Friday, May 2, 2014

Boston 2014: Making new memories

As I waited to board my flight from Portland to Boston on Saturday morning, two days before race day, I questioned whether I should just be staying home instead. The waiting area was filled with runners, many of whom were with their spouses or significant others as well as groups of runners who were traveling together. There was so much excitement and anticipation in the air and I felt a little like an outsider since I was traveling alone. The next day was Easter and my family had big plans for the day -- an egg hunt and Easter Mass followed by a big brunch with my parents and my brother's family. I briefly wondered why I was flying 3,000 miles across country to run 26.2 miles and then fly back home. I wondered it if would all be worth it. Turns out, it was.

A thousand times over, it was worth it.


Even the flight to Boston for the marathon is awesome, whether traveling alone or not. I don't just love running -- I love everything related to running. Most people don't understand or share my obsession so I don't talk about it too much. But put me on a plane of runners headed for the Boston Marathon and it's like I was suddenly with my people. I immediately hit it off with the girl sitting next to me and we traded stories of past races, our qualifying marathons, favorite marathons, bucket-list races, pacing strategies, fueling options, goals for Boston, training, injuries, running clothes and favorite running books. We exchanged phone numbers and bib numbers so we could track one another after the race. Even the flight attendant was joining in on our conversations as she filled and re-filled cups of water for all the runners who were focused on hydrating during the long flight. By the time we landed, I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

As we were about to get off the plane, my new BFF and I wished one another good luck and then both looked with confused expressions towards the front of the plane. We heard a familiar noise but it was one neither of us had heard on an airplane before. It was a cowbell. The flight attendant was standing at the front of the plane wearing her Boston Marathon jacket from a previous year, ringing a cowbell loudly and cheering for the runners.

more cowbell!!!

After getting off the plane, I realized the last time I had been in the Boston airport was in the pre-dawn hours on April 16, 2013. The place had been crawling with federal agents and bomb-sniffing dogs and I had been overwhelmed with tremendous sadness. The feelings came back to me momentarily and then they passed and I felt okay again. It was at that point that I realized the weekend would be filled with many such moments where I relived feelings from last year and then moved past them and could begin to associate new (happier) feelings with each new place or event. Each time that happened, a little bit of fear was replaced with a little bit of peace.


My dear friend, Sarah, picked me up from the airport and we headed back to her house. The last time I had been in her house was in the hours immediately after the bombings when my husband and I evacuated our hotel and were dropped at Sarah's house... Those feelings of fear returned as I entered her house but, again, dissipated quickly. We had a delicious pasta dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant and went to bed early. The next day, Easter, was spent at her uncle's farmhouse with her family about 15 miles outside of the city. The drive to her uncle's house seemed somewhat long and then it hit me how far I would be running the next day!

just hanging out with horses on Easter Sunday...

The evening was spent relaxing at Sarah's and watching all the inspiring stories on TV of people who were injured in last year's marathon and the heroes that courageously risked their lives to help them. I went to bed with a heart full of excitement but also a little fear for what the next day might bring.

laying out the race day outfit the night before...would not be needing those arm warmers, though!


I woke up well before my alarm went off on Marathon Monday and couldn't believe the day had finally arrived. Months of anticipation, hundreds of training miles and countless hours spent cross training and strength training was all done in preparation for this one day. Although I wasn't looking to set any records in this race, it still was important to be well-trained or it would be impossible to truly "enjoy" every minute of it. As I stated last month, my goals for this race were not time-related. I knew I wasn't going to run a PR and with all the significance of this race, I simply wanted to soak up everything I could from the experience.

However, let's be honest. I am a competitive person. I would be lying if I said I didn't care at all about my time. And no matter what your goal, you need to at least have a plan for how you would like to run a race, especially one as long as 26.2 miles. My coach last year told me that qualifying for Boston at Boston is something to be proud of. So at the very least, I was planning to run sub-3:45. But mostly, my race strategy was to finish feeling strong and happy.

I met up with a college friend of mine, Sara, for the bus ride to the start. We had ridden the bus together last year, too, so it was fun to do it again. The bus ride passed quickly and next thing we knew, we were at Athlete's Village and waiting in a crazy long line for the porta-potties.

all smiles for the bus ride to Hopkinton

By the time we were finished with the porta-potties, we only had about ten minutes of standing around before my wave was called to start walking towards the corrals. Sara and I hugged goodbye, took a quick picture and I headed out of Athlete's Village.

ready to run

walking to the start -- can't stop smiling :)

The crowds are so amazing at Boston that they begin before you even cross the start line. There were hundreds of people standing along the barricades cheering and handing out last-minute supplies to runners as we walked towards the start.

a little runner humor as we walked to the start line

I had barely entered my starting corral when the runners began to slowly surge forward -- the race was underway! We walked towards the starting line and suddenly, mere yards before crossing the start line, something unexpected happened. With thousands of spectators screaming loudly and the starting line banner looming overhead, I found myself with tears streaming down my face. They were tears of pure emotion -- tears of joy and happiness were washing away all the fear and sadness. What a way to start off my marathon journey!

Miles 1-5:

In order to accomplish my goal of finishing strong, my plan was to "hold back, hold back and hold back some more" in those early, downhill miles. Only by saving my quads from the thrashing of the downhills would I have them in decent shape for the last 6 miles of the race when I really needed them. So as hard as it was, I really forced myself to slow down in those early miles.

I was already feeling very warm at this point in the race. The temperature was in the high 50's at the start and quickly moved into the 60's with full sun on us the entire time. I made sure to stop at every fluid station and alternated Gatorade and water. I also walked through each station for a good 10-15 seconds to give my legs a little break.

Miles 6-10:

The miles continued to just tick off as I continued with a fairly easy pace. Last year was my first Boston Marathon and I thought the crowds were incredible. This year, they were ten times as loud. It was insane. The entire course was packed with people screaming, waving signs, yelling encouragement, thanking us for running and handing out everything from orange slices to ice pops. There were literally thousands of kids along the course with their hands stretched out before them, just waiting for a high five from a runner.

I found myself running almost entirely along the edge of the course where I could be closer to the crowds. I was giving high-fives to hundreds of kids and yelling my thanks right back at the spectators and volunteers. The energy they injected into my race was immeasurable.

Miles 11-15:

The miles continued to pass by almost too quickly -- I was enjoying the race so much that I didn't want it to end. I glanced at my watch to see I had crossed the half-marathon mark in 1:48:xx. Other than being hot and already covered in a crusty layer of dried salt from my sweat, I was feeling great. Just past the mile 15 mark, I saw my running coach, Rick. I waved frantically as I approached him and then surprised many people around us (but not him) as I jumped high into the air and he caught me in a giant hug. He told me I looked fantastic and I told him I felt fantastic. Then I was on my way again -- my smile even bigger than before.

I think this was near the half-marathon mark

Miles 16-20:

The energy from seeing Rick led to an accidental sub-8:00 pace for mile 16 so I again reined in the pace to save some energy for the Newton Hills. The hills start at mile 17 and continue with the culmination of Heartbreak Hill just past mile 20. My splits look a little erratic in here but with my walk breaks through aid stations and constant high-fiving of kids, it is hard to know for sure. I still felt great and loved the challenge of the hills.

somewhere in the last few miles...

Miles 21-26.2:
7:52 (pace for last 0.41 Garmin measured longer than 26.2)

Heartbreak Hill begins around mile 20.5 and as soon as I crested that hill, I no longer needed to hold back pace. I didn't purposefully try to speed up but just let my legs do whatever they felt like doing, which was a couple faster miles.

this was just past the 1K to go sign

Every time I thought the crowds couldn't get any louder, any crazier, any more packed with people, I would hit a new section and would be blown away by the spectators. Not only was I still high-fiving kids along the edge of the road but I would wave my arms up and down to get the crowds to yell louder. Somewhere around mile 24/25, I ran past a fire station that was blasting the Bee Gees song Stayin' Alive. I stopped running and began doing some boogie moves that I'm sure would make my teenage son cringe. But I simply could not get enough of the race, the day, the people of Boston and this amazing race!

As I turned right on Hereford Street and then made the infamous turn left onto Boylston Street, my emotions got the better of me. I held things in as best I could until I crossed that finish line and then the tears began again. This time, they were tears of such relief and happiness that I just let myself cry for a few minutes and enjoy the weight of that beautiful finisher's medal around my neck.


lovely crying face ;)

I crossed the finish line in 3:36:31. When I looked at my time, I realized my first half and second half splits were exactly the same (1:48:xx). But because the second half of the course is so much harder than the first, I really ran a much stronger second half of the race. That led to me finishing strong and happy, exactly as I had hoped to do.

I had been planning to watch some friends finish the race from Boylston Street but the crowds were so packed that I couldn't possibly find a place to squeeze in near the finish. So I opted to walk to Boston Common and pick up my gear bag instead. The day was so beautiful and the Boston Common was filled with runners resting on the grass and families reuniting. All around me, I saw hugs, smiles and happiness

Eventually, I wandered over to the W Hotel where I was hoping to meet up with my friend, Petra, who I had only met online. She lives in the UK so this would be a rare chance for us to see one another. As I walked into the hotel bar, I was given a laurel wreath to celebrate my accomplishment. Petra and I found one another easily and finally got to squeeze one another in person. We quickly ordered up a pint of Samuel Adams 26.2 Brew and toasted to an incredibly special day.

continuing the celebration that evening

On any given year, the Boston Marathon is the best of the best. But the 2014 Boston Marathon took it to a whole new level. It is one that, for me, will never be topped. I am proud and honored that I was able to be a part of something so special. And although my time qualified me to again run Boston next year, I am almost positive that I will not be running Boston again. It was just too perfect and I want to leave it at that.

heading home with a heart full of memories

Early the next morning, I was already on my way back home to a busy week with my family. But I will carry a piece of that day with me forever in my heart, just as I will always carry a piece of Boston 2013 with me. 

- Kristen