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Marathon Monday and the Restorative Power of the Icepop

The Boston Marathon is THE marathon of all marathons, and lives up to its reputation in every way. The Boston experience encompasses the entire weekend, starting as soon as the plane arrives at the airport, through the expo, from the athlete’s village to the finish line, and all the way back to the airport. The whole thing feels electric with excitement so palpable it hangs in the air like humidity, and the spectators are as much a part of the race (if not more so) than the runners themselves. It is an extraordinary atmosphere in which to run 26.2 miles.

Before the race
DSC02094For me, the entire trip to Boston was permeated with a sense of “Who’s running?!” and it seems to me that, on this particular weekend, marathon runners have a sixth sense for identifying each other. It was a happy surprise to discover I shared a flight up to Boston with a friend from my running group. I was also thrilled to find the Boston airport covered in signs for the marathon. So many people so excited about running!

Packet pickup was smooth and streamlined (how could it not be? They’ve had 120 years to figure it out!), and the expo was so jam-packed it was hard to move (to be expected). This was followed by a photo opportunity at the finish line, along with thousands of other runners and their personal cheering squads/photographers (my group consisted of my parents, sister, cousin, and his wife). Reasonably timed dinner, then laying everything out before an early bedtime.DSC02122

Race day
Before leaving for the race, I told many of my non-running friends that I was looking forward to the experience of a daytime marathon. This meant that instead of waking up at 4am, I would be allowed the luxury of sleeping in until 6! (Although nerves had me up early anyway). Runners congregated a few blocks down from the finish line to pile onto a fleet of yellow school buses for transport to the starting line. Boston is a point-to-point marathon, meaning it starts and ends in different locations, and I can only imagine the logistical nightmare of moving 30,000+ runners in a timely manner! I’m sure they used every school bus in the state of Massachusetts to accomplish this feat. The psychological aspect of running the marathon started here because the ride to the start took almost 45 minutes. If it takes that long to drive the distance, how long will it take to cover it on foot?!

The athlete’s village felt surreal. Runners in various states of preparation, whether snoozing, stretching, or standing in line for the port-a-potties, covered every square inch of the huge lawn. Massive tents had been put in place for shelter, although the weather was ideal at this point and the tents were unnecessary. Gradually, waves of runners left the village to head up to the starting line. I was seeded in the third wave, so I had about an hour to wait from when I arrived at the village to when I headed out to the start, and another 30 minutes at the starting line before we headed off. There was a lot of “hurry up and wait” to get to the starting line, but the waiting never felt boring.

The weather would have been perfect for a spring day in Massachusetts (or being a spectator on the course!) but was a bit on the warm side for running a marathon. Pre-race announcements emphasized the importance of hydration and adjusting time goals to factor in the heat. I didn’t have any expectations for my finishing time anyway, and just wanted to make it to the end in as whole a condition as possible.

The race itself was easier than I anticipated, considering my lack of training. The first few miles breezed by, aided in part by the downhill grade and enthusiasm from the crowd. I made it to the halfway point in under 2 hours, so I deemed the race a success and stopped watching my Garmin like a hawk. Instead, I settled back to enjoy the spectators. The Boston spectators know their race, and they know how to support runners. With the warmer temperatures this year, spectators lined the course with wet paper towels, garden hoses, and popsicles (in addition to orange slices every 1/2 mile and official BAA aid stations every other mile). I didn’t see the popsicles on the course until I hit mile 14, and I knew just by looking at the beautiful, blue ice on a stick that it would be exactly the thing I needed to keep me refreshed for the next few miles. That popsicle was magic! Gave me a major stomachache by mile 15.5, but it was absolutely worth it.

The Newton hills were the other part of the course that stuck out to me, and those things were serious! Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 is widely renowned as the major obstacle of the race, but with the rolling hills leading up to it, Heartbreak Hill seemed to me to be just one more uphill to cover.

DSC02169Aid stations and med tents came up at every mile starting around mile 20 (good planning, BAA!), which was quite necessary for this race. I had been walking through aid stations for most of the race, and by the time I got to the aid station at mile 24, I took my sip of water and made every effort to fall back into my jog (it was a jog at this point), and then just kept walking. I always hope to run the entirety of a marathon, but I had resigned myself to some walking breaks for Boston because I knew my training wasn’t up to snuff. The last 2.2 miles were bone-chillingly slow (and cold!), but I didn’t feel defeated. I had already proven myself by qualifying for the race, and had surpassed my own expectations of how well I would perform on race day.

The finish line was as seamless as every other aspect of theDSC02172 race weekend. The volunteers ushered us through the finishing chute, gave us heat blankets, water bottles, bags of food, and medals! Most races release pictures of the medal before the race, but try as I might, all my internet searching could not turn up a single image of the 2016 Boston Marathon medal. My personal cheering squad found me at our pre-arranged meeting location. I was lying on the ground curled in a tiny ball because the asphalt was so much warmer than the air and it was the only thing I could think of to do to try to stay warmer than I felt! Finishing a marathon is so much easier when I have other people to hold my bags, open my water bottles, and direct me to the train! I think I’ll start recruiting personal cheering squads for every race.

After the Race
I wore all my Boston swag to the airport the following day, as did most other runners. All the lines at the airport were dotted with teal jackets, blue and yellow shirts, and race medals. Most of the flights leaving the airport that day also offered priority boarding for marathoners. Sweet!

Final Reflections
I don’t know how to quantify this, but the Boston Marathon is the runners’ marathon. Everyone knows the drill, everyone supports each other, and everyone shares the same sense of nervous excitement. The individual achievements of the runners become the collective victory of the community (race organizers and spectators alike!). By the end of the race, the entire city is filled with a sense of celebration and solidarity. It was absolutely a phenomenal experience in every way.

Not to mention, I was able to raise an amazing $1,641 for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center! Thank you so much to all of you who donated to this wonderful agency! #trainedinteal #ranbold #notalone

boston finish

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Mission Accomplished: Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

My short story is that the race was hard (which I expected based on my training), but with a stronger result than I thought I could manage (yay!), and generally a really great race. The Marine Corps Marathon is as much about the experience as it is about the race. These are some of the things that stick out to me about the race and the experience.MCM pre race pic

The early parts of the race were somewhat of a blur because the first few miles are the miles where nothing really registers other than nerves and excitement. They had by far the best pre-race entertainment of any course I’ve done before – flyovers, precision parachuters, and historical artillery, oh my! The first few miles were hectic. I’ve run in large races before, but struggling for personal space (and sometimes even breathing space) in a horde of 23,212 marathoners takes a while to work itself out.

I didn’t have any hard and fast time goals, but I was hoping for a sub-4 hour marathon. I tried to go out conservatively, but running on feel is hard when the feelings are fueled by excitement. At 12 miles in, we hit the blue mile. The blue mile is one of the traditions of the MCM that honors fallen soldiers with pictures. After the pictures, the course was lined by volunteers holding American flags. I was told it would be an incredibly powerful mile, and I found that to be entirely true. I managed not to cry though.

At the halfway point, I knew the back half of the course would be hard for me, but still hoped I could make it through without hitting the wall. The blue mile was followed by more than a mile of signs that were spaced out maybe every 20 feet. I spent more than a mile of the marathon reading, and it was one of the funnest miles I’ve ever run! There were so many great signs, and I could tell they had been crafted by some savvy spectators. Just a handful of my favorites:

  • Toenails are for joggers
  • Don’t walk, people are watching!
  • This is a lot of work for a free banana
  • Almost as many Marine Corps Marathon runners as GOP primary candidates
  • Pain is temporary, online race results are forever
  • Looks like walking, feels like running
  • Way to go Kathy Cathy Lizzie!
  • PSA: The new Star Wars movie opens in 54 days!
  • You started this, now let’s finish it!
  • Positive and inspiring sign
  • Think about all you hope to accomplish and remember that all it takes is all you’ve got
  • When your legs get tired, run from the heart
  • Better every step

(Dear Boston organizers, please write out the Harry Potter books on signs spaced out every 20 feet along the entire 26.2 miles. Think you can do that? I’d really appreciate it!).

After that, we entered the monuments and museums section of the race, and crowds were packed in along the national mall. One of the things I have learned from my races is that the crowd’s excitement and the runner’s excitement feed off each other. Whenever I got really excited about seeing the crowd, they would respond with even more cheers, which fed my excitement for running a marathon. I especially enjoyed it when people called me out specifically – “Go Peace Corps!” (My shirt said “Peace Corps” on the front, so that was how people addressed me). This was fun while it lasted, but it made it even more noticeable when we got to the bridge, which, being a bridge, had a distinct lack of spectators.

Crystal City kinda made up for that, and those miles felt like a party. I picked up a can of Coke somewhere along mile 22 (which I held onto because it sounded really good at the time and I wanted it at the end of the race. I opened it about 3 hours after the race, no explosion!). But the start of the bridge marked the last 10k of the race, and I was running on empty by that point. I wasn’t overdoing it, but I was exhausted and kind of entered a state of delirium. In the last few miles, my breathing was quick and shallow, but not from running too hard. From running too long. Nothing mattered other than continuing to put one foot in front of the other, and I managed to do so at a pace that was faster than walking. My Garmin had long since stopped working (it had spazzed out and lost signal 3 times along the course, so I had given up on it by that point), and I had no idea what my actual pace was. I knew it would hurt as soon as I crossed the finish line, but I would do whatever it took to get across the finish line in under 4 hours. By some miracle, I managed it. I came up the hill (thinking: looks like walking, feels like death), and the clock read 3:59:38. I knew it had taken me a few DSC01713minutes to get to the starting line, so my actual race time was a few minutes shorter than that, but I absolutely had to make it to the finish line before the clock hit 4:00:00. I think I finally crossed around 3:59:49.

Then it hurt. Everything hurt. I joined the forward shuffle through the finishing area, worried that if I stopped for even a second I would never move again. Someone gave me a bag to hold all the finish line food. Eventually my bag held one bottle of water, two bottles of Gatorade, two bananas, my can of Coke, and a box of snacks. It felt like a lead weight on my arm and I barely had the strength to carry it. I continued to shuffle the almost half mile to the bag drop (who decided it was a good idea to put the bag drop so far from the finish line? What if I got hypothermia because I wasn’t able to get to my jacket soon enough?). When I got there, I kinda crumpled over to lean/lay on the table. The nice lady retrieving my bag told me I should have a seat. Then I started to cry, so I sat down for a few minutes with my bag of food one one side and my bag of clothes on the other.

I went back t0 a med tent to get some Tylenol because I couldn’t do anything with my feet. My feet hurt when I moved. They hurt when I stood still. They hurt when I sat down. So I took some Tylenol, sat back down, and after a few minutes I actually began to feel it taking effect.DSC01727

The rest of the day also passed in a blur. We waited around for our little group to reconvene, caught the metro, took the best showers ever, and ate pizza and practiced horizontal running while watching Pitch Perfect.

Overall, I feel really good about the race. Before the day was done, I was already giddy with anticipation for my next marathon (which will get its own post later). The next day, I woke up entirely mobile, though my quads and calves were quite sore. It’s not a PR, but I’m really satisfied with my effort. I had been telling people for a while that I planned to run a marathon/tour and take pictures along the entire route (and hopefully detour into the Air and Space museum). While I still think that would have been a fun way to run the race, MCM swagit was somewhat of an excuse because I knew I wouldn’t PR this marathon and I wanted to have some tangible reason for not running a PR. In all honestly, I would have been disappointed in myself for doing that because I knew it was an excuse and I knew I wouldn’t give the race my full effort if I did that. All it takes is all you’ve got, and I certainly gave that marathon everything I had.

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