On April 16th, 2018 I ran my first Boston Marathon.
I knew the day would be epic, but I didn’t anticipate just how historic it would be. When you work to get somewhere for years, you can’t let anything stop you from living out the dream and crossing the finish line. Standing in the start corral with my poncho and pink dish gloves in the pouring rain I felt fearless and unstoppable. That’s the energy I knew I needed to get me through 26.2 brutal miles and I was ready. But let’s back up.
Flying into Boston on Friday I felt like a celebrity. I saved my Boston jacket for that morning before heading to the airport. It hung in my closet for months, but I didn’t so much as try it on. I wanted that moment of feeling done with training and rewarding myself for all my hard work when I got to the airport to head to Boston. Putting it on at 3:15 AM before heading to Ohare made the ridiculously early wake up a little easier. It felt good. I was proud. It was something I had worked toward for years. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. People were probably like “why is this girl so happy at 4am??” But I was. Getting to my gate and seeing multiple other people in their jackets made me feel like we were all in some really cool club. Boarding the plane came with congrats from the flight attendants and a few other passengers. It’s like people knew how much this meant to me. I could barely sit still the whole flight as my body buzzed with excitement.
Saturday was the day I picked up my bib. Jenny and I met up once she landed and headed straight to the Expo. It was overwhelming sure, as most expos are, but I felt like everyone was in the best mood. I smiled at everyone. I didn’t mind the crowd. We paused for photo opps and made the most of it. 15350 was the number – it was mine. This was happening. I kept feeling like I had to pinch myself.
Sunday was fun day (I mean the whole trip was), but this day was all about trying to remain calm. We went on one last shakeout run and it was almost as great of a run as the marathon itself because we ran right into MEB! We were right next to the finish line and he was walking past to take a picture at the memorial from the 2013 bombings. We stopped running and he waved us over to join him for the picture. After we took the picture he pulled us all in with his arms around us and gave us some advice I’ll never forget. He said we were running for those who can’t, the people we lost at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and for ourselves to celebrate our ability to move. We just had to focus on being grateful to be out there and we’d have an amazing race. He said the marathon is always hard, but be grateful for the hard. It was one of those moments where I felt myself hanging on every word trying to imprint it in my brain forever. I couldn’t believe this happened on a little 2.50 mile shakeout run, but it felt like fate. Thanks Meb. I carried your words with me that next day and always will.
Sunday night after the Red Sox game and dinner with my Boston 365 team I was feeling pretty calm. Kyle went to stay with my family, but I stayed with Steph and Melissa. Jenny hung out with us for awhile – we talked game plan, wake up time, logistics, etc. We knew the weather was going to be horrendous. It was a high of 40 degrees, 40 mph winds, and constant rain. We were ready. We had our ponchos laid out and Jenny had a brilliant idea to go out and buy us dish gloves. She came back with 4 pairs of hot pink rubber gloves that went up to our elbows. I’m not kidding. And these gloves would end of being my life saver. After Jenny left and we were trying to relax/get tired I did get pretty anxious. As excited as I was, I was nervous. It was the Boston freakin’ Marathon after all. I wasn’t all that worried about the weather, but I was afraid the course itself was going to be brutal. I got in my head a little bit, but Melissa and Steph decided to sing musical soundtracks and all was right with the world. I can’t even say how glad I am that I had them to share my first Boston experience with. We talked for awhile and had trouble falling asleep, but it was almost time.
5.15am: alarm goes off.
Despite my panic over not waking up for my alarm, I was wide awake. I didn’t even feel like I slept, but I knew that would be the case. I got up, brushed my teeth, got dressed, grabbed my peanut butter toast and went downstairs to meet Jenny. We were lucky enough to have a meeting place in our hotel for our team and a bus was coming to pick us up right outside the front door.
6:30am: we boarded the buses.
We were able to walk right from the hotel covered circle drive onto our bus. Have I mentioned how amazing the Boston 365 program is? They spoiled us. I was surprisingly calm knowing I was still dry and would be for awhile. It took about an hour to get out to Hopkinton. We parked in a lot just a short walk from the athletes village where we’d stay for the next hour and a half or so. Once we stopped moving, my nerves heightened, but I was thankful to have so many calm, experienced runners around me. We all knew this was going to be rough, but everyone was in good spirits. And maybe the best thing about the bus? The bathroom on board. I could nervous pee as many times as I wanted without having to wait in a line in the rain – game changer. Jenny and I waited as long as we thought we should and then made our way to the outside world. We were excited, but there’s only so long you can sit still and watch people walk past outside the window in the pouring rain and crazy wind. We were ready to just get out there.
~9:45am: getting to the start line.
This part is a blur. The rain was coming down and even though we didn’t have to go far, we weren’t confident in what was happening. We got to the athlete village and found a van to stand behind with our feet under the bumper for another 15-20 minutes before they called our corral. Once they called us, we went over to the influx of people and stood and waited looking for Steph and Melissa. We probably stood there for another 10 minutes, but didn’t see them and felt like we were running out of time. So, we went to the start. Turns out we were at a dead stop for too long because people weren’t walking through the bathroom lines. There was no real way to know what was happening, so we waited as patiently as we could. But once we got up to a volunteer and said, “we’re wave 2 corral 8” and she said, “oh they all already left” – we panicked. So, we started running. We didn’t want to miss the start time of our first Boston Marathon. You know those stress dreams where you wake up late and find yourself sprinting a few miles to the start line (no just me??), well that’s what this felt like. We were RUNNING. We honestly probably ran close to a mile before we got to the start. And we didn’t even stop when the start line was in sight. Jenny helped me rip off my poncho as we crossed over the timing mat and all of a sudden we were running the Boston Marathon.
~10:30am: mile one.
I tried to take some deep breaths and realize what was happening. The start line was a cluster with this weather and it really didn’t feel real. I had to tell myself “this is really happening, I am running the Boston Marathon.” Jenny and I told each other again that we were calm and ready and we’d just stick together as long as we did: no plan. We were going to take this one mile at a time.
10:56am: 5K cross. (7:56 pace)
We were just cruising. We found a groove and we weren’t going to let this crazy weather stop us. To be honest, it was crowded. We found ourselves weaving a lot, but we were trying not to worry about it since there was nothing we could do. My biggest fear for this race was going out too fast. I DID NOT want to crash and burn. And I knew my energy would be up with this late in the day start time and all my anxiety around it. I’m proud of holding a 7:56 pace for the first 5K. It was fast, but not too fast or too slow. It was a perfect start.
12:14pm: half marathon cross. 1:42:52. (7:48 pace)
I’m skipping to the half way mark because the first half was pretty much a blur. The hardest part? Getting out fuel with soaking wet everything. At each water stop Jenny and I grabbed water and figured out where we’d attempt to take fuel. The first time – around mile 6-7 was the most difficult. We held each other’s rubber dish gloves while we were moving and got those little plastic packages open. It was tough. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t having fun. At around mile 5 Jenny looked over at me and said, “Dale, we’re running the Boston Marathon.” At mile 7, I said, “this is 7 already?!” And each time we stepped over a time mat in lock step we said, “another text!” – thinking of our friends and family getting texts that we were still running together. It was great. I was so thankful for the company. We weren’t focusing on the toughness of it, but rather the epic-ness and I’m proud of us for that. We crossed the half way mark at 1:42:52 and Jenny looked at me and said, “Dale, I think you’re going to PR.” I laughed and said, “we will see” but we did pick up our pace a little and the idea was in my head. Could I? In these conditions??
1:09pm: 20 miles. 2:38:00. (8:00 pace)
To our amazement, Jenny and I were still together at 20 miles. We weren’t looking at our watches or worrying about time, but just trying to take it all in. We’d look out for our spectators, grab water, repeat. The miles FLEW BY. My Garmin never read an 8+ minute mile, but I guess we did slow down a bit before mile 20. The hills started kicking in around mile 17. I didn’t even know where Heartbreak Hill was exactly, but I was bracing myself. We had practiced on the hills out in Barrington for so many Saturdays, we knew we were prepared for this. The first big hill seemed intimidating, but we got to the top after passing a lot of people and I thought to myself “wow that wasn’t bad at all.” I saw my family right after the first one and I couldn’t get the smile off my face after that. I felt worse for them standing out in this weather just to watch me than I did about running in it. They were troopers and I was SO happy to see them on the course.
At some point in this set of miles a volunteer told me Des won. I’m not even sure which mile it was, but I was like “Really?! You’re serious?” I yelled. I was SO happy for her. I’d had that thought for a couple miles of the race picturing her breaking the tape knowing that in this brutal type of day she’d be a top contender. Hearing she had won while being out there was incredible. A huge thank you to that volunteer who told me. She must have known I would want to hear.
But back the to hills. We kept clicking them off one by one. And we kept weaving and passing people. It was such a confidence boost. Yes, the course was hard. And yes, the rain was coming down and the wind was wailing, but we were strong. We didn’t lose steam – we gained it. And that’s where Steph came in.
1:23pm: 35K. 2:51:37. (7:18 pace)
Peep that speed boost. I’ll call it the Steph/Des boost. So, right between mile 20 and 21 I heard someone calling my name. I shook it off at first feeling like I was hearing things (you know mile 20 brain), but I had the urge to turn around and check. Sure enough, it was Steph. She was yelling “Des won! Des won!” And she zoomed by. She was cruising. Jenny looked at me and said, “Should we go? I think I’m gonna go.” And I said go. I wasn’t ready to put it into high speed yet, but wanted her to go catch Steph. I held steady and kept them in sight. They were really only together for a minute and then Jenny kept going. I caught Steph and she said go catch Jenny. She was tuning with her headphones in and looked good, but I listened. I wanted to keep Jenny in my sights, so I picked it up. The pace really felt good. I was almost kicking myself for not picking it up sooner, but I had no idea what to expect with the hills. I didn’t want to lose all my energy by mile 21 after getting beaten down by hill after hill. The good news was I felt better than I had all race. And I told myself I was going to PR. I knew it.
1:49pm: 25.2 miles. 3:18:19. (7:40 pace)
The rain came down harder. I laughed. I really was smiling ear to ear. I tucked in behind tall guys when I could to try and block some wind. I kept an eye out for my family again since they said they would be near mile 25. I saw them from far enough away and was able to run up to them for high fives. I felt good. Their smiles and cheers brought me to tears. I glanced down at my watch for the first time in a while and saw a 3:18 on the clock. The tears came harder. I knew I had a new personal best in me. I was on track and I was running the FREAKIN’ BOSTON MARATHON. It’s hard for me to even put this into words. I didn’t want to waste any energy on crying, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t believe how good I still felt and how close I was. I kept my head up, eyes up, feet moving. I wiped my tears (not that it mattered in this rain). And I tossed my rubber gloves to the side. I had less than a mile to go. I had to focus.
1:57pm: finish line. 3:26:08. (7:52 pace)
Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston. I was repeating these words to myself for the last half mile. I knew what was coming even though I had never run this course before. The crowd was huge. The people were screaming and smiling in their ponchos. I was smiling big. And I was cruising. One of my biggest goals for every race I run is to have enough energy left to haul it in once the finish line is in sight. And Boston was no exception. I used the energy from the crowd. I thought about my years of hard work to get here. I thought about the history that had come before me. I used it all to propel me forward and I ran my heart out. That final stretch was my favorite moment and a moment I will never forget. It was just me. At least that’s what it felt like. I was becoming a Boston Marathoner. I stepped across that finish line, smiling, feeling tired and teary eyed, but happy. I was a Boston Marathoner. And I had a run a personal best of 2+ minutes.
6848 overall. 1378 gender. 1177 division.
The tears really came now. I am sure I ugly sobbed. An Instagram friend caught up to me and said she saw my doughnut shoes zoom by her at the end and tried to catch me, but couldn’t. She was so sweet. We congratulated each other and split up. I kept walking and crying. A volunteer put my medal around me and another gave me a hug and said, “You freakin’ did it!!” I ran into Maddie from Instagram too. We took a finisher photo and walked out together. It was so nice to have a friend at that moment. It was like an out of body experience. We parted ways to head back and find our families. I almost made it back myself. My body felt pretty good, tired of course, but I wasn’t limping or anything. I just felt a little lost, so I called Kyle and he found me. We took an escalator down to my family and I cried again. I was so grateful they were all there to celebrate with me. I’d be nothing without my support system and it really meant the world to me to share this experience with them.
I was proud. It was a blur, but an amazing blur. I took in as much as I could and I can honestly say I enjoyed every mile. I kept all negative thoughts out of my head. I never once told myself, “Wow this is miserable.” or “Ugh I don’t know how I will do this for 26.2 miles.” I stayed positive and that made me strong. I was grateful for all my tough training in harsh weather and my ability to focus on the good. Nothing could have stopped me from getting to that finish line. The PR was just icing. I learned just how tough I am that day. And the true power of positive thinking. When things get tough you can push through or bail out, those are your options. I pushed through. I had fun. I became a Boston Marathoner.
Boston, I love you. This race stole my heart, and I will be back to run it year after year for every year I am able. There’s nothing like it.