Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston 2013 -- From Beginning to End

As I sit down to share my experience at last weekend's Boston Marathon, I'm still not sure where to begin or where to end.  Do I focus only on what happened after 2:50pm on Monday and those that were injured and killed?  Do I talk about the hundreds of heroes that rushed into harm's way to help?  Do I recount all the good memories that were made in the days leading up to the marathon?  Is it disrespectful to share the details of my race?  If I don't talk about the race, does that let the terrorists "win" in some small way?

After sorting through all my emotions and feelings again and again, I still don't know which is the "right" thing to do.  So I'm going to do the only thing I really know how to do -- share my Boston experience from the (happy) beginning through the (horrible) ending.


I arrived in Boston on Friday and was so excited to spend a child-free weekend with my husband, see good friends who live in the Boston area, meet new friends in person that I knew through social media and, lastly, experience all the hype and history that surrounds the infamous marathon.

Those who know me or have been following my story know that I was pushing my training to a new level for this race.  I had hired a coach who gave me detailed training plans each week and challenged me to run harder and faster than ever before (while also giving me more rest days than I've ever taken -- I learned so much about quality versus quantity in the last few months.)

My training had been going well and all signs pointed to a great race for me on Monday...until just one week before the race when I was out for an 8 mile run.  I was on a hilly, forested trail and just 1.5 miles into the run, my left knee started to hurt right underneath the knee cap.  It is common to get little niggles early in a run that go away within a mile or two so I kept running.  This one seemed to go away for a little while but then came back strong at mile 6 when I was racing downhill back towards my car.

Long story short, I ended up doing no running at all the rest of the week and spent all my time icing my knee and resting as much as possible.  On Saturday morning in Boston, my husband and I headed out for a 3 mile jog just to loosen my legs and hopefully boost my confidence in regards to my knee.  I ended up in pain just a half mile into the run and had to turn around and walk back to our friend's house, utterly dejected.

I did my best to put any negative thoughts about my knee aside and enjoyed the next two days in Boston with friends.

my first visit to Fenway 
my dear friend, Sarah, who was waiting at the finish line for me on Monday before getting paged to come to work at the ER
Sarah taught me all about April baseball and the importance of "beer gloves"
full of hope and excitement as we met for bagels on Sunday morning
Kate and I at the finish line
we walked past the infamous CITGO sign on Saturday...I got a rush of excitement when I realized the next time I would be this close to the sign would be at mile 25

I remember the soft pink glow of the sky as I first looked outside my hotel window early Monday morning.  The day had finally arrived!  I sent my husband one last text before leaving the hotel room (I had kicked him out to stay with friends the night before the race...I always sleep horribly and it only makes it worse when the person next to me, who doesn't have a race to run, is sleeping like a baby) telling him how nervous I was about my knee.

I met up with Kate and my college friend, Sara, in the early morning hours before the race and we all rode a bus together to Athlete's Village.  Other than a major wardrobe malfunction for Kate (thanks to her dog who likes to eat underwear and had left an enormous hole in her running tights...that she somehow failed to notice earlier), the three of us were amazingly stress-free and calm before the race.  

Kate's running tights...
pre-race hug with Sara in the starting corral

As I stood at the starting line, I looked around and took in all the sights and sounds surrounding me.  The excitement, anxiety, hope and anticipation was almost palpable.  None of us knew exactly what was in store for us that day -- you never really know how your body is going to respond physically, mentally and emotionally to 26.2 miles on any given day -- but none of us could have fathomed this would be a day that would forever be etched in our hearts for reasons having nothing to do with running.


I had told my husband that I was planning to finish the race no matter what.  That I might be walking for long portions of it -- or limping along -- as my knee was going to dictate the race.  I resolved to start off slow and just take it one step at a time.  I planned to see him at our pre-arranged meeting spots of mile 9 and 16 and then at the finish line.  

If all went well and I had no knee issues whatsoever, I was hoping to run a 3:30 marathon.  As I assessed my chances that morning, I gave myself a 10% likelihood of this actually happening.  Suddenly, the race began and I cruised along at an easy pace on the initial downhill sections.  The miles slowly but surely ticked off one by one.  I waved enthusiastically at my husband and friends at mile 9 and continued on.  Another wave and a quick kiss from my husband at mile 16 before I hit the toughest part of the course -- the infamous hills from mile 17-21 that culminate with Heartbreak Hill.  

all smiles at mile 16

I trudged up and down what felt like endless hills after mile 17 and wasn't paying enough attention to know when I had actually finished with Heartbreak Hill.  I was too distracted by the hundreds of thousands of screaming spectators that were lining the course.  

I have run other "big" marathons in the past, most notably Chicago and NYC, but this was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  While the crowds at NYC are huge, I didn't always find them to be loud.  Boston was different from that perspective.  The spectators were literally screaming their encouragement the entire length of the course, not just along the famous Wellesley corridor.  I had brought my ipod along just in case I needed some extra motivation but found I didn't need it even once. I can't say enough good things about the people that came out to scream and yell their encouragement as well as offer anything from wet sponges to ice pops to oranges to keg stands.  (Yes, someone had a "free keg stands to runners" sign and a keg nearby!)

I did my best to run only by feel and was continually amazed that my knee remained pain-free.  And every glance at my watch told me I was running right on pace to reach my goal.  The only real annoyance during my run was the fact that I needed to go to the bathroom.  It was just a matter of when I would stop and whether or not I could make it the entire distance without running into a porta potty along the course.  (The downside of having no pre-race jitters was my inability to take care of the all-important pre-race poop...I know all of you runners reading this will understand!)  Ultimately, I gave in to the growing demand from my body and ran into a bathroom at mile 22.

The last few miles were a blur.  I distinctly remember finding myself with a huge grin on my face as I high-fived children and adults alike.  The roar of the crowd, while already deafening, continued to grow as I took a left turn on Bolyston street and saw the finish line looming before me.

I crossed the line and looked down to see a 3:30:30 on my watch.  A 5 minute PR for me on the first marathon since my 40th birthday on what is a difficult course.  I couldn't have been happier.  As I stumbled through the finish line corral, I collected a bottle of water, bottle of gatorade, protein bar, bag of food and a foil to keep me warm.  Lastly, someone put a finisher's medal around my neck and tears immediately welled up in my eyes.  I had done it.  All those months of hard work and I had reached my goal.  

As I gathered my bag from the baggage bus, I could hear my husband and Sarah yelling my name.  I exited the runner's-only area and was greeted with hugs and congratulations.

my biggest supporter

We chatted for a few minutes at the finish line and then started back towards our hotel.  It was a mile walk that led us through the Boston Common.  I was planning to take a quick ice bath and shower and then we were going to head out to celebrate.  

Just as we arrived at the hotel, Sarah received a text from the hospital where she works, alerting her to explosions at the finish line.  I was so confused.  I couldn't even process the words at first.  An explosion?  Two explosions?  The finish line of the marathon?!

Within minutes, my husband and I began to receive frantic texts and phone calls from friends and family that were worried about our safety.  I was immediately concerned for all the other friends I had running the race, their friends and family, and the thousands of other runners and spectators that were still out there.  Our attempts to check on others were impeded by the fact that the police had shut down cell towers in case more bombs were going to be detonated by cell phones.  

The anxiety only grew as we were told we should evacuate the city.  Sarah ended up having to run (literally) to the hospital as she couldn't find a taxi while her friend drove us out of the city and dropped us off at Sarah's house.  We ultimately heard back that all our friends were safe but our anguish and despair only increased as reports came back with casualties, stories of limbs being ripped from bodies, erroneous reports of additional bombs throughout the city and the knowledge that thousands of runners were separated from family and friends.  

The emotions were overwhelming and I found myself crying often over the next few hours as we sat at our friend's house and tried to comprehend what had just happened.  We couldn't help but think what if?

What if my knee hadn't held out and I had been still on the course and my husband had gone to stand with Sarah (at her spot between where the two explosions occurred)?  
What if we had decided to go back to the sidelines and cheer for our friends that were still out there?
What if my parents and kids had been with us (as we had planned at one point)?
What if Sarah had stayed a while longer instead of meeting us?


on our way home -- never have I been so happy to see the sun rise

In the end, we were among the lucky ones.  So why is it that I feel so traumatized?  Why is it that when my friend, Marya, sends me a text asking simply "How are you?", I find myself suddenly crying?  Why is it that I still don't feel safe??

My heart is still a mix of emotions right now -- from gratitude that we were spared to heartbreak for those injured and killed to anger at the suspects to guilt that I was able to finish the marathon to fear that next time I will not be so lucky.

Whenever I have something I need to sort through in my heart or in my head, I go for a run.  Unfortunately, my body is deep in recovery mode and I am still not yet able to run.  I am not able to do the one thing that I so desperately need to do right now.

But I know that I will run again.  And I will run Boston again.  And I will volunteer at the finish line of an upcoming race.  And I will continue to be part of this amazing running community that I love so much.  

And Boston 2013 will forever have a place in my heart.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston update

For anyone checking, wanted to let you know my husband and I are safe. We left the area 10 minutes before the explosions. I've heard from all friends that were running and know they are safe, too. We left our hotel and are at a friend's house outside of the city.

Many people were not as lucky and my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone. Never have I gone from such a high high to such a low low so quickly. So devastated by this news and the fact that people exist who want to hurt innocent people during such a joyous and fun occasion.

- Kristen

Friday, April 12, 2013

Boston Bound

The night before my early morning flight to Boston was not going exactly as planned. I had hoped to get to bed early, sleep for seven hours and still have time for a quick shower before the cab pulled up to my house at 6am. Instead, I found myself at 3am sleeping on the couch in my living room, scrunched up under a too-small blanket with my dog snoring loudly a few feet from my head. 

How I ended up on the couch was irrelevant by that point but my seven hours of sleep ended up closer to three or four. Oh well. As everyone knows, it is the night before the night before the race that really matters so here's hoping to a good night of sleep on Saturday!

Once the cab pulled up, the day began to get better. The quick 15 minute trip to the airport was uneventful and I walked in to a surprisingly quiet Portland airport right on time. Within minutes, I spotted Devon from Distant Runners and we began talking excitedly about the upcoming weekend as we made our way through security and to the departure gate for our non-stop flight to Boston. 

Once at the gate, however, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Whereas most public places these days are overrun with people who eat too much and exercise too little, the passengers about to board the plane were an overwhelmingly fit group of people. There were people wearing warmup pants, running tights, old race shirts and new running jackets. People carrying multiple bottles of water, bagels, yogurt, fruit cups and bananas. And almost every single person was wearing running shoes. I was with my peeps!

I found myself sitting next to two people that were both running Boston. One had run it two previous times and the other had finished four Boston marathons. We chatted for a while and made a pact to allow everyone to use the bathroom as many times as they liked on the flight -- there would be no restrictions on hydration in our row! After a while, I turned on my kindle to do some reading and overheard them talking about pace. They were debating whether or not to start at a 6:30 pace (equivalent to a 2:50 marathon). Okay, so maybe they weren't my peeps after all but at least we spoke the same language. 

So now here I am, still on the plane as I type, with just over two hours until we land. My husband has been in New York for work all week and is also en route to Beantown. I can't wait to see him at the gate and give him a big Happy Anniversary hug! Then we are off to begin a long child-free weekend centered around the marathon.

I am so excited to experience the history surrounding this race -- the quad-killing downhill start, the screams of Wellesley, the brutality of Heartbreak Hill and the triumph of crossing the finish line. Although I have run a few famed marathons such as Chicago, NYC and MCM, I know this one will be special, in part because I know so many people running it this year. Kate, Amanda, Tia, Carissa, Holly, Christine, Dana, Devon and Sara are just a few of the friends I hope to see (or meet for the first time) in the next couple of days. Not to mention, I will be seeing Coach Rick, without whom I wouldn't be feeling nearly as confident. 

There is still so much that could go wrong between now and Monday afternoon. The weather could take a turn for the worse and we could have another hot year like last year, I could suffer through restless nights and arrive at the start line horribly sleep-deprived, my stomach could protest and I could end up spending significant amounts of time in the porta potty, the niggle in my left knee that has kept me from running since Monday could turn out to be something more, my pacing could be way off and I'll end up in a death march to the finish line... 

I think that is one reason I love the marathon so much -- because so many things could go wrong that it is almost a miracle when it all goes right! We can do everything possible for months in advance to prepare and it can still fall apart on race day for so many reasons. It takes not only lots of physical endurance, mental strength and commitment but a lot of luck to really pull off a great marathon. 

Here's hoping all of us running on Monday have a great race!

Anyone else heading to Boston this weekend? 

- Kristen

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Running Naked

a little too naked for my taste!  (source)

Shoes? Check.
Shirt? Check.
Shorts? Check.

Ahhh...those were the days!  Although I wasn't part of the running boom that started in the 70's (I'm older than a lot of you but not quite that old...), I am sure anyone who was running back then remembers those days with at least some nostalgia.  It all seemed so simple and came down to putting your shoes on and heading out the door.  If you were lucky, you might be the proud owner of the newly-invented digital watch (although, I'm not sure it had a stopwatch functionality back then.)

Nowadays, many runners leave the house with not only shoes, shirt and shorts but with a Garmin, an ipod or iphone in a special carrying case, earphones, a heart rate monitor, a fuel belt (complete with water/electrolyte drink and gels, beans or chews), compression sleeves for arms and/or calves and possibly a strap on their lower legs to help combat runner's knee or IT band issues.

Obviously, that is a bit of an exaggeration but I'm sure a runner or two has been spotted with all of the above.

Until last fall, I ran with only an ipod and a regular Timex watch.  I would guesstimate my mileage on most runs or map it on google maps when I returned if I really wanted to come up with an idea of my pace. A few months ago, however, I finally bought myself a Garmin.  I am now, like so many others, addicted to glancing down at it constantly so that I can see how fast or slow I'm running.

While I love the convenience of a Garmin and the reams of data it provides (average pace, pace per lap or mile, elevation gain, etc.), I have realized how much I really don't like being so tied to the numbers.  I think being able to feel certain paces based solely on effort is an invaluable skill.  For me, the Garmin has caused me to go out too fast on many runs because I wanted to hit my goal pace in the very first mile instead of letting my body start out slow and naturally settle into the pace.  It causes my runs to be choppy as I find myself speeding up when I see I'm going too slow and slowing down when I'm going too fast...which is made all the more complicated by hills or weather that greatly impact effort, too.

All winter, I was looking forward to a half-marathon race in February and a 15k race in March as preparation for Boston.  I was anxious to see how my decision to hire a coach last fall and step up my training would impact my race times.  Unfortunately, I had to skip the half-marathon due to strep throat so I had only one race leading up to the marathon -- a 15k race on St. Patrick's Day.

The Shamrock Run in Portland is a huge race with over 40,000 runners and walkers participating in a number of different distances -- a 5k walk, 5k run, 8k run and 15k run.  The 15k route is a challenging one as it climbs up a long, steep hill for most of the first half of the race before plummeting back down towards the finish.  Most of my training is done in my pancake-flat neighborhood so I was concerned about how I would do on the hills.  I knew that I would be frustrated if I were to look down at my Garmin and see a pace much slower than I was hoping to run.

Elevation map...notice the almost mile-long stretch at 4.8%!

I decided to run this race entirely by feel.  I had some tentative time goals in mind and was curious to see how close I would come to my goals.  On a "flat and fast" marathon course (and with perfect weather, etc.), I believe I could run a 3:25 marathon right now.  But since Boston is supposed to be a hard course, I am targeting somewhere between 3:25 and 3:30.  So I plugged those times into the McMillan Running Calculator to see what it predicted for a 15k race.  According to McMillan, my 15k pace should be between 7:16 and 7:26 per mile if I'm capable of a 3:25-3:30 marathon.

I was nervous about running with no watch and no idea how fast I was running.  I assumed I would go out too fast, slow down too much on the hills and still not have enough left in my legs to take advantage of the downhill finish.  Although I did actually wear my Garmin so it would capture my mile splits, it was covered by my long-sleeve shirt and I honestly didn't look at it once the entire race. did it go??  I have to say I loved running by feel!  It felt so freeing to just listen to my body and push myself based solely on how my legs, lungs, heart and mind felt.  And my finishing time?  My time of 1:08:33 was at an average pace of 7:21 -- exactly in the middle of where I wanted to be!  The mile splits showed I started out a little conservative (which was perfect), slowed on the hills and then really pushed it on the downhill.

Mile 1 - 7:32
Mile 2 - 7:28
Mile 3 - 7:33
Mile 4 - 8:09
Mile 5 - 7:56
Mile 6 - 7:46
Mile 7 - 6:36
Mile 8 - 6:40
Mile 9 - 6:28
Last 0.3 - 6:16

I finished 8th out of 559 women in my age group (let's hear it for the over 40 crowd - ha!) and, more importantly, beat my previous time by 9 minutes.  It is so encouraging to know that I ran this same race one other time -- 10 years ago when I was 30 years old -- and was a full minute per mile faster this time around!

Post-race green smoothie (it was St. Patty's day, after all) and a cool finisher's medal that is a bottle opener
Now that Boston is less than two weeks away, I've started thinking a little about my race strategy for the marathon.  I don't want to go out too fast and yet the start is all downhill.  I'd like to run negative splits but the majority of the hills are in the second half.  Given these two factors plus the unpredictability of weather and the fact that I've never run this race is leading me to consider running Boston without my watch. Yes, it makes me a little nervous to think about trying to gauge my pace for 26.2 miles with no concrete feedback regarding my time.  I've put months of hard work, time and sweat into preparing for this race and it seems a little crazy to leave it all up to how I'm feeling during the race.  But at the same time, it sounds so liberating to just trust my body and my training.  I'll decide for sure in the days before the marathon but as of right now, I think I will go naked...

Have you run a marathon or other race with no watch?  Did you enjoy it or miss having feedback during your race?  Do you have any gear you would never run without??

- Kristen