. She embraces me and we pose for a selfie. I thank her immensely since she lets me have two of the blankets. By this point, I am feeling pretty cold!
It takes a while to find Bryan. A kind volunteer helps me reach where he is waiting with my bag of clothes. Instead of checking a bag, I gave my stuff to Bryan to carry. This was due to our experience of difficulty with trying to obtain my bag from gear check in 2018. The BAA was super secure (for which I am grateful) and would not allow Bryan to pick up my bag for me. It took multiple trips and phone calls from the people in the medical tent to the people in gear check to get things sorted.
When I see Bryan, we embrace! However, I also start to look at my phone and realize that my official finish time is 3:22:18. I did not PR. Bryan lied. To be fair, he was off by 4 seconds! Part of me is thrilled since it really is a better outcome than I expected. Part of me is also, I cannot lie, disappointed. I keep thinking back to places I could have surged. I wonder if looking at my watch would have helped me, especially right at the end.
We take the subway and then the bus home, stopping briefly to get some desserts from Mike’s Pastry. I take a brief nap, and then we take my parents to dinner at the Stockyard, where I enjoy a big Manhattan and lots of delicious food.
Overall, it is one of the best days of my life. Some people told me I would never BQ again, and they were wrong. Even though I did not reach my A goal, I gained something really important from this race: more confidence in myself as an athlete. I thought for a while that I would stop doing marathons to focus exclusively on triathlons, but now I really feel like the marathon and I have some unfinished business. I would like to go for a sub 3:20! That being said, for the short term, my focus will turn back to tri since my next races are the Musselman 70.3 and Ironman Maryland.
Again, a big thanks to everyone who was a part of this day: the volunteers, the other runners, my family and friends.
Recovery is possible. Scary and hard, but possible and WORTH IT!