Humbled. If I had to pick one word to describe my Boston Marathon experience, that would be it. I visualized a million different scenarios about how the race would go, both good and bad. None of those scenarios, however, matched what actually happened. I could continue to keep myself up for hours and hours trying to analyze what went wrong. Was it my nutrition? Was it all the travel? Was it the uncontrollable anxiety that kept my heart racing for days leading up to the race? Was it that I slept less than four hours each night for several nights leading up to the race because I couldn’t calm my racing thoughts? Was it that I didn’t train hard enough? Was it that I didn’t do enough hill repeats? As you can see, the list goes on and on and the reality is that I may never know what exactly caused my race to not go as planned. But it’s not healthy to dwell on the past and to consider all the “what-ifs?” I’ve decided, instead, to focus on how incredible my experience in Boston was, and to strive to get back there again.
The whole city of Boston was alive and welcoming when we arrived. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. When Nicholas and I got to the expo to pick up my race bib and apparel, I was congratulated over and over and everyone wished me the best of luck. The mood was electric and that vibe definitely carried over into race day.
The night before the race I tossed and turned. I was so anxious to start and also extremely anxious about the weather. Originally, it was supposed to be cold and rainy but the forecast changed almost every 30 minutes the week leading up to the race. I woke up to thunderstorms and 60-degree temperatures before my alarm went off, and decided to just get out of bed. I tried to massage my feet that had been cramping throughout the night and ate some breakfast. Soon enough, it was time to head to the buses that would drive me and 29,999 other runners out to the start of the marathon in Hopkinton.
It rained steadily as I walked from where I was dropped off to the area where the buses were loading. Luckily, it wasn’t cold and I was wearing donatable clothing over my race clothes, a poncho, and some old running shoes. The shoes and socks I’d be running in were dry in a plastic bag. As I anxiously waited to board one of the buses, I tried to calm my nerves and stretch my calves that felt like they were on the verge of cramping along with my feet from the night before. I finally got on and settled into a seat and was joined by a fellow runner. This was her second Boston Marathon. She ran last year in the horrifically cold and wet conditions and was looking forward to running in warmer temperatures, even if it meant rain. She told me that it’s hard to set a race goal for Boston, especially if you’ve never run it before. It can be unpredictable and of course, the rolling hills and net elevation drop will take their toll. My father in law has reminded me several times how setting time goals can be detrimental and often frivolous on a course you’ve never raced. Add on the many factors out of your control like temperature, humidity, lack of sleep, headwinds, etc. I walked away from the bus telling her that I promised to enjoy the experience, no matter the outcome because this was Boston, after all!
I caught up with our friend Tim in Hopkinton, and we were able to walk to the start together. I let him know then that my foot had been cramping on and off and my goal for today was just to make it to the finish line. I still wanted to make my best effort and stay on my pacing plan as much as possible, but I honestly just wasn’t feeling race ready. If you had asked me the week prior when we were in Phoenix, I would have told you my legs felt great and I had no major aches or pains. But the trip to Boston was long, with an unexpected diversion due to weather that left us on a plane for much longer than anticipated. From Friday night on, my hip flexors and glutes had tightened up and were causing me pain. My run the day before felt terrible and my heart rate was higher than usual. Add in the whole foot/calf cramping debacle, and I really just wanted to be able to make it through the race. Tim reminded me to drink in the experience, because there is nothing like it and that he hoped by the end of the race the only thing that would be cramping would be my cheeks from smiling so much. With little time to spare from getting off the bus and walking to the start, I walked into my corral and prepared to start the most incredible race I’ve ever participated in.
I had been warned that it is easy to go out too hard in Boston because of the electric energy and the help of the downhills in the beginning so I did my best to stay on my plan and hold back my pace. My first two miles were actually a little slower than my plan because I wanted to avoid weaving and the crowds of runners were still pretty thick until after mile 2 when things thinned out. Then I stuck to my plan, figuring I’d try to make up that lost time in the end after the Newton hills. I noticed in the first few miles that my heart rate was a little higher than it should have been. But even so, I didn’t feel like I was overexerting myself. I stuck to the plan and was super happy to see my family cheering me on around mile 4. That gave me a burst of energy and I carried on with live entertainment the entire way. If you ever run the Boston marathon, do yourself a favor and leave the iPod and headphones at home. Listening to the crowds cheer the entire route is one of the most encouraging experiences I’ve ever had and it was truly that support that carried me to the finish.
Throughout the first part of the race I couldn’t help but think about how different the terrain was than I expected. I had heard that Boston was a rolling hills course, but I also heard that the beginning was all downhill. I’m here to tell you that that statement is false. The beginning is a net drop, like the entire course, but it was very hilly. Especially, for this Ewa Beach runner who rarely encounters an incline on my training runs unless I drive somewhere else on the island. I tried to get some rolling hills in on my long runs, but it definitely wasn’t enough. After the burst of energy from my family again around mile 9, I started to feel the toll the hills were taking on my legs. My quads were screaming from the drops and struggling to keep pace on the inclines and I wasn’t even halfway.
At this point, around mile 10, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to reach the arbitrary time goal I had set for this race. I shifted into survival mode and started walking through aid stations to give my legs break. I was able to maintain this pattern until I saw my cheerleaders again around mile 17. I told them things weren’t feeling so great at that point but I pushed on. Then I grabbed some water from an aid station and for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to keep it down. I started throwing up water and from that point on it was a struggle to keep anything down. My nutrition was out the door. I couldn’t eat my energy gels, I couldn’t drink water, Gatorade made me puke, and my legs were literally failing. My heart rate had increased significantly and I struggled to get through the Newton hills. The last couple of miles turned into a walk/run. My quads would give out intermittently and force a walk, then I’d be able to run for a little bit until the cycle repeated itself.
This was a disappointment for sure. My body had never failed me like that in a race. Usually, my stubborn brain can overpower my tired body. But on this day, my legs just said “no.” As disappointing as it was, I didn’t quit even though my legs told me they were done. The cheering fans who called out to me personally the entire way lifted me up and got me to the finish line. I’ve never been in a race where I felt so connected to the fans cheering on the sidelines. The tank top that I wore said “Run Big” and had a picture of the Big Island of Hawaii on it (from Big Island Running Company) and throughout the race people shouted “Run Big, you’ve got this! Keep running big!” and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for those words of encouragement. When I was walking, they helped me muster the strength to start running again and again until I crossed that beautiful finish line on Boylston Street.
It’s easy to sulk in that cycle of negative thoughts after a disappointing race and I’m sure I will still find myself there from time to time. But in times like that I remind myself of my favorite saying, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Running marathons isn’t easy. It’s a challenge. Finding a positive thought pattern after an event that didn’t go your way isn’t easy. It’s a challenge. Smiling through disappointment and drinking in a learning experience isn’t easy, but it will change you. Running the Boston Marathon changed me. It gave me hope in humanity. It humbled me and reminded me that I will survive even if things don’t go my way. Boston reminded me that it’s great to set goals, but the path to achieving those goals isn’t always linear. Boston taught me to be grateful for the journey that gave me the ability to race among such a small percentage of runners in the world. And most importantly, Boston reinforced my desire to keep setting goals that are challenging, because living a life without challenge is a life without change. Without change, there is no growth, and a life without growth isn’t a path that I’m interested in.
Thanks for all of the love and support you all sent my way before and after the race! I’ve never felt more loved.