For the past several years, Coach Julie and Coach Lisa have experienced the Boston Marathon together, capping off our version of a Girls' Weekend with a 26.2 mile run along one of the most renown and historic race courses in the world. This year the experience brought us some important insights into why we love to run. Here, in Coach Julie's words:
For most marathoners, the Boston Marathon is the holy grail of running. To run Boston, you must qualify, and to qualify, you must run a fast marathon. No exceptions. For that reason, runners throughout the world, inlcuding me, relish the opportunity to run the magical 26.2 journey from Hopinkton to Boylston Street. on Patriot's Day. The course, while beautiful and steeped in tradition, is challenging, to say the least. A net downhill first half, combined with a hilly second half, produces disastrous results for runners who fail to respect the elevation and terrain. Nonetheless, with the right training, the course is generally kind to those who execute a race plan that includes running conservatively for the first few downhill miles to preserve the quads for the last tough few miles of the race.
Each year at Boston, I've set a personal record on the course, but this year, in particular, I was intent to run the course in 3:15. I knew I had it in me, and with the big 4-0 looming this year. I thought this would be a great way to close out a decade of marathoning and my fifth Boston Marathon. Like so many other Boston-qualified runners, I started preparing for race day in mid-January. I logged more early morning miles than ever, pounded the track with unprecedented workouts, and plodded through miles of marathon pace (MP) miles to prepare for race day. My training was brutal at times, but rewarding nonetheless. I enjoyed the predicatibility, the feeling of completing a seemingly impossible workout at 5am before most are out of bed, and seeing improvements in my fitness as a result. As I started to taper toward race day, I was ready and excited to tackle the course and achieve my goal.
Unfortunately, springtime weather in Boston is unpredictable and can hinder the performances of even the most elite runners. Although temperatures on race day are typically cool and ideal for running, gusty headwinds and unseasonably warm temperatures are not uncommon. The forecast for Patriot's Day 2012 was beyond unusual--it was downright scary--78 at the start and 88 at the finish with some blazing sun added to the mix. It's a disastrous forecast for any large outdoor event, let alone a marathon comprised of runners who trained thoughout the winter in colder tempatures without any acclimation to the heat.
To their credit, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) issued mutliple warnings to runners leading up to race day and even provided runners the opportunity to defer their race entries to 2013-an unprecendented move in the marathon's 116-year history. Marathoners are tough, though, and not many even considered deferring, and although I admit that I considered it for a moment, I decided that I would rather race the course on a bad day than not race at all. Like so many others, I fretted about how to tackle the race. How would I adjust my pace for the heat when I wasn't even acclimated to the heat? My race goal was no longer about time, as much as it was about finishing strong without injury--not quite the Boston I anticipated when I started training in January.
The weather weighed heavily on all of us as we gathered in Hopkinton on race morning, and unlike my previous Hopkinton experiences, no one seemed pumped to race. In fact, the BAA seemed to choose a lot of seemingly calming music to pipe through the music system, instead of its usual heavy metal music that's intended to energize the runners before the start. Clearly, the BAA was doing everything possible to encourage us not to race the course. As the clock approached the start time of the first wave at 10am, I noticed that I was sweating already, and I wasn't even moving! I knew this would be tough. Twenty minutes before the start in my futile attempts to control the situation, I placed ice packs on my back and core, tied a goofy Chilly Towel around my neck, and stuck a visor on my head to shield myself from the blazing sun I was about to run toward for the next few hours.
The gun went off, and I started running 15 seconds slower than my originally projected marathon pace. I felt okay and almost a bit confident. Maybe I could do this. By mile 2, I was sweating hard, and I knew any thoughts of slowing down slightly were out the window. If I wanted to finish this race, I would have to slow down significantly and respect the heat. I grabbed ice along the course, poured water on my head at every stop, and, of course, consumed electrolytes along the way. I took salt tablets every hour, a GU every 45 minutes, and hoped that my ad hoc nutrition and race plan would work. As I approached Wellesley, the screams of the girls were deafening, yet, in spite of the levity around me, I was not in a good place. I was still going too fast. I was way too tired, and I had a tough remaining half-marathon to go. I knew I had to leave my ego in Wellesley and forget about my pace. I recognized that, in spite of my fitness, I was not acclimated to the heat at all, and to finish, I had to run even slower.
For the remainder of the race, I measured my pace by my breathing only. If I started to breath heavily, I slowed myself down. I did not look at the others around me. I did not try to pass anyone. I tried to enjoy the course as much as I could, while focusing on my nutrition, hydration, and salt intake. I drew on my training, and knew that I would finish strong if I stayed steady. I thought of my kids and how I could use this experience to inspire (or lecture) them to keep going. I tackled Heartbreak Hill, and then, I knew I had a mere five tough miles to go. The temperature reflected on the clock--88 degrees.
Thankfully, my friend, Jenny, jumped in with me at mile 21. Originally, she was planning on running 7:20s with me for the last five miles to help me achieve my 3:15. Little did we realize that she would instead be running 8:30s with me, which is typically a slow training run for me, while I desperately tried to stay with her. I looked at my watch, and knew if I kept that pace, I would re-qualify the following year, thanks to my upcoming 40th birthday. We ran, I poured water, I drank Gatorade, I shoved ice in my clothes, and she kept me on track.
As I turned the corner on Boylston toward the finish line, I knew I was about to complete the hottest Boston Marathon in recent history and re-qualify for next year. Although it was not the PR I set out to attain in January, it was pretty epic, and a great story for years to come.
Congratulations to all Boston Marathoners who gutted it out on that course yesterday. Enjoy your ice bath and here's to a cooler 2013!