Back story - I’ve been dealing with some issues lately including my ankle sprain from TWOT from February. I had to scrap Barkley as well as several training marathons. So I knew going into Boston that my training was inadequate (ok, really pretty much non-existent) and that I needed to find creative ways to pace myself and run on a healing ankle during those 4 hours of strenuous activity. For a fast hilly course, it was not the time for a PR.
So mom and I traveled to Beantown in a trip that I’ve waited many years to take. The race always takes place on Patriot’s Day, an official city holiday, which is always a Monday – schools are closed because they use the buses to drive us to Hopkintown, which by the race course, is 26.2 miles. By the nerve-o-meter, it’s around 14,897, as the crow flies. The true drive ended up somewhere in the middle as it took around an hour and 15 minutes to drive there. I met a very nice woman who was on her third running of Boston and her sole piece of advice was to enjoy it. Hard to think about that when I was nervous about whether or not I’d even make the finish line. The day was also cold, about 42 degrees and included a 20 mph headwind the entire time coming from the East, coincidentally, the same direction we ran. And if you look at a map, you’ll notice there are really no turns. So this wind was a permanent fixture for the duration of the event.
We arrived at Hopkintown, and were in a bus queue when two runners who were writhing around in an apparent need to piss like racehorses busted up to the front of the bus and begged to be let off. They disembarked and we all resumed our conversations and nervous small talk. I happened to notice others turning towards the left side of the bus and low and behold, the poor souls who ran off, bared their butts and proceeded to pee in the bushes were getting ticketed by a bike cop. Obviously he has never been a runner, nor ever had to pee that bad as their quivering upper lips and watering eyes could not dissuade him from putting pen to paper and giving them a 25$ present, compliments of the city of Hopkintown. I felt bad but was thankful that I had decided that in my haste to get out the door I didn’t bother with fluids. Who needs them!?
We had about an hour and a half to kill in the cold so we all huddled (yes, all 22k of us or so) on the ground. We ate, drank, shivered and stood in line for port-a-johns because, well, who’s got 25$ to pay for a public indecency ticket when you’ve already dropped 100$ on a swanky race jacket to make your running friends jealous?
The crowd was entertained by a guy yammering on a sound system for most of the time with an occasional “event” like F-15s flying over (which WAS cool). Suddenly it was 10 am and the wave one starters were lining up and off on their race. This was good news – I was starting to contemplate hitching a ride back to downtown as I had had about enough of the cold wind and nerves. As a wave 2 runner, I, like others, began herding to the start line… it was just a short walk. Well, a little further. Ok, perhaps another quarter mile. Just around the corner.. holy hell why is it so far away? I always wonder if a focus group exists to see just how far people are willing to walk to a start line of a really long race. Apparently the answer is “whatever they tell us” as runners before a marathon tend to stagger around like semi-lost puppies going for up to a few miles in search of the big fancy clock and start banner. I end up not making it into my corral due to the insane volume of people and was off the wave start clock by 6 minutes, 36 minutes total, now, for the “official start time” for those keeping score at home.
As we started off down the initial hill, I realized something. There is a reason I started running ultras. It has to do with the ambience. I love the peace, quiet and solitude afforded to me by the serenity of being one with the woods. Yes, there are other runners but often, you are almost alone, having company perhaps for a few miles here or there, but generally being left with your thoughts. It is truly wonderful to sort out problems when in the middle of the woods as nothing seems so major when all the world is open and free. Make sure you’re thinking about that. Now. Think about the exact opposite. That is Boston. The course is marked into the pavement (which is kinda cool to know that water stop #2 is always in the exact same spot). The streets are lined, LINED with spectators. There is never a moment when there is not a spectator to your right or your left. Kids, teens, adults, old people, bikers, other runners, families, SOs… it’s a never ending sea of people some who know a runner and are holding signs with their names, while others who are simply saying “You can do it! You guys look great!” with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, the irony never failing to amuse me. And the sound – oh my god, the volume. It’s as if you’re running a marathon in the middle of FedEx field, fourth quarter when the Skins are down one touchdown and on their own 20 yard line (or the Titans are getting ready to, once again, blow their lead to the Ravens). It’s *that* loud. For all 26.2 miles. And in some places it gets louder. They say you can hear the girls a mile outside of Wellesley college. That’s actually not true – you can hear them about 3 miles outside of Wellesley college. Guys, if you like to look at cute young college girls, this is YOUR race. They’re all there, going crazy, sticking out their butts inviting any runner to “SLAP MY ASS!” This also happens to be the mid-way point which is good – halfway done. So ass-slapping and mid-point excitement abounds here.
By this time I was no longer having fun. When I started I was sort of convinced I could make my qualifying time (3:45) I knew my pace needed to be around 8:32 and I managed to stick to that through this point, actually shaving off time with an average 8:27 pace. But my fun meter was running substantially low by this point and I was getting more annoyed with the spectators and high-fivers. “SHUT UP” I kept thinking. “Do you REALLY need to yell so much??” “HELLO, I’m right here – get off my heels” “Get OUT of my way!” Yes, I was morphing into my now-deceased 98 year old great grandmother. This was not good.
I stopped for aid somewhere around 16 and remembered what my friend (and veteran runner) Miles told me. “You have done all the hard work in getting here. This is the dessert. Enjoy this – you earned it.” It kept echoing and I was suddenly aware that he was correct. Why was I killing myself for this race? I was on vacation. I had dropped a wad of money to get here. I had a nice dinner and wine waiting at the end. Why am I doing this to myself?? It was then that I decided not to re-qualify. Not now. Hell, at this point I had almost convinced myself I never wanted to come back here. Once you start doing that, it’s time to give up running. This was supposed to be enjoyable. So I embraced it. I started hand-slapping. I started high-fiving. I started smiling. And I felt great. I walked longer than the aid stations. I sang a happy tune in my head. I looked around and absorbed the day and the crowds and the —- “HEY, YOUR SHIRT SAYS ‘RUN BOSTON’… STOP WALKING!” What? What did someone just say to me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!!? Listen, bitch, your Gucci-wearing-highlighted-hair-nose-job-sporting-breast-enhanced butt can just … but I decided that, instead of punching her, I’d smile and start running again. Because yes, I loved this. I loved every painful, long and very cold loud minute of it. I worked to get here. I wanted this and I loved the experience because I had earned it. And then suddenly, it was done. 3 hours and 53 minutes after my start (4 hours and 30 minutes into the official race), I crossed the finish line. The line that the greatest runners in the world for 113 years have crossed and I felt like I too, was a winner that day. Not because I set a PR (I didn’t), not because I re-qualified (again, I didn’t). But because I had done something that so few ever do. I learned to let go, relax and enjoy it. Oh yeah. And I ran Boston.