Monday, April 27, 2015

Boston Marathon, 2015

I almost did not go.  

I was on the fence up until the moment we got into the car.

At 5 pm Saturday I called and canceled my room in Framingham for that night.  I needed one more day at home to get myself organized, literally and emotionally.

I had a hard time last year when deciding if I would go back.

In 2013 I had just left the finish area only minutes before the explosions. I did not see anyone get hurt.  It was still a very traumatic experience. 

In 2014, I believed that if I went back, I would create a new set of memories to erase the stress and fear I have mentally connected to the race.  

Last year, I experienced a lot of anxiety from March through April. Ultimately I did go and I finished.  It was safe and emotional.  At the time, I felt that I had achieved some closure.

But it snuck up on me this year. 

An almost imperceptible, creeping, growing fear over a month before the race.  My brain felt like mush. I had trouble making sense of why I felt a little scrambled in my day-to-day life.  I was stressed out at a subconscious level.  I was exhausted.  I wasn't sleeping well.  I had a very low desire to train.  My mileage dropped and my long runs were pushed off and rescheduled.  I was having low-grade fevers day after day.  I even called out from work which I never do.  For weeks this went on…

I had not read a single email from the BAA except the ones that asked me to update something.  I did not open my acceptance letter. I had forgotten where I put that passport and welcome packet.  I had made no connection between my avoidance of all things Boston and my distress about going back until I saw the Guilty Decision on TV and realized I wasn't sure I was able to go back.  I was very concerned about whether someone upset about the decision might retaliate at the race.

I had avoided everything Boston including preparing for it.  My lack of prep was not all stress-related.  I needed to use my Spring for other priorities. If this was any other race I would not have gone. But, with 12 days to go and nothing longer than a 14 miler or two under me, I made a decision:  Either I run 20 miles and then go to Boston or I fail to complete the 20 miles and I stay home on Patriot's Day.

Enzo and Piper at the Hotel
I woke up with a fever. Took the day off from work, disappointed that I didn't even have a chance to get my 20...  Finally at 6 pm, still disappointed, I got on my treadmill just to run as much as I could.  I put on a movie ("Unbroken") and started to run, planning to stop when I had enough….

20 miles later in 8:10 pace I stopped and decided that despite my fears, it was clear that in my heart I NEEDED to go back to Boston.

Sunday morning, after a few miles with the dogs, we loaded them into the car and drove 5+ hours to the Expo.  I waited until about 9 pm to get my gear organized.  I didn't check the weather until the next morning when I got up at 6:15 am.

Weather was not going to be great, but I have run in everything.  I don't look at the specific weather details anymore except for the night before and the morning of races. This removes it as a stressor for me.  I have a general idea of what to expect each season. I have gear for everything. I did check the weather in the morning and saw that the rain would come at 12 noon.  I was concerned that I may have overdressed, which is funny in hindsight.

Running to the Start

Rather than ride busses with the masses to the start, I ran 3.6 miles to the start.  As a sole runner on a quiet course, I finally started to feel at peace. I ran up the street, thanking the Military and Police who were already on duty very early in the morning. I thanked the Volunteers who were setting up the aid stations for elites and for the rest of us. Armored cars patrolled.  As I got t the starting area, I was wanded before being permitted to pass. Spectators were wanded by the metal detector as well.  Officers with bomb sniffing dogs were plentiful.

Sherry volunteering at M2 Aid Station
I decided to not go to the Athlete's Village.  Last year, once in the Village, we were not permitted to leave. I didn't like the idea of not being allowed out.  I felt claustrophobic and trapped.  So this year, I opted to stand out in the rain for hours in order to avoid being locked in to a gated field with 30,000 other anxious runners.  This was a good decision for me.

I was freezing cold once the rain came at 8:15 am. I had over 2 hours to wait outside and nothing to help me warm up. I thought the rain would come at noon, so I did not bring a poncho.  I had a baseball cap.  It was cold.  Someone gave me a plastic garbage bag and saved my morning. That bag helped me stay warm as the cold winds came after the brief rain stopped.

I spent the morning standing, actually standing, around in a garbage bag, people watching.  The mobility impaired, wheelchair, and hand cycle athletes were lined up and sent off.  The elite ladies lined up, and send off for their turn.  I took a seat next to and chatted with a man name Todd who has now run 30 Bostons.  It was a special place to be. It felt like I was at a small local 400 person race.

Runners in the first wave were remarkably different than runners in the second.  Wave 1 runners arrived in singlets and shorts, created an impromptu warm up loop on a side street and ran laps and laps and laps to stay warm… There was a lot of runners grabbing onto trees or poles and swinging their legs dynamically.  Many did strides and form drills.  Everyone had a different technique.  I also noticed A LOT of Mohawks.

Wave 2, the rest of my wave, arrived after the high energy underdressed pre-warmed were sent off on foot to Boston.  Wave 2 were much more laid back. Not as many warm up laps. Not as many drills or special magical pre-race routines. Not a many Mohawks.  Much fewer nasal strips.  Fewer singlets and short shorts. Rather than getting warmed up, Wave 2 runners seemed to prioritize Staying Warm.  Sweat-suited and plastic wrapped runners filed in to their corrals and waited until the last second to ditch their throw away clothes, just before the signal to start.

My Race:
I obviously had low expectations. I had a fantastic qualifying time with a 3:11, but I failed to do it justice.  I could feel the hills on my warm up run to the start and knew that miles 16-21 would simply destroy me today.  I was not going to survive running the entire race, so I decided to get a good start and then try to settle in until the hills.

Before the Rain (Photo by Michele Hudak)
The first few miles were wonderful. The rain had not yet come. I pulled off my arm warmers and tied them around my waist pack rather than tossing them to the side. I was running mid-7:00's to sub-8 minute pace and it felt very good and quiet easy.  A downhill start will do that.  I knew it would not last but I was Happy for the first time in over a month and it felt great.  I wasn't here to run a great race or a smart race … I was here to have fun and get to the finish.

I think the most impressive part of this year's Boston was the fact that once the rain came, the spectators seemed unfazed.  They stood there in the rain, screaming for us.

After a fast 5k, I slowed down a bit…but the descent and the crowds inspired fast turnover with effortless breathing.  At 10k I was almost starting to feel convinced I might run a lot better than I expected.

But the hard rain started, the wind was obvious, and my legs were started to feel the miles.   I hit the half marathon much faster than I expected.

Before hitting Mile 16, where the hills begin, I could feel my hamstrings getting very tired.  My hands were freezing despite my gloves. It was raining hard, but I almost didn't notice the rain. It was the wind that was chilling me to the bone.

Up ahead I notice someone running, then walking, and holding her hip… then running again strong, only to stop and hold her hip again.  I felt her pain.  It was too early to feel this bad.  I was running out of steam as well.  Even with her walking, it was still hard to catch her.  Just before Mile 18 I did.

In my waste pack, I had a few things I thought I might need.  My phone to call Sid to get me when I got back to Hopkinton, my ID, some cash, and two Excedrine in case something got painful and I needed something to help me continue on.  I didn't need the Excedrine.  So I offered them to the girl holding her hip.

She said she was thinking about quitting and she had never dropped out of a race ever.  I told her we were doing well still and if we just kept going we could come in between 3:40-3:50… Together we ran the next 8 miles, she seemed grateful for some company.  I know I was.

The hills really aren't that bad if you have trained for them. But since I had not trained, my legs were toast by the summit of Heartbreak.  By Mile 21, Alex felt better and was now encouraging me the rest of the way in.  Once I slowed down, I became very cold. I tried to pull my arm warmers back on but they were soaking wet and my fingers were so numb and painful that I could not feel what I was doing.  It felt like an impossible task.

As I attempted to pick up my pace I saw a woman holding a sign "Pain is just…. French for Bread" and it made me laugh so hard I forgot I was cold.  All I could think about was that 4 pack of Hawaiian Sweet Rolls in the food packet the runners get at the finish line.  I was going to eat them all as soon as I had the chance.

Despite the slow pace, the cold wind and rain, and the increasing tightness of my hamstring during the final miles, I still absolutely had a fantastic experience.

When I left for the race, I was pretty sure I would end up running about 4 hours and came in at 3:50.

This is fair. I worked so incredibly hard for my 3:11. I trained with dedication and commitment. I ran Long Runs and Speed Work.  I sleep well. I ate well. I let nothing get in my way.  I had a pace plan and stuck with it.  I worked hard.  I was ready and it paid off.  When you do the work, running gives you the chance to shine… but it doesn't work the other way.  Running doesn't give anyone more than they deserve.

As we crossed the finish line, Alex and I followed the line of people shuffling through.  It was so cold and so windy.  We eventually got out heat-shield capes. Someone asked me a question. I turned to answer them.  

When I turned back, all I saw was a sea of hooded, mylar-caped zombies. Alex was somewhere in there, but I lost her.  I looked around to make sure she was gone.  I wanted to thank he again for her company.  When I was certain I was not going to find her, I made my way out of the finish area and onto a bus to wherever it was taking the runners on board.  And as soon as I sat down, I texted Sid and ate all four wonderfully sweet Hawaiian Rolls.

Finish Time 3:50


  1. Grest RR Shannon! I am sorry you had such a rough time in the months prior to Boston!! I hope things will go better for you now that Boston has passed. God Bless!

    1. I feel better now… but now I know to expect to feel stressed out next year and it won't be such a confusing month. :)