Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Boston Marathon 2018: Soaking It All In

Yesterday’s Boston Marathon brought an entirely new meaning to the expression “soaking it all in.” The trifecta of cold temperatures (upper 30s), a strong sustained headwind (25 mph) with heavier gusts, and pouring rain made the experience simultaneously miserable and thrilling.

Race Weekend
I was planning on writing an entirely separate post on all the festivities that I took part in Friday-Sunday, but instead I spent that time figuring out my wardrobe strategy. I’ll provide the Cliff’s Notes version instead. I went on a shopping spree at the expo, I cheered for Greg as he ran the 5K on Saturday morning, I met up with some friends who I knew from Instagram, I attended a pre-race clinic with Greg McMillan, I had two book signings, and I spent several hours trying on different variations of a race outfit.

The big topic for discussion over the weekend was wardrobe. When I finalized my packing on Friday morning, the forecast was calling for temperatures in the high 40’s to low 50’s. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to wear and I wasn’t stressing about it. But as the weekend progressed, the forecast became more severe. Every time I opened my weather app, the temperature had dropped a few degrees, the rainfall totals increased, and the headwind became stronger.

Everyone was scrambling to purchase extra “supplies” for Athlete’s village and modifying their originally planned race attire.

What I wore 
For better or worse, I have experience in running in similar conditions so I was able to rely on that to inform my decisions. I suffered from hypothermia back in 2009 when I ran a marathon in pouring rain. It was in the high 40’s that day, but I was wearing a tank top, a skirt, and no gloves or arm warmers. I was rushed to the medical tent by finish line staff and I had no clue what was going on. It was a scary experience. At the Shamrock half marathon in 2016, the weather as almost as bad as predicted for Boston, and my arm warmers + short-sleeved shirt worked well. However, being out there for 5+ hours (including waiting for the race to start) is entirely different from a 93-minute half marathon.

Race outfit:

  • Smart Wool socks with lots of body glide on the feet 
  • Nike LunarGlide shoes 
  • Lightweight capri tights, which I purchased at the expo
  • Sports bra 
  • Tight fitting, long singlet 
  • Short sleeve shirt 
  • Thick arm warmers made of a wool-like material 
  • Very thin/light water-repelling rain jacket 
  • Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves 
  • Convertible mittens over the gloves 
  • One pair of hand warmers in each mitten (front and back of fingers) 
  • Shower cap 
  • Hat 
  • Vaseline on my face to keep the water off and protect against the wind 
  • Waist pack to hold my Generation UCAN gel 
Over-layers for Athlete’s Village:

  • Mid-weight rain jacket 
  • Poncho 
  • Sweatpants 
  • Throwaway socks 
  • Throwaway shoes with toe warmers inside
I wrapped my race shoes in shower caps and tied them around my waist and kept them under my poncho until it was time to walk to the start line. Another challenge was figuring out where to pin the bib. I wanted the option of throwing off the lightweight rain jacket, so I didn’t want to pin my bib to it. But I needed to wear my bib on the outermost layer so that the chip would register and I would be identifiable in photos. I ended up pinning the bib to the very bottom of my long singlet, and making the short-sleeved shirt shorter with safety pins. I spent my Sunday afternoon figuring all of this out instead of blogging.

Bus & Athlete’s Village
My friend Lisa met me at my hotel and then we went to meet some of my other friends to all board the bus together. There were 9 of us total. It was already raining steadily as we approached the buses
Before boarding the buses; I'm in the dark blue
and the gusts were blowing my poncho around like crazy. Greg was there to see me off and I gave him my final wet hug. We decided that it would be best for him to simply track me from the comfort of the hotel room instead of getting drenched himself. Last time, he went to mile 20 and I didn’t even see him. Our plan this year was to meet at a spot shortly after the finish line chute.

Once we boarded the bus, I got hot and didn’t want to sweat, so I undid my layers to the best of my ability. The bus ride took about 50 minutes (longer than I remember it taking two years ago) and I ate a bagel with peanut butter on the ride while chatting away with Lisa.

Another challenge that this weather presented was that I wouldn’t be able to carry a water bottle. Typically I carry a bottle for the first 15 miles of a marathon so I can drink enough water when I want it. However, I suffer from Reynaud’s syndrome and so my hands were a huge concern. Carrying something cold and wet would not be ideal, so I decided to drink water from the aid stations.

We were not surprised that Athlete’s village was a mud pit. The mud was thick, cold and slippery and every step was more unpleasant than the one before it. My toe warmers were my savior, as well as the fact that I would be changing my shoes before the race. We waited in line for the porta-potties as ice pellets fell steadily upon us. There was slush on the ground in some places, and I witnessed several people slip and fall. Once inside the porta-potty, I had to remove my glove/mitten/hand-warmer ensemble and then wade through all of the aforementioned layers to be able to go to the bathroom. I likened it to being a bride and having to use the bathroom in my wedding dress.

Afterwards, Lisa and I approached the tented area, and it was jam-packed full of runners. I found a small corner to stand in and decided I did not want to sit on the muddy ground. If you add the walk to the porta-potty, the wait to use it, standing in the tent, and then walking to the start, I was on my feet for over an hour before I started running. Not ideal, but that’s Boston for you. It’s a logistical challenge even in the best of weather conditions.

When they called wave 2, I exited the tent and headed for the corral. There was a little hill to climb up before exiting the grassy area, and it was so muddy and slippery that I couldn’t get up it without falling. The fall caused my gloves and the plastic bag I was carrying to get muddy and it was not pleasant, but I cleaned it off quickly.

The next step would be to find a good area to change my shoes. As I walked toward the corral, there was a group of three runners standing in a covered alcove of a building entrance. I asked them if I could duck in to change my shoes. And these three people were so remarkably helpful. One of them held my bag, another one held my gloves, and another one helped me keep my balance as I made the switch. I had to un-tie the shoes from around my waist and then take them out of their shower caps to put on my feet. I use Yankz laces, so thankfully I didn’t have to worry about lacing the shoes— I just put my foot in and I was set.

The walk to the corral felt long and by the time I got into my assigned corral #5, there was only 10 minutes until race start. In 2016, people were offering sunscreen and cold towels along the walk. Yesterday they offered Vaseline. Same event, but under entirely different circumstances from the heat wave of two years ago.

Mindset and Strategy 
Before I get into the race itself (see. . . you have to wait awhile just like I did) I want to share my mental approach to this race. I was basically a mixed bag of emotions, but at the same time neutral accepting of the circumstances as I knew I couldn’t control them. Nobody runs Boston for its good weather. The race has a history of extreme weather (hot and cold) and according to one report, this was the coldest Boston Marathon in 30 years.

I went into this cycle with the attitude that my training would build me as an athlete, take me to the next level, and prepare me to run fast at a fall marathon. As I logged the 75+ mile weeks, I wasn’t doing so with the expectation of a PR in Boston. The focus was pushing myself as an athlete, working hard, and seeing what I could handle.

My attitude toward the race was, in many ways, completely divorced from the training cycle. I knew I was really prepared to run 26.2 miles physically, so I didn’t worry about my fitness level. Instead, I focused on staying positive, “soaking it all in,” and sticking to my race plan.

I attended a pre-race clinic with Greg McMillan on Sunday, and he walked his athletes through a
Greg McMillan and me
strategy that he had seen work really well in Boston: The first 16 miles should be at “cruise” effort, and if you feel like you are having to push into the wind, then you need to back off the pace. At no point should you be straining. When you get to the hills, you need to “engage” and work harder than you have been for the last 16 miles of cruising. Once you get over the hills at mile 21, then you rely on your determination to get you through to the finish.

To clarify, my coach is Andrew Lemoncello, who works with Greg McMillan. Andrew had given me a similar race strategy earlier in the week before we realized how bad the wind would be. Hearing it frm Greg was just the reinforcement I needed.

In short, my goal yesterday was to finish strong and to NOT regret my starting pace. I knew that if I bonked like I did in Indianapolis, my chances of hypothermia would increase significantly and the fastest way to warmth was to run the whole way. The idea of feeling like crap physically while also having to endure the punishing winds and rain was so unappealing that I decided to start conservatively, about 20-25 seconds per mile slower than the “marathon pace” I used in training.

In 2016 I underestimated the impact the heat would have on my race and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Particularly not at Boston. The goal was to have a strong Boston. My #1 goal was a safe, strong finish and that meant a ridiculously easy feeling start.

Miles 1-4: Hopkinton and Ashland
I ditched my poncho and mid-weight raincoat about 100 feet before the start line and it felt amazing to finally be running. Athlete’s village was the worst part of the day and as we started running, one guy even said to me, “if we got through Athlete’s Village, we can get through this.” He was right. Running and doing what I love most was so easy compared to standing in that wet mud in 5 layers of clothing.

I qualified last spring with a time of 3:21:54, which is a pace of about 7:40. The runners in my corral all qualified within a few minutes of that time, but most of them shot out so fast and I was getting passed like crazy. But I remembered what Greg McMillan had said: let everyone pass you at first, and then you pass them later in the race.

It was raining steadily during these miles but it wasn’t long before I got into a groove, my feet became un-numb, and I settled into the reality of a very wet, cold and windy journey into Boston. 

Mile 1: 8:07 (-108 ft)
Mile 2: 7:47 (-52 ft)
Mile 3: 7:44 (-55 ft)
Mile 4: 7:43 (-66 ft)

Miles 5-8: Framingham 
It was during the 5th mile that I realized my hand warmers were soaked through and no longer providing warmth. Instead, they were like heavy bricks inside my mittens over my wool gloves. I debated tossing them, but I am glad I did not. Even though they weren’t providing warmth, it was an extra layer of insulation. My hands went numb very quickly, and I decided to simply ignore it because there was nothing I could do to change it.

I knew from experience that I didn’t need to drink much water in cold temperatures. I was well hydrated going into the race and I figured that stopping every 5-6 miles for a substantial drink would suffice. At mile 5, I grabbed a cup of water with two hands from a volunteer, jogged to the side of the course, stopped and drank. Since I wouldn’t be drinking often, I figured I should make sure I got enough water when I did drink instead of running with it and spilling it all over my face. My hands were numb so I had to be careful about it, and I figured it was worth the 10-second stop to get proper hydration.

The wind was not too bad during this part of the course. The crowd was still thick and it was protecting me from the headwind. However, the occasional gust would come slap me in the face, and I just had to laugh if off. Everyone was in good spirits and the runners seemed to be helping each other out more than usual. We were all in it together and shared an unspoken bond that made us all a little nicer and more compassionate.

Mile 5: 7:46 (+15 ft)
Mile 6: 7:35 (-18 ft)
Mile 7: 7:39 (-12 ft)
Mile 8: 7:38 (+1 ft)

Miles 9-12: Natick
These miles flew by and it was more of the same. Portions of the course were completely puddle-ridden and there was no avoiding getting my feet completely soaked. My socks did an excellent job of not holding the moisture so I became comfortably with puddle running, knowing that my shoes wouldn’t feel soaked for longer than a few minutes post-puddle. The pack of runners was just as thick as it had been at the beginning and I was grateful that I was mostly shielded from the headwind.

My plan was to take my UCAN Gell at mile marker 11 and then drink water at the station located shortly after. I could not unzip the waist pouch because my hands were numb. After multiple attempts to unzip the pouch, I used my teeth, which worked. The gel itself was easy to open after I got it out of the waist pocket, and thankfully it went down well without being accompanied by the usual water. I finished it just in time for 11.2 where I stopped and had a cup of water. After that, I threw the waist pouch off of my body as it had been annoying me for 11 miles and interfering with my bib.

By mile 12 I began to wonder if I had sold myself short. I felt like I was out for an easy run. I didn’t feel like I was exerting marathon pace effort. I wasn’t straining and I was very relaxed. I felt my way through the course by cruising, but also keeping my pace in check. Up until this point, I didn’t want to go below 7:35, but I started to wonder if I should up the effort a bit.

Mile 9: 7:35 (-16 ft)
Mile 10: 7:35 (+19 ft)
Mile 11: 7:44 (+26 ft)
Mile 12: 7:37 (-52 ft)

Miles 13-16: Wellesley
The Wellesley scream tunnel was just as loud as I remembered, only the woman who was essentially naked last time wearing only a sign wasn’t there. I usually don’t care all that much about crowd support in races and sometimes prefer less noise so I can focus. But in this case, I fed off of the energy of the crowd. I needed as much positivity as possible.

At the halfway point, I wondered if I could negative split. I had never felt so great at the halfway point in marathon in all the 22 I have run. I still felt like I was out for an easy run! I allowed myself to speed up a little bit, but once again, I made sure I wasn’t straining into the wind.

For the majority of the race, the rain was a steady pour, but there were a few times when it came down in buckets. When that happened people would clap and relish in it. What else could you do? The roads were getting flooded and I was now accustomed to running in water and having other runners kick water onto me.

I did notice that my quads were a little sore despite the easy pace, but I guess that was to be expected in Boston with all the downhill. I didn’t let it bother me and I knew I was much better positioned for success at mile 16 this year than I was in 2016. I took another cup of water at mile 16 because I knew I would not want to stop on the Newton hills.

Mile 13: 7:31 (0 ft)
Mile 14: 7:37 (-6 ft)
Mile 15: 7:36 (+25 ft)
Mile 16: 7:30 (-121 ft)

Miles 17-21: Newton Hills
At the bottom of the first hill, I kept remembering what Greg McMillan had said the day before about engaging on the hills. The goal wasn't to kill myself, but I felt like I had plenty of gas in the tank to up the effort. This is where I fell apart in 2016 and I was thrilled to be feeling so much stronger.

My general strategy for hills is to focus on my form, and to not look up to the top of the hill, but rather about 25 feet ahead, get to that point, and then look another 25 feet ahead, so I am doing it in manageable chunks. I also remembered all the hills I had run on my long runs and got a nice boost of confidence. I ran over the first 3 without too much strain. After the first hill, I was at mile 18 and I told myself I had three hard miles ahead and one easy (19 is downhill). And I that's all I had to do and I would be done with the hills.

This mental approach worked and finally I came upon Heartbreak Hill. It wasn't "labeled" like it was in 2016, and if it was, I didn't see it. But I knew where I was and I knew this was the defining moment of the race. If I could get to the top in one piece the rest of the race I would simply fly home. Heartbreak hill felt very, very long. But I was determined to run up it at a good clip. I knew I had gas left in the tank and I used it here.

Mile 17: 7:44 (+74 ft)
Mile 18: 7:38 (+50 ft)
Mile 19: 7:29 (-34 ft)
Mile 20: 7:42 (+ 22 ft)
Mile 21: 8:07 (+86 ft)

Miles 22-25: Brookline and Boston
Feeling strong
I was elated to be in the home stretch and still feeling strong. I knew that it was technically time to take my chews, but my hands were completely useless so I wasn't able to get to them in my pocket. In hindsight, I should have waited a little longer to take my UCAN gel because that would have helped me more in the later miles without the additional chews. Mile 22 was a downhill breeze and I remembered how much pain I had been in two year ago during this section. It felt great to fly down the hill and be so close to finishing.

Mile 23 also felt strong but I noticed my pace started to slip. The field of runners was spreading out across the wider course and the wind seemed to be picking up. I was still able to power through it feeling good, so I didn't concern myself with my pace too much. I remembered Greg McMillan saying that the last few miles are all about determination and that is what I was going to channel. Plus, I was passing a lot of people. I was loving the fact that I felt so strong this late in the race and was still energized enough to be passing through the crowd of runners.

That didn't last long; mile 24 was the first mile that felt hard. My quads were aching and the pain was getting difficult to ignore. The wind was whipping around in all directions and water was splashing into my face. I was also annoyed at any uphill I came upon. The last 5 miles are supposed to be "all downhill" but there are a few pesky uphill portions that slowed me down. I realized I would not be negative splitting, but that I could still run a really respectable time.

Waving to the photographer
In the 25th mile, I felt that familiar marathon pain. I was now working as hard as I could and I was tired. I wished I had taken my chews but I still couldn't get them and it was too late now. I was running out of steam and I lacked the energy to push against the strengthening headwind. I was tempted to walk up some of the hills, and to prevent myself from doing so I said aloud, do not walk! I knew that walking would only prolong the experience and make things worse so I kept plugging away at a pace that was much slower than all the previous miles.

In many ways, this was a good thing. If I felt like a million dollars crossing the finish line then I would have regretted not running harder. But given the way I felt during mile 25, I knew I had run my best possible race because I was quickly fading. Throughout all of this, I always remembered to soak it all in and have fun. I worked hard to be here, and had spent loads of time preparing. This was my moment!

I realized that I should be seeing a Citgo sign and looked up and made out a faint image of the sign in the distance. The air was so cloudy and rainy that the sign wasn't very visible. In fact, if I hadn't made it a point to look, I probably wouldn't have seen it until I was practically at the sign.

Mile 22: 7:36 (-72)
Mile 23: 7:57 (-55)
Mile 24: 8:10 (-45)
Mile 25: 8:29 (-41)

Mile 26 and the Finish: Hereford and Boylston
Before making the final turn onto Boylston, I noticed the road was littered with ponchos and jackets. I later realized that people were shedding their outer layers for good finish line photos. It felt like this mile went on and on. Of course, I ended up running about 26.5 miles according to my Garmin due to not running the tangents and trying to draft off of various runners. I wasn't surprised by this and my focus yesterday wasn't running the tangents, it was running where I was most protected from the wind.

Shortly after making the final turn onto Boylston I looked at the total elapsed time on my watch, which I hadn't done in several miles. I often do this at the end of races to motivate myself to get under the next minute. I saw that I could still get a 3:26:xx if I ran fast so I mustered every bit of energy I had to get myself to the finish line. That run down Boylston is so exhilarating that it's easy to find the power.

I crossed the finish line in 3:26:53 and was so elated to be done. But before getting too excited, I knew that I needed to quickly exit the finish line chute, get to Greg and then walk to the hotel. Even though I was exhausted I forced myself to walk quickly through the chute and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was moving, as compared to how I typically feel post-marathon.

Mile 26: 9:05
Last 0.48 on Garmin: 8:14 pace

I made my way to Greg relatively easily and quickly. I had been concerned about that walk over the weekend because hypothermia can set in quickly once you stop moving. I was so relieved to see him and that Epsom salt bath at the hotel was like heaven.

Later that evening, I met up with my friends Lisa and Jenna for dinner. I was walking around quite well and in much better shape than I was in 2016, when I ended up in the medical tent. Today, my legs are sore, but again, nothing like 2016. I'm so happy that I executed well on a difficult course in challenging conditions, and that's more important than getting a PR in my eyes.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways
I had a great day in Boston and I think the crappy weather may have been a blessing in disguise. I didn't go into this cycle seeking a PR in Boston; I went in to build myself up as an athlete. Success on a day like yesterday was dependent on staying warm with the right wardrobe strategy before and during the race, running conservatively, and keeping a positive outlook on the situation.

This was a character-building experience and now that I know I can run well in these conditions, it will make most all other weather feel easy. Even though the headwind was a force to be reckoned with and the conditions were far from "comfortable" I honestly believe I would have done worse in the heat. I overheat easily when I run, so I tend to be more successful in the cold, even if it means putting up with downpours, puddles, numb hands, muddy falls, ice pellets and the rest of it.

Stats
  • I placed 1,474 out of 11,604 female runners, putting me in the top 12%.
  • I BQ'ed by 18 minutes and 7 seconds.
  • I set a course PR by over 21 minutes compared with 2016.
  • I ran 4:59 slower than my marathon PR, which I'm pleased with due to the course and conditions.
Random things I bought over the weekend to help with this race
  • Shoe laces to tie my race shoes around my waist
  • Bobby pins to secure my hat to head
  • Extra safety pins
  • Toe warmers
  • Vaseline
  • Epsom Salt
  • Newspaper to sit/stand on in Athlete's village
  • Shower caps (provided by the hotel)
Huge thanks go out to my husband Greg, my coach Andrew, my family and all my friends who supported me throughout this training cycle and on race day. I had the most fun I've ever had in a marathon yesterday, and I look forward to going back, probably in 2020.


17 comments:

  1. Way to go! Your positive attitude is inspiring. I've run in awful conditions, too, but I can't say I was as prepared mentally as you. Knowing you weren't in Boston for a PR necessarily probably helped quite a bit. And having that race strategy. Thanks for a great race recap, and congrats on doing so well despite the conditions.

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  2. EPIC!!!! Loved it!!! Congratulations again!!!!

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  3. Congrats! This may be my favorite recap of yours, it shows me how much you’ve grown as a runner. You knew that you had to adjust your training plan based on the conditions and you did, running a smart race. It sounds like even though the conditions were miserable, you made the most of it and even enjoyed the experience! Well done!

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  4. Oh wow!!! I loved this recap and I think it was very smart of you to pack those little extras like bobby pins and Vaseline. I think you did a fantastic job and have enjoyed following you along on your journey so far!!

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  5. Congratulations on a great race (and having a great story to tell)!

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  6. This is amazing Elizabeth! I love this recap and your attitude. I couldn’t get over the horrible weather conditions but it is good to know that you still had a great experience.

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  7. Congrats zebra...that's an awesome FT for those conditions. I did not fare well and the gear I had that was supposed to be water repellent worked well through 1st half and doing well for me, but as more and more heavy rain pelting me ended up literally waterlogged. I made it to just across 24-mi mark, then acute hypothermia developed. Fortunately med tent there and I veered in. Spent 1-hr, 13-min in there, and they outfitted me with heat sheet overtopped with poncho and I just walked last 2-mi as fast as I could to get an official finish. Not impressive at 5:33 something, but at least it is an official finish for 10th consecutive BM. I had planned to get to your book-signing as I had some token gifts for you, but had to scramble to get a fellow runner flew in Sat and had no place to stay, set up to room with me. If you message me a way to mail you it, I will. Also, I didn't have my copy of your Boston Bound book with me at Boston, so I might also mail that to you to sign for me. Great work on that awesome run you did! I will be researching now to find some form of light-weight, totally water repellent/Gortex breaker with hood to have on hand if conditions like that ever occur again. Cheers to ya!

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    1. I missed seeing you! If you post your email address I will send you an email with my mailing address. Congratulations on finishing in those conditions.

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  8. Congratulations. Great strategy, effort and attitude.

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  9. Amazing Elizabeth! I don't think many people can say, after having run that race Monday, that it's the most fun they've ever had running a marathon. I think that just speaks to how far you've come mentally over the years with your approach to running. Very proud of you!

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    1. Thank you so much! I would do it again in a heartbeat. What a thrill!

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  10. Man, what a race. But you ran it so smart! I can't believe you didn't take your chews yet still didn't start to run out of steam until the final mile. I'm impressed. Good planning with your wardrobe and race strategy.

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    1. Yeah, I am happy the UCAN lasted as long as it did. If I could change one thing about the race I would have waited a little longer to take it.

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  11. I so enjoyed reading your recap and felt like I was right beside you every step. Congrats on running such a fantastic race under such miserable circumstances. I suspect your positive attitude, plus following your race strategy, played a huge role in your performance.

    I've only run Boston twice, the first time and the final time I qualified, and I was pretty lucky both years with decent weather. During my first time running in 1998 those hills seemed like nothing to me, but 12 years later when I was in my early 50's, Heartbreak Hill almost did me in. LOL

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  12. Jeeze I don't envy you over the conditions. It's that start bit which would really stress me out - the layers, the mud, the portaloos and being wet and cold. Tough tough. But WOW you did amazingly. And such a strong mental outlook going into the race as well. Congrats!

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  13. You handled these conditions a lot better than I did. I certainly didn't walk away from it feeling nearly as good as you. In fact, I would say if felt as awful as my first marathon did in NYC in 2005 when I said "NEVER AGAIN" and not just to myself haha(we know some others who said the same... Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi.) Proud of you!!!

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