Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Marathon

This is going to be a long post:

As most people know by now, the temperatures during the race yesterday reached 88 degrees, great if you want to drink on the beach, not so great for running a marathon. Lets back track a little bit though. I saw the weather was supposed to be in the 80's last Wednesday and started freaking out a little. I'd been training in cold wintry Boston, hoping for a perfect race day in the mid-50's! I got even more freaked out when the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) sent out an email warning runners who aren't experienced or who didn't qualify (I'm a charity runner so I didn't have to qualify) to think about not racing, and gave the option to defer to next year's race. Deferment is pretty unprecedented for Boston, I think they allowed some runners to defer in 2010 during the Iceland volcano ash incident that grounded flights out of Europe. I discussed it with friends and my parents (who flew up to watch me) and decided it would be a game day decision but for now I was going to run it. A friend who is a 2:49 marathoner came up from DC with my boyfriend and he (and my boyfriend who has also run a couple of marathons) were indispensable for their advice and calm about the whole thing and it definitely rubbed off on me.

The Tufts Marathon Team had a big dinner for friends and family on Sunday night before the race and our very experienced team captains gave words of wisdom, especially regarding the heat. They basically said that with this heat expect to run the race anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half slower than you originally expected. After my stress fracture I was hoping for a little over 10 minute miles for a time of around 4:20 to 4:30. Now I was hoping for under 5 and half hours. After the lovely dinner I went home and set everything out for the morning, my race singlet, shorts, fuel, I froze a water bottle, a sweatshirt to sit on while waiting before the race, my race number bib, and my hat, sunglasses and watch. Then I had the hardest time falling asleep and woke up sweating at 5:25 am. I ate some pretzels with my breakfast for some added salt and got to our team bus at 6:10am. The team bus was taking us down to the Boston Common to catch the official BAA buses to the athlete's village at the start in Hopkinton. We got there and had to wait in line to get on buses and got separated from each other in the process but many of us regrouped at the athlete's village. Once there we found a spot in the shade because it was in the 70's by 9am and I sipped on watered-down gatorade and ate a little bit more. Then at around 10:20am the third wave of runners were sent to the starting corrals (we were corral nine.) I finally started running at the starting line at 11am!

It was hot, I wasn't even as mentally prepared as I thought but I had a plan. Run 10 and a half minute miles and walk through water stops where I would have gatorade at every other mile and water every mile (either to drink or dump on my neck and head) until mile 9 where our family and friends and coach were waiting for us. They were at an animal clinic in Natick run by a Tufts trustee so I was able to use a real bathroom there! I grabbed the energy chews (Honey Stinger) I was having my boyfriend hold onto to give me there and I was off again. I lost the buddy I had been running with for the first nine miles when I used the bathroom but I found other Tufts people to run with until around the half-marathon mark where the heat really hit me. It was the first time I walked without it being a water stop but I didn't want to overheat and I'm pretty sure that this was one of the hottest parts of the day, around 1:30pm.

This is the part of my post where I want to thank the citizens of greater Boston for their complete amazingness with the heat. Fire stations had hoses and sprinkler tunnels set up but so did random houses! People were out with bags and buckets of ice that I filled my hat with before putting it back on my head, some were handing out cold orange slices. The only injuries I have today are three blisters on my feet from running through so much water and letting my socks and shoes get wet but I know a lot of people could be a lot worse off today without those hoses and buckets of cold water. The kindness and cheering of strangers really has to be one of the best parts of the Boston Marathon.

I had decided that I would walk up the Newton hills and run the flats and downhills, including the dreaded Heartbreak Hill (which isn't the worst of the hills, its just the last one.) By this time I was running alongside a friend on the team and she was thinking about dropping out at mile 16. I told her I would help her get to mile 20 and from there I promised its only six miles, totally doable! I'm not sure why I was so optimistic at this time, I really never lost the smile on my face whether it was from random onlookers yelling my name or Tufts, or high-fiving Wellesley girls and little kids till my arm started hurting. I knew I was in this for the experience and I wasn't letting someone who had helped pace me during grueling cold weather runs abandon the race after all that hard work. I told her we would walk the uphills and coast and recover our legs on the downhills and thats what we did for three more miles, until I lost her at around 19 miles. I had hoped that I got her far enough to finish on her own, and that she'd gained some confidence back. Then I started running with another Tufts runner and he said he wasn't sure his legs could take him all the way. I told him I'd help him finish the hills, and that's what I did, we got over the top of Heartbreak hill!

I lost him when I got to Boston College and I swear I felt like I was sprinting! So many students were out (it felt like a day on the beach after all) and their drunk cheering was better than the Wellesley cheering. Everyone yelled my name, I high-fived hundreds of people, they were cheering for Tufts, they were saying five miles to go, it was an incredible feeling. I swear I teared up at some point when I realized I only had five more miles until I would finish the Boston Marathon! I had run into a few Tufts friends handing out water at different water stops on the course, but when I got to mile 22 with a giant grin on my face I sought out one of my sorority sisters and gave her a big hug! Four more miles! I knew I would have a lot of friends waiting from there to the end of the race. Two groups of sorority sisters were lined up on Beacon street and a few sisters ran with me a little bit, always encouraging! I kept alternating watered-down gatorade and straight water until the very last water stop, determined to stay hydrated without being over-hydrated. With less than two miles to go, our previous university president, Larry Bacow, who founded the Tufts Marathon Team (originally the Presidential Marathon Challenge) ran with me and urged me on! With less than a mile to go I teared up again, I was so close! I was still smiling! And other than blistered feet I felt good!

I took a right on Hereford, then a left on Boylston, then it just became noise! I didn't know if people were cheering for me (some were) or if everyone was just cheering for everyone but it gave me a push as I passed the 26 mile marker and pushed on to the finish line! When I crossed the finish line, again, with a giant smile on my face, I found and hugged my coach and our current university president! They both congratulated me and sent me on through to get my medal and water. The space blankets that they usually wrap people in during cold weather were put on people with the reflective part on the outside to keep the heat out! I went to go find my parents and my boyfriend and there were hugs and pictures all around. When leaving the finishers area to go to my parents hotel, I saw my friend I had paced to mile 19, she had made it to the finish and we shared a long embrace!

My legs were feeling it by now so I changed into a new pair of socks, assessed my blisters and kept walking around to keep blood flowing. I got to my parents hotel and took a nice bath, and weighed myself: even though I took in water and or gatorade at every stop and eaten a pack of sport beans, energy chews and a couple of orange slices, I had lost almost 7 pounds! When I got to my house my housemates all chanted my name and hugged me. Then I went out to dinner, had a cold beer, a lot of bread and a great meal.

I told you this was a long post but there's only a little bit more I promise!

This marathon was an incredible experience for me, not only because it was my first marathon or because it was the Boston Marathon but because I learned a lot about myself. It turns out not only can I keep a smile on my face after miles of running in 88 degree heat, but I can help others to grit it out as well. I learned that high-fives and hearing my name get called are two of the greatest gifts that a stranger can offer me. I learned that there are some days not meant to be races but instead are meant to be tests of stamina, willpower, energy, compassion and determination. I probably could have pushed myself to run up those hills and through water stops, but instead I finished with a gigantic smile on my face, some blisters, and a sunburn, and I enjoyed every single minute of my day!

Running to the finish with a smile on my face with an official time of 5:23:09 on an 88 degree day!


  1. This is a really touching post, Lizzie! I'm so happy we could make a difference for you and so many others at mile 24. It definitely was an experience for us too, to see everyone push themselves under such hot conditions. You're amazing, really really great job yesterday! ALpha Love, Fritzi

  2. Fantastic job yesterday, Lizzie! So happy to hear that despite the heat you enjoyed the day. I think you got to see the best of what the Boston Marathon has to offer and what makes it such a unique experience. Congrats on a great race and persevering through some extraordinary conditions. Truly inspiring!