This post has been days in the making.
It’s been four days since the marathon and two bombs exploded at the finish line, killing three people and injuring over 150 people, most of them spectators. I crossed the finish line about 20 minutes before the explosions and was a city block away. My two friends, Jen and Nico, were with me and we had just begun our trek to the train station to meet up with Nico’s wife. After the explosions we didn’t know what was going on and weren’t overly concerned; we thought the noise might be a celebratory cannon; at the very least, a race-planned occurrence.
As I write this post a massive manhunt is happening in Boston. There are two suspects; one of them is dead. I’m anxious and trying not to watch the live updates on news feeds while sitting at my desk at work. Over the past three days every person I know at my company has stopped by to welcome me back and express words of gratitude at my safety. Today, people are checking on me, aware of the manhunt and correctly assuming that my mind is on those in danger and the community that has been rocked by this instance of terrorism.
I wrote a post for Trail and Ultra Running a few days ago; I’ve already written my thoughts on the aftermath and won’t rehash those. For the purpose of this blog I’d like to offer a few other, slightly disjointed, takeaways.
Prior to Boston, people that had run the race tried to tell me what to expect. Crowds of people lining the streets, kids with outstretched hands hoping for a marathoner to high-five them, spectators offering water, bananas, beer, kisses… I tried to picture all this in the context of a few city blocks, as that’s really all my marathon experience would allow me to envision. I literally couldn’t fathom a city that comes out in force to smile, cheer and celebrate the oldest continuous marathon in our nation’s history. I alternated between being pleased with the spectators, surprised at the unending attention, and abject overwhelm with the noise and crowds. It finally dawned on me the true extent of adoration Bostonians and the running community have for the race and its marathoners. I’ve never been party to such a mass of celebration of life and community, and witness to people from all walks of life giving in to the sheer pleasure of cheering for people at the pinnacle of their sport.
This event is the most extensive, well-organized, efficient race I’ve been to. I haven’t run hundreds of races but for this trail running Colorado girl, this race was mind boggling. From the Expo to Athlete’s Village to the Finish Line, each area was extensively planned, stocked, staffed and staged. Nothing was left to chance and not an ounce of information was forgotten. The ease with which athletes moved from one place to another and the level of support was top notch.
I started a blog post before the race on Monday regarding my race strategy and friendship. It feels relevant to include it here. I’ll finish it up with post-race thoughts as well.
“Friday- 3 days until Boston. Up to this point I figured it was a miracle I was even running Boston after all the starts/stops of training this spring. I had pulled the plug on racing several weeks ago and made the general announcement that I was out. Then my 40th birthday weekend of running happened, one conversation led to another and just like that, I was back in the game. Ready to run.
But not race. I wasn’t going to race Boston. Not on road… No mo road racing for me. Too hard on the body. Going to hold back and save myself for trails, my true love.
3 days until Boston. Time to get a 75 minute massage and work out the kinks. Pack my backpack, water the plants and prepare for a whirlwind 3-day weekend. The brain hit hamster-wheel mode, general freak out ensued and I realized that as an experience racer, I know what’s going to happen at the start line. I’m going to wake up bouncing around, squeak and squeal with excitement, and when I cross the start line I’m going to race.
When you run with someone long enough you know their strengths and weaknesses. You know a certain friend will always go out too fast and bonk mid-race. Another friend thrives on hot-weather running. Another is great at nutrition and barely loses a pound over 10 hours on the trail. Another gets stomach issues at mile 25…. These are the things you start to learn. The friend-pack reads each other and knows where/when to offer support.
I told my friends I wasn’t racing… Just running. They smiled, nodded and told me that was a great idea. After my massage several epiphanies happened.
I’m competitive at heart. Put me at a start line and I will race.
I don’t plan on going back to Boston; what a horrible waste to show up and not give it my best.
My personality is such that giving up is never an option.
I called Dave and laid it out. “We both know that I’m going to race on Monday. I can either show up with a strategy or make it up at mile 8. I’d rather go in with a plan.”
He laughed; he knew I would come to that conclusion and was basically waiting for me to figure it out. I’m the personality in the group that second guesses myself, doesn’t think I’m fast enough/good enough and then pulls a PR outta my ass when the gun goes off. So. Now I know what everyone else knew all along; I show up and race because there’s no other option for me. I’m hard wired to give it my best when it’s go-time.
We talked about the course, pace and strategy. I have an idea what might happen given a few different scenarios. An hour later I talked with another friend who knows my nutrition and hydration habits. He encouraged me to start eating and keep shoveling it in every 30-45 minutes. I rolled my eyes at the 30 minute idea but will bring enough nutrition to consume 100 calories every 4-5 miles. I’ll carry my hydration vest with 3/4 strength electrolytes and be prepared with salt tabs, maybe one per hour.
Saturday morning I met Nico and Jen at their airline gate. We’re on different flights because I booked so late. We hugged, took a picture of us and sent it to Dave. Then I broke the news; I’m racing.
They laughed and hugged me, then Jen pulled out presents. A chocolate raspberry Gu for each of us and race band tattoos with splits. She guessed what my finish time might be given all my issues and hesitancies; it’s the outside number of what I’m going to try for. She didn’t want to pressure me but knew that at race time I always show up. She was waiting for me to turn the corner and dive in.
It’s going to look like Boulder Trail Runner Meets Boston. I’m bringing ME to the race…. Little ol’ me, a nobody from Boulder that likes to run trail and fly the descents. A 40 year old trail running mama with braids and a tattoo that thinks running at altitude in the pre-dawn light is God’s idea of magic.”
My race strategy went exactly according to plan. Start off slow, hold back for the first five miles and then gradually let it out. Use the distance as a 20 mile warm-up with a 10k race. My average pace dropped until I hit the gas at 20 miles and started running 7:30 pace, holding it until the last mile when I went to a 6:50 and cruised to the finish line. I would have gone faster at the end except I couldn’t get through the crowd of people. My final finish time was 3:43:19; 11 minutes slower than my 3:32 PR last year at the Colorado Marathon. I don’t care too much though. I raced smart and hard at the end and pulled in a BQ time on partial training.
The race felt surreal because I was well hydrated and fueled; I never bonked. At the finish line a moment of euphoria lit up my body but it was quickly replaced with exhaustion after I stopped running. The finish line gauntlet of mylar blanket, water bottle, post-race food and medal left me feeling claustrophobic; I wanted out of the area as fast as I could. I needed to be with my friends. I had to find my friends. Friends are what’s important and I needed those people like I needed the water gripped in my hand.
The wind picked up and my race-induced heat evaporated. I shivered in the mylar wrap and slowly walked to the Friend and Family meeting area a block away. Jen and Nico waited under the letter B and we were reunited. Nico went off in search of my drop bag while I sank to the sidewalk and sat crosslegged, stretching out my hips. By the time he returned and I donned jacket and pants my energy had returned and I was ready to go.
We started to walk and heard the explosions. The rest is literal history, culminating in a manhunt for the second suspect that targeted innocent people.
Images that have stayed with me:
Nico, Jen and me, smiling in a picture taken of us at the race Expo, wearing our new Boston Marathon jackets.
The unending line of runners walking from Athlete’s Village to the Start Line.
The Wellesley College girls lining the course for over a half mile, hands outstretched, homemade signs hanging over the barricade, screaming encouragement and cheering.
Mylar blankets billowing up and around shoulders as exhausted marathoners crowd together in the finish area.
Streets lined with yellow school busses, windows neatly papered with bib numbers of every drop bag.
Jen and Nico’s faces when we saw each other after the race.
A mass exodus of people walking away from the race after the explosions occurred; everyone holding a cell phone and typing frantically as they walked.
I don’t know how to sum up all the thoughts and images that are still racing through my mind. I’ll check the media feed for updates on the manhunt later. This weekend I’ll run with my friends again and find comfort in our friendship and shared love of the sport.