Monday, April 21, 2014

Boston Marathon 2014

Wowza, I feel like it’s time to attempt at keeping semi-regular race blog posts after my 1.5 year absence here! Things have been crazy busy with PT school, a temporary move to California, a drive across the country in December, an incredibly hard winter than slammed all attempted at distance running for about 2 months, and starting up a new schedule and routine as I finish up my PhD back here in Delaware. Anyways, it is also difficult to initiate race write-ups again after you have not been doing them for so long, but I felt like I had to write one up about my race at Boston this year.

PRE Race
It seems that every time a non-runner learns that you have run a marathon at some point in your lifetime, the follow-up question is “Have you run the Boston marathon??” There is a reason for this. Boston is the oldest (I think?) and arguably the most prestigious of all road marathons in the country. I ran Boston four years ago back in 2010, loved the experience, and at the time, set a new PR of 3:21. This year I wanted to go back for a few reasons…1) I have finally been released from the vice grip of PT school and could take the Monday off, 2) my mom really enjoyed the trip a few years back and was really hoping I would go, and 3) In light of the bombings last year, I wanted to be part of the come-back this year and had a feeling that this year’s Boston would be an experience that I would never forget. So, despite my usual tendency to avoid crowds, especially ones of over a million people, and, oh yea, having just 8 days to recover and get myself together after the Bull Run 50 Miler, I was on my way to Boston 2014!
Packet-pick up. Amazing history has been made on the line I am standing!

We arrived in Boston on Sunday and I could already tell from a comparison of a few years back that this year the energy was higher than ever. I had traveled up with my mom, Auntie Ann, Jeff and Jason Lantz. We did the usual pre-race stuff on Sunday, and probably walked a total of 8-9 miles for the day just getting around to lunch with Henry Peck and some friends and packet pick-up. The city was bustling with the energy of the 36,000 runners and their company all day.
My alarm went off at 5:30 to wake me from the coma of a sleep I was in. I downed some coffee threw on my singlet and newly-crafted bib skirt I made in the car on the way down, and I was off to the buses. The bus ride down was fun as always. I met some new people, trying to be discrete about the fact that I was an ultrarunner until it inevitably comes out somewhere (and even though I was in a bus full of Wave 1 runners, I still think it’s funny that most of them cannot fathom running for longer than 26.2’s easy, just slow down…? Hah!)
The whole bus ride and herding of the Wave 1 runners for the 10Am start went surprisingly smoothly, considering there were 36,000 runners this year, the second largest in the history of the race. I could also tell the competition this year had mounted, considering that four years ago I had a qualifying time of 3:28 and was up in Wave 1, Coral 5 and this year I had qualified with a 3:11 and had barely scraped getting into Wave 1, and was starting back in the Coral 9, the last coral of the wave. I was actually glad to be starting back there though, because there was probably less chance of me getting trampled at the start. 

Boston packing. Everyone is all in for Boston this year, including Sir!

It didn’t seem like I had waited for too long in the Coral before I saw my Garmin had turned 10:00AM. “Welp, it’s 10am!” I was crunched into a small gated square of road with thousands of other runners and no one had moved. I was trying to get as close to the edge of the gate as possible but already the closeness was overwhelming and I already felt like I couldn’t breathe. The runners around me and I had to laugh  little bit because we hadn’t even heard the gun shot or cannon or whatever they use to signal the start of this massive race. A few minutes later we were finally slowly walking forward towards something in the distance I couldn’t see through all the people. Then the walk turned to a slow jog and a couple minutes later, I crossed a timing chip mat where the start of the race was. We were off.

Prerace morning photo, courtesy of Auntie Ann.

The first 8 miles is almost entirely downhill, so those first several miles came really easy, almost too easy. My goal for the day was to take in the experience and, after last weekend, survival. I had never raced a marathon so close to the completion of a 50 miler and was not sure how my body would handle it. Obviously I wasn’t going for any PRs, so I really just wanted to have fun. I had done a few shorter test runs that week after BRR and my legs felt a little sore at first, and then just pretty flat all week leading up, so you could see why I was having some increased nerves for just getting through this race.
Still, I clocked a seemingly effortless 7:06 for the first mile of the race and just remember thinking, Uh-oh, better slow down. It was difficult with all the excitement of the race though, and I ran into my downhill 5K split in under 22 minutes, still cruising along smoothly and easily. I was running with a couple other girls, the three of us qualifying with a 3:10, 3:11 and 3:12, and we ran together for a little bit. One of them was from the Naval Academy marathon team so we had some friends in common. The crowds along the side of the road this year were screaming louder than I remembered before, and I found I really had to restrain myself from picking up speed in all the excitement.
My new wardrobe apparel was a big hit right away. I was running along with side of the crowd on the left side and every 3-5 seconds someone would yell something like…
                “Nice skirt!”
                “Awesome skirt!”
                “Go Delaware bib skirt girl!”
                And my person favorite “This girl’s got EXPERIENCE!”
Getting personalized cheers and comments along the way was definitely a boost and made running in a crowd of 36,000 people that much more enjoyable. 
My (probably illegal) screen shot of a MarathonFoto photo from the first half.

After the first 8 miles I could feel things start to level out and the gravity assisted cruising gradually let off, which is where I started to feel my legs for the first time. As we approached the famous all-girls Wesley college on the right, I made sure that I stayed on the left side of the road this year, to avoid being cut off by all the old men trying to get some free smooches from the under-dressed 20 year-old girls holding up signs, usually indicating for them to do so. Ek. But anyways, I also found staying on the left side was nice because it was easier to pass people (although most of that wouldn’t come till after the half marathon mark) and, because all the water stations first started on the right, then on the left, I avoided having too many people cut me off to get the first sight of water that they saw.  Somewhere in those first few miles I passed Dean Karnazez, who had apparently run the course backwards at 5am this morning and was headed back in for the 52.4 miler for the day. (I said hello, and though tempted, refrained from making any pizza order comments, which I am sure he heard 500+ times throughout the day).

I ran through the halfway point in just under 1:36. If it had not before, at that point I really felt Bull Run catching up with me. My legs had gone from feeling slightly flat in the first half of the race to that all too familiar deep burning overall dead kind of feeling that you get from running really long distances back-to-back. I felt my pace slow a bit here to about 7:30-7:40s, but didn’t fight it too much because that wasn’t the point of the day. It did hurt, but I was just so excited and happy about being a part of Boston and also, admittedly, almost excited about that back-to-back long run leg burning pain that (with the hellacious winter this year) I had not experienced in far too long. So, with hurting legs, there was never a minute that I did not want to be at the place where I was. But now most of the fun down-hill running was over and the real “climbing” had not begun. 

 There were definitely some emotional points over those few miles. I passed several amputee blade runners at this point, who all seemed to have their heads down, digging far deeper than I was and giving it everything they had to make it to the finish line. A couple of the runners around me told me at least one of those athletes was a victim in the bombings at the finish line last year, which was pretty moving and brought tears to my eyes. It takes a strong individual to turn around from that kind of life-altering tradgedy and come back to the exact place where it happened to run a marathon, especially when you are familiar with the amount of rehab it would take form someone to do something like that just one year later. 

Mile 16 and the crowds, usually 5-8 people deep on either side, were screaming louder than ever, and it definitely helped to keep my effort level honest. My breathing was controlled and consistent, despite the whole leg hurting thing. Over the next few miles we hit some small hills, which actually didn’t feel too bad to me, but apparently they did to other people. For the first time in the race, I started passing people, blazing by some at an almost alarming rate. I even saw and passed some women with elite bibs.  I checked my watch. I wasn’t speeding up. They were just slowing down on the hills. A lot. I certainly won’t argue the point that the hills did not feel good, but they were nowhere close to the hills I regularly run in training and I wouldn’t even say they were worse than the hills in Delaware (don’t underestimate the hills in Wilmington!), but the hills really aren’t that bad. There were probably three small hills with a fourth “big” and famous Heartbreak Hill at the end, around mile 20. When I hit Heartbreak hill, the crowds were unreal, cheering, screaming waving signs from behind an invisible line the patrolling officers had drawn on the pavement. I dug deeper here, and the hill was over before I even thought it would be. I pushed over the crest and then enjoyed the gradual downhill on the other side of it, knowing that most of the hard work was over and I could enjoy the finishing 10K stretch.

Those next 10K were probably the most fun of the race. Although I did not think it possible, the crowds thickened as the miles progressed and the screaming and cheering was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself breathing anymore. A couple miles later we passing through Boston College, and the crowd quickly changed to packs of screaming 20-some year olds, excitedly reaching out as far as they could for high-fives, offering beer and yelling some umm personalized(?) cheers (hahah). The crowds all over were enthusiastic, but this was off the charts and their energy seemed to translate to me as I threw out my own arms giving high-fives, screaming with them, feeling myself run faster. I even humored them and grabbed a solo cup of cheap beer and choked it down, which only make them scream louder. It was fun. Somewhere in there I heard some guy yell “YEA JACKIE PALMER!!!” from somewhere just behind me. I whipped my head around and saw the guy in the crowd who seemed to have screamed my name, perplexed that his face was completely unfamiliar. Well that was kind of strange…Boston college was great fun.
After we passed through the college-aged excitement, I was completely exhausted. Running through BC was arguably more tiring than running the marathon in itself, even though it is downhill! Two guys who were running beside me and were also having fun through BC also seemed to think so and we couldn’t help but to all laugh at ourselves as we gradually slowed from the 6:30 pace we had been running through there, back to about 7:30. 

Picture through the trees that Auntie Ann snagged from the closest 
she could get to me with a mile to go
 Although I was having fun, I was pretty happy to see that 1 mile to go sign, and even more excited to see the 1km to go banner hung over a bridge as we raced down Boylston Street there towards the famous race finish. At this point the midday sun was beating down on me, the screaming crowds growing louder still and my whole body felt numb from the deafening vibrations of 3+ hours of sensory overload. As the crowds grew deeper, and now the invisible lines that the police had strewn miles ago turned to metal caged baracades with patrolling officers every 20 ft on either side of the street facing the crowd. As I ran down the finishing stretch of Boyston Street with the finish line in sight, I looked for my mom, aunt and Jeff on the right side of the street and felt a huge smile break on my face when I finally saw them and heard their cheers through the dense crowd. 

Just meters from the finish line, excited to see my biggest fans, photo courtesy of Jeff Merritt :-)

I happily crossed the finish line in 3:14, incredibly satisfied with the hard effort on tired legs. But I was even more ecstatic seconds later when I heard the announcers exclaim that American man, Meb Keflezighi, had won the race. First American man to win Boston in over 30 years, and what a year to do it! I took in the satisfaction of the tired progressively stiffening legs, the hugs and support from my family and Jeff and the entire Boston experience. Jason had finished earlier in 2:38, with a huge 7 minute PR, which was also really awesome! (We had to turn around and head back to Lancaster afterwards but we made sure to celebrate with Jager shots later. Ekk :-P) Boston 2014 was an overwhelming but incredible experience. I am not sure if it will be next year, but someday Boston, I will be back!   
Don't know how, but I found my family again after getting through the finishing shoot.

Boston Road trip tradition with Mom and Auntie Ann.

Next up...I ran Hyner 50k for the first time, just 5 days after Boston and had a pretty good race, or at least I won the women's race in a time of 5:56 on tough course. Now THOSE would be what I call hills! My next big races will be the Cayuga 50 mile on June 1st, where I will return and hopefully be in better shape than I was last year when I ran this one. Then on June 21st I will attempt the Mason Dixon Longest Day challenge, a 100K (ish) low-key TrailDawg event that I have been wanting to go for for the past 4 years! We will see how it goes..things are starting to heat up!