2019 Boston Marathon
On April 15, 2019, I ran the Boston Marathon.
I have to start off by saying… that I can’t believe I just said that. Most things in life tend to happen gradually, making things like milestones, achievements, and progress not seem quite as monumental at that moment as when you look at them in terms of years (kind of like looking in the mirror every day vs seeing the wall of school pictures at your grandparent’s house). This was one of the first eyeopening experiences that seemed to stop me in my tracks and just made me think “holy shit - I’ve really come a long way”.
From an avid cigarette smoker, who never ran more than “the mile run” in gym class, someone who smoked weed all day long, and someone who didn’t have a competitive bone in their body. That someone was me eight years ago. Eight years is a pretty long time, and honestly, it’s hard for me to even imagine that I was that person at this point. But thinking back, I would have loved to know my response if I had ever told my past self that today I’d be a Boston Marathon finisher.
I haven’t written anything here in a long time. Life has changed a lot in the last year, I have different priorities and creating fitness content really isn’t one of them anymore. But what I have been trying to do lately is keep some sort of a journal, especially on significant days I want to remember. On a day like this, I know I’ll always remember my time, the weather, etc. but I’m not the type to remember a whole lot of small details. I’ve been journaling about days like this to include smaller details, so that when I look back I’ll be able to relive that day rather than have a couple of bullet points. As I started journaling about this day, somewhere in the middle I went from a voice as if I was retelling myself, to telling others, which is when I decided to finish typing it here.
Some details may be useless for most of you reading this to know. And then there are some points of the story where I wish I had more details for you, but it’s hard to recall exactly what was going through my mind while running in certain stretches of the course. With so much support from my family, friends, and the Marblehead community, I wanted to make sure to share my experience for whoever has a few minutes to spend, and wants to know more.
This may be the most proud I’ve ever been of my own performance. I’ve ran over 100 races, most of which obstacle course races, and this is probably the best race I’ve ever had from start to finish. I had all of the highs, and kept waiting on the lows that were sure to come, and they never came. I’ve been trying to look back at what about my routine, the week leading up, my nutrition, my strategy, etc. contributed to this success so I can try to replicate in the future. And while a lot of what I did is already routine for me when it comes to leading up to races, there are a few takeaways I think are worth noting:
Fitness isn’t lost in a week, or a month.
Sometimes a “safe” strategy beats an aggressive one.
The energy from the crowds played more of a roll than I could have ever imagined.
The Morning Of:
My alarm went off at 3:30 AM, and I left the house just after 4:00 to head to the Copley Westin Hotel where Boston Children’s Hospital had a shuttle that would bring us to the starting line. I wanted to give myself some extra time in case I wasn’t able to valet my car there (I was... it was $65, thanks mom! 😅).
On the bus ride to Hopkinton, I was falling in and out of sleep. It was down pouring at times, and at one point I saw lighting through my eyelids and it woke me up! This was basically the weather they had been forecasting for the last 2 weeks, rain, but now that it was race day it looked like there was a chance I’d be running in a 4 hour dry patch in the middle of the day.
We got to the Masonic Temple that Children’s had rented out for us. It was literally 400 ft from the starting line. I found a spot on the floor, used my small starting line bag of PBJs, k-tape, and other supplies as a pillow, and was in a super light state of sleep for the next 90 minutes. It reminded me of the waiting around for races during the NBC Spartan show, and I actually started re-enacting the courses from season 2 in my mind for the first time in a while.
Matthew and Randy showed up, and I hung out with them the rest of the morning. At around 9:00, the Miles for Miracles coaches spoke, and then a few athletes shared their stories and experiences with Boston Children’s.
Originally, our heat was supposed to be at 11:15, but as I had mentioned, earlier in the week with the weather not looking favorable, I received an email saying we would go right after the wave before us, at 10:50. After warming up, throwing on some k-tape, donating my extra clothes, and stretching, we walked up to the the starting line corral.
I watched the wave before us go, and then got into the corral. I started walking forward, then past the #3 sign I was supposed to start at. I looked around to see if people were actually abiding by this or just moving towards the front. No one was stopping, so I kept walking. And kept walking. And then I realized “wait, there’s the starting line... I think we’re just going!”. That threw me for a bit of a loop. I had definitely expected to stand around for 10 minutes, and hadn’t yet started to get GPS on my watch. I stepped to the side and tried to delay for a minute, but finally just clicked “START” and away I went.
Fitness Isn’t Lost in a Week, or a Month.
The longer the race, the more potential there is for shit to hit the fan. I was having a wildly successful training block leading up to Boston. My schedule was set so that I had a 17 mile long run with Boston Children’s, two weeks to recover and train, Mountain Mantacular down in Virginia, two weeks to recover and train, 21 mile long run with Boston Children’s, four weeks to recover, train, and taper, Boston Marathon. Between those two long runs with Children’s, I will have ran the whole Boston Marathon course. Halfway through this training block I found myself full of confidence and feeling prepared for Boston. My 17 miler went extremely well, and then I held up during Man Camp which ended up being 48 miles, and 15,000+ feet of elevation gain in four days, with the final day being a 25k trail race with snow on the ground. That was a huge week for me, and yet I still felt solid coming out of it and planned to take 5-6 days of rest/active rest just as a precaution.
But then all of a sudden just as I was about to start running again 5 days later I came down with a bad cold - and I am not someone that ever gets sick. I started feeling it on Friday, it was full blown by Saturday, and by the time next Saturday rolled around, I was still sick, but really wanted to hit the 21 miler on the marathon course. I went back and forth about the decision, but in the end chose to go for it. I hadn’t run a single time in two weeks between my Saturday trail 25k in Virginia, and this 21 mile Saturday long run. I was hacking up a lung the entire time. I kept a decent pace, and felt pretty good for 15-16 miles, but really started hurting by the time I got to Wellesley, and totally fell apart by the time I got to Heartbreak Hill. My calves were tight, my hip was derailing me, and coughing the entire time really caught up to me in the end.
By the time I recovered from my cold, and the 21 miler, I had about 3 weeks til the marathon. Normally here I’d really be in taper mode, but now given the fact that I’d only run once in the last three weeks, I continued to try and get some quality runs in. But then my hip started really giving me trouble, and the further I ran, the more days I’d have to give myself off before I could run again. At this point with all that had recently happened, I wasn’t nearly as confident as I had been just a few weeks prior.
But fitness isn’t lost in a week, or a month. It would have been great to head into the marathon with the confidence I had had a few weeks ago, but looking back, I should have known better than to second guess my being prepared. What those last few weeks did do for me though was change my race day strategy a bit, but was it for better or worse?
Sometimes a “Safe” Strategy Beats an Aggressive One:
Here was my strategy in three words: “don’t fall apart” or two words “just maintain”. I was planning to keep my eyes out for certain things that could derail me, i.e. my hip, my knees, my calves, etc. Everyone has their trouble spots, and a big part of my marathon plan was I just trying to maintain a good stride, and prevent them from flaring up.
The first key to this plan was making sure I didn’t start off too fast. At my 17 miler where I felt great, I started the first couple miles at a 9:00+ pace with the team, before realizing they weren’t going to speed up, at which point I took off - but that slow start ended up leading me to hitting low 8’s and a high 7 for my last 4 miles.
In comparison, at my 21 miler where I fell apart, I was averaging 8:00 miles my first four thinking to myself “I know I’m running too fast but it feels so slow right now” (in my defense, the first 4+ miles of the course are a net decline). But clearly it caught up to me, and by the last 4 miles I was struggling and deep in the pain cave.
So here was my basic plan coming into race day, with the goal focusing more on not dying than it was thriving:
• Start off slow. Don’t run first mile faster than 8:45.
• Keep a steady, but conservative pace for the first 17 miles.
• Get to mile 17 relatively unscathed.
• Get from 17 to 21 (the top of Heartbreak Hill) without it completely unraveling me.
• See where I’m at by mile 21, and then either:
• A. Hit some faster miles in the homestretch
• B. Keep on keeping on if speeding up isn’t an option.
• C. Suffer the shit out of the next 5.2 if I’ve completely unraveled.
When people asked me “what’s your goal time?” in the week leading up to the race- my answer was consistently “I’d like to get close to 3:45, but need to beat 4 hours”. I tend to go into races with a “reaching” goal, a goal that I’d be totally satisfied with, and a worst-case scenario goal. For this race, those were 3:45, 3:52, and 4:00, respectively. I knew I could be between 3:45-4:00, but honestly I don’t think I had a lot of confidence that I could be closer to 3:45 than 4:00. You never want to limit yourself, but I also don’t want to go in with some unrealistic goals and end up not being happy with the outcome.
So fast forward back to me crossing the starting line in Hopkinton.
My watch GPS isn’t synced but it’s giving me a reading anyways. It’s saying 9:10 pace.
I know I’m going faster than 9:10. But how much faster? Do I stop my watch, wait til I see the GPS is ready, then start a new run? If Strava doesn’t show my full distance, did I even run the marathon?? Some seriously deep thoughts happening 400m into a 26.2 mile race.
I decide to just let my watch run. It tells me I’m running an average of a 9:10 the whole mile. I get to the first mile marker at like 7:49 🤦🏼♂️.
Somehow, I didn’t let this mentally get to me too much. I started doing math every time I got to a new mile marker based on time I crossed the previous marker. I was still running too fast, 7:42 for mile 2. But by Ashland and into Framingham, I start figuring it out (and I think my watch caught up with me).
The Crowds Were Amazing.
I don’t know that I knew what an advantage they’d actually be. I probably high-fived 500 kids under the age of 12 during my run. The constant cheering kept you energized, but I think the biggest benefit was they kept you out of your own head. Running is a very individual activity. It’s just you talking to yourself in your head, for miles, minutes, and hours on end. A lot of times in training, it’s therapeutic - almost like my version of meditating. But when you find yourself in the middle of a tough race, at some point you just start to talk to yourself about how far into the pain cave you are, or how a certain part of your body is feeling, or how close you are to finishing the next mile, etc. Looking at your watch becomes more frequent. But the crowds kept my mind off of so much of this race that I don’t think I could have had close to a similar effort without them. I ran towards the side of the street almost the entire race, and the amount of people that cheered for me, calling out “let’s go Children’s!” was nothing short of amazing.
By the time I’m in Framingham, I’ve got 6 or 7 miles under my belt, and I’m feeling GOOD. It feels like all the tension that could be going to my hip and derailing me is being sent to the most upper portion of my glutes. They are working, and on fire, but somehow I know it’s not going to turn into a problem, I roll with it, while also trying not to be too optimistic less than 1/3 of my way into the race.
The miles between Framingham and Wellesley are kind of a blur. I’m trying to teeter between having an empty mind and just letting the time pass, while also being completely present and realizing where I am in this moment. Getting through Wellesley was going to be my first real mental challenge. I had ran through twice during my previous runs with Boston Children’s. That was one of those areas that felt like it had a small downtown, so when you get there you feel like “ok I made it to Wellesley downtown, now on to Newton”. But Wellesley itself is 4 miles, and only the halfway point of the race. Luckily, I didn’t realize leading into it that the “scream tunnel” at Wellesley College would energize us through the first uneventful stretch of the town. The was one of the coolest parts about the crowds, that every town had a totally different vibe.
The mental challenge never came for me in Wellesley, and honestly it was where I started really being excited about where my race was going. By the halfway point, you can have a good indication of where you’re at (unlike being too optimistic a few miles in). I was feeling better than I could have predicted at this point. I was about to see Jess and my parents at mile 17, and then start right into the Newton hills. Although I had been doing some math throughout, this is when I really started thinking about where I was on track for a finishing time. I ran the first half in 3:50:58. I started thinking through paces it would take to finish in 3:45.
I thought about how many hours Jess and my parents had already spent driving to the train station, taking the train with crowds of other spectators, all for me to see them for 10 seconds. But mile 17 was the perfect place for me to have seen them, it meant a lot and was a motivator as I turned the corner at the fire station and started ascending. I kissed Jess, hugged my mom and dad, and took off (ok, maybe 12 seconds).
Up until this point, I’d stuck to my plan (outside of starting off too fast). I had made it to Heartbreak Hill without breaking down, and kept a pretty strong pace. The hills really didn’t hurt me too much. I took a one step at a time mentality, and just kept chugging along until I was at the top. That’s when I went into uncharted territory.
My 21 miler had gone from the starting line, to the top of Heartbreak. This was all new for me. And to be honest - my plan for the marathon was really based on this 21 miles. That’s where my focus was, and I kind of had a “let’s see what happens when I get there” mentality. Well, now I’m here. I had thought that in a best case scenario, if everything was going as well as it could be (which it was), I’d ride that motivation those last 5 miles to the finish line. But this was definitely the toughest stretch. Five miles doesn’t just pass by in the blink of an eye. I kept looking down at my watch, I had to hit some 8:30’s to beat 3:45. It was a constant battle between “I can’t believe I’ve held it together this long, I feel so good”, and “I need to run faster, do I really feel THAT good?”.
As the miles wound down, so did the space between my current time and 3:45. I fought hard, and honestly, it was the .2 that I wasn’t factoring into the math in my head that really got me. I turned right on to Hereford at something like 3:42-3:43. I couldn’t remember how far the finish line was once you turned on to Boylston. I was easily running my fastest mile at this point. I just kept telling myself to hold on in case there’s a chance.
When I turned the corner and saw how far the finish line was, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. In that exact moment, there’s a chance I might have decided to pull back, knowing that 3:45 was no longer in reach, but then before that thought could even run through my head, Kelly (an athlete I coached through OCR BEAST for over a year) is all of a sudden right beside me. We look at each other, and while we’re both in pain, we start pushing even faster. I crossed the finish line at 3:46:00.
This is maybe the most proud I’ve ever been of earning a medal. I had the best race of my life, from start to finish, at the Super Bowl of running events. I kept my mind clear and focused on the race, while also taking time to look around, soak in the moment, realize where I was and reflect on everything that had brought me to this point in my life. I walked away sore, but with no injuries I had thought were sure to flare up. I didn’t get rained on the entire time, and actually managed to get a sunburn.
This was overall an incredible experience. I don’t think I realized how much this day would mean to me when Boston Children’s Hospital selected me for their team back in October. The highs and lows of training, running in memory of Randy’s sons, the build up to the event, and then the energy during. I knew Boston Children’s was a well deserving charity when I applied for the team, but the more I became familiar with the organization, and the more stories that were shared from current and past patients, made me that much prouder to wear the orange and blue checkers come race day.
As of my publishing this, my fundraiser is just short of my goal for raising $10,000 (with another week to go), but regardless I’m still incredibly proud. I’ve never fundraised before, and I have a bunch of people to thank for helping me on this journey, including Amazfit, the Blue Canoe Cafe, Atomic Coffee Roasters, Jess, my parents, my brother, my family, and so many more that donated, raised awareness for my fundraising, and helped motivate me along the way.
So many people asked me immediately following the race “would I do another?”, and the answer is 100% yes. This was too good of an experience for me to even think twice, but for now, I think I’ll go back to some shorter easy runs and enjoy this spring weather that’s finally showed up in Marblehead.