There’s so much to digest about the Boston Marathon, so much to share and probably never enough room in any single blog (or any reader’s patience) to detail it all. I’ll highlight just the things I would have loved to have known going into it. I went into it feeling a little overwhelmed by the idea of the logistics of this race. They had sent a relatively thick book in the mail (which I read cover-to-cover) that had me thinking there would be a lot of logistics to manage. I was worried about everything from packet pick-up to how to manage my time the morning of the race to what I could bring into Athlete’s Village, and of course, the course itself. To compensate for my anxiety, I over thought everything, packed a lot of options (still forgot a couple things), talked to every race veteran I could and decided to share my experience for other Boston marathoners trying to plan every minute of their race experience.
Athlete’s Village and Start Logistics
We rented an Air BnB house in Winchester, about 8 miles from the Boston Common area. I was dropped off at the Orange line Oak Grove train station around 7:15 and walked right onto a train that left at 7:21am. It took about 25 minutes to get into the city and I got off at Downtown Crossing to walk the quarter mile up Winter Street to the bus loading area at Boston Common. After a quick (and I mean that literally, hardly any line) porta pot stop I was in line for the buses. I waited maybe 5 minutes and I was on board a bus for Hopkinton by about 7:45. Right on schedule. We pulled into Athlete’s Village by about 9:15. My wave would head to the start line at 10:10. Prior to all this, I thought I’d literally be trying to kill hours milling around the start area but realizing it was just an hour I was relieved and excited. I’d also been worried about what to eat pre-race and landed on a PBJ which I had on the bus and a banana that I had once we got to Hopkinton.
So what did I pack for this hour of wait time? Part of my ‘Village gear” was a result of the weather:
- An old yoga mat to sit on which was a great decision and long enough that I shared it with other runners
- A throw away water bottle (that I recycled)
- A super heavy contractor trash bag to protect from wind and rain (that I ended up wearing to the start and folding and tucking in my race belt for fear I might need it at the end of the race)
- Grocery bags to put over my feet
And that’s it. I think it was the exact right stuff to kill an hour. I went to the bathroom once as soon as I got there and promptly settled into a little corner inside the big tent. What I learned later is that had I walked another stretch into the Village I would’ve found even more porta pots and another gigantic tent that might’ve had more room in it. And had I been there earlier I might’ve taken advantage of another cup of coffee.
At 10:10 on the dot, my blue wave 3 was called to head to the start line. Volunteers from the Boys & Girls club lined the walk up to the start area to collect all the throwaway clothes. I waited until the very last minute to ditch my pants and decided to hang onto my fleece until it was too wet and heavy to run in. At the start area there was a gigantic parking lot filled with porta pots and I had just enough time to go there as well (no lines there either). I walked into corral three at about 10:40. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent less time waiting for a race start!
After a few cheers and recognizing that at least half of us in wave 3 were first time Boston runners, the announcer said there were 2 minutes until start time and then bang, 2 minutes later we were off! It was hands down the most efficient race start I’ve ever experienced. I tried to take in my start area as much as possible. I was acutely aware that I was surrounded by good runners, every one of them earning a right through hard work and training (and some by fundraising) to be at the start line in Hopkinton. And just as we were taking off, the rain started.
The Boston Marathon Race Course
I had studied the map of the Boston course dozens and dozens of times leading up to the race. I knew from the map and from talking to other runners that it was incredibly easy to go out too fast. And yet, I fell into the same trap as so many others and the same mistake I’ve made at plenty of other races. I went out too fast. I knew it, I could’ve controlled it (maybe) and decided to just go with it. I knew the weather would likely get worse and I decided I’d rather have a fast first half than no great miles at all. There is a tiny hill just after the first mile and that threw me off a bit but then it really was a fast and downhill first half. We were cruising. I was consistently at around an 8:20 pace and foolishly thought I could maintain that the whole time and breeze through a 3:40 BQ. But right around mile 14 the rain would come and go in heavier waves and so did the 20mph headwinds. And then the hills started to hit. Nothing crazy but just enough to challenge me.
My family had planned to see me at miles 6 and 16 which they did. Mile 6 was just plain fun and by mile 16 I was in desperate need of a familiar face and pick me up. Just after I saw them another band of rain was coming down and another hill was ahead. At the top I walked for a moment to finally ditch my heavy fleece and truly did feel a little lighter. I spent the next couple miles mentally pushing myself through. I focused on my “one mile at a time” strategy and really just wanted to take in the course and the experience. I tried to notice other runners, hear their stories, watch the crowd that lined every inch of the course despite the weather. I thanked volunteers for being there. And then finally we reached mile 20.
The Last 10k
Around mile 17 there is a decent hill that really challenged me and made me wonder, “is this heartbreak hill?” I didn’t hear anyone talking about it so I assumed it was not. At mile 20 we started a tiny, barely noticeable incline except for the fact that it was at mile 20. It just sort of kept going. At the top was a huge inflatable arch, I think it was on the Boston College campus, and I think it said something like “the Heartbreak is over.” On any other day, you would not even notice this hill. At the top, all I could think was that I really hoped it was literally all downhill from there. It wasn’t. There were a few more tiny but annoying hills and then finally the home stretch appeared. I lost some time between miles 14-18 and had a second wind after mile 20. I briefly hoped I might be able to still pull off a 3:40 but as each mile ticked by I started to realize that was just not going to happen. But I didn’t want to scale back either. I wanted to finish knowing I’d run as hard as I could. Each time I found an extra kick the wind seemed to fight back as well.
When the Boston city banner flags appeared around mile 24 I dug a little deeper. I heard someone say “this is the last turn” and I got excited to see the finish line but as I turned right I realized there was actually one more turn to go and I knew that last left turn was onto Boylston Street. As I turned and could see the finish line arch ahead my emotions went into overdrive. I know I had tears, a smile, grit and determination, a feeling of pride and excitement…so much went through me. I briefly wondered who won. I also could not help but think of being exactly where the bombs went off. I ran smack in the middle of the street and took in the surroundings, the crowds, Macy’s, the bars on either side, the finish line ahead. That last .2 miles seemed to hardly last at all and yet I feel like I can remember every step. I hope I always will.