Thursday, April 24, 2014

Boston Marathon, April 21, 2014

photo by John Price

Pre-race Run to the Start:
Michele and Scott's children holding signs.
Mine has Anxiety in the background :).
Photo by Michele Hudak
Notice it says 21,657 Smoots to go…
 bonus points for those who can figure out why :) 
It was about 7:25 am on 4/21/14 and Michele just asked if I needed a hug before I set off on my way. She was only half joking because it was clear that I was having a little trouble quieting my anxiety after being present last year. (In short, I was at the finish line waiting for John, decided I was too cold stay, got on a bus and just after we left, the bombs exploded).

She reassured me that things will go much better than last year… and then Sheena, her little youngster (I think she is about 4 years old) proudly shared what she knew about the marathon, "There was a bomb at the marathon!"… I mumbled something about everyone being ok now and then whispered a quiet question to Michele, "Does she know what happened?" Michele shared that she had just learned about it and understood that not everyone was ok.  Shana then clarified for me, "People have new legs now."

I accepted that hug from Michele.  I stepped outside into the 41 degree air and began to make my way to the start.  Standing outside, next door,  were two guys already in full party mode! Music blasted from the house, the guys already had beers in hand.  One said, "You got the right idea!  Why run the whole way…when you can just jump in as they run by!"

Making a joke I replied, "Don't think we didnt 't already discussed this last night… BUT I decided I would rather run to the start and see what happens" :)

They wished me luck and off I went, running the course backwards from Michele's house 3.8 miles away from the starting line.

I had a gel stuffed in each of the three pockets of my shorts.  My inhaler tucked in my sports bra.  A 12 oz bottle of Gatorade for before the start.  And then something I never use in racing -  A Nathan's Gel Waist Pack carrying things I would need in case of an emergency: my cell phone, my ID, a credit card, some cash, that small map from our "Runner's Passport" of the finish area with notes including Michele's phone number and how to take the train back to Michele's if I could not find the bus.

Running to the Start: I have run nothing, absolutely nothing, more awe-inspiringly peaceful than the Boston Marathon Course backwards just hours before the start (not the entire course).  I am incredibly grateful to Michele (and to John Phelan for knowing Michele) for giving me this gift.

At that time, I was the only runner on the road.  In just hours almost 40,000 runner would be  trampling down the street, but for now the road my mine with the exception of only a handful of spectators, the volunteer race staff at aid stations, and security presence.

The Elite Aid Station Tables were set up on their marks.  There is truly something special about running past elite aid tables, imagining the speed those runner will fly past... even if I was going the wrong way.

As I ran, I felt compelled to thank those officers I passed for being there.  I thanked the volunteers, who  were hard at work, setting up cups and cups of water.

Sherry and Me pre-race
And then I heard my name, as a question, called out at the 2 mile aid station… "Shannon?"  I was then pleasantly surprised to meet Sherry in person. She also a Brooks runner, who happen to be volunteering at the Aid Station.  Just a few weeks ago I was chatting with her on Facebook about her beautiful rescue dog Bear.  We talked for a minute, snapped a photo, and then I continued on my way.

I arrived about 8:10 am at the starting line. My start time was 10:25 am, so I made my way to the Athlete's Village which was almost exactly a mile from the starting line - as per my Garmin.  I wasn't sure what to do with myself for 2 hours but I knew I was hungry, despite eating a small snack before leaving Michele's.  Just as I wished I had been bright enough to bring something to eat with me, I passed a woman and some others sitting under a canopy with a sign that said "Everything Free"… and she had bananas.

I don't know what the heck is wrong with me but at that point, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes… She offered me a banana and thanked her so much for being there.  I arrived at the Village, took off the "Throw Away" Short Sleeve shirt I wore (just so I could sit on it) which was over my Throw Away Long Sleeve shirt, that I had on for warmth.  I talked a bit with a man that sat on a cardboard box, which he claimed was his Best Find of the day so far. :)

I ate my banana, a gel, and drank my gatorade. My plan was to leave before my wave (Wave 2) was called to both use the portopotties on the way to the start because they had no line (yes, you read that correctly- the portopotties on the way to the start had NO LINE) and also to watch the elite ladies start in Wave 1.  I was sad to learn they would not let us out.

I waited at the gate, speaking with a man named Kevin, until our Wave 2 was called.  On the way over I ran into Zsuszana Carlson, Hung Ng, and Bill Allen all within a minute… causing my Wave 2 companion Kevin to exclaim "OMG, do you know Everyone!" LOL.

photo by Dave James, from John's photos of John and Me at the Expo
The Race:
At 10:20 am, I was standing in my corral when the announcer reported the temperature was 59 degrees.  It was getting warm too fast. Ugh.

Good weather is truly relative.  When coming out of winter, when training in the very cold, 60 degrees is very warm for a starting temperature and it would only get worse.  With my average training temperature being in the 40's, I was not acclimated at all to a 60+ degree marathon and I knew I was in trouble.

But, I had not planned on a fast race anyway.  I had told John Price the day before that I would be happy if I  finished in a 3:30. I had also chosen to wear my Brooks ST5 Racers which are heavier and less responsive than my T7 Racing Flats,  both because I didn't feel race ready and also because I would cover about 32 miles out there with the 6 miles of warm up miles prior to the race.  I wanted a little extra support.

Starting Corral.  Photo by John Price 
Gun Goes OFF and it takes me 45 seconds to cross the starting line. I find my pace and think to myself "These shoes feel nice!"… then about 5 minutes later I think "oh crap, why do my achilles hurt… I hope it is not these shoes!"  LOL.  It really wasn't the shoes. I was just really tense and after running up hill in the morning, then sitting in the cold grass, I think I just tightened up a bit. I try to settle down a little hoping that the tightness will pass.

By Mile 3,  I am very worried.  Everything feels hard. I feel tired, sore, achy, and dehydrated. I am not expecting this race to go well at all! Someone is handing out orange slices.  I take it.  That orange, in combination with pouring iced cold water over my head and slowing my pace a little, makes me feel 100% better…for a few minutes.  At that moment I decide that I am going to challenge myself to an Orange Eating Contest and anytime I see an orange nearby I will eat it!

M1 7:19 
M2 7:29
M3 7:34
M4 7:37
M5 7:40
M6 7:40
M7 7:41
M8 7:40

I have to mention that I never pay attention to my mile splits as I take them. I do look at the average pace on my watch for guidance and I do split the watch at each mile… but I don't look at the split while en route.  I don't like feeling like the watch is my boss.  I would rather use things like breathing rate, effort, sense of whether I can hold a pace.  I watch the average pace of the entire run, because that tells me how bad I am fading or not.  In this case I was so please to see 7:38 sitting on that screen for miles and miles.

Around mile 8, I met Tom.  Tom had his name on his shirt.  At first I though this was nice.  However within a mile or so, I believe I heard "Tom" about a gazillion times.  He cruised up next to me and I said, "I guess you are Tom?"  He said "I like to write it on my shirt because then people cheer for me.  There are always other Tom's in the races and they tend to run near me so they, too, can get cheered for. It works out well!"

I responded, "Funny you say that, because my name also happens to be Tom!" I gave him a quick smile so he would know I was joking.  We discussed race plans and he said he hoped to break 3:20 but wasn't sure if he could. I mentioned I would be happy with 3:30.

Because I did some math prior to the start, I knew 7:38 average pace would be a sub-3:20 with perfect tangents… but at mile 8, with a hard second half to go, we needed to be faster than 7:38s now to be able to have a chance to break 3:20.  I fully expected to fade in the hills, so 3:20 was not in my sites at that time.

M9 7:33
M10 7:39
M11 7:47
M12 7:40

Boston Marathon Elevation Chart

After a few miles of running with Tom, I drifted away. I don't think I could have tolerated hours and hours of people screaming "Go Tom" over and over and over and over so this was ok.

I noticed a Blind Runner (as per the sign on his back).  He was a bigger guy, for a runner.  He had a bouncy pacer… who was clearly very fast since the pacer stopped for a mid-course pit stop and then easily caught back up.  It was so interesting to watch how efficiently this blind guy ran.  I stayed behind him for many miles, so he was moving at my pace, untethered to his guide (suggesting he had some partial vision).  Someone noticed he was running the yellow line, so we assumed he might be able to see the color change.  He wasted no energy.  As his pacer bounced up and down and mildly twisted his torso with each arm swing (probably to help slow his natural speed down some), the blind runner glided forward without bounce or twists.  I was so impressed.  He was so efficient.

By mile 13, I started to realize the painful reality that could no longer be ignored.  The chafing that began miles ago was horribly painful now.  I was pretty sure I was bleeding.  Last week I wore a pain of shorts in a half marathon that chafed a tiny bit.  I chose shorts with bike shorts type liners for this race on purpose and it was not helping.  I was chafing under the bottom band of my sports bra, except for where I applied a bandage for protection.  I was also chafing where the interior of my biceps rubbed against the sides of my sports bra.  Everything hurt with every step and I had almost two hours to go!

I noticed someone handing out popsicle sticks of vaseline.  I don't see this much at races.  Boston may be the only race that I have run that does this. I remember someone telling me a story last year about a guy grabbing the popsicle stick, not knowing what it was, and sticking it right in his mouth!  LOL.  The vaseline was enough to help me through the rest of the race.

M13 7:44
M14 7:41
M15 7:47
M16 7:39

I started doing some math at mile 15… 10 minute per mile is 150 minutes… if I hold  8 minute pace, that is 2 minutes less per miles for 15 miles so I can subtract 30 minutes from that … which means I have about 2 hours left… and HOLY COW that means I will come in about 3:24 if I can only hold it together on the hills!  Every mile under 8 is a victory!!!

I started grabbing every thing I could to help me feel energized for those hills… any orange slice in my wing span, I grabbed… any random cup of water held out by a complete stranger (which honestly scared the crap out of me when I thought about it too hard... but I knew I needed it.  I admit, I did smell the water before dumping it on my head.  I did wait to drink at official aid stations).  I even grabbed an ice pop on the way up Heartbreak!

I cannot explain how surprised I am with how well I tolerated those hills.  I knew Heartbreak really isn't terrible, as it is only about a half mile long at about 4 percent grade.  Do that on your treadmill right now and you will find it runnable… do it at mile 21 and you will realize why it is called Heartbreak Hill.

On Monday, I crushed those hills!  I passed more runners than I expected to.  I watched my average pace barely drop as I climbed.  I used every downhill to make up anything I felt I lost on the way up and once over the top of the final climb, with screaming spectators yelling out exactly what I was thinking…"You DID IT!"  I felt rejuvenated and ready to take this race home!

M17 7:48
M18 7:49
M19 7:34
M20 7:49
M21 8:05

photo by Kino @kinofault
I tried with all my heart to actually pick up my pace after Heartbreak.  All the downhills helped.  I briefly had delusions of grandeur as I try to believe I could negative split Boston!  People kept calling out things like, it is all down hill from here and I thought that maybe I had a shot... but honestly this is not true.  At Mile 25 there is one more roller that is really hard after all the hard work in the hills.  That is the hill they should call Heartbreak… just when you think you are done with the ups, there is just the one more uphill to kick you in the gut.

M22 7:29
M23 7:38
M24 7:43
M25 7:50

But once that was over, I knew I was reaching the point where everyone stopped last year because of the explosion.  I guess this was where the "scream tunnel" was supposed to be… but in my head it was completely silent… I felt like I was on autopilot.  I was suddenly scared.   I was actually afraid of the finish line.  I felt like I was running directly into a burning building, but I knew I just needed to hurry up and get it done.

In the most ironic photo ever… it mile 25, while I was running in my mind completely alone… someone took this photo… and there in the midst of a 36,000 runner race, I am completely by myself.

photo by Mark Nyan and touch up by Jim Merrit

I dug for whatever I had left and as I turned the final corner, I knew I had about .5 miles to go.  I even found my kick in the last 0.2 miles getting down under 7 for the first time in the entire race.

M26 7:47
Last .2 1:43 (6:44 pace)

Once across the finish line, I was only concerned about one thing… get on the bus and get the heck out of there and that is just what I did.

Once back at Michele's I took a quick shower and promptly drove home to NJ, feeling the need to get home to Sidney where I knew I would feel most safe.

Final Stretch to the Finish. Photo by John Price

Time: 3:22:34 (7:43 pace)
OA place: 7105
Gender place: 1164
0-39 AG place: 912

I also want to add a special note of Thank you to all the people who made my weekend special.  Thank you again, to Michele and family for housing me.  Thank you again to John Price for spending a few hours with me Sunday traveling to the expo and back with me.  Thank you to John Phelan and Enrique Sallent  (and Michele again) for making me laugh so hard the night before at dinner and working with me for months while training hard for this event.  You guys are the best :) 


  1. I absolutely love reading your race reports, and was super excited for this one. Your writing makes me feel as if I was there running the race too (and since I will probably Never BQ) this is awesome :) So thank you!!! You ran an awesome race, you should be proud!

    1. Thank you so much for reading… it is a feat of endurance in and of itself to get through my Race Reports :) I have a feeling you can BQ if you set your mind to it. :)

  2. I really enjoyed reading your race report of Boston. The energy there must have been amazing!

    1. Joe, it was! It is really an amazing experience.