Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009

Leading up to Boston, my training was going great. Everything seemed to fall into place, despite the constant nagging ankle injury. Wearing the cumbersome brace an aggravating necessity. Out of a planned 5- 20milers, only one was cut short, in part due to my ankle. The rest were beautiful with a couple going sub 3 hours. The training also mixed in plenty of speed and tempo runs, hill work and strength training. I had no doubt in my ability to run a sub 3:40 marathon. Worse case scenario I would run a 3:45 and still requalify. Since running my qualifying race, I have incurred this ankle injury and hoped it wouldn't slow me down on race day.

We flew in on Saturday, explored the area that evening and had dinner out. Sunday we picked up my bib number and shopped at the expo. I was almost hyperventilating as I got my race packet and was so thrilled to be a part of something this big. We had a lot of fun looking at all the vendors and their wares for sale. Because it was also my 38th birthday, I felt I could over indulge a bit on marathon gear. My daughter even got a future Boston marathon qualifier shirt.

After a couple hours of walking around, the kids started to get tired and I was worried about spending too much time on my feet. We headed to a nearby chapel that offered a mass for the marathoners. I was glad we found this as I needed some spiritual reassurance. Thomas fell asleep and I prayed for God to be with me tomorrow, no matter the outcome.

Before laying down, I set 2 alarms and scheduled a wake up call for 5am race morning. I didn't get much sleep the first night and anticipated less tonight. I was so nervous. More nervous then I can recall for a race ever. I am not sure where the butterflies were coming from. Maybe because I knew so many people would be tracking my splits, or because it was Boston with all it's history or the sheer number of people in the race.

I slept okay and woke up before any of the alarms had a chance to do their job. Before 6am I was in the lobby with other runners waiting for the hotel shuttle to take us to Tremont. Our shuttle was full with people and excitement. The Best Western Running Team was off. By 6:30am I was standing in line for the school bus ride from Tremont St in Boston to Hopkinton.

The bus ride took about 45 min to an hour. I met some nice people and tried hard to relax. I actually was having trouble keeping my breathing and heart rate normal. I was so anxious, it was all I could do to remain seated.

Once at the high school fields a.k.a. athlete's village, I set up my temporary home of plastic bags and a towel near one of the tents. Under the tent was already spoken for, but it wasn't raining (thank God) as initially feared, so I was okay.

I sat down, forced myself to eat a cereal bar, read a trash mag and tried to relax. I closed my eyes, but with the music blaring and the announcer announcing, I decided to just soak it all up. It was fun and interesting to hear about birthdays and weddings as well as about a runner running his 190th marathon. Crazy.

With an hour to go before 2nd wave was to head to the start, I stood in line for the potty, yet again. I delayed this as long as I could and would have used a tree, were there one available. During my 45 min wait in line, I met some really cool ladies. Each inspiring. After sharing toilet paper and good luck wishes, we parted ways to the start.

The starting line is another .70 mile walk from the athlete's village. After handing my bag off to volunteers (who were awesome), I began the final leg of my journey to the start of the Boston Marathon. One final stop at the last possible potties about 10 min before the the start. I probably shouldn't have gone, but again I waited. I shed all my throw away clothes knowing I would have to move quickly to the start after I was done here. I exited with a mere 3 min to get to the 3rd corral. I didn't realize that an uphill hike and dodging people would be the only way there. I made it to the back end of my corral and hopped in at an opening between the metal barricades.

My body was overflowing with tension and strong emotions. To say I felt overwhelmed is an understatement. Then we started to move. Jog, walk, stop, walk, jog. I think I heard a boom, but I can't be sure. I later found out that Bill Rodgers led our wave. Very cool.

The race went downhill right at the start. My concern about going out too fast was not an issue. The start reminded me of triathlon starts. We were all elbowing and running into each other fighting for a spot. I didn't want to expend energy weaving around runners, so I just went with the pace dictated by those ahead.

I had been told that the first 16 miles is down. And this is what I was mentally prepared for. Well, imagine my surprise when a hill popped up within the first mile. And then more and more up hills as we went along. It turns out that although there is a net drop in elevation, the net drop occurs over rolling terrain.

As I hit the 5k mark at 26:39 I was concerned that I still didn't feel good. It's not unusual for me to take 3 to 5 miles to get into my groove on long runs, but races were often different. My pace was slower then I had hoped, but still within requalifying. At 10k (53:19) I had maintained an even pace, but still didn't feel "good". I tossed the split sheet I had laminated and tugged in my sleeve. I knew then that a sub 3:40 was not in the cards for me today.

15k at 1:20.06. My three 5k splits thus far were: 26:39, 26:40, 26:47. 20k at 1:47.08 with a 27:02 5k split. I still wasn't feeling comfortable, but I wasn't feel horrible either. Some minor stomach cramps I had earlier seemed to have eased and I thought a 3:45 was possible.

I crossed the half way point at 1:53.03. This was actually a fun spot. The cameras were set up and everyone was posing for the photogs as they ran by. I could hear all the clicking as I passed and tried to smile.

It was at this point that my quads started to ache. No biggie. I can deal with pain. Then, somewhere around mile 15, I think it was, I knew something bad had happened. My right IT band and especially at the insertion point on the outside of my right knee, gave a sharp shooting pain accompanied with a feeling of weakness, like it was about to give out on me. My ankle quickly followed suit with pain and weakness. I had a moment of panic. The ITB was a completely new sensation for me, especially doubled with the ankle. Each step down on that right leg caused pain and a feeling of weakness. The pain grew and worsened as the marathon continued.

At the 25k mark in 2:15.22. A 28:30 last 5k. The slowing was starting. 30k in 2:46.53 with a 31:31 5k split. Now I knew I was in undesirable territory. I was really hurting and wondered if even finishing this thing was now possible. Walk breaks began, I think, about now. I decided that I would finish no matter how slow. I wanted to cross that line and wear the medal.

I cannot recall exactly when, but it was certainly once I was dealing with the pain of the ITB, that I came upon the Hoyts. This was their 1000th competitive event together. The Hoyt Team consists of dad who pushes his (now adult) son through races. If you think the marathon is impressive, he has also taken his son through the Ironman. I crossed over to the side of the road they were on, and briefly gave a word of encouragement and a wave to his son. For that moment I didn't feel my own pain, only the joy of running and the realization of how lucky I am to be running at all. Facing the difficulties of the physical challenges of this last year are nothing compared ot the lifetime of challenges these two face head on.

35k in 3:21.27 with a 34:34 5k split. 40k in 3:58.44 with a 37:17 5k split. I walked a lot in the final 10k. I wondered with each right foot strike if I would end up stumbling to the ground. Everything from my ankle up was very weak. The wind was fierce, especially towards the end. The temps had dropped and I was getting cold. I climbed the final hill and rounded the last turn to see the banner up ahead. I knew I would make it. I did not want to walk in. I jogged through the finish in 4:16.23. Overall average pace was 9:47.
(My DC National Marathon last year was a 3:41. 35 min faster).

Once you cross the line, the marathon is done but you are no home free yet! I felt nauseous and woozy. I toyed with the idea of wrapping up in a warm blanket at the medical tent I was passing. But, I needed that medal around my neck. I hoisted my leg up on a cop cart and, as my leg involuntarily shook, weaved my shoelaces to free the timing chip from my mizunos. I traded it for my medal which I immediately placed around my neck.

I was asked by a volunteer if I was okay. I had problems forming words properly. Like when you come in from a really cold run and your face is frozen. I asked where we could pick up our bags, and although I am sure it was less then a quarter mile away, it seemed too far to go. I wrapped my foil blanket tight to shield the wind and headed to the bag buses realizing I had forgotten to include clothes to change into afterwards.

All I wanted was to find Porter. He would take care of me. I could feel the emotion, or was it nausea, swelling up. I was worried because we had decided that if we didn't find each other by 3:30pm we would meet back at the hotel. I had no energy to get back on my own. Luckily Porter had been keeping up with my performance via his blackberry with the athlete tracking and knew that something had gone wrong.

I found Porter near the letter "C" in the family meet up area after a brief but tense scan of the crowd. I called his name 3x before he looked my way and we embraced. I finally felt a sense of release and cried. He gave me his coat when I told him I had neglected to think about packing something warm. The kids looked at me with concern. Poor Thomas didn't know what to make of his mommy. He kept telling me that he loved me and kissed my leg.

Cabs were hard to come by, as many runners had the same idea. We walked what seemed like forever, to get away from the most runner congested area to finally flag down our chariot back to the Best Western Roundhouse.

Once in our room, Porter helped me into a tub of cold water. I was able to sit in it for only a few minutes, but knew it would be good for my legs. After a hot shower there was more icing and hydrating. I also developed some monster blisters.

Finally I was ready to wear my medal and walk (a.k.a. hobble) across the street for dinner. It was nice to be around other runners, wearing their medals, jackets and race shirts and celebrate our achievement.

That night, as I replayed the race in my head, I was dissatisfied with how it had gone for me. I knew, and still know, that I have the ability to run a sub 3:40 (or faster). I also get angry because I wonder how much of my ankle injury caused my unsatisfactory performance. Now, a couple days post marathon, I am starting to take a different perspective, thanks in large part to the wonderful support and encouragement I got from friends and family.

My dad ran Boston in 1982 (the "duel in the sun" marathon). He told me he ran 20-30 min slower then his qualifying time and that some marathons are just about finishing. It was important to me to have this Boston link with my dad. Addie, my 11 year old, says she would like to continue the tradition and run the race herself one day.

The last 4 years have thrown some crazy stuff my way. From a condition that causes my lungs to collapse (and thus reduced my lung capacity) to ruptured and herniated disks in my neck. Most devastating was severely injuring my ankle and wondering if I could ever run again at all. This was truly a scary time in my life both professionally as running coach and as an athlete driven to compete. Running is a huge part of my life and how I define myself. I am so blessed and so lucky that I can run.

Random Boston Stuff:
My actual distance covered was 26.53 miles which ends up being a 9:40 average pace.
Some of the items I was offered during the race: lots of high fives from kids who kept count, tissues, water, Gatorade, variety of candy, oranges, Popsicles, beer, mimosa, kisses, wet wipes, wet sponges.
One frat boy told me he loved me and high fived me so hard my hand was stinging.
Saw one male marathoner stop to kiss a wellsley girl.
Saw one lady runner take a guy up on a beer offer.
The runners were able to keep up with the Red Sox game by fans holding up signs with the score.
Here I am right on top of heartbreak hill, at mile 21ish. I am 1:56 into the video:
(I am a bit delirious).
The amount of spectators is massive. We pretty much had wall to wall fans cheering and screaming the entire way. It bothered me some the last few miles.

Early 2009 races

Feb. 14, 2009: Valentines Day 5k: 23:07. Was running a nice pace but fell apart the last mile. I attribute this to being fully engaged in marathon training. Had a long run before the race. BUT, Addie also ran the 5k and did great! She ran a 32:48. I am so proud of her.

March 15, 2009: St. Patrick's Day 5k: Brought my running group home for their first 5k finish! They were awesome despite cold and rainy conditions.

March 21, 2009: National Half Marathon: This is where I ran the marathon last year and BQ'ed. Ran a 1:44.35 and was satisfied. Training run for Boston and to see where I am right now. My estimated marathon finish time, based on this race, put me at 3:38. Right where I'd like to finish in Boston. But the question remains on how my ankle will respond when doubling this race distance.