2019 Boston Marathon Race Recap
4 months+ of training – including a half-marathon PR, a 3rd place 30K finish, and many other running firsts – all led towards my first ever Boston Marathon, the culminating experience after all that hard work. The joy I felt throughout my running preparation and upon completion of this race is hard to describe, but I’ll do my best. Here’s a rundown (PUN!) of the 2019 Boston Marathon.
Some Pre-Race Turbulence
It turns out that perhaps the hardest part of the Boston Marathon experience was not the race itself, but actually getting to Boston. Trish and I booked our flight to arrive in Boston Saturday, late afternoon, so that we could enjoy the Marathon Expo on Sunday and have a day to prep my body for the race. The weather in Texas had other plans.
After having three flights delayed and eventually cancelled in Dallas, Texas, the last flight getting cancelled at 12:30am, we found ourselves scratching our heads in the airport alongside at least 10 other Boston Marathon runners in the same situation wondering, ‘What now?’. As we failed to connect with an American Airlines representative as well as find any available Boston flights ourselves, we found a flight in Houston, Texas, and Trish volunteered to rent a car and do the 4-hour drive from Dallas to Houston while I tried to sleep, if it meant we could get there. She’s a keeper.
However, everyone else apparently had the same idea, and all the airport rental car companies had signs that said, ‘All reservations for vehicles made after 4pm are no longer being honored.’ No vehicles. No flights. Trish and I admitted defeat and reserved a motel 9 miles away from the airport, as all the airport hotels were booked for the night.
Upon arriving at Motel 6, Trish and I had accepted the reality that the next day would be spent trying to arrange a flight back to Portland, and the months of running preparation and money spent on flights and Air BnB bookings would essentially be wasted. Or at least I had accepted defeat. Trish decided to try calling American Airlines one more time, got through to a representative almost immediately and, after about 5 minutes, had reserved the last two seats on the last flight to Boston, arriving the next day at 5:30pm.
We didn’t believe it until we were physically on the plane, but sure enough, we took off without delay and arrived in Boston just in time for a late dinner and a quick gear prep before the 5am (2am our time) wake-up time the next morning.
I wish I could say I slept well Sunday night after the maelstrom of sleepless stress the last 24 hours, but I was restless all night and was happy to finally hear the alarm go off at 5am that meant I could stop tossing around in bed. The forecast called for thunder and rainstorms in the morning but decent conditions by racetime, and this prediction held true. The walk to the buses in the morning was almost rain free, but when my sister and I boarded the bus and started the drive, the rainstorm that ensued was impressive in its persistence and ferocity.
Other Boston Marathon buses were pulling over on the highway with their hazard lights on, waiting out the worst of the deluge, but our bus-driver must have sensed that my nervous-pee energy (it’s a thing, people!) was progressing towards emergency status, and she pressed on to Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton, where all the Boston athletes wait until it’s time to walk to their appropriate corral.
Ash and I got to Athlete’s Village pretty early and had time to drink some water, chat with a few of the other runners, and just get ourselves mentally prepped for the day ahead. I was in the first wave of runners leaving after the elite runners (those are the professionals that look more like gazelles than humans), so I had to leave for my appropriate Corral at 9:15am, while Ash still had some time to relax and chat with the other runners. After arriving at my corral, and getting to watch the elite runners warm up and leave, it was my turn. At 10:02am, after the National Anthem was sung and two fighter jets went roaring past the start line, my 2019 Boston Marathon was under way!
The Boston Marathon is a notoriously hard marathon because of how the elevation drop in the first 4 miles slowly breaks down your quads and the most challenging hills aren’t until mile 18.
As this was my first Boston, I went out simply trying to run around my goal pace, which was a 6:11 mile split. As I started the race, I felt like I was REALLY holding back and could hardly believe what my splits were telling me. After the slow start because of how packed the start line is (6:20 first mile), I accidentally ran 6:03, 6:10, and 6:06 for the following three miles, knowing full well that I should start SLOOOOW on this marathon. I think that in the thrill of running my first Boston I allowed my legs to convince my brain that everything would be fine. In retrospect, I should have run around a 6:30 mile pace for the first 10 miles and then slowly built up as I got further into the race. If I ever run it again, I’ll definitely have a different game plan.
As I ran the first 15 miles, I got to see why the Boston Marathon is such a special race. The streets along the race were bursting with encouraging fans, and it seemed like the entirety of Boston was cheering me on as I paced my way through many of the little towns just outside of Boston proper.
Around mile 13 or 14, the general hum of cheering that was a constant rose considerably in both decibel level and pitch. I had heard that there was a pretty entertaining fan-base at Wellesley College, an all-girls college in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and true to form this was probably the highlight of the first 15 miles.
As I approached the college, the cheering grew to fever-pitch, and the women of Wellesley were out en masse with tons of posters acting as persuasive propaganda for reasons why runners should stop whatever it is they’re doing to kiss them. The reasons were broad in scope but had a unified, singular intent: ‘Kiss me I’m Irish,’ ‘Kiss me I’m Lesbian,’ ‘Kiss me I’m progressive.’ The field thinned considerably as runners careened to the right like a group of birds separating from the flock in order to take part in a tradition almost as rich as the marathon itself and receive a coveted kiss from a Wellesley girl.
The Turning Point
It was around that time that I knew my marathon was taking a turn for the worse. I was just past the halfway point and my quads and calves were tightening up considerably, something that had never happened during any of my training runs.
I also was drinking more water than I had in any of my training runs. While the rainstorm of the morning had abated by race time, the streets were completely wet and the sun was poking through the clouds, creating a level of humidity that was very un-Pacific Northwest. I run with a 12 ounce water bottle, which provides enough hydration to last through 20-some miles on my training runs. During the Boston, I had finished my 12 ounce water bottle around the 10K checkpoint (a little over 6 miles), and I never felt like I caught up on hydration for the rest of the race.
As my splits continued to drop and my quads and calves went from uncomfortable to painful, I knew that any hopes of running my goal time were gone. As I passed Trish, my parents, and my brother-in-law at around mile 19, I slogged my way over to them and yelled, ‘I’m going to be riding the struggle bus for the rest of this race!’, and that about sums up my last 7 miles. I slowed to a snail’s pace in the hopes that it would alleviate some of the pain in my legs, but eventually realized that if I was going to finish the Boston Marathon, it was going to require a walk-run combo, so that’s what I did. My mile splits in the last about 9 miles speak for themselves.
Coping-Mechanisms for Walking in the Boston Marathon
As I slowly did my walk-run combo, with severe cramps in my calves and quads being so bad that they would occasionally jolt me to an uncomfortable, albeit brief, stop altogether, I made my peace with my inevitably slow finish by soaking in my surroundings and talking with other runners clearly in the same boat.
One such runner was wearing a Portland Runners shirt and after catching up to him and chatting, we both realized he was one of the two runners that beat me in the 30k trail run I did as part of my training, and we both acknowledged the cliche smallness of the world before talking through what was now going to be an inevitably disappointing finish time. Our stories were similar: a bit too fast at the beginning maybe, unfamiliar humid conditions, or maybe it just wasn’t our day. This was the mantra of all the runners I sidled up next to and chatted with as we walked and cramped our way through the last few miles.
Throughout the last mile, I was cramping hard and just hoping that I wouldn’t be one of the handful of people in the last mile I watched get carted off on a stretcher. It’s hard to know how close you are to total body breakdown in situations like this, but I think I was pretty close. With the crowds screaming all around me though, I had no choice but to struggle on.
Every time I’d stop my slow-jog with a cramp, the crowd would erupt in my ear: ‘C’mon 1500! You’re so close! You can do this!’ Why crowds of people can motivate you to push beyond your pain is a mystery to me, but their yelling not only gave me goosebumps (or maybe that was just my body shutting down), but it gave me the last bit of energy I needed for the final straightaway.
Once across the finish, I thought about all the work that had gone into this race, the personal bests along the way, the new running thresholds reached, and the journey in itself just to physically get to Boston after 24 hours of flight delays. While my finish time of 3:05 was worse than I could have ever imagined, the hard work and preparation that all guided me towards crossing the finish line filled me with gratitude rather than regret, and that feeling has continued in the following week. The joy of running the Boston was itself an unforgettable experience, and the joy of the journey leading up to it was equally unforgettable.
I swore this would be my last marathon, but having finished it, I think I’ve got more in my future. Another qualifier to get me into the more competitive New York Marathon? Yep. Training for that will likely start this fall. In the meantime, I have a whole host of bike races that will consume my free hours in the coming months, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Respect, Ben! That’s a whoooole lotta not-ideal pre-race drama. Bummer to not hit your goal, but hey, if you’re a crusher and you know it, raise your hand. You’ll get the next one!