The Boston Marathon Is Not For Sissies (Part 2 Of 2)

Boston was amazing this past weekend. Runners from all over the world took over the city in blue and yellow jackets from previous marathons and this year’s green and black gear. Course veterans happily struck up conversations in the hotel elevator and in line for Starbucks. It was awesome to be surrounded by people with brilliant advice on stretching, apparel, and nutrition. I’ve never felt more connected to the running community—these are my peeps, yo! 

The race itself was hard. But like all of life’s challenges it was full of lessons. Here’s what I came away with on Monday April 18, 2011:

I can rely on my dad for a wake up call My alarms (I set two for fear of one not being enough) went off at 5:30am on the dot. I hit the snooze buttons on both and debated whether or not I could actually afford to snooze. And then my phone rang—it was my Dad asking me if I’d gotten on the bus yet. My family’s motto is “It’s better to be early than on time” and my dad wanted to make sure I was on that first bus to Hopkinton. My dad walked me to the start of the Marine Corps Marathon last October, and I think he was a little bummed that he wouldn’t be able to see me toe the start line in Boston. This phone call was his way of seeing me off. His 5:32am pep talk: “Don’t push yourself so hard that you get injured, but don’t take it easy out there either. I’ll see you at the finish.” (Yeah, he’s a good dad, even if he did try to steal my cupcake from Sweet the night before the race.)

Next time I’ll pack some utensils I like to have oatmeal before long runs and races (I’ve mentioned my breakfast habits before), so I was ready with a packet of the instant kind. I used my in-room coffee pot to make hot water and filled a paper cup with oats. That’s when I realized I didn’t have a spoon. Unfortunately, the condiments box didn’t contain one either—just two sugars, two Splendas, and a packet of non-dairy creamer. If you had been in that hotel room with me at 5:45am, you would have seen me shoveling oatmeal into my mouth with the flat-ish end of my toothbrush. I am nothing if not resourceful.

Being a VIP is pretty awesome My job comes with a few perks—clearly, the best one so far was snagging an entry to the Boston Marathon, courtesy of Adidas. (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!) And that bib number came stamped with a little yellow “V,” which served as my ticket to the VIP bus, the VIP staging area in the gym of the Hopkinton Middle School, and the VIP tent at the finish line. I had a plush ride to the Athlete’s Village, all the Gatorade I could drink in the hours leading up to the start, and a volunteer to cry on when I crossed the finish line in an emotional puddle. (Seriously, Adidas, thank you!)

Runners want to see each other do well In the early miles everyone was smiling. Veterans were advising newbies to take it easy on the down hills. I heard a guy tell one young woman, “You’ll want to save strength for what’s coming.” And the pack around me got excited when spectators shouted updates on what was happening with the elite men and women up front. When the women’s race was won there was agreement that we were proud of Desiree Davila for setting the pace and proving that American distance runners are a force. Running a marathon looks like an individual effort from the outside, but if you’ve ever tackled 26.2 miles you know that it’s really a group achievement. We feed off of each other’s energy and sometimes a simple, “You’ve got this!” from the woman next to you is enough to get you to the next water table.

Cherry popsicles are super tasty Somewhere around mile 15 I got a craving for an ice-cold Coca-cola. (The last time this happened I was doing a half marathon that ended in Coney Island, which is practically the fountain soda capital of New York.) Annoyingly, the thought popped into my head that no one would have a Coke waiting for me at the finish and I couldn’t get rid of it—it consumed me for several minutes and no amount of singing “Sweet Caroline” would push it away. It was a very negative segment of the run for me. But then, just beyond the 20 mile marker, I spotted a line of kids, each holding out a colorful ice pop and cheering “Go runners!” with the most adorable New England accents (I love how they barely hit their R’s). I reached out, shouted “Yay! Cherry!” and was happy again.

The Newton Hills are no joke (but Heartbreak is kind of hilarious) The set of hills beginning around mile 17 broke me. The first one wasn’t so bad, it was long but doable followed by some down hill and flat, which gave my legs a brief break. The next one was tougher: It felt steep, I got slow, and people were passing me, which messed with my head. And then the third one loomed in front of me. My left quad decided to give out and I walked up to the top. When I got to Heartbreak hill, the last of the series, I was “running” and I had to laugh—this hill wasn’t the monster I’d made it out to be. Heartbreak really isn’t that steep or long, it just happens to be placed in the spot where most marathoners typically hit the wall (mile 21), and it made me think of an annoying little sister who always wins out in the attention game because she’s the cutest. (Surprisingly, I don’t look that bad in this post-hills shot.)

Finish strong, even if you feel like H-E-double hockey sticks After banging a left on Boylston Street (do I sound like a Bostonian yet?), I could see the finish. It looked far, and I wanted more than anything to walk, but I focused on the giant blue archway and pushed the pace. I must have looked good doing it, because an old-timer (wearing a jacket from 10 years ago) told me, “That was a nice kick!” I looked down at my watch and saw 4:23:44 staring back at me, and in that moment I didn’t feel like I deserved his praise. I can’t remember if I said thank you, hopefully I at least gave him a smile. It wasn’t until later, after gagging and crying to a race volunteer (those people don’t get the gratitude they deserve), that I realized I was being too hard on myself. I finished a marathon. I finished THE BOSTON MARATHON! (And I’ve got the medal to prove it in this photo with Stephanie, publicist extraordinaire for Adidas.)

Boston, I will find my way back to you I now understand why so many runners are obsessed with the Boston Marathon. The course is incredibly hard, but it doesn’t leave you with a “one and done” feeling. Sure, the second I crossed the finish line (right before I started gagging) I thought, “Thank God that’s over with.” And a few hours later, when my legs went into spasm-y cramps after I tried to cross them at the dinner table, I couldn’t fathom putting myself through those 26.2 miles again. But the challenge of it sneaks back into your mind and suddenly you find yourself thinking about how you’ll train differently next time, wondering what mile 18 would have felt like if you had gone 10 seconds slower in the early miles, and how you might have benefitted from one more GU. At the Boston Athletic Association‘s Champions Breakfast on Saturday morning, four-time winner Catherine Ndereba summed up the course perfectly when she said, “Experience is the best teacher.” Now that I know what to look out for, the next time I run Boston I’ll be more prepared.

Set the next challenge immediately Finishing a marathon is kind of a letdown—suddenly the training is over and there’s nothing to look forward to anymore. That’s why it’s a good idea to have your next goal on the calendar before you let someone wrap you in a mylar blanket. On tap for me for the rest of the year: The Hope & Possibility 5-Miler to benefit Achilles in New York City in June, the Hood To Coast Relay in Portland, Oregon at the end of the summer, and the NYC Marathon in November. And don’t think I won’t be adding more speed work into my routine in hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I’ll get there!

Got any fun events on your calendar? What’s your next race goal?

Originally posted in Running With It on

The Boston Marathon Is Not For Sissies (Part 1 Of 2)

I did it! I ran the Boston Marathon on Monday and I’m still feeling a bit of a runner’s high. It was incredibly hard and I almost threw up at the finish line (my body was wiped out), but I want to do it again! (Here’s a shot of me at the finish with my friend Emily—how cool is her t-shirt?) I have been thinking and dreaming about the course and how I will approach it next time. But first, I should tell you how it all went down for me this past weekend.

Saturday April 16, 2011

I managed to snag an invite to the Boston Athletic Association’s Champions Breakfast on Saturday morning (thanks, Adidas!), where I mingled among Boston Marathon greats. I was sitting next to ten-time wheelchair winner Ernst Van Dyke, and I could have lobbed my banana muffin into the lap of Joan Benoit Samuelson with little to no effort. On stage, running legends shared their memories of marathons past and I teared up when they showed a video of Amby Burfoot (1968), Ron Hill (1970), Alvaro Mejia (1971), Bill Rodgers (1975, 1978-80), Jack Fultz (1976), Greg Meyer (1983), Joan Benoit Samuelson (1979, 1983), Lorraine Moller (1984), Geoff Smith (1984-85), Rob de Castella (1986), Uta Pippig (1994-96), and Catherine Ndereba (2000-01, 2004-05) crossing their respective finish lines. It was inspiring to say the least.

From there I went to the expo to pick up my bib number and race packet. I wandered around the booths for a bit, grabbed as many free samples of Odwalla bars and Pom juice that would fit in my purse, and considered buying a t-shirt with “Wicked Fast” printed on the front. (I just love when Bostonians say “wicked.”)

Then I spotted Bart Yasso, chief running officer for Runner’s World (seriously, that’s his job title) and creator of the Yasso 800s workout. I introduced myself and asked him to pose for a photo with me. My heart was racing and my legs turned to jelly—this must be how teenage girls in the 1960s felt when they met Elvis! (Yes, I know how nerdy this sounds.)

After that it was back to my hotel room, where I spread out all of the running clothes I had brought and tried to figure out exactly what to wear for the marathon. I went with the pink top, gray shorts, and black Vitalsox compression socks.

Sunday April 17, 2011

In the morning, I ran two miles for Grete Waitz’s Norwegian organization Aktiv Mot Kreft (Active Against Cancer). Adidas had put together a charity event for the weekend. They set up treadmills in various spots around Boston (City Hall Plaza, Faneuil Park, and at the Hynes Convention Center) and encouraged runners of all abilities to log miles for worthy causes—participants were able to choose from two local Boston programs and Aktiv.

(How cute is the Hippie Headband I’m wearing? My friend Ashley and her mom make and sell them.) For every mile tallied between 8am and midnight, Adidas donated $5 and they gave $10 for the miles logged by night owls between midnight and 7:59am. Running those two miles really helped reduce my anxiety—It was a great way to prove to myself that my legs still worked and that I’d be able to run the marathon. (My contribution felt surreal when I woke up yesterday morning and read the news that Grete Waitz passed away.)

I hung out with my amazing family for the rest of the day. It wasn’t the whole clan, but I had quite the band of cheerleaders: My dad and his wife flew in from Virginia, my uncle Mark came up from Dallas, my Aunt Jill and cousin Kara drove in from Saratoga, NY, and cousins Alex from D.C., Casey and Ian from Brooklyn. We all convened at the home of my cousin Logan, her husband Will, and their ridiculously adorable baby Reid. A big pasta dinner was served—the perfect pre-race fuel, as well as a dozen cupcakes from Sweet bakery with my bib number painted on in red icing. Yum!

I set two alarms (remember that Seinfeld episode when a marathoner accidentally slept too late on Jerry’s couch?), and then I went to bed around 10pm. There wasn’t much sleep to be had; I was too excited about the big event the next morning…

The 115th running of the Boston Marathon!

Tune in tomorrow for my thoughts on actually running the Boston Marathon. To hold you over until then, here’s a sneak peak: runners are cool, hills are hard, and cherry popsicles should always be given out at mile 20.

Originally posted in Running With It on