“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination”
Boston was my sixth and last stop to complete the World Marathon Majors that started after I ran London Marathon in 2016 and got a lottery spot to New York City Marathon in 2018 (I had earlier run my very first marathon in Chicago Marathon 2011 and a repeat at Chicago Marathon 2012 even before I knew of the World Majors). Tokyo Marathon 2019 in March and Berlin Marathon 2019 in September quickly followed. Boston Marathon 2020 was to be my final and 6th world marathon.
After losing my charity spot from 2020 Boston due to Covid, I was adrift in the running world. A few random challenges, the virtual Boston in September 2020, and some 10 miles a week with my puppy was all I kept up with while I shifted focus to Biking adventures and fell in love with Peloton. Out of the blue this year, I was lucky to get one of the 100 lottery spots for those who had finished 5 of the world majors and needed just Boston to complete the 6-Star journey. So on to Boston I went!
I NEVER thought I’d be one of those people who started a race untrained. I don’t even like to run a 10k without training let alone a marathon.
But … that’s what I did. Things had been stressful in the past year and I’d slowly gained 12-15lbs in just one year after surviving the Covid weight gain. And then life turned completely upside down in January, to the point that I would sit and stare at my computer blankly or keep myself occupied with extra work rather than face life.
I had an excuse for every missed training run.
I had an excuse for not training on hills.
I had an excuse for not doing speedwork.
I had an excuse for not losing weight.
All excuses stemming from life happening and getting old.
Race weekend got here way too early, even as I was watching time pass by with less and less training.
Expo and Pre Race
The looooooooong walk from the expo entrance to number pickup was more than enough as a shakeout walk for me!! The pickup itself was very simple. Not many vendors to tempt me to shop, but I did pick up some CBD salve and roll-on for race day aches and pains and hopefully keep the hamstring from screaming too much.
The day before the race had a huge gathering of 200 Golden Retrievers in honor of Spencer, the Boston Strong Golden Retriever, at Boston Commons and was a great stress buster.
Lunch with Dawn who came over from Hull, dinner at the hotel with Maria and her husband and it was time to get in bed by 8 pm.
Race morning dawned bright and cool. I wish I could say that … but it was in the 50s and cloudy with a will it-won’t it drizzle. Maria and I walked down to the Boston Commons from our hotel for the boarding buses to Hopkinton with a SEA of people. The bus ride to Hopkinton was uneventful; our bus did not get lost or get into an accident like a few other buses (!!), even though it felt very very long – a premonition that the return on foot was going to be even longer.
By the time we got off the bus at Hopkinton, the rain was a slow and steady drizzle. Portapotty stop and the long long walk to the corrals and before I knew it, I was in my corral and ready to go at 11:15am!
This race was going to be more mental than physical. My #1 goal was to finish the distance of 26.2 miles. Times, cutoffs, splits, … everything else was secondary.
So my “race strategy” was more mental than physical pacing.
The breakup of the race mentally was
Miles 1-12 until the Wellesley College to get my legs moving and
Miles 13-16 to prepare for what lay ahead
Miles 16-22 of “just” 4-5 miles of Newton Hills
Miles 22-26.2 get to the finish by any means, crawl if necessary.
All the time running by feel.
Easy Peasy. Easier said than done.
Mile 1 – 12
My entire training season, I’d trained with 30 seconds run :: 30 seconds walk (sometimes 40:20) on the long runs and running straight out on shorter runs. The first 3-4 miles were very very crowded and I planned to run that straight out. Since I am physically incapable of running faster than I should, I did not worry that I’d start out too fast.
My plan was to keep it easy and steady those miles and that’s what I did. Took walk breaks consistently, although not every 30 seconds like I had planned. I was running slow and steady enough that I felt ok to take the gamble that it wouldn’t come back to hurt me later.
Somewhere around Mile 4-5, Carrie found me in the mass of runners and we chatted for a bit before she went ahead with her runners from the Dana Farber group. Our distinct conversation point was how humid it was. A few miles later, the drizzle got stronger into a steady rain. And once it stopped, the wind picked up and it got cold!
Highlight along with seeing Carrie – These adorable Goldens who were at Mile 3 just like Spencer, the Boston Strong Golden Retriever, in years past. This was the only photo op that I stopped for on course.
Mile 13 – 16
The crowds at the famous Wellesley Scream Tunnel had dwindled by the time the back of the pack rolled along. But the girls who stayed back were still capable of a deafening roaring cheer to lift spirits and paces – I recorded my fastest mile of the race there.
Another highlight of the Wellesley mile – witnessing a Wedding Proposal! She said YES!
Mile 17 – 22 The Newton Hills
The legendary Newton Hills, of which the infamous Heartbreak Hill is just one. The stuff that breaks people and races. The hills that destroy all muscle groups. The point in the race that tells the story of all the previous miles. And I was hitting all those hills past my longest training run which was on pancake flat.
My mental goal was simple – It is just 5 miles. Be purposeful.
Apart from my steady but super short and of course super slow intervals up the hills, I focused on “walking with purpose” up the hills. My usual walk style is ambling along and my family always tells me to ‘walk with purpose’. I especially annoy them at airports when I take my sweet time and they are waiting for me at the gate. Walking with purpose kept me mentally in the game without the defeatist hands-on-hips walk.
For most of the race, I had been running more with intermittent walk breaks maybe every 2 minutes or every 3 minutes. On the hills, I switched it up to my original plan of 30:30, sometimes even as short as 20:20. Anything to keep it moving and get over the hills.
Miles 22 – Finish
Coming out of Newton Hills, It was just a shot to the finish and that’s when I started paying attention to my Garmin. Like all marathons, these were the miles that were all a blur, where you really want things to be done, where every mile feels like it’s 10 miles long.
I had already been pleasantly surprised by how I had handled the past 21 miles. I wasn’t feeling drained yet and my injury was holding up surprisingly without any pain. So instead of the strategy get to the finish, my strategy shifted to don’t give up. And so I ran. Those last miles, I truly ran with my heart.
At times it felt like I was all alone in the race. I had planned to run with music and had made my playlist the night before. But then race morning, I forgot my headphones and since I’m NOT one to put music on loud, I just sang through my playlist in my head and enjoyed the music by supporters – Backstreet Boys seemed to be the jam of the spectators that day. I heard the song FOUR times on the course.
Somewhere along the course were a group of young men with Red Sox jackets cheering us with the words “Welcome to Boston”. It was heartening to see some of the Red Sox fans stick around to cheer us back of the packers – one of the highlight moments is apparently when you are running past Fenway Park just as fans are pouring out of the game.
The famous CITGO sign that signals the one mile from the finish of the Boston Marathon was shrouded in fog and mist. Maybe it was my head at that point in the race, but the sign looked way bigger than what I thought it would look like.
Those last miles weren’t easy. It never is that late in a marathon no matter the pace.
Every part of my body was hurting and I truly thought that my quads would give out – something I had been warned of due to the net effect of the initial downhill miles and then the Newton hills. I was ok with it not being easy and kept going. I never once got to the point where I started questioning the meaning of life and never had to ponder over my questionable life choices.
I just … ran…
I focused on picking people to pass and passed on everyone but 3. Only one person passed me. The two that I could not pass, I kept in my sight and maintained the differntial distance. My mantra during these miles was borrowed from Ben Alldis, one of my favorite Peloton instructors – You did not come this far to just get this far.
My Garmin had hit 26.2 way before the finish line and when I voiced out WTF Where’s the Finish? A lady I was running alongside said the iconic words “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston”.
The Right on Hereford was a very short distance but the finish line from Left on Boylston felt another mile away. I had flashbacks to Berlin where I hit 26 miles at Brandenburg Gate and then … I hit the wall hard and just gave up. This time, I kept running to the finish greeted by the cheers of people still 2 deep that late in the day. I can only imagine how the roar would’ve been at a “normal finish time”.
Waiting for us at the finish line was the famed Unicorn medal – NOT !! The race had run out of medals about half an hour before. I have plenty to say about that, but I will not say that here. BAA did contact us to get the medal mailed to us.
My first stop after a finish line photo and the space blanket was the Abbot tent to check if I had made the 6 stars. They checked if the clock was still running (it was!), checked my name off the list, and gave me the 6-star medal.
Based on the pathetic training season of injuries and stress from life, the extra Covid 19 lbs, and my long training runs on the absolute flats, I had estimated my finish time to be 6hrs 25min – 6hr 40min with a lot of walking built in. I came in so much stronger than I’d anticipated. I was absolutely elated at how I had run and paced and then run some more with a LOT of heart when my legs weren’t trained enough.
But … Did I Finish?
The clock had read 5:33 pm when I crossed with a time of 6hrs 17min.
In the end, it turned out to be not enough.
I learned through Facebook groups that the “cutoff” that day was apparently 5:30 pm or 5:26 pm or 5:27 pm or … whatever the time anyone was saying it was.
The race cutoff is “6 hours from the time the last person crosses the start line” but is never verified by the BAA in any year.
I did celebrate that finish time in ignorance that I was “official”. I still don’t know since I still get emails from Boston and Abbott congratulating me, but then the last split after 39.2km in the results is greyed out but I have a final finish time recorded.
Wait … Does it count?
Someone said that my Boston finish “doesn’t count”.
I do not care if it counts or not.
I got to the start line of the Boston Marathon, I ran the race with a strong heart, I crossed the finish line in good faith, and received the 6-Star World Marathon Majors medal in good faith.
So … if anyone says it doesn’t count, I’m not arguing.
If anyone says it counts, I’m not arguing with that either.
No regrets – that’s the dominant emotion I want as I look back at any race. (Borrowed from my favorite sportsperson crush, Steve Waugh, the former Australian Cricket Captain)
And that’s what I still feel. Bugger the time …
I have fundraised for every World Major that I have ever run (even for the ones that I got a lottery spot), pushed myself out of my comfort zone, been (mostly) disciplined and focused, traveled with my family to places, and made many many friends along the way.
My goal was to cross the finish line, on the sidewalk if necessary. I’m proud of how I ran and I couldn’t have run any better. That I am just so infernally slow always is just pure shitty luck of the genetic draw.
So absolutely NO REGRETS!
Until next time …