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Boston Marathon 2023 Race Report

For my second marathon, I ran Boston. I had planned to run the Chicago Marathon in October, but I ran too long through a hamstring injury and ended up having to take off for about eight to ten weeks. I remember being thrilled to come just a little bit close to my marathon pace at the Thanksgiving Drumstick Dash in Indianapolis. My first ten miler was January 1 and I was slow. I ended up with a training block I could be proud of, but I only had time (in terms of weeks to build up and before the race) to get in two 20- or 22-mile long runs. This season I added heavy lifting twice a week, which helped with rehab and with those Boston hills. Because of the injury, I was slow in my recovery and long runs through the whole block. I saw myself running paces I had never seen before, dipping at times to about three minutes or more off my MGP. I was delighted to hear Nell Rojas say on the Running Rogue podcast that she often does long runs and recovery runs at 3+ her MGP. But it did kind of get in my head. I was still generally hitting paces in workouts, but I don’t think they were quite at the same intensity and it often took more reps to get to the target pace. All this to say, it was a return-from-injury training cycle. I knew that. But also, at the same time, last July, I couldn’t quite see myself in Chicago. Even before the injury took a bad turn, I didn’t see it. But I did see myself in Boston. My teammate from Rogue’s She Squad, Colleen Reutebuch gave me a book, 26.2 to Boston: A Journey into the Heart of the Boston Marathon, when I qualified at CIM. Each chapter is the history and the terrain of each mile. When I read it, I could see myself there. I read it again this winter as well as every other podcast I could get my hand on that described the feel of the race and I could continue to see myself running those streets from Hopkinton to Boyleston.

I had a race plan that I thought was doable, but aggressive. I didn’t quite nail it, but I did BQ at Boston. And now I’m processing what I experienced and what I learned.

Housing and the Expo

One lesson I learned is, for the love of all that is good and true, Adriel, pay for the race hotel and stop being so darn cheap. You may recall that my Airbnb canceled on me 28 hours before I was supposed to leave for Sacramento ahead of my first marathon. This time the problems with the place I reserved on Expedia, but which turned out to be run by an independent group off of VRBO. Everything that could have been a problem with it was. First of all, Expedia told me I could check in relatively early, and I still have the screenshot that says that, but the place said it was non-negotiable that check-in was at 3. Since I was coming in on Saturday I was concerned that I wouldn’t really have the time to relax that I wanted. I did eventually get them to agree to honor the 1 pm time. But when I got there — or, I should say, when I got to the shady sitch that was a series of boxes with keys about 3/4 of a mile from the place — I did not have access to the key until 3. Then I had to walk over to the place, which was near Boston Commons. I mean, was it cheap? Yes, for the location. Was it a good deal? No. The first night, which would have been two nights before the marathon and so maybe the most important night of sleep, the bar two doors down was loud until 2 and I could not sleep. And then someone who lives in the apartment complex sat on the steps outside my little apartment until 1 talking to his family — they were all on Facetime so it wasn’t even just like one half of a conversation — until 1 AM. Anyway, I didn’t sleep. Also, the shower dripped the whole night and the A/C was broken so it was not comfortable and maybe bordering on torturous.

I flew out on Saturday morning. A lot of people on my flight from Indianapolis to Boston were wearing running gear and many of them were wearing their previous years’ Boston Marathon jackets. I asked a woman sitting across from me in the waiting area if she was running the race and she turned out to live in my neighborhood and run with Indy Runners. She also ended up being on my flight back. I gave her my number and I hope we can run together. I went straight to the race expo with my suitcase, which they had dogs sniff out. The race expo was very crowded. The line to just get into the Adidas shop snaked through the huge room. I did wait in line for the recovery legs, which they let people sit in for 15 minutes and that was well worth it. I would buy them if they weren’t $800. I walked over to Newberry where the pop-up shops were and caught a Lyft to the key pick-up place and then went to my apartment. I don’t want to talk about the apartment anymore. I tried to put aside the negative vibes and not complain. I went and had some gluten-free pasta at a nearby restaurant. Then I walked back and watched some tv and tried to sleep and may or may not have slept.

Sunday Prep and Pep Talks

Sunday I went to meet up with the Rogue Running folks for a shake-out run along the Charles and then to go take a photo at the Finish Line. I finally met Chris McClung in person, after listening to every single one of the Running Rogue episodes. I appreciated how welcoming the Rogue folks are. I felt like Chris thought of all the athletes there as important to the Rogue family, and I appreciated that. (I was training with a virtual group, but now I’m training one-on-one with a Rogue coach, which maybe feels sometimes less like being on a team, which I miss.)

I went back and showered and then met up with a philosophy friend who I also talked into coming out to cheer for me since she has lived in Boston for eight years or something and is about to leave and never went to watch the Marathon and now she knew someone running it. I’m glad she went because she ended up being the only one of the three people I knew who were cheering for me who saw me.

We had a nice long leisurely brunch and then I went to the Fairfield Copley for a pep talk with the Rogue team. Chris talked about the stories of people who had run the Boston marathon for someone or something bigger than themselves from Bobbi Gibb to Meb Keflezighi. He gave some advice, not all of which I can remember now. One thing stuck with me and kept coming back to me during the race: connect to the course. He meant that in all its valences: the fans, the history, but also, and what I kept thinking about as I was running it, the feel of the roads and the hills. Chris also told me to avoid walking around too much and to jog if I needed to get places, which is why I decided to take the T even for short distances.

I went back to where I was staying and then had an early dinner at a place around the corner — steak frittes with some vegetables. That’s become my pre-marathon meal. Turns out carb loading the night before a race doesn’t really work — to really carb load you have to do it with significant amounts the week before and really you should be getting significant carbohydrates through the training cycle. So I went back to where I was and talked to my coach who was very encouraging. She reminded me of successes in my training and shared her confidence in my ability to follow the race plan. My race plan had me about thirty seconds off my goal pace for the early miles that are mostly downhill, but also not fighting back on the downhills, and then steady cruising at marathon pace through miles 5 to 16, backing off the pace through the Newton hills and then trying to crush getting closer to half marathon goal pace in the final miles. The weather report said no rain through the race so we talked about whether to wear the hat I had just bought and decided against it. I’d regret that when it rained hard for forty-five minutes in the middle of the race, but at the time, I believed the weather report, and I don’t love to have extra pressure around my head.

Race Morning and Purpose

So I went to bed hopeful, picturing myself feeling good and relaxed and ready. I didn’t really get to sleep for awhile because the place was warm. I eventually got out of bed at around 5:45 AM, got dressed, including in my thrift store sweatpants and the sweatshirt I got from that St. Patty’s Day run that read: Beer and Running, my favorite things. Then I made my oatmeal and walked over to the T which I took to the buses that held the gear check. I checked my post-race sweatshirt and sweatpants and walked over a block to Commonwealth to take a Lyft to the busses. Rogue teams up with someone who charters buses with toilets that you can sit on after you get to Hopkinton. So I went to the buses, which leave from the Cambridge side of the Charles. I was a bit early so I walked over to the Hyatt to get a cup of coffee, which I was very glad to find. I had forgotten to bring my caffeinated nuun so I only had regular sports nuun. I brought some bottles of water and I ate one of the Ucan bars on the bus about an hour before I had to move toward the Athlete’s Village. I met a woman from DC who was a delightful seat partner on the way to Hopkinton. She had the opposite trajectory that I had: she was in a Ph.D. program in Italian literature before switching to work in politics. We both brought the same issue of the New Yorker to read on the bus, but spent most of the time talking about running. I love how running connects people who are strangers around an activity that is somewhat absurd and hard, that challenges us and thereby produces a common bond. The best runners keep themselves open to that bond. I’m learning about myself that I can be shy and uncomfortable in social situations in a way that can make me distant and unconnected, but a little bit of openness can turn into real connection.

Long hard races require you to have a clear sense of purpose. What’s your why? people ask. During the pandemic running was an outlet, a project, something to focus on, and eventually, a way of pushing my edge, of learning what I was capable of. That’s a huge part of what it continues to be for me, but over the course of the last eighteen months it has become about experiencing myself as a whole person. In the Fall of 2021 my mother had some serious health issues that made her mortality and my own real to me. She’s ok now, but during that time I would go for runs and cry through the run. I’d come home and my husband would ask me how I was doing and I would say, I’m fine. I didn’t think I was trying to hide my feelings, I just didn’t know how to share them. Soon after I began seeing an EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapist to work on being more connected to my emotions and more capable of sharing them. I didn’t go to the therapist for the EMDR, she just happened to be a specialist in EMDR. EMDR is typically used for people suffering from PTSD. When the therapist told me that, I told her that I didn’t really have any trauma. Apparently, this is a common conversation I have with therapists because my last therapist told me I had high anxiety and I told her I didn’t think I was anxious. There must be a special class in which they train therapists not to laugh. She suggested that lowkey trauma from childhood is the source of the coping mechanisms people develop. We spent some time talking about the moments from my youth that I thought significant especially around my view of what it means to feel and to have feelings. Then we worked with the EMDR strategies to revisit those moments and reprogram them in my mind. If this sounds goofy, trust, I was a little uncomfortable about it at first, but whoa, it really did work. It shifted something in me and made me more comfortable having tears and feelings and sitting with them instead of running from them.

What’s running have to do with this? Running was a place for me to work on feeling. I listened to a podcast episode about the Boston Marathon where the podcasters talked about getting motivation from the spectators and it made me cry as I was driving to campus one day. And when after the race I went to the Rogue happy hour and Chris asked me how I felt about it, I let myself get choked up at my disappointment. Rogue Running describes its missions as, Connecting, challenging and inspiring each other to become better humans through running and yeah, I think they’re on to something. So I was open to the person who sat down next to me and was rewarded by conversation and fellow feeling.

I got off the bus by myself at about 10. My start time was 10:50. By the time I got over to the Athlete’s Village, I had time to go to the bathroom and they were already beginning to move people to the start line – 10:20 was the opening window for the 10:50 starters to move. So I started walking over as it began to drizzle and then at the start line I went to the bathroom again and peeled off my thrift store sweats and accidentally also peeled off my headband and gave that to the donations too. I didn’t realize until I started the race that I didn’t have it! It turned out to be fine because the rain just matted my hair down. I was a little behind my corral and maybe that is why the first mile was even slower than I had planned. I ate a salted peanut Ucan bar just before starting.

The start was a little anti-climactic. There isn’t a separate gun for each group. All of sudden, you are at the start line and then you are crossing and then you are running THE BOSTON MARATHON. It was a little unreal. People talk about the Boston Marathon as this lifetime goal, as an ideal, as something that exceeds mundane existence. But you know what? The Boston Marathon is a set of roads through eight towns in Massachusetts. The roads themselves are not magical or ideal. They are just roads. Realizing this made me have more belief that I could do it. For the first miles, I didn’t hold back too much but I also didn’t push. I started with nuun in two small water bottles and so I skipped the first water stations which were a little hectic. I was right where I wanted to be by mile 7. The crowds were amazing all the way along. I knew the family of a friend was looking out for me in the first several miles so I was looking out for them, but then at one point a woman yelled my name, which I had spelled in medical tape on my singlet, and I was like, hey, that’s me, and she looked at me very strangely and I realized we were miscommunicating. She thought she was just saying my name and I thought she was looking for me. I was a little embarassed imagining her recounting the story to other people.

I thought I could get faster between 7 and 16 then I could. On some miles I was under 10 seconds off (6 miles) and then others were under 15 seconds off (3 miles) and a couple were under 20 seconds off (2). That’s not that bad, but I worried about what it meant for my fitness. I thought those middle miles were mostly flat, but they weren’t really at all. The hills weren’t too severe but they were pretty constant rolling hills and that turned out to be harder terrain at which to maintain my HGP than I had thought it would be. I took my second Ucan salted peanut bar at mile 11.

I started looking for my sister and my mom around Wellesley. They thought they were going to be on the left, but most of the crowds were on the right, so I wasn’t sure if they were wrong or if they knew what they were saying to me when they told me left because they wanted to be away from the crowds. For the second marathon my Aftershokz gave out on me about an hour in to the race and the text that I thought would be read to me from them saying they were on the right never came through. I heard the Wellesley scream tunnel about a quarter mile out (people have said you can hear it a mile away, but I don’t think that is true). That’s when I started looking for them and I looked for them through Wellesley into the town but didn’t see them. I was kind of bummed because I had been looking forward to the energy from seeing people cheer from me, and I felt bad that they made the effort and we didn’t connect. It did start to rain pretty hard through Wellesley for — I mean I don’t know it’s hard for me to gauge time in a marathon — I think it was about 45 minutes, which maybe also explains my slowing through those miles. I was pretty soaked and my singlet was sticking to me, which was not particularly comfortable.

I took my first SIS isotonic gel at mile 16. Through the four Newton hills from 16 to 21, I focused on not pushing the hills and then not overdoing the downhill but relaxing into it. I was about 30 seconds off what I thought my slow down pace would be in miles 17 and 18 but only ten seconds off at 19, and then 20 seconds off at 20 and then 50 seconds off at 21 which is Heartbreak Hill. My plan had been to come back down to MGP and then even 20 seconds below MGP at the end, but again it wasn’t really flat as I had hoped, but still rolling. Only one of those miles was under my MGP. I felt pretty strong, though. Then at mile 23, my right quad started to hurt. Those downhills really do a number on you. I was nervous, but I ran through it and the pain dissipated. Turns out that they are right that just because this mile hurts doesn’t mean the rest of the race will. I had other friends around miles 18-19 that didn’t see me. My friend at mile 23 did see me, even though I didn’t see her, but hearing afterward that she saw me felt validating.

The last mile was the fastest. The last half mile was the fastest. I did have a kick. The last half mile was approaching my 10k pace. I was proud of that.

Take-aways and Post-Race Feelings

I was under nine minutes off my goal and a little under 6 minutes off my PR. I was disappointed. (In the clip above, if you look over the shoulder of the reporter on the right, you can see me hobbling past talking on a red phone on MSNBC.) I appreciated the well-wishes from family, friends, and colleagues who had been following me on the BAA app. But I was disappointed. I don’t think I realized how much until Chris asked me at the happy hour how I felt and I choked up. When he told me to feel all the feels, it seemed like the lesson of this training cycle. I did feel them. I am proud of myself for another Boston qualifying time, and this time at Boston. But it did not come as easily as CIM did. I wondered if I had pushed my edge through those middle miles. My hamstring never bothered me at all through the whole race, and I was so pleased that it had come through for me. And yet, I thought I had more. I did have some doubts about myself: Did I back off because of fear surrounding my injury? Was I too worried about wanting to finish my first Boston Marathon that I didn’t push myself to the edge of what was possible? I’m not beating myself up here, I’m trying to be honest. I’m trying to think about why the race didn’t go as planned.

I think the heavy lifting helped. The recovery this time was much less painful than after CIM, which might have also been supported by the carbon-plated shoes (New Balance FuelCell Elite v2). I think the fewer ≥20-mile long runs affected my performance. And also, I live in a pretty flat city. I spent some time in hilly neighborhoods, but if I were to run Boston again, I’d run every medium and long run in the hilly neighborhoods.

I appreciate all the people who have told me I should still be proud of this performance. I did keep a pretty steady pace. I was smart about the hills. I finished fast. I think I still have a 3:35 marathon in me. My coach thinks I have a 3:30. I don’t currently want to return to Boston. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it pulled me back eventually.

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