Sunday, April 24, 2011

Boston Marathon 2011: The Recap

Hi all,

Sorry to keep anyone waiting to hear how my Boston Marathon experience went. It's been a busy couple of days, and finally found the time and opportunity to sit down and write about my Boston experience. So here goes... and I will forewarn you, it's a long one.

I felt going into Boston that I was physically prepared for the adventure that lay before me. Friends who had run Boston had forewarned me that I should be prepared for downhill running, and that it was an experience that I would want to soak in as much as possible. I took this advice to heart and ensured that I did a lot of hill training, and a little bit of speed work to physically prepare. I am glad I had turned on the listening ears, as I felt during the race, that I was on track.

My preparation for Boston started before we left for Boston. I had packed all of my race day clothes in my carry-on bag, and had clothes ready for both cold and warm weather. I carried my nutrition, the five gels that I would use for the day, and everything was ready to go.

Sunday night before the race, we had gone for the pre-race dinner at City Hall, and then settled back into the hotel for the night. Greg organized details for internet so he could faithfully follow the Canucks game that was on at 10:30 that night, complete with headphones. We had a great night sleep on the Saturday night, so I was mentally prepared that my pre-race sleep was going to be crap. And yes, it was. I think it was 1am when I finally fell asleep. However, I managed to meet my goal, which was to ensure that I at least got more sleep than the number of hours that I would be running. Mission accomplished.

The blackberry alarm went off at 5am, followed by wakeup call at 5:05, so I started off raring to go. We had picked up a couple of bagels the night before, so chewed on one (tough to do since they were stale). Our hotel had organized to have coffee and bananas available at 5:30am. So I was there first thing to get my caffeine boost and banana.

My biggest concern for the morning was trying to figure out timing for eating, drinking and emptying. I didn't want to eat too much, too early as there was a 3-hour between the bus pick-up and start time. So I made sure to carry the extra bagel in case and then aimed to hit the corral for coffee and maybe a second bagel.

We left the hotel just after 6am to walk to Boston Commons. It was a brisk 10 minute walk to the park, where we were greeted by 27,000 of my closest friends. It was the sight to see at such an early hour. Everywhere I looked, there were huge line-ups of people waiting for the bus, as well as a constant stream of buses whisking people away to a faraway place, otherwise known as Hopkinton.

I just jumped at the end of a random line-up to take me away to Hopkinton. Considering the sheer volume of people, it was probably only 20 minutes of waiting before filing onto a bus. We left Boston Commons at 7am, a whole three hours before the first wave start.

I sat beside a gentleman named Juerg from South Carolina. He was running his second Boston this year. He was a little nervous, and I have to agree as to why, as he had broken a bone in his foot only 6 weeks prior. Juerg was aiming for his "Boston or Bust" race, and hoping that his foot would hold out for the 26.2 miles before him. I told him I was also nervous, as my periformis had been seriously painful for the 2 weeks prior to the race. Nothing spells out confidence like spending all relaxing time with a tennis ball on the glute.

The bus ride out to Hopkinton is about an hour long. It's a pretty nondescript drive, except for the fact that there were cop cars zipping by with their lights on, escorting the busses to their destination. Makes one feel a bit special with that kind of treatment. We arrived just at 8am, and you could instantly feel the nervous energy in the air. Perhaps the people running to the forest to pee added to that energy, but there was a huge buzz. As well, one of the first things to greet me once stepping off the bus, was the huge blast of wind. The forecast had called for a tailwind, roughly 30 miles an hour. Thank god that was going to be on our backs for the race, and not into it. A good blessing I'll call it.

I entered into the corral, and decided immediately to get a second cup of coffee for another caffeine jolt. I grabbed the coffee, a second bagel and tried to figure out how I was going to stay warm for 3 hours while the wind whipped by. As soon as I tried the coffee, I tossed it, as it was awful. I was then given a Gatorade pre-workout drink with approximately 300 calories, that was targeted to drink two hours before, aka, RIGHT NOW.

My left periformis was angrily grumbling, so I thought the best course of action would be see if I could take advantage of the prerace massage. I was very nervous doing this, as I was nervous to seriously wake the dragon right before the race. I jumped in line and waited outside before they let me in.

For anyone who plans on running Boston, let me tell you of the best-kept secret. The best way to stay warm before the race, is to go into the only building open to racers, which is the massage area, in the middle school gym. Even if you only pretend to get a massage, this was the biggest saving grace for my race, as it allowed me to stay warm and stretch that buggar periformis. So do yourself a favour, and hit that gym!

As my wave started @ 10:20, I left the gym to hit the porta-potties at 9:20, then do the bag drop-off at 9:35, so that I would be on schedule to leave the corral at 9:45. The walk from the corral to the start line is 0.7 miles, so I made sure to leave on time and get into my section 8 with plenty of time.

Boston had organized the race this year to have a 3-wave start, with 9 different sections. I was assigned to wave 2, section 8. Finally, 10:20 arrived and the gun went off. Hey everyone, the fun has begun!

I hit the start line 3 minutes later, and immediately felt the downhill that starts Boston. For the record, the first 8km is downhill, which can be really hard on the quads.

My strategy was to go easy for the first 10km, then slowly build, and then try to keep pace for the last 10km. I felt this huge rush of people go by me for the first couple of miles, but kept my head to stay on my plan. I am really glad I did this, as it allowed me to just get my head used to the sheer volume of runners around me, and see how many people spectate this event. During this first stretch, I saw a couple of friends- Don who was previously in my running clinics, as well as Andrea, who is in the current marathon clinic at Broadway. They passed me, never to be seen again.

The course in itself is pretty nondescript for the first third. It's not like many races where it's gorgeous views and flash. Instead, I saw lots of bare trees, and spectators. There were the bikers who were blasting AC/DC, drinking beer and bbq-ing at 10:30 in the morning. Signs everywhere and people sitting in their lawnchairs clapping.

Greg had planned on seeing me at the 10km marker as well as mile 23. I wasn't expecting to see him as I thought the sheer volume of people would make it difficult to spot him. So I was extremely surprised to see him at the 10km marker. The scenery onwards was getting more interesting with the old buildings, more towns and the volume of spectators growing. As we got closer and closer to Boston, the atmosphere became more and more electric.

I was starting to get hot at this point, as the temperature for the day was quickly rising. The forecast had called for a high of 17C, so I wore my short sleeved IMC shirt, and my coolwings, so that I could pour water on myself to keep cool. I was really trying to be conservative with my pacing, and make sure to not get overheated during the race, and be consistent in my caloric intake.

I continued on my journey to Boston and had to really try to keep focus on pace while watching the sights around me. One of my favourite moments, was running by some fitness facility. They had organized about 20 small trampolines, and each trampoline had a little kid bouncing on it, holding up signs. There were little kids handing out licorice, orange slices, little glasses of water, or wet paper towels. There were kids lined up along the sidewalk, all hoping for a high five from the marathoners. It was so awesome to see how people went all out for this race.

Around mile 13 is when I hit Wellesley College. In fact, I was greeted with a large adidas sign aptly stating, "Wellesley with Screams." Wellesley College is an all-girls school located beside the course who get right into the spirit of the marathon. I was greeted with the "Kiss me!" signs that they are famous for. I believe for nearly half a mile, all I saw were signs saying: "Kiss me, I'm available! or Kiss me, I'm from Connecticut! or Kiss me, I'm bicurious!" or whatever else. It was hysterical some of the things that I saw. I didn't feel inclined to kiss anyone, however, I leapt at the chance when a girl held the sign: "High Fives for Canadians!" So I did, and then gave her a hug, I was so excited to see. There were a lot of signs for Canadians along the course, so it was great when they saw me in all of my IronMan Canada gear, as they went nuts with cheers.

I felt great physically, despite the concerns I had before the race with the periformis. Luckily, it decided to behave. The only concern was that I didn't feel like I had the necessary zip in the legs to push me hard that day. I was also hot, so I had to slow down at aid stations and grab water to pour over my arms or dump down the back of my shirt. I also started to notice an irritation in the back of my throat. I realized later in the race that I figured out it was the PowerGels Double Lattes that were the cause. So I kept drinking a glass of water to help alleviate the irritation.

The miles kept rolling along, and the smile persisted on my face. It was so much fun to see all the happenings. At mile 20 through 21 is when you take on the challenge of Heartbreak Hill. I am glad that Greg and I visited it on Saturday to get a feel of the hill, and concluded that it was really no different than running up part of the UBC hill or Highland Boulevard in North Van. Besides, it was only about 700m of hill before the descent towards Boston. I was so stoked going up Heartbreak, that when I got about 3/4 up, I let out a huge holler, and then said to the closest spectators. "I came here to take on Heartbreak, and I KILLED it!!!" It was a huge push to get up that hill and take on the last 10km of the race. I felt awesome!

The crowds kept getting bigger and bigger as I got closer to the end. By the time I hit Fenway, the crowds were seriously 12 people deep. I was shocked to see Greg again as promised at mile 23. He was screaming and cheering and it was great to see him, as I had just started having a side stitch. Seeing him put me immediately back in game mode and pushed on to the end.

The final couple of miles were almost a blur. I remember looking at my garmin at 40km, and thinking to myself, "Holy cow, realistically, I have only 10 more minutes of this!" I didn't know whether to push it to finish earlier, or slow down to take it all in. I decided to push as I realized that a girl who had started right before me was just ahead of me by 10 feet. I decided to make her my goal to beat so that I knew I pushed it. The plan worked, as I kept up and went for it for the final stretches of the race.

I crossed the line at 3:50:31. This was my fourth-fastest race, but I think it will be one of my most memorable ones. I shuffled through to grab my heatsheet and finally collect my long-awaited medal. I actually cried when I received the medal.

What I took from this experience was that this WAS the destination, and all races up to this were the journey. It's been full-circle for me to get to this point. When I first decided to try and qualify back in October 2008, my whole world was tilted when my Dad died on August 13th, 2008. I really struggled through the grief, and running helped me deal with the pain. And then I missed qualifying by 46 seconds.

The second thing that made this so special for me, was the fact that I trained for and qualified for Boston with my injured hip. I am on a waitlist for surgery, but was still able to overcome the issues with pain and stress to keep up the running and persist. So this was gratifying.

I decided to dedicate my race to my Dad and asked him to help me through the race. He looked after me to make sure that I could push through the pain and enjoy the experience. So thanks Dad.

And of course, I totally dedicate this race to my dear husband, Greg. You have been my rock, my confidant and my number one fan. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have you by my side.

For the next while, I am going to focus on biking and swimming, as my next goal is the Oliver Half IronMan in June and then maybe the Scotiabank half marathon. However, in the meantime, I am going to enjoy recovery and feel proud of what I have done. And it feels alright.


  1. Congratulations, Angela! Your story demonstrates the power of a clear goal, backed up by determination to achieve it and capability to make it happen.

    I'm sure Dad was smiling proudly as you made the miles fly under your shoes.

  2. Thanks sis! Hell or highwater, I was going to enjoy Boston as best as I could! Besides, they dangled shiny medals at me as the motivator. ;-)

    As for Dad, I had asked for him to help me through the race, and know that he was there supporting me. I made him proud!

  3. Just came on over the SR blog...nice job at boston and for doing a billion marathons! :)

  4. wow-came over from SR blog. I live in Boston so the marathon is a pretty big deal for me/anyone from boston:D Your recap is just amazing! Congrats and awesome job! You should be SO SUPER proud of yourself!!

  5. Thanks Margs and Kate! I appreciate the visit from SR! I was a little concerned about being a little long-winded on the recap, but figure it's easier to remember this special event now than later. Besides, since running is my passion, I love to talk about it. Thanks again for visiting!

  6. Awesome race report, thanks for sharing and congrats!

  7. Thanks Bela! This was a first for creating a race report, so thanks for stopping by and reading!