Where to even start with this one? There’s so much to say about Boston Marathon this year and only so many words I can reasonably ask y’all to read. Not that that’s ever stopped me before!
Before the Boston Marathon last year, I had planned to be a one-and-done Boston runner. It’s such an amazing event and I don’t want to continuously take spot, preventing someone else from having the same experience. Then, the weather came and, while I had an amazing time, I felt like I didn’t quite get the real Boston experience. By then, I already had a BQ in my back pocket for this year and I felt like I just had to come back for a second time.
Oh, and there’s just one other important thing about this year’s Boston Marathon that really sealed the deal for wanting to come back…
It fell on my birthday!
My 36th birthday, to be exact. It’s a rather pointless age, but running the greatest race on the planet is a pretty rad way to spend the day!
Fast forward to this year and running and I are in a huge fight. It’s been going on for ten months now and I still haven’t figured it out so, needless to say, training wasn’t good going into the race. To be honest, I’ve barely run since Tokyo, six weeks ago. That said, I was a bit less nervous about it than I was going into that race. Knowing the course and not being in a foreign country helps with that. Not to mention that my nerves for Tokyo itself were combined with knowing Boston was just six weeks later.
For me, and I think a lot of people, the big story going into the race this year was the weather. After last year’s freezing monsoon (and a couple years of brutal heat before that), we were all hoping for a nice, mild day. Typically, I don’t weather stalk for races—it’s pointless and just adds extra stress. Usually, I wait until I have to pack for a race to even look. But this time, as soon as the race got within the 15-day forecast, I was all over it.
Much to my disappointment, the forecast was pretty steadily calling for rain. Over the course the week before the race, the high for the day hovered mostly in the 50s, but did dip down to as low as 48º with some hefty wind. Not what anyone wanted to see. I would be lying if I said this didn’t damper most of my excitement before the race. I know there’s nothing you can do about the weather, but racing in the rain isn’t exactly fun. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good rain run when it’s warm out and I’m starting and ending right at my house, but when it’s 30s, 40s, or low 50s and you have to wait around before the race starts, it’s not so fun. As race day got closer, the weather seemed to solidify around rain and temps in the mid-60s, with a tailwind. Certainly better than last year, but still not what I had hoped for.
The night before, things started to change and the weather actually started looking like many runners would end up avoiding rain altogether, but that it’d be hot and humid instead. Heck, sunglasses were even a thing to think about!
Similar to last year, we drove up to Boston on Friday and hit up the expo as soon as we got there. Late afternoon on Friday seems like a great time to go to the expo, you can get in and out pretty quickly and avoid a lot of the crowds. I was able to grab my bib and do a lap around the expo without too much time spent.
Saturday was spent with various meetups and lots and lots of walking. I think I clocked around 18 miles on my feet when all was said and done. A run, a couple times walking back and forth from Cambridge to Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, where most of the action is for the weekend, and all the other walking around really added up.
The day started off nice and slow with a late wake up, but then it was off to the Team Nuun meetup and 3.1-mile shakeout run. It’s always a great time getting to meet other teammates and run some miles together. After that, I decided to head back into the thick of the expo again and buy this year’s official race jacket. I had been on the fence, but who knows if I’ll ever run Boston again. PLUS birthday!
Later that evening, we got to go to the UCAN: Women Behind the Mic live podcast with running podcasters Lindsey Hein, Ali Feller, Tina Muir, and Carrie Tollefson—two of those shows I’ve had the privilege of being a guest on. Not only was the show great and a lot of fun, but a ton of running friends were there as well. Great times!
We followed up the show with dinner and beers at Trillium Brewery, which was delicious, as expected!
Sunday was a little more easy going with less time spent on my feet. I started things off with a the BOSTONRabbit x Women’s Running meetup and shakeout run. After that, it was mostly relaxing and taking things easy until dinner at Toscano for a huge bowl of pasta.
After getting back to the hotel, it was time to get my stuff together and get an early night’s sleep. My wake up for race morning was 6:30am so I was on track to get plenty of sleep.
I woke up a little before I had to be out of bed so I was able to relax without rushing to get ready and out the door. I had Danielle write “it’s my birthday” on my back and on each arm and then got dressed and ate my overnight oats.
By 7:30, it was time to roll on out. Unfortunately, I had to checkout of the hotel before heading out so I ran everything down to the car and then checked my keys with the front desk before making my way to the T.
The weather was humid and rainy. I had a poncho and throwaway shoes on so I could stay dry, but it was miserable weather. The early runners actually had to be sheltered in place on the buses to the start because of wind and lightning. The forecast was looking like it would clear up, but things were still pretty crappy for the moment. Except for the fact that it was like 30º warmer, it felt a lot like last year.
When I got to the T stop, there was a train there waiting so I was able to get on and chat with some other runners for a while. Unfortunately, though, my stomach wasn’t really wanting me to put anything in it. I only ate like 3⁄4 of my oatmeal and I was hoping to take the time on the train to eat my first Clif Bar. I ended up deciding to hold off for a while because just the thought of eating anything was pretty unappealing. While this isn’t at all like me, this is something I also experienced before Tokyo. I’m hoping it’s not a new trend.
After getting off the T, checking my bag was quick and easy and, before I knew it, I was on a bus to the start. While it was raining still, it was pretty light by now. Though, it was pretty solidly warm and humid, so not a complete win. If it’s going to rain, warmer is good, but if the rain is going to stop, colder is better. At least for me.
Once on the bus, I was able to eat a Clif Bar, but it wasn’t enjoyable. Most of the ride, I just scrolled my phone and tried not to think too much about my lack of training. During the ride, the rain let up and the sun even started to look like it might want to come out. By the time we got off the bus in Hopkinton, there were some small patches of blue sky to be found amongst all the clouds. Things were looking up!
When I got to Athlete’s Village, I couldn’t decide what to do with myself. It wasn’t raining anymore so there was no need to take shelter under the tents, which were pretty muddy anyway. I walked around a little bit before getting in line for a porta-potty and taking my second (small) poop of the morning. That’s usually a good sign I won’t feel like I’m going to shit myself by the end of the race.
While I was in the porta-potty, I heard them announce that wave 3 was now welcome to start the walk over to the corrals so I was able to head right there after finishing up my business.
It’s a decent walk, but it doesn’t feel nearly as long as the Disney World Marathon walk to the start. I took a moment on the walk to change out of my throwaway shoes and into my race shoes. I also shed my poncho which marked the beginning of the endless birthday wishes. I quickly realized I might end up regretting the display of my birthday on my person.
I was in corral 3 and by the time I got up there, there were really only a few minutes left to go before we were sent on our way. Overall, I really didn’t have much time to kill between getting off the bus and the start of the race. This is how it should be.
As the gun went off for wave 3, I was amped and ready. I knew I’d have a tough day ahead, but BOSTON MARATHON!!!! It took us a few minutes to get across the start, but once we did, the herd of runners quickly started to spread out.
With the long downhill first half of the race, I wanted to make sure I was staying smart early in the race. I kept my pace very easy and ran my own race. I didn’t get caught up with the other runners and I didn’t mind letting them all pass me. I also made sure that the hills weren’t running me and I was the one in control. Though my pace was relaxed and easy, I was still running a little too fast for my race plan. I decided not to sweat it too much, but to still keep an eye on it so the race didn’t get away from me.
The first couple of miles were around an 8:30 and full of excitement and spectators. The birthday wishes were also coming hard from many of the runners passing me and I high-fived every spectator hand held out on the course. I was prepared to have literally all the fun and really soak it up. Well, not literally, of course, because THERE WAS NO RAIN!
It was warm and humid, around 90%, but no rain meant a real Boston Marathon experience and that’s what I was there for.
Before the race started, I had switched my Garmin into manual lap mode like I tend to do for marathons. Unfortunately, when I went to lap for the first mile, I realized that I didn’t know how to manually lap my new Garmin, a Forerunner 35. Apparently, you have to set up a lap button in the settings. I had no idea! With my old 220, there was a dedicated button for lapping. I spent a few seconds fiddling with it before saying “screw it” and deciding to not worry about it for the rest of the race. I wasn’t racing it so it didn’t matter that much if I didn’t have exact splits.
The first half
I spent most of the first half of the race running with the biggest of smiles on my face. I literally could not have been having a better time. I was getting birthday wishes left and right and high-fiving like there was no tomorrow. I even had a couple of runners sing “Happy Birthday” to me.
Once I got a few miles in, I was able to get my pace under control, but my quads were telling me they were tired of this downhill stuff by mile five. By the 10k mark, I was starting to have some off and on runner’s knee pain in my left knee. Nothing too bad, but enough to notice.
While it was still mostly cloudy for the first few miles, the sun eventually came out and I reached for my sunglasses. I was glad I brought them! Who’d have thought I’d need them after the weather forecast leading up to race day.
The wind was light and at our backs. Nothing to worry about there!
Even though I was taking water or Gatorade at every stop, I was still feeling like dehydration was going to be a thing. My lips felt dry and salty and no amount of water was feeling like enough. It wasn’t long before I started feeling little bouts of nausea. The nausea wasn’t terrible, but I took walk breaks here and there when necessary to keep it from getting bad. I was out for fun and there was no sense in pushing through nausea.
Despite the minor issues, I really was having tons of fun. Running the Boston Marathon on my birthday was shaping up to be everything I could have imagined it to be.
As I approached mile 12, I started getting excited to hit Wellesley College and run through the Scream Tunnel. I could already start to hear them about a quarter mile before I even got there. It was loud and energetic.
I cruised through the Scream Tunnel smiling and high-fiving. GAH SO GOOD!
As we made our way into town and approached the halfway mark, the crowds were out in Wellesley. Things were loud and full of energy. And I was now getting birthday wishes from the crowd, in addition to runners.
I came across the halfway mark at 1:56:40, about five minutes faster than I did in Tokyo. I was pretty amped to have had a faster first half than I did in Tokyo, but a lot of the credit probably goes to all the downhill running. I knew my second half would be slower, but I was wondering if I could keep it to two hours.
Miles 13.1 - 15
These miles were slow. I was taking more walk breaks to deal with my off-and-on nausea and to try to provide some relief to my quads while they were still alive.
These miles were mostly more of the same from the few before—having fun and snagging high-fives. With all the crowds, I felt like I was a celebrity! I don’t think I’ve ever felt that kind of feeling during a race before. The Tokyo crowds are bigger, but there is something special about the crowd in Boston.
Miles 15 - 17
Early in the 15th mile, I took a quick walk break because of the nausea. Just as I was about to pick it up to start running again, another runner came up to me and asked if I wanted to run/walk with her for the rest of the race. I figured why not? I was down to make a new friend.
My new friend, Rebecca, is a marathon pacer from Denver and was having some nausea issues as well. This was her third Boston Marathon and she also wasn’t worried about her time.
Not long after meeting Rebecca, another runner came up behind us and wished me happy birthday and said it was her birthday, as well. Things were starting to get tough for her so we invited her to stick with us. From here on out, it was Rebecca, Nicole, and me to the finish.
The three of us were run/walking together and having an amazing time getting to know each other while soaking in all that is the Boston Marathon. My nausea had subsided at this point and my legs were feeling like they were starting to recover, I was feeling good again.
Unfortunately, things were continuing to get tough for Nicole so Rebecca and I let her know we’d stick with her the rest of the way, no matter what. This was only her second marathon, which means she BQed in her first, so tough late-marathon miles were new to her. Rebecca and I have much more experience here so it was time for us to put that to use.
Our walking was pretty structured. We’d point to a spot up ahead and set that as where we’d start walking and then point to another spot as where we’d start running. It worked great to keep us from falling into a trap of walking too long.
With my legs feeling fresh again, I had no problem with the Newton Hills. I don’t typically have a good memory, but I seemed to remember the course really well so I was able to give a heads up to my new friends for each of the hills.
Shortly after mile 17, we passed the Nuun tent which gave me tons of smiles. I love seeing my Nuun peeps around!
Approaching Heartbreak Hill, I was ready for it. While it’s not the last hill to deal with, you finish it up right around mile 21 so you get a big mental boost of knowing you’ve got just five miles to go and the legendary Heartbreak is behind you.
Miles 22 - 25
By now, the weather was starting to change. I knew there was still rain in the forecast for the day and that it’d show up around when I was planning to finish originally. With the new race plan of getting Nicole to the finish, 4:30 had become our target finish and I knew we’d be likely to get wet. I was expecting it.
The wind started to pick up a little, the sky got cloudy, the temperature dropped a little, and then the rain came. Luckily, the rain was light and nothing heavy. It actually felt good after dealing with being too hot up until that point. That said, now that we were walking a lot more, I wasn’t working up as much heat as I was earlier in the race.
Unfortunately, things were getting much tougher for Nicole now. Her quad was really acting up and preventing her from being able to run for more than a minute or two at a time. And she was also battling some nausea. We made sure she got water at every stop and gave her as much encouragement as we had.
We were in Brookline, so I was able to tell her were just one town over from the finish. We were getting there. She kept telling Rebecca and I to go on without her and not sacrifice our times, but that just wasn’t going to happen.
When I ran my first marathon, I was struggling late in the race and a couple of guys helped me and another runner get to the finish. They wouldn’t leave either of us behind. This is something I’ve always remembered and it was time for me to pay that forward. Of course, it feels good to help someone else, but honestly, it was just the right thing to do. To me, this is what the marathon is all about, ya know? No one gets left behind.
At the mile 22 medical tent, we very briefly stopped to get her some anti-cramping stuff for her legs. Or maybe it was a salt tab? I’m actually not sure what the volunteers handed her, but she gulped it right down.
We were inside four miles to go and I was feeling great. And, of course, I felt horrible about feeling great while a fellow runner was struggling, but it’s these late-marathon miles where I’m at my best. Even if my splits don’t say it, I just feel like these are the miles I’m good at getting through.
As we made our way through Brookline and down Beacon St, the crowds were loud and fantastic. As I ran down the left side of the road, I made sure everyone cheering knew it was Nicole’s birthday. Going back to the end of my first marathon, the other runner who was being helped along with me to the finish was racing on his birthday. I remember the two guys helping us running up both sides of the course screaming “It’s Doug’s birthday!!” The energy from that was amazing and I felt like if I could do the same for Nicole, it just might help distract her from the pain enough to get her through. And Rebecca was giving as much of her wisdom as a marathon pacer as she could.
As you cross the 23rd mile-marker, you crest of one the hills no one ever tells you about. It’s not the biggest hill on the course, but it’s hitting you late. This year I didn’t have a cheer squad at the top of it cheering for me so there wasn’t anything to look forward to, but there were plenty of spectators out to make up for it.
Less than a mile later, the Citgo sign would briefly come into view off in the distance. You don’t pass it until the 25th mile-marker, but that quick glimpse is a reminder that the finish is getting close.
By now, we were doing much more walking than running, but Nicole was still moving and that’s what was important.
As we finally approached the Citgo sign, I kept reminding Nicole that this would be the last hill she’d have to worry about. There’s another small one in the last half mile, but that wasn’t important at the time. One hill at a time!
With 1.2 miles to go and crowds screaming, my focus was split between keeping Nicole going and just enjoying the last bits of the race. Last year, as I was coming down Commonwealth, the rain had picked up and we were just getting dumped on. This year, the rain was light and the wind was still at our backs. A lot of runners got to finish before the rain started, but not us, it was going to be another wet trip down Boylston.
As we approached Massachusetts Ave, I just kept telling Nicole as soon as we came out from the underpass, we’d be making the two most famous turns in all of running. Just thinking about these two turns fills me with so much emotion!
We turned right on Hereford and, by now, Nicole was barely able to run for more than a few seconds at a time, but I really wanted to try to get her to pull it out for Boylston. We made that final left and the finish line came into view! Unfortunately, I think seeing how far down Boylston the finish is was a bit of a punch in the gut for her, but this was it, our birthday present in the form of a Boston Marathon finisher medal was waiting for us! She was going to make it! And Rebecca and I were going to be right by her side until the last step.
The stretch down Boylston was pretty slow, still mostly just walking, but it felt sooooo good to see that finish line getting closer and hearing all those people screaming.
With maybe 50 feet left to go, I pointed at a sign and told Nicole and Rebecca we were going to run at that sign and run it the rest of the way in, no matter what.
And she did it! We all crossed the finish line together and I used some of that energy I had regained from the walking for a nice big jump across it.
I can’t imagine ever getting tired of that feeling of crossing any marathon finish line, but Boston!
After the finish line
As soon as we were across the finish, Nicole collapsed onto Rebecca and I and we walked her through the finish area. We got her a medal and made sure she got a heatsheet. She didn’t want to go to medical, but did need to sit in a wheelchair for a bit. She was in pretty rough shape and full of different emotions, but she had made it!
Even though things were steamy for most of the race, the rain and strengthening wind changed the feel of the air a lot. It was chilly now and our body temperatures were starting to drop fast, and that’s never a good thing.
After walking Nicole through most of the finish area, it finally became time to say goodbye. Her hotel was in visual sight now and she said she’d be able to make it on her her. We parted ways as she thanked us over and over for staying with her. Little did we know at the time, but she’d spend two hours in the medical tent with hypothermia before making it to her hotel. Oof!
Unfortunately, for me, I had to immediately get on the road to drive home. I didn’t have a hotel for the night and it didn’t seem worth it to get one to stay up there by myself. I took the T back to my hotel, quickly changed in a lobby bathroom, and hit the road back.
Overall thoughts and feelings
I knew it was going to be a slow day for me, but I didn’t know it’d be 4:32 slow. I was targeting around a 4:05 and, had I stayed by myself the whole race, I think that’s about where I’d have ended up. But I wouldn’t trade my day for a faster time for anything. This was, by far, the most rewarding race of my life and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
I PRed in fun. I PRed in high-fives. And I PRed in birthday wishes. Those are some damn good PRs, if you ask me.
I love this race so much. Everything about the whole weekend is just so good. I know I won’t be running it next year and I don’t know if I’ll ever run it again at all, but I hope to be in Boston for the weekend every year that I can make it.