When I finished the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon last year with a time of 3:24:06 I was over the moon because not only had I succeeded my expectations but I’d also earned myself a Boston Qualifier....
The very popular US marathon requires a certain marathon time in order to get a place and happily the time I needed was sub 3:35 for my age group. So I decided to apply to Boston for 2016 and bagged myself a place.
April 2016 swung by really fast and suddenly I was off to Boston with my mum for a girlie holiday…and the small matter of a marathon to do on day three. Over the weekend it was clear just how much of a big deal the Boston Marathon is to the city. Several people we spoke to – most of them non-runners – reiterated the fact that the city loved getting behind it, and even more so after the terrible bombings of 2013.It certainly felt like the entire city was buzzing with excitement. And just so many runners, easily identified by Garmin watches, trainers, Lycra and Boston Marathon merchandise.
On the day of the marathon, fondly called “Marathon Monday”, I got up super early, got my kit on, and headed out of the door with my mum waving sleepily to me and wishing me luck.
Transport to the start was provided for by the race and we were convoyed to Hopkins (some 26 miles away from the centre of Boston – the race is a point to point course) in yellow school buses. We arrived about an hour later… I had about two hours to kill before the race began.
It was nice and sunny but still quite cool. There were free bagels, bananas, Clif products and Gatorade It was quite the buffet. This was like no other race I’ve been to in that everyone looked fast. Everyone was lean, prepared and focused. The vibe of the place was very different to other races. There were no fun runners here. Everyone had run a marathon before in order to qualify. I felt so out of place. I know this sounds ridiculous as I earnt my place there like everyone else, but I honestly felt like I didn’t belong.
Eventually my wave was called. Everything was super organised. And the place was full of police, military and sniffer dogs (and snipers on the roof!). As I waited to start the nerves intensified as I looked around at all the lean, mean running machines next to me. And then we were off.
Miles 1-3: It was very crowded at the start but I didn’t really mind this as it kept my pace in order. There weren’t a huge number of supporters but there were sprinklings of people cheering and on their front lawns, set up for the day with chairs and drinks. It was downhill right from the start and I felt comfortable. But there were a few rolling hills as the initial miles tick by.
Miles 4-7: So far I’d been keeping nicely to my plan. I kept looking at my pace band that I had with me and felt on track but it was starting to feel really tough. It wasn’t supposed to feel as tough as this; my goal had always been to run easy and enjoy the race. I grabbed water from the aid stations and poured one over my head and sipped the other. Annoyingly they were cups which meant drinking was tricky but I squeezed the top together so I could create a spout. I also had to dodge the Gatorades as they were always first (could you imagine if I accidentally dumped one of those on my head?? #sticky).
The course was fairly dull. As a non-American I wasn’t sure what was significant and what wasn’t. As the course is pretty much a straight line to Boston you could occasionally see straight out in front of you and the 1,000s of runners ahead. It was mentally tough to see that.
Miles 8-12: At this point I knew things weren’t going well. I was struggling. I was losing motivation fast. The heat was really getting to me and I was struggling with the pace. I heard a girl next to me say to someone else, “It shouldn’t feel this hard this early”.
Annoyingly a gust of wind blew my trusty pace band away as I tried to read it – I kid you not. I watched it fly over my shoulder and gave a little scream which scared a nearby runner. I briefly contemplated going back for it but realised it was for the best. My 3:40 (and definitely 3:35) goal weren’t going to happen. Now I just wanted to finish. I stopped looking at my watch.
I was in marathon hell. Nothing about the course was helping, there was no shade and I was quickly spiraling into a dark, dark place. I took my gel early in the hopes that it would perk me up and then decided “sod it” and put a podcast on. I needed something to take my mind off the race. I wasn’t enjoying the race and was having a mental battle with myself about stopping. But stopping would be a) embarrassing and b) I’d have no idea where the hell to go or what to do.
We then came into the Wesley area. Suddenly there was a long (and I mean LONG) line of girls hanging over the barriers with bright red lipstick on screaming to be kissed. They had signs with funny messages and it took my mind off the race completely reading them. I’d heard about this before the race so it was fun seeing it live.
Miles 13-16: Suddenly I was back in the groove. I was back in race mode and pulled myself together. This is BOSTON, I told myself. Don’t waste it. I saw a girl in the crowd handing out bottles of Vita Coco coconut water and I decided to grab one. Hands down this probably saved the race for me. The water was deliciously cold and tasty, and it perked me right up. I kept pouring water on my head at each water station but I kept that coconut water with me to sip on as I went on. Now I was just ticking the miles down until the hills would begin at Newton (mile 16).
Miles 17-21: I hit the first hill after a sharp decline and it was a long slog. It was tough but there was lots of support and I just remembered that after every hill there was a decline. I could do this. I remember reading a sign saying “May the course be with you” with a picture of Yoda and this made me smile. Another said “Motivational message for people I don’t know”. Random but funny. And my personal favourite “If Trump can run, so can you”.
When I was at the race village my mum had text me saying she was on the left next to a fire station (I do love my mum’s vagueness). I had no idea where that was. I assumed it wouldn’t be early in the race but at best 17 miles onward. So I now spent lots of time searching the supporters for my mum and any fire stations (thankfully I wasn’t aware that she was actually about 800m from the finish…).
The hills kept coming but I didn’t really notice them. It broke the race up nicely and I found myself overtaking people who were walking or struggling. Amusingly I was only aware of Heartbreak Hill after I’d climbed it and saw a huge sign saying I’d conquered it. I suddenly felt giddy that I’d gotten past the worst of the race.
22-26 miles: I was running strong and was happy. There was a gentle breeze which had a lovely cooling effect. The crowds were thick. I finished the coconut water and ditched it. I raised my hands and smiled and this made the crowds louder (other people were doing this too, I wasn’t the only loon).
My only annoyance was a painful stitch in my side. I tried stabbing my side, breathing differently, putting hands on hips, stretching upwards…nothing shifted it. My only relief was bending over as I ran – this, I know, looked weird but it provided me with minutes of relief after I did it. At this point in the race you do whatever you can to stay comfortable. I saw that famous Citgo sign in the horizon and smiled – finally another landmark I recognised.
We went under a bridge where the words “Boston Strong” were painted.
And then it was time for the only two turns in the entire race, the famous: “Left on Hereford, right on Boylston” (I’d only heard about that the day before). And then the crowds were crazy. I pumped my arms and smiled and smiled. I could see the finish in the distance. Still so bloody far away but within my grasp. I felt strong and overtook people as I headed to the finish. And then it was done.
Finish: My time was 3:38:46. I am fully shocked by this – somehow I managed to get my goal despite giving up earlier and ignoring my watch.
I stumbled to the medal collection point. My dad rung me almost immediately (he’d been tracking me from home in the UK). I was just blissfully happy to have survived.
It was definitely the hardest road marathon I’ve done, despite going into it without a time goal. My easy pace I’d planned didn’t feel easy – I’m assuming because of training through winter and then having a very sunny and warm race. It was definitely a fantastic experience.
What an awesome achievement Anna, and a fabulous blog! Thanks!!
You can find out more about Anna over on her blog (it's a favourite of ours, which is why we asked her for a contribution!), which also includes her fantastic review of the eGlove Sport Running Gloves. She's also on Twitter as @annatheapple