Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Boston Marathon Debut

It finally happened. After setting my sights on Boston in March 2008, I finally ran the race, 8 years later, and 10 years after running my first marathon in 2006. The Boston Marathon was my 20th marathon finish.

Ready for my Boston Marathon debut!

The Journey to Hopkinton
Race morning arrived, and after a semi-sleepless but restful night (not sleeping, but laying completely relaxed and still) I got ready for the race. I made my UCAN gel, applied massive amounts of body glide, applied sunscreen, got dressed, pinned my bib to my skirt, and was ready to go. Greg and I met our friend Amber in the hotel lobby and we walked to Boston Common where the buses would bring us to the start line in Hopkinton.

I felt relaxed. It didn't really feel real. As we approached the bus loading area, I heard the announcer
Amber and I before boarding the bus
directing people. Then it started to feel real-- with an official announcer telling people where to go and when. Even though I went to the bathroom immediately before leaving the hotel, I had to go again once we reached the buses, but I decided to wait until we arrived. I said goodbye to Greg, gave him a hug, and he told me to look for him just before mile 20.

Amber and I boarded a bus immediately without having to wait in line, and it departed shortly after. The bus driver said the ride would be about 35 minutes, but in actuality it was 50. I liked the bus ride, but I had to pee pretty badly, so by the end of the trip I was really ready to get off the bus. During the bus ride, Amber and I chatted about our training, our running history, and our jobs. Our husbands know each other from high school, but the two of us had only ever met via Facebook and Strava. So there was a lot to talk about. I felt surprisingly calm. It didn't at all feel like I was about to run the Boston Marathon.

At 8:20, I ate my bagel with peanut butter. I thought I would end up having to eat it as we were getting off the bus, but since the ride was longer than expected, I ate the whole thing on the bus. I was actually only hungry for about 2/3 of it, and I didn't force-feed myself the rest. I had eaten a banana at 6:30, as well as a good-sized dinner the night before, so I wasn't worried about getting enough calories.

The Athlete's Village
We arrived in the village, which was basically a huge field with tents. There were loads of porta potties, but there were loads of people to go along with them! We waited in line for about 20 minutes and then found a spot to sit down and relax. The starting village vibe was really exciting. There were people sleeping (or who appeared to be sleeping) on the ground with pillows and blankets. Many people were on the grassy area outside of the tent, but I knew it was really important to keep cool beforehand, so we stayed in the shade of the tent. I looked around me and realized that these runners were some of the fastest marathoners in the world. I took a moment to appreciate the fact that I was there, in Hopkinton, about to run the Boston Marathon with thousands of others who had also put in the hard work to get there.

With about 20 minutes to go before they called our wave, I waited in the bathroom line again to go to the bathroom. I hadn't had anything to drink since going to the bathroom the first time, but yet I still needed to go again. I guess this was a sign that maybe I had drunk too much water the day before and in the hotel room, but it honestly didn't feel like that much water. And I was also using Salt Stick tabs and UCAN hydrate, which contains electrolytes.

They called our wave and before heading to the start line, I soaked my two "cooling towels" and
"Cooling towels" on my shoulders helped at the start
cooling wrist bands in water and ditched my cover-up jacket. The walk from the village to the start line was about 3/4 of a mile, but it was so exciting and fun. There were volunteers and Hopkinton residents along the way offering us sunscreen, and there were even people who had black markers to write our names on our arms. I had them write "ZEBRA" on my arm! I felt like a total rockstar with so many people there cheering and helping us get ready.

As I stood in my corral I used my two cooling towels to keep myself cool, but they only went so far. I mainly focused on my shoulders and neck, and occasionally my face. I had also poured a ton of water onto my head before departing the village, and by the time I arrived at the start, it was already dry. At the start line, people were remarking how warm it was. Once person checked her phone and reported that it was 71 degrees. With no shade and not a single cloud in the sky, we were all baking before we even got started.

With five minutes to go, things started to feel more real- but part of me still didn't really feel like this was Boston. It was actually more surreal than anything. And I was really relaxed. The former me would have been really upset about how warm it was at the start line, but instead I thought to myself that we were are all in this together, and I was still going to run the best race I possibly could, no matter what the result.

Miles 1-4: Hopkinton and Ashland
The race started and I stayed relaxed. I was happy and confident and I knew exactly what I needed to do. The race was really crowded during these miles, as expected, and I didn’t want to expend energy weaving through people, so I pretty much just went with the flow and kept everything feeling nice and easy. I found myself running slightly slower than an 8:00/mile pace, which seemed appropriate. My training runs and the Shamrock Half Marathon indicated that I had the fitness level to run a pace of 7:40, or perhaps even faster. But all of those runs were in temperatures that were 55 degrees or cooler, so I wasn’t sure how much to adjust for the heat and sunshine. Knowing my history of running in similar conditions, I thought that 20 seconds/mile slower would be phenomenal, and 30 seconds/mile slower would still be pretty good. I decided to go for my “phenomenal” scenario, given that I had several cooling strategies.

I tossed one of my cooling towels at the start, but I kept the other one tucked into my skirt for the first few miles, and every few minutes I would use it to cool my face and neck. I also had cooling wrist bands that were made of the same material, and supposedly if you can keep your inner wrists cool, then your overall body temperature will be cooler. I also decided to dump 3-4 cups of water on myself at each water station. On my chest, over my head, and on the cooling wrist bands.

We reached the first water station at mile two. I carried a water bottle for drinking, and I only used the water station cups for tossing on myself. My plan was to drink water every 15 minutes, and take Salt Stick tabs every 45 minutes, as indicated on the bottle. I was careful not to drink too much. I was surprised that the water stations weren’t marked with signage in advance like at other races, but thankfully Gatorade was offered first, so as soon as I saw that, I knew water would be next. The water stations were really chaotic. Usually I avoid water stations in races by carrying my own bottle, but with this race, I took 3-4 cups at each station and doused myself with them.

My focus during these early miles was staying relaxed, keeping things feeling easy, going with the flow, and staying as cool as possible. I really didn’t know how to best “save” my quads other than to prevent any start/stop motion and not to expend extra energy trying to defy the gravitational pull of the downhill. I tried to be really light on my feet and keep my entire body loose.

Elevation from Strava data 
Mile 1: 8:11 (-111 ft)
Mile 2: 8:03 (-55 ft)
Mile 3: 8:01 (-50 ft)
Mile 4: 7:54 (-63 ft)

Miles 5-8: Framingham 
The crowd was still thick at this point, but I finally felt like I could move about more freely than before. I focused on executing my race plan, which was drinking water every 15 minutes, using the cooling towel that I now had stored in my sports bra, and staying relaxed. I felt really good during these miles and the pace still felt ridiculously easy. It did not feel like marathon pace at all. It felt like I was out for an easy training run. So I wasn’t worried that I was going out too fast.

The spectators were incredible. Usually I don’t like a ton of people screaming and yelling as I run—I prefer peace and quiet so I can be in “zen” mode. But in the case of Boston, it was all about the fanfare and I was taking it all in. Even though I was really focused on executing my race strategy, I didn’t want to forget that I was running the Boston Marathon, so I kept reminding myself to soak it all in and relish in the experience. Usually when I run I am not focused on what goes on around me—I am more focused on execution. But in Boston, I didn’t want to “miss” the experience! I also paid attention to the people running around me. Every single one of these people had qualified for Boston. They all knew what they were doing, at least to some extent!

Somewhere around mile 8, I saw a kid on the side of the course handing out bags of ice. YES! I took a bag from him, and put all of the ice directly into my sports bra, ditching the cooling towel. I knew this would cause major chafing, but I didn’t care. I had heard that ice in the sports bra was a great way to stay cool, and so I did it. The ice jiggled around as I ran, and I hoped it would have the desired effect of cooling my core. It was still quite warm, with not a cloud in the sky. And the course was not shaded.

Mile 5: 8:04 (+8 ft)
Mile 6: 7:49 (-15 ft)
Mile 7: 7:54 (-12 ft)
Mile 8: 8:07 (-1 ft)

Miles 9-12: Natick 
During mile 9, someone handed me an entire bottle of water. This was a lifesaver because I didn’t have enough water in my handheld bottle to take my UCAN gel with as planned. It takes about a full minute to consume the whole gel, and I need to run/drink while doing it. So having a handheld bottle with enough water is essential. Without that extra bottle, I would have had to refill my own bottle at a water station, which would have cost me at least 20 seconds. So I was double-fisting it for about two miles. One water bottle in each hand was not comfortable, but it was better than having to stop to re-fill my own bottle.

85 minutes into the race, I took the gel/water. It went down easily and it was nice to not have to carry the gel in my skirt anymore. I also knew that I could toss my handheld bottle at any point because I no longer needed it for fueling. I planned to take some chews later in the race, but I didn't need water at the exact time I ate those.

Whenever I crossed over a timing mat, I got excited because I knew that Greg and others tracking me would see the split. I was feeling really strong as I crossed the 15K point, and my spirits were high. The spectators continued to line the streets with signs and cold towels and I focused on soaking it all in. I also focused on keeping myself nice and soaked with 3-4 cups of water at each station. It was amazing how fast I would dry off between the water stations, only a mile apart! The sun was still high in the sky without a cloud in sight. I was expecting it to get cooler as we ran toward Boston, but I wasn't feeling that yet. These were the fastest miles of my race:

Mile 9: 7:58 (-12 ft)
Mile 10: 7:59 (+13 ft)
Mile 11: 8:12 (+28 ft)
Mile 12: 7:57 (-51 ft)

Miles 13-16: Wellesley
I could hear the Wellesley College women screaming well before I even arrived. The cheering at this
Somewhere in Wellesley
point was insane! I can't even imagine screaming that loudly for so long. It was exhilarating and I felt amazing! I ditched my handheld water bottle at this point, and would rely on water stations for drinking.

I came through the halfway point in 1:45:39, which is an average pace of 8:03. I was primed to run a 3:31 at that point and I felt confident that I'd be able to do it. I had held my pace steady for the first half, according to plan, and my energy level still felt high. My quads started to feel sore at around mile 13, but I figured that was normal in Boston. They didn't feel "beat up" or "trashed," just noticeably sore, and I figured they would hold out for the rest of the race. Plus, I would use my glutes to power myself uphill and those felt great! Also, there wouldn't be a ton of downhill until the very end to cause my quads to hurt even more, so I thought I was in really great shape. As I approached mile marker 16, I knew that the tough stuff was about to start. I prepared myself mentally and reminded myself that this is what I had trained so hard for. This part.

Mile 13: 8:07 (0 ft)
Mile 14: 8:04 (-4 ft)
Mile 15: 8:11 (+23 ft)
Mile 16: 7:56 (-124 ft)

Miles 17-20: Newton
Greg McMillan had told me and his other athletes the day before that mile 17 was the mile to watch out for, and it's where most runners fall apart. He said that by that point, you've been running downhill for 16 miles, that even running on a flat surface feels like you need to expend more effort. He told us that we'd need to increase the effort level here to maintain the same pace. It should have felt relatively easy up until now, and now is when it would start feeling like a race. I told myself I would be strong during the first Newton hill at mile 17 and I wouldn't be one of those people who fell apart. I had run a smart race up until now. I felt good, and I would continue to execute my race strategy. I was still drinking water every 15 minutes, and I had taken two Salt Stick pills by the time I reached mile 20.

As I ran up the first hill, I reminded myself that this was 1 of 5 and that I would tackle them one a time, like how I tackle intervals on a track. There are actually only 4 Newton hills, but at the time I thought there were 5 for some reason. I slowed my pace slightly to get up the first hill, but I felt good and once I saw mile marker 17, I was so excited that I was still "in the game" and feeling good. It was then time for Newton hill #2. I pushed my way up it, telling myself to increase the effort level, and I made it to the top, no problem! Yes! Almost halfway done with the hills. Mile 19 was a nice treat because it was mainly downhill, and I felt pretty good going down it.

Okay, time for hill #3. This one was definitely harder than the others, but still manageable. I knew I just needed to make it through the hills and the rest of the race would be easier. I ran up the third hill slower than the first two, but still with a good deal of confidence. I could feel my quads, but the amount of pain felt sustainable. I was starting to feel tired and I was slowing down slightly, but I told myself it was just a rough patch and I would get over it.

I looked for Greg as I approached mile marker 20, but I didn't see him. I did, however, hear my friend Lynn screaming my name after I had almost passed her. I looked back and saw her and it was definitely a nice pick-me-up.

Mile 17: 8:26 (+74 ft)
Mile 18: 8:23 (+45 ft)
Mile 19: 8:16 (-32 ft)
Mile 20: 9:11 (+17 ft)

Mile 21: Heartbreak Hill
This mile gets its own section in the blog! Before making my way up the hill, I gave myself a pep
Heartbreak Hill
talk. I was feeling decent, considering it was mile 21, but things had definitely gotten hard. I told myself that I just needed to make it to the top and then the race would be mine.

This hell. This hill. THIS HILL. . . words cannot even describe the struggle. It was sheer torture trying to climb that thing. It felt like Mt. Everest even though I had run longer/steeper hills in training. I didn't look at my pace as I climbed. I focused on my form-- using my glutes, leaning in, pumping my arms. There was a man nearby who looked to be in his 70's who was also trying to get up the hill. He said to me "we'll make it to Boston one way or another!" I started to get ahead of him and I looked back and waved him toward me. "Come on!" I encouraged him. He ran with me for about 15 seconds and then fell behind me. "Come on!" I yelled back to him. It was helping me get up the hill by focusing on getting him up the hill. Ultimately, he couldn't keep up with my speedy 10:00 pace (note the sarcasm).

Major carnage everywhere. About half the field was walking. I told myself I would not walk. I would not walk up Heartbreak Hell Hill, no matter what. When a hill gets hard for me I usually look only about 15-20 feet ahead of me on the ground and I tell myself, "just get to that point on the road." And then when I reach it, I pick another point ahead of me and I tell myself, "just get that that point on the road." I do this until I am safely up the hill. You can see that's what I am doing in the photo, focusing on a single point and propelling myself up the hill. It was truly a painful experience and I am so glad I ran up the hill, and passed a few people on it. Some people passed me, so I was worse off than some people, but better off than others.

I really was hoping that it would have cooled down by this point in the race, and maybe it had dropped a few degrees. If so, I couldn't feel it.

Mile 21: 10:06 (+96 ft)

Miles 22-24: Brighton and Brookline
There was a sign at the top of Heartbreak Hill that said "Top of Heartbreak Hill" and once I saw that sign I was so relieved. But I felt so dead once I reached the top, that I had come to the realization that the rest of the race would not be as rosy as I had originally anticipated.

I ate about three of my chews, and that's all I could really stomach. Everything hurt. I was tired, my
Somewhere in Brookline, I think
quads were worthless. Every step I took send a pain through my quads and it was misery. Running hurt so much. Even though mile 22 was downhill-- I ran it at the same pace as Heartbreak Hill because I was just dead at that point. I couldn't muster any more energy.

There was also a bit of a headwind at this point. I welcomed it because it cooled me off, but it was contributing to the effort level I needed to expend to move forward. It was finally noticeably cooler, it was downhill, and yet- I couldn't take advantage of these circumstances because I had baked during the first 22 miles.

I really didn't want to walk and I knew that walking would only prolong the situation, but there were a few times during mile 23 and 24 where I had to stop for about 10 seconds at a time just to mentally reset. I came to the realization that I would not be re-qualifying for Boston again and I was totally fine with that. I had no desire to revisit this punishing course again anytime soon (although I think I will be ready in 2018) so that was the least of my worries. I felt like death so obviously NOT having an opportunity to come back next year and face this same challenge wasn't a concern!

It was the survival shuffle for these miles and I was motivated by the fact that I wanted to really give 100% of myself to this race. I didn't want to look back on my experience thinking that I could have tried harder. So I tried as hard as I possibly could to make it through those final miles. I knew that there were loads of people tracking me and waiting for me to come through that 40K, and I wanted to get there as quickly as my body would allow me to.

Even though these miles are net downhill, there were still some nasty uphills thrown in there.

Mile 22: 10:04 (-80 ft)
Mile 23: 10:49 (-48 ft)
Mile 24: 10:31 (-50 ft)

Miles 25-26.4: Boston
I really, really wanted the race to be over, and I felt guilty for feeling that way. I was supposed to be
Final turn onto Boylston St.
having the time of my life! I had been dreaming about this for so long, and here I was, wanting it to be over. I told myself to feel joy, excitement, and pride! I told myself to savor the experience. But I hurt so badly. All I could focus on was the pain. I tried smiling. I constantly reminded myself that this was the Boston Marathon and couldn't I just really enjoy it? Nope, not happening. This was a death march all the way to right turn on Hereford during the last mile.

I told myself that I really did not want to walk or stop. But there were some points where I did stop for a few seconds because the pain became unbearable. I was exhausted. My quads were on fire. Every step was torture. In order to prevent stopping and walking, I gave myself a new time goal. Sub-3:50. I told myself that if I walked or stopped, I would be in the 3:50's and I really wouldn't be happy with that. Mainly because it took me five years to break 3:50, so being in the 3:40's is like a whole different world to me. Many runners were walking and doing the same "survival shuffle" that I was. I was only passed by a few runners who seemed to be doing really well. I was passed by other people who were struggling, but not struggling as badly as I was. So, there was a wide range of struggle, but people running strongly were definitely the exception and not the rule.

When I made the right on Hereford, I used my time there to give myself a pep talk for Boylston. I told myself that I would run all the way down Boylston with everything I had in me. I would muster every ounce of energy I had to get there, and I would do it with a smile.

So down Boylston I ran. This was where the bombings happened. This was the most famed marathon finish line in the whole world. My spirits lifted. I truly felt like death but I refused to let myself stop and I refused to focus on how bad I felt. Instead, I set my sights on the finish line arch, and went for it with all the passion I could find.

I glanced down at my watch and I saw that a 3:48:xx was within my grasp and I was determined to get it.

Mile 25: 9:41 (-41 ft)
Mile 26: 10:20 (+2 ft)
Final 0.4 9:29 (-2 ft)

The Finish and Beyond
I crossed the finish line and I was so happy to be done with the race! I wish I could say that this overwhelming sense of pride and achievement came over me, but the primary emotion was just relief.
Smiling through the pain!
I was so glad that I didn't have to run one more step.

I knew that I only had to walk about 1/3 a mile to get to Greg in the family meeting area. I wanted to see him so badly. As I walked through the finish line shoot, I collected my medal and had my photo taken. The more I walked, the worse and worse I started to feel. I thought I would have felt better and better since I was recovering now, but that's not what happened. I almost made it to the family meeting area when I stopped walking and realized that I felt really, really bad. I felt weak. I felt dizzy and nauseous. And I was confused. Someone with a wheelchair approached me and I wanted them to wheel me to Greg, but they said they had to take me to the medical tent. So I had a choice, continue walking to Greg (which is what I really wanted) or take a wheelchair ride to the medical tent. I broke down crying and started hyperventilating (mini panic attack) as I realized that the medical tent was my only option.

That medical tent was a well-oiled machine! They scanned my bib, checked me in and sent me to cot #12. They started asking me questions like what my name was and if I knew where I was, and my speech was far from normal. It was hard to get the words out. I spoke slowly and with slurred speech.

They laid me down on a cot and put my feet up. They asked me about my water consumption and I said I drank more water than I usually do, but I didn't think it was too much. Apparently I had the symptoms of hyponatremia- where your electrolytes become unbalanced due to lack of salt. I guess I sweated out a lot and didn't take enough Salt Stick pills with my water. The fact that I went to the bathroom so much before the race even started was probably an indication that I had perhaps drunk too much. It's really hard to get the right balance because I definitely did not want to become dehydrated. All of my training runs were in 55-degree weather or cooler, so this wasn't something I practiced recently.

They let me use a phone to call Greg and I told him I would meet him at the hotel, which was actually closer to the medical tent than the family meeting area. One of the nice things about the Boston Marathon is that stuff is pretty close together. Hotels are near the expo and finish line so logistics are fairly easy.

The medical tent people gave me a salty broth to drink and I felt much better after having that. But suddenly I became very cold and my temperature dropped to 94.3. My hands turned blue and I started shivering. Well, this was because I was soaking wet from pouring so much water on myself, I had stopped moving, and I was in the shade now, with the Boston temperature only being 58 degrees. Finally I was able to leave the medical tent and make my way to the hotel to meet Greg.

I was so happy to finally be re-united with him! I had so much to tell him and I didn't even know where to start. I was shivering so the first order of business was to take a warm bath. After that, I really wanted to go to the McMillan post-race party, but I felt really sick still, so I decided I just wanted to stay in the hotel room for the rest of the evening. I was bummed that I didn't get to enjoy any of the finish line festivities and celebratory events after all that hard work, but my body didn't want to move. I certainly didn't want to make myself look presentable to go outside, either!

Official Stats and Final Thoughts
My official finish time was 3:48:16. My Garmin clocked 26.4 miles at a pace of 8:38, with my marathon "effort" being a 3:46:36.

I placed 13356 out of 26639 total runners. This puts me right in the middle of the field. However, the average finish time was 3:55:03, which means my time was about 7 minutes faster than average.

I placed 4564 out of 12168 women, which puts me in the top 37.5%, which I am very pleased with. As for my division (18-39), I placed 3011, but I have no idea how many people were in my division. I imagine I was on the slower end because women ages 18-34 need to have a faster BQ time than I did. Not sure why I'm in the same division with them when they have a tougher standard, but I don't really care that much!

To further illustrate how rough these conditions were, only 36% of the field re-qualified for Boston 2017. This is the second-lowest re-qualifying rate in the past decade. The only race to surpass it was 2012, when temperatures rose into the 80's.

My bib number was 19448, which should mean my BQ time was the 19448th fastest, compared to my 13356 overall finish. So that was nice to see. Apparently almost everyone had a really tough day and missed their goals by 15-20 minutes. Some people missed it by even more. In 2015, when there was a sustained 20 mph headwind + rain, the average finish time was 3:46:28-- about nine minutes faster! Plus, the field last year was not as competitive because the BQ cutoff time was smaller. So basically, the conditions this year sucked and most people struggled. That's all part of marathoning. You can't control the weather and you have to do the best you can with what you're given.

I'm extremely proud of myself for running through the end, keeping my mental state positive, and pushing through the pain. I've always struggled more than the average runner in the heat, and I've DNF'ed (did not finish) several marathons due to heat issues-- when the weather wasn't as warm as Boston. This was a major lifetime milestone for me, and the experience seemed a bit surreal at times. I just couldn't believe I was running THE Boston Marathon. After eight long years.

As I said earlier, I will be ready to return to Boston in 2018. This experience was rich enough and painful enough to last a few years! Now that I know I can safely run 65+ miles a week, seven days a week, without getting burned out or injured, the sky's the limit. I do feel like I could have run a 3:25 if it were cooler yesterday, so I will chase that goal this fall and return to Boston in 2018.

Thanks to Greg for supporting me throughout this journey, and to my friends and family for all of your encouragement! My cell phone blew up with texts, emails, Facebook comments and Tweets like it never has before yesterday. And I felt really loved.

I finally made it!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Before the Race: The Boston Experience

Typically when I write my race reports I include a section called "Before the Race." In the case of
Boston, I think "Before the Race" deserves its own blog post.

In front of the #RunBold wall at the Expo
Greg and I left our house shortly before noon on Friday. I put on my jacket for the first time to actually wear instead of just trying it on. I love this jacket! We had lunch, drove to my mom's house, and she dropped us off at National Airport. We had a slight hiccup with our flight, in that the seats we originally reserved at the front of the plane in December had been taken from us, and now we were assigned to the very back of the aircraft. My concern with this was that we'd be in a later boarding group and our carry-on items wouldn't fit. I definitely did not want my race bag out of my site. So I was able to negotiate boarding group 1 with the the person at the counter, ensuring that there was enough room for our bags.

We arrived in Boston on time and took a cab to our hotel-- the Marriott Copley Square. This hotel is at the center of all the action. It's actually connected to the expo hall, and just three blocks from the finish line. I had booked it a year in advance!

Shortly after arriving to the hotel and dropping off our bags, we made our way to the expo/packet pickup. There were no lines and I was able to get my bib and try on my shirt quickly. When the volunteer handed me my bib I got super excited! It looked so official in its plastic wrapping. I was on cloud nine! She asked me which number Boston this was for me. "One," I replied, smiling. "Ooooh, how exciting!" She said.

Love this bib number! 9448 is the number of the house I grew up in.

As we entered the expo hall, there was a huge wall of names. I had seen this done at the Nike Women's half marathon, and it was so cool to find my name! It's amazing how something so small (literally) can make you feel like such a rock star.

My name! 

I told myself in advance that I would allow myself to get as much Boston Marathon gear as my heart desired. And so I did! Thankfully it wasn't very crowded on Friday evening, so they were fully stocked and there was enough room to maneuver around easily. I already knew that I wanted to get pants, shorts, a tank, a hat, a long-sleeved shirt and the unicorn spike.

I love this unicorn! 

Shopping spree!

We didn't have time to go into the rest of the expo, so we figured we could do that on Saturday. I know you aren't supposed to spend a ton of time on your feet at race expos, but hey- it's Boston and for me this trip is mostly about the experience.

Greg and I ate dinner at Atlantic Fish, a seafood restaurant very close to the expo. The food was phenomenal. I got a shrimp and scallop risotto and the fresh warm bread was amazing. For dessert, we shared a peppermint ice cream pie. YUM!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and I fell asleep very easily. I did wake up in the middle of the night and was awake for about an hour, but then easily feel back asleep. Given the fact that the hotel bed was really soft (and I prefer firm) and that I was so activated with everything, it's amazing I slept as well as I did.

On Saturday morning, Greg ran the B.A.A. 5K. The race started and finished about a mile from our hotel and I was able to catch him at two different points. Greg ran the Rock 'n' Roll DC marathon about five weeks ago, had recovered from that, and had done a few workouts in preparation.

I really enjoyed watching this race, seeing the elites go by, and then seeing Greg. It was a perfect morning for running and I loved the vibe. Surprisingly, there weren't a ton of spectators. I was able to stand wherever I wanted and I got some pretty good shots of him.

Greg at the B.A.A. 5K
For this race, the runners self-select their corral, which means anyone can start anywhere. Greg started toward the front of the 6:00-6:59 corral, and still was forced to run the race at a pace of 8:00 for the first half mile, due to slower people starting up front. Thankfully, the crowd thinned for him and he ended up with a 21:31. Truly amazing after taking so much recovery from the marathon, and only doing 2-3 speed workouts in between.

While I was moving from my first spectating spot to my second, I fortuitously ran into my coach! He called out my name and I was pleasantly surprised to see him. I had actually never met him in person before, so it was really cool to finally see him. We only chatted briefly because he needed to get to a different spectating spot.

After the 5K, we returned to our hotel and got ready to go back to the expo. I had three things I wanted to do: meet the people at UCAN who I have been working with over the past month, buy body glide, and get some Boston Marathon non-running clothing (like a t-shirt and sweatshirt). I met up with the UCAN team, and they were super nice. I told one of the guys what my nutrition plan was for the race and he said he thought it would work really well. I used this plan during the 24-miler, and that was successful, so I am confident now in my nutrition plan. I've also started using the UCAN Hydrate product this week. I didn't train with it because I didn't need the electrolytes in my 30-50 degree training weather. But since it's supposed to be warm on Monday, I need that now.

I bought body glide that has SPF 30 in it, so I won't have to use two separate products. Also, I plan bring body glide to the start with me, so I needed another tube. I plan to be dumping lots and lots of water on myself, so I will need to body glide intensely, as if it's raining!

I also found a booth where they were selling cooling wristbands. I know that if you can keep the inside of your wrist cool, it helps keep the entire body cool. These wristbands are made of a special material that cool the body to 30 degrees lower when wet. I figured it was worth a shot. They are a little large for my wrists so if they slide around and get annoying, I can just ditch them-- they weren't expensive. I'll take whatever help I can get in staying cool on Monday.

After the expo, Greg and I had lunch at Luke's Lobster. I was craving an authentic Lobster roll, and we ended up getting that plus a shrimp roll and a crab roll!

Lobstah roll!
After lunch, we relaxed for a bit, and then met up with one of my friends in our hotel Starbucks. And then we met up with one of Greg's college friends at a nearby restaurant. Followed by meeting up with another friend for dinner! On the way to dinner, we were able to get some photos of me near the finish line. It was packed! There was so much excitement around it and I can't wait to cross it on Monday.

Boston Marathon Finish Line
After dinner, we returned the hotel and fell asleep at 8:20. We were exhausted from all that walking. I really didn't like the fact that I had walked over 13,000 steps on a day when I was supposed to be resting my legs, but that's part of Boston. Today should involve less walking because we are not returning the expo, I am not spectating Greg in a race, and we are not meeting up with as many people.

I tried not to look at the forecast too much throughout the day, but of course it was a topic of discussion with most everyone because it definitely changes your race strategy. On Saturday night, I slept pretty well. I was awake for about an hour again in the middle of the night, but I slept for a total of 8 hours, which is great.

On Sunday morning, my training plan called for a 30-minute shakeout run. I met up with my coach, the rest of the McMillan coaching staff (including Greg McMillan himself) and other McMillan runners. We ran along the Charles river and we saw Meb running in the opposite direction! How awesome to "run into" Meb! It was also cool to meet some of the other McMillan runners and hear their stories.

My coach (left) and Greg McMillan (right)

After the run, I chatted with my coach about my race plan.  I expressed some concerns about the weather and he told me that if I felt really hot, I should pour lots of water over myself at each station. I had been planning on doing that anyway. Even though the forecast is cooler than originally expected (two days ago they were calling for the low 70's), I am still not acclimated to anything above 60 degrees. I really struggle in the heat when I am not acclimated, so even if it's 65 and sunny, that could slow me down by as much as 20-30 seconds per mile. Right now the warmest it should be is 66 degrees during the Newton hills. Then it should cool off as I head toward Boston.

Ultimately, my coach and I agreed that we don't really know how the weather will affect me. The important thing is that I am really well trained right now and primed to set a PR. So, we just discussed the strategy that we'd talked about previously over email. (More on this later). As of right now, my goal pace is 7:55-8:05, which is slower than originally planned, but will still yield a significant PR and BQ. If I feel really good, I could run faster. I'm not going to rule that out.

We also talked my strategy for running the downhills and how I would approach the Newton hills. It was so great to meet my coach in person after having worked with him for nearly two years. And it was awesome meeting Greg McMillan as well.

After the shake out run, I laid out my gear for the race.

Race Gear!
After relaxing in the hotel room for a bit, Greg and I went out for lunch. I had salmon teriyaki with a side of a pancake. Odd, but it was a good mix of protein and carbs. We then went to the pre-race meeting hosted by Greg McMillan.

The meeting was really, really helpful. I had exchanged emails with my coach about my race plan, and I had attended a webinar that Greg McMillan hosted about Boston strategy, but the meeting was great a calming my nerves and preparing me. He went over everything from how you should plan out your morning, how to best run the course, and how you should be mentally prepared for the different parts of the course. The strategy that he recommends is even pace-- not even effort. He said that even pace at Boston is like negative splitting a flat course, such as Chicago. So for the first 15 miles, marathon pace should feel easy. And then once you hit the Newton hills, you increase the effort level to maintain the same pace. A lot of people slow down here, and if I slow down a little bit, I'm okay with that. But I don't want to fall off my target pace too much. He told us what to expect for the last six miles, and how to prepare mentally for it.

Greg McMillan at the pre-race meeting

So, I feel totally ready! The meeting helped put my mind at ease even further. The only real unknown about tomorrow is how the warm weather will affect me. I have multiple strategies for staying cool (like the wrist bands, cooling towels, pouring water over myself) and hopefully they work!

After the meeting, Greg and I headed over the Four Seasons where we met up with a bunch of women who I know through Runner's World Online. I actually started interacting with these women back in 2008 when I first decided I wanted to BQ. Even though we don't post on Runner's World anymore, we still keep in touch over social media and it was so amazing to see our group in person.

These ladies have seen me through thick and thin. They were there for me every time I had a bad race, and each of them have had incredible journeys getting to Boston. Being with them felt kind of like "home" -- it was so familiar even though I had only met three of them in person previously. This part of what makes Boston so special. It brings people together.

Now it's time to get one final night of sleep! I probably won't sleep well, and I'm okay with that. I feel rested, well-trained, properly nourished, well hydrated, and ready to run my first Boston Marathon!!!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Boston on the Brain: Final Thoughts

With just five days until the Boston Marathon, I've been doing some serious reflecting on what got me here.

Some History
I first decided that I wanted to qualify for Boston way back in 2008. I missed my 2008 attempt because I got sick, and then in 2009 I ran a really hot marathon (in which I totally fell apart), followed by one where I ended up with hypothermia. And then I got injured in the fall. In 2010, I had my first DNF at a hot marathon, and the downward spiral continued from there.

In 2012, I was at an all-time low with my thoughts and feelings about running. After multiple
anxiety-induced DNFs, I was at a loss for what to do. I felt like no matter how hard I trained, and no matter how fit I was, I just couldn't run well during a marathon. It seemed like everyone around me was progressing, qualifying for Boston, and PRing left and right. Meanwhile, I was going in the reverse direction and had failed to improve my marathon time over the course of four years.

Say the word "marathon" and my heart rate would increase. The week before a marathon? Forget it! I was a ball of nerves. Restless sleep, obsessing over my time, worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong. I was, of course, trying my best to relax, but my inability to relax just made things worse. The week leading up to a marathon was a downward spiral almost every time. I would get knots in my chest. I would use up all of my energy obsessing over the race beforehand, so there was none left on race day.

I started working with a sports psychologist in May 2012, and something he told me that I always held onto was: "Your time will come." Some days, my self-pity got so bad that I actually had to write that phrase on a post-it note and stick it to my computer monitor at work. Your time will come. I told that to myself over and over again. Particularly when a race didn't go well. Or when other runners posted their PRs on Facebook. I should have been happy for them, but I all felt was bitterness and frustration.

My time is now here. It won't last forever, I know that. But it's here now. I'm totally at peace with myself and my running. I've been setting PRs left and right over the past year. I get to run the Boston Marathon on Monday. Yes, it's here.

But it didn't magically appear. I had to work for it. And even though I have been training really hard, the hardest work was changing my mindset. Essentially, I had created numerous mental obstacles for myself over the years (some that go way back before I even started running) that I didn't even perceive as obstacles. I thought they were simply truths. Facts. Things that were part of me and my life. I was a perfectionist and if something didn't go perfectly, I didn't cope with it well.

Once I was able to identify all of the mental roadblocks I had created for myself, I was gradually able to remove them. It involved constantly challenging my thinking and refusing to give into negative thought patterns that were so familiar to me. I've been working with an amazing coach over the past two years, but his guidance wouldn't have gone very far if I wasn't in the right place mentally.

It's HERE!
Focusing on the present, which is SO exciting, I have some final thoughts leading into Boston. Ultimately, I view this weekend as an experience. One that starts when I arrive in Boston on Friday evening, and ends when I leave on Tuesday. The race is just part of the overall experience. For years, I have seen Facebook posts about this weekend. People taking photos near the finish line, wearing their jackets around town, getting their bib numbers. I get to do all of those things!  I can't wait to get my picture taken near the finish line. I can't wait to stroll the streets of Boston in my jacket! I can't wait to get my medal and get my post-race photo taken. I also get to meet my coach in person for the first time! Greg's running the B.A.A. 5K. I'm meeting up with people I've been communicating online with for 5+ years and have never met.

Now, about that 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston. I want to savor every moment of this, and keep my mind focused on the experience! If I can keep my head in a good place, it will help me overcome the inevitable challenge of the Newton hills, and the suckiness of the weather. Yup, I'm pretty sure the weather will suck, but I've accepted it. Of course, I would LOVE for the forecast to change between now and Monday and there's a chance a cold front could push through earlier than expected. But if not, I'll adjust my goal and be satisfied with the fact that I gave it all I had.

Forecast for Newton, MA (the hilliest part of the course)
The heat has always been a physical and mental challenge for me. So this year, it's just going to be a physical one. Mentally, I'm ready. Bring on those 67-degree temps. I might be slower than my original goal, but I will arrive to Boston with a smile on my face. The good news is that I really think I am "in shape" for a 3:20, so even a 15-minute slow down will re-qualify me. But even if I don't re-qualify, I'm game for another training season in the fall and Boston 2018 will await me. After all I've been through to get here, I am not going to ruin it for myself by being upset over something I can't control.

In terms of my final training, all has gone well. I have some lingering soreness in my left IT band, but I am foam rolling it twice each day and it's gradually improving. On Saturday, I ran 12 miles with the last 6 at marathon pace. It was in the upper 30's, and I was really pleased to see that my heart rate was in the aerobic zone (144-159) in the beginning and squarely at the bottom of my marathon pace zone for the rest of it:

Another thing I used to always worry about was how other people would perceive me. I was afraid to run a slow race time and have people think that I wasn't a good runner. All that's changed. I'm running this race for myself and for no one else. I have my Facebook status updating automatically with my split times, and even if they aren't as fast as I would like, that's fine. Shit, it's Boston. It's Boston!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Two Weeks Until Boston!

In case I haven't said it enough, I am so elated to be running the Boston Marathon. It's been a dream of mine for 8 years and it's finally coming true. I've worked hard for so long and struggled so much to get here. And finally it's all paid off!

Here's a snapshot of my training cycle.

Boston Marathon Training Cycle

This is far more intense than anything I've done in the past, and anything I ever thought I was capable of. I ran 278 miles in March, with only one day of rest. Nearly all of my training runs have felt energized, and I haven't felt any hints of injury.
Mile 22 of a 22-miler

Coming off of my high from the Shamrock Half Marathon two weeks ago, I knew I still had some intense training ahead of me. I recovered very quickly from the race and ran 61.4 miles the following week.

Super Long Runs
The following Saturday (3 weeks out from the race) I ran 22 miles on the W&OD trail. Greg dropped me off in Ashburn and I ran 22 miles all the way to Arlington, where my mother was waiting for me. She even snapped a photo of me from her iPad! This was great preparation for Boston for several reasons.

First, I started shortly after 10:30am, to simulate the Boston start time. This was my third training run that I started late to practice the timing of the nutrition. Second, it was a fast-finish long run with the last three miles "hard." My last three miles averaged a 7:22 pace, and it was nice to be able to do that at the end of a long run, particularly one that was sunny and starting to get warm. Third, a good portion of the run was uphill, from miles 13 through 19. I thoroughly enjoyed this long run. I had always wanted to run a very long distance point-to-point on this trail and I finally did it.

Shortly after running the 22-miler, I received my training plan from my coach for the remaining weeks. Much to my surprise, he prescribed a 24-miler the following weekend! I had never run 24 miles in training before, and I had never run longer than 18 miles two weeks out from a marathon. But given how good I felt on the 22-miler, I thought that I could manage 24 without needing too much recovery.

So yesterday, Greg once again drove me out to the W&OD trail in Ashburn. But this time, instead of running all the way on the trail into Arlington, I ran to my house. This meant I only ran 11 miles on the trail, and then I spent 13 miles on other roads to get back home.

The run went well. There was no "fast-finish" so I focused on keeping my heart rate in the aerobic zone the entire time. Miles 5-11 were a steady uphill climb, but once I got off the trail, the hills were more rolling. It was mentally helpful to have different segments: the trail, the Reston Parkway, the Fairfax County Parkway, and then the neighborhood roads near my house.

I ended up running the 24 miles in 3:30:46, which is an average pace of 8:47. And I managed to keep my heart rate in the aerobic zone for the first 21 miles. This was great practice for Boston because I will be out on the course for about the same amount of time (hopefully a bit less) so now I know I can be on my feet that long and stay strong and energized. I had a rough patch at around miles 17-18, but I got over that and felt really strong all the way through mile 24.

Today, my legs feel pretty good! I did a short recovery run, giving me 67.7 miles for the week. I've been taking ice baths after all of my long runs, and I think they've really helped. Also, because my weekly mileage is so high, these long runs aren't as much of a strain on me as they used to be. They make up a lower percentage of my overall weekly mileage, so they are more manageable. Finally, I think that running with Generation UCAN has helped keep my energy levels even during these runs and my stomach feeling happy, so I think a good deal of my success has to do with this new fueling system.

Speed Workouts
I've also kept up with my speed work since Shamrock. I did a super-fun "wave tempo" on Tuesday of this week. A wave tempo is based on the premise that running slightly faster than your tempo pace and slightly slower than your tempo pace actually does a better job of increasing your lactate threshold. The workout was 3 times (1 mile at 10K pace, 1 mile at marathon pace). My splits were as follows:


The great thing about this workout was that I felt like I could have kept going. And it tricked my brain into thinking that marathon pace was easy. 7:37 definitely felt easy in comparison to running 6:50. This was a huge confidence booster and I truly believe that when I run Boston, the first 16 miles of downhill at MP will feel relaxed without much of a strain.

I also cranked out some speedy 800's at the track on Thursday of this week in the wind, which once again increased my confidence in my ability to run strong through wind.

I'm Ready!
During the next two weeks, I'll back off the mileage slightly, but my workouts will still be intense. My focus will be:

  • Eating healthy
  • Continuing to follow the training plan
  • Washing hands a lot to reduce the risk of getting sick
  • Keeping my stress level low so that I can sleep well
  • Going over my race plan in my head
  • Finalizing my "agenda" for my time in Boston
And I LOVE my bib number. A lot of people don't care about numbers, but I like it when I get a number that is in some way meaningful. Well, the house I grew up had the address of 9448. And ever since then, I've used the number 9448 for various things. Well, lo and behold, my bib number:

I can't wait. It's crazy to think that I plan to run this race about 10 minutes faster than my qualifying time, so I need to be prepared to do some weaving and passing without expending too much energy on it.

I may blog again before Boston, but if not, you'll hear from me after the race!