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!!!!


  1. You've got this, Elizabeth! Have a great run tomorrow! Strong legs, fast feet!! - George

  2. That wall of names reminded me of our tshirts for our v first marathon!! Rock it tomorrow, you have sooo earned this.

  3. Good luck Elizabeth- you've got this. I've loved looking at your pics on Facebook and now on this blog. Looks like you're having a wonderful time in general. Don't worry too much about the heat, the strategies, etc. Of course I say that and I don't run marathons or Boston, but honestly... you've been running for years and you've prepared well. After a while, running comes naturally- so let it come to you and enjoy it. Plus there's spectators all over the course, the whole city getting into it- that's an amazing experience in itself.

    Best wishes and I hope you meet all your goals!

  4. It's actually not-- it's a different brand that doesn't use velcro!