I’m going to assume you’ve read my previous posts or have an idea about what the Boston Marathon is and what it means to run it – otherwise I could very well fill the equivalent of one whole blog post just with the background!
So, following on from my last post. I had my traditional pre-marathon dinner of pizza (I Googled and found a pizza joint with a vegan menu, you guessed it, within walking distance from where I was staying!) from the All Star Pizza Bar – delicious pizza! I could only eat half! Well I probably COULD have eaten more than that…
Just a few doors down was a liquor store and after umming and ahhing over the choices I eventually settled on a local craft cider.
Then it was time to work out what time I needed to set my alarm (a very civilised 6:30 – I also set one for 6:35 and 6:40!) and get my gear ready. Because the bib is quite ‘long’ I decided to pin it to my top instead of wearing it attached to my belt as I normally do.
With security being (understandably) very tight, there are strict rules about what you can and can’t take to the start line and have in your finish line bag. I had planned to bring an Australian flag to the finish but that was on the banned list (not that they have anything particularly against Australians, just large flags in general are banned!) So we were all given a small start line bag (mainly just for nutrition and drinks) and a larger finish line bag (I put my long sleeved finisher shirt, a T-shirt in case it was warm, long pants and thongs in there). All of that was packed and ready to go, my gear was all laid out and my breakfast, except the stuff that needs refrigerating, was also in the bag. Because my start time was 10:50, and I would be getting on the bus to the start at Hopkinton between 8 and 8:40, and I would be on a train from Cambridge at around 7:30, it would be too early for me to eat breakfast before leaving the house. I had brought a disposable container with a lid and a disposable plastic spoon (which may or may not have been courtesy of Cathay Pacific) so I could eat breakfast just before getting on the shuttle bus!
I had decided to change one thing on race day – instead of the (slightly stretched and therefore more for aesthetic than practical value) aqua calf sleeves I’d planned to wear, I opted for the BRAND NEW, NEVER BEFORE TRIED 2XU ones I’d bought from the expo. “What happened to not trying anything new on race day?” I hear you ask. But when you consider that I’m in Boston, and my top has a yellow trim on it, how could I not wear these babies?
I did tape my feet – despite my new favourite Steigen socks being pretty much guaranteed blister-proof, I wasn’t taking any chances – a blister can totally ruin your day!
I set 3 alarms – not leaving anything to chance!
I actually woke up before the first one – another guest at the house where I’m staying, Alissa, was also running the marathon but she was in an earlier wave, so she needed to be up and gone earlier. So I took my time getting ready. I decided to leave the beanie at home – it was going to be a warm day and I kind of liked the beanie so I didn’t want to have to ditch it! I did wear the track pants, even though they weren’t really needed, because I needed to make room in my suitcase for all my new purchases!
I headed to the train and while on the train I decided to put my gloves in my finish line bag – no way would they be needed! In fact the arm warmers were probably superfluous too but they look cool so they stayed!
At Boston Common I dropped off my finish bag and headed to the bus loading area. With strict rules on what could and could not be taken on the bus, I ate my breakfast before getting in the bus queue.
The girl next to me on the bus was a veteran of 7 Bostons, being a local. She has never done any other marathon! She told me it is not a fast course (which I knew, but then, she doesn’t have anything to compare it to!) and at that point I decided not to get too hung up on the sub-4. Que sera, sera! As long as I had that sweet medal hanging around my neck at the end, time was irrelevant!
We arrived at the Athletes Village at Hopkinton. They had everything! Fruit, bagels, gels, mini Clif bars (I did have one of those) and even coffee! I can’t do coffee before a race!
Everything was supremely well organised, the whole day! The portaloos at the village were plentiful but (well the one I used) pretty nasty! I wonder if as many spectators would high five runners if they knew what the portaloos were like! The MC kept making announcements about which wave and corral needed to go where and when. There was really no excuse for not knowing where to go! (He kept calling our wave the ‘Smurf’ wave on account of our bibs being blue!)
Pretty soon our wave (Wave 3) was called and it was time to make our way into our corrals and to the start. It all happened pretty quickly. All along the way there were opportunities to discard clothing which would all then go to charity (much of it was probably purchased from charity stores in the first place – I know mine was!)
Being a warm day (they described it as ‘hot’ and it did feel that way at times while running but it was actually mid 70s which is around 24 degrees Celsius) I put sunscreen on while walking to the start.
And pretty soon we were away!
It’s going to be pretty hard for me to describe this race in any great detail – although I did try to take in as much of it as I could, given that I was on unfamiliar turf, I probably can’t do it justice.
I’m going to try to keep it in some kind of chronological order but I’ll also be jumping all over the place – bear with me!
I did buy this book, at the Harvard Book Store, on Tuesday, which I hoped may help!
As I had been told by all of the many friends I have who have previously run Boston, “It’s downhill at the beginning, don’t get carried away, save your legs!” Easier said than done!
The crowd, right from the start, was phenomenal and got right behind me. My name was emblazoned across the front of my top in big bright yellow letters so it could be seen from a distance. That was an idea I got from friend Tory who ran Boston 2 years ago. It meant the crowd could cheer for you by name. Unlike all the other marathons I’ve done, the Boston bibs don’t have names on them.
I went in with no plan and no pacing strategy. I’d set my ‘slow alert’ on my watch to 7 minutes per km. That was more to alert me if my GPS dropped out (which has happened several times recently) rather than to tell me if I was running too slow. I didn’t expect that I would actually be running that slow, but as it turned out, at times I was! I was still HOPING for sub 4. I was fully expecting a ‘Personal Worst’ and absolutely fine with that!
The sports drink on the course was lemon-lime Gatorade which for once was what I was used to! From previous experience at City-Bay in Adelaide (up to 40 000 people) and City2Surf in Sydney (around 70 000) I expected that the drink stations might be hard to get to. So despite being familiar and comfortable with the sports drink, I still carried a handheld bottle of Gatorade so I could drink whenever I needed to. The drink stations were very frequent (almost too frequent!), being every mile from mile 2 onwards. I had been told that there was first one on the right, and soon after, one on the left. So if you happened to be on the ‘wrong’ side of the road it didn’t matter, you didn’t need to fight your way through the crowd to get a drink!
Paper cups were good too. Much easier to drink out of than plastic. You could fold it into a spout and drink without wearing half of it! (Although, it was warm, and many people were pouring water on themselves intentionally. As long as that didn’t happen with the Gatorade!)
Speaking of pouring water, there were a few spots along the course where fire hydrants were made into makeshift sprinklers – I can tell you they were VERY much appreciated! I did make the mistake the first time of getting too close to the water source and consequently getting DRENCHED – I soon learned to stay a bit away from the hydrant and just get a LIGHT shower!
I was amazed throughout the race, at how many people were there (there always seemed to be a sea of people ahead) and yet I never felt like it was congested. Whereas, when I did City2Surf, I actually couldn’t get close to a drink station!
Around the 2 mile mark, in Ashland, near the first drink station, the ‘Rocky’ thrme tune was blasting – great motivation! (I read in the book that this is a tradition – Rocky theme on a continuous loop – so nice and motivating for the runners who are just passing through, but must be VERY tedious for the spectators!
I wasn’t aware of it at the time but within Ashland, at around 4 miles, is where Kathrine Switzer famously was almost dragged off the course in 1967, for being a woman back in the Dark Ages when it was a ‘men-only’ event.
Back to the crowd support. I was expecting great things and boy did they deliver! There were quiet patches, sure (and at times I actually needed a bit of ‘quiet time’ to focus and drop the pace and effort down a notch) but for most of the 42.2km (or as they say here, 26.2 miles – doesn’t sound quite so bad, does it?) there was amazing support. As I said earlier, having my name on my top made ALL the difference. I didn’t know a single person out there but it seemed like everyone knew me! And a LOT of fellow runners commented on it, too! There was one point where someone called out “GO JANE!” and a few moments later, “GO RUNNER NEXT TO JANE!” Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!
It seemed appropriate that in the home of the TV show ‘Cheers’ that it really did feel like everybody knew my name!
There were MANY high fives. Hundreds, I’m sure! Many were from kids but there were a few from very enthusiastic gentlemen, many with a beer in the other hand, and a few stung a bit! (I made a mental note, after one particularly ‘stingy’ one, to only high five kids from then on! That lasted about 2 minutes!)
The spectators were also handing out stuff left right and centre. Oranges were popular, along with water (in between the official drink stations), ice, ice blocks, licorice, and even beer! The only thing I took was 2 bottles of water throughout the course of the race. Having a water bottle as well as my handheld Gatorade made high fiving a bit more challenging but I was determined to make it work – the Gatorade bottle could slide up over my wrist, freeing up my hand. It did mean, though, that I could just take the centre line through the drink stations and avoid getting caught up in the congestion (which, truth be tokd, wasn’t actually that bad).
After Ashland we arrived in Framingham. A few things I can remember here (with the help of my trusty book) was the massive party atmosphere and the sports scoreboard! The party atmosphere, as it had done for a lot of the early part of the race, had got me really pumped up (especially with the crowd yelling out my name) and caused me to run a fair bit faster than I probably should have at that point. So while I found the crowd support incredibly motivating, and there was much air punching and fist pumping as well as high fiving, it may have caused me to spend a bit too much energy early! The sports scoreboards is another tradition – the Red Sox always play at Fenway Park on Marathon Monday so there was someone along the side of the road posting score updates from the game (which the Sox did end up winning) on a blackboard.
Somewhere in Framingham we passed the 10k mark. I wasn’t looking at my watch – and when I did look at it, it was just to look at the distance – not time or pace. However Strava reliably informs me that at the 10k mark I was sitting on 5:12 pace with a time of 52:24. Somewhat way too fast for what was expected to be around a 4 hour marathon!
Around the 12km mark we entered Natick which according to my trusty book, is a local Native American name meaning ‘place of hills’. Not sure if that’s ACTUALLY true but never let the truth get in the way of a good story! Here the Fire Department was kind enough to give us a cooling spray station which was much appreciated!
Then came Wellesley and the famous/infamous ‘Scream Tunnel’ which is around the 20k mark. This is where hundreds of girls from Wellesley College line the course and create a level of noise that can be heard from (seemingly) miles away. This is where, if you’re that way inclined, if you can’t get a kiss, there’s something seriously wrong! This tradition dates back to the earliest days of the Boston Marathon, remembering that back then, women weren’t allowed to compete. These days, a few guys join in the fun – I guess they would like their chances, given that the field now would be close to 50% women!
I did see a few guys with signs asking for kisses but decided not to take them up on the offer – I settled for a whole bunch of high fives!
There were LOTS of great signs along the way. One of the most memorable was a girl holding up a signs saying ‘Nipple Vaseline Station’ (or words to that effect!) I ran past her saying “I’m good!” and laughing! And someone had my personal favourite sign (the one I held up at the 2014 Adelaide Marathon) – “Run like someone just called you a jogger!”
Then there was this guy. I saw him but it didn’t register at the time what it was.
I saw a few participants in wheelchairs – not the elites though, they start before the runners as they go CRAZY fast. I remember seeing Aussie legend Kurt Fearnley during the Gold Coast Marathon last year, coming back the other way – unbelievably fast! But as Boston is one way rather than out-and-back, we weren’t going to see any of those speedsters! (Fearnley ended up finishing 4th at Boston this year)
There was one guy in a wheelchair who was going backwards (with a few supporters helping)! I did ask if he was going backwards the whole way but I couldn’t understand what they said.
Turned out he was – and has done so many times before!
I saw a few walking with crutches, several amputees with prostheses (proper running prostheses, like that guy whose name I don’t want to mention here) and a few moon boots. I also saw one girl just in her socks and carrying her shoes – presumably blisters? (Bet she was wishing she’d taped!)
I wondered about the crutches and moon boot but then I thought, if I’d qualified and then the unthinkable had happened there’s no way I would have missed this. So if it meant walking it, with crutches, in a moon boot – so be it!
There were also a lot of visually impaired runners with sighted guides. I noticed 2 spots along the course where there were changeovers of guides. And at one point there was a guy calling out that there was a visually impaired runner and guide coming down the middle of the road so we could keep out of their way.
Still within the town of Wellesley we reached the halfway mark (well, in distance anyway!) According to Strava I reached halfway in 1:52:48 which is 5:21 minutes per km. I didn’t know that at the time (again, not looking at my watch!) but based on the time clocks that were at every mile marker, and knowing that we had started 50 minutes after the official start of the race, I thought I was on just under 2 hours. And with some hills coming up in the second half, I was pretty sure a negative split was not on the cards – so I held out little to no hope of a sub-4!
I heard music… and it was Bon Jovi, but not the song I expected to hear when I was ‘halfway there’ – instead it was ‘It’s My Life’ (still good!) I had to settle for singing the chorus of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ in my head!
Not long after this came the 4 Newton Hills between 26 and around 34km, the last one being the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Now, I am in no way a mountain goat, but the hills didn’t scare me. I figured, if I had to walk up some of them, so be it. As it turned out, I managed to run the whole way although I did slow down to a plod at several stages (that was when my watch started notifying me that I was going slower than 7 minutes per km). I didn’t find any of the hills too terrible – if anything I found the heat more of a problem than the hills. I didn’t notice anything particularly menacing about Heartbreak Hill, nor did I get complacent after having ‘summited’, knowing that there was still a long, long way to go! My Strava time for the Newton Hills segment was 48:44 (6:13 minutes per km) with an overall elevation of 62m which doesn’t sound so bad, does it? The Heartbreak Hill segment itself (800 metres) I completed in 5:53 (6:47 minutes per km) and the elevation was 29m. 29m over 800m is quite a lot. Not that you should compare apples and oranges but if you put that elevation over 100km you’re looking at 3600m elevation. So yeah, it is steep but it is short.
Around here we passed Boston College. This was when spectators had paper cups of drinks which I quickly realised were beer! (I didn’t take any drinks from cups during the race – only bottles of water!)
This was also where I was looking out for Adelaide friend Maree’s daughter Emily, who was to be holding a yellow inflatable kangaroo. Unfortunately I had never met Emily so I didn’t know what she looked like! In preparation I took out the small Australian flag that I had in my pocket, and I did see a kangaroo, only it was a guy holding it! I held up my flag and cheered, and later found out that Emily WAS there and called out to me, only with all the other people cheering for me, I didn’t hear her! Turned out she’d given the kangaroo to the guy to hold as he was taller and would be more easily seen by the runners!
I can’t remember exactly where it was, but I saw a marquee to the left that had ‘Run Jane Run’ on the side of it! I pointed out my name to the supporters hanging out there (presumably supporting someone else called Jane, not me, but I like to think they’d heard I was coming) and got an extra enthusiastic high five from each of them! (I did hear quite a lot of people throughout the race calling out “Run Jane Run” and “See Jane Run” which was pretty cool!)
At around 22 miles we reached Brookline, and Beacon St which seemed to go forever – not so many welcome distractions here! The ‘T’ train was still running, parallel to the course, and some of the passengers waved to us!
Coolidge Corner was a welcome relief from the relative monotony, with a large cheering crowd – including one girl who went out of her way to track me down and send me this photo!
Next came the iconic CITGO sign with just one mile to go. It’s pretty big though so you can see it WELL before you hit the last mile! But, once you see it, you know you’re nearly there! And I could hear the cheering of the crowd at the Sox game at Fenway Park!
With about 1 mile to go, I snuck a look at my watch. I roughly calculated that if I did just under a 9 minute mile I might get the sub-4. (If I’d known for sure at this point that the sub-4 was definitely off the table, I planned to back right off and just enjoy the ride. But it was still a vague possibility so, while I still continued to enjoy it (and high five), I gave it my best shot.)
1 mile has never seemed quite so far! But the crowd was once again incredible. One girl was handing out stars that had ‘BOSTON STRONG’ written on them so I grabbed one of those.
One guy called me ‘a savage’ – I’m not quite sure exactly what to make of that but I have to assume it was a compliment – spectators heckling runners during a marathon is not really a thing, certainly not in Boston!
Those last 2 turns. ‘Right on Hereford, left on Boylston’.
And there it was – the finish line!
Tiny Australian flag aloft, I sprinted (well it felt like a sprint, I’m sure it didn’t look like it!) to the finish line and I was done!
I JUST FINISHED THE BOSTON FREAKING MARATHON!
Watch stopped. Time (officially) was 4:00:19 – oh so close! But, I had done it! (I later found out that my finish time of around 2:50pm was exactly the time the first bomb had gone off 4 years ago – eerie!)
As we started the long walk out of the finish area I got chatting to a girl called Millie who wanted to get a selfie with me!
Then came the best bit – that glorious bling!
As had been the case for the rest of the day (and the weekend as a whole), the finish area was really well organised. Everyone was given a shiny blanket (like a space blanket – to keep warm) and even a sticker to hold it closed so we didn’t have to hold it on! And we were also given Clif bars, fruit, water and a goodie bag with more food!
After leaving the finish area I went to try to find my Adelaide running buddy Maree, but I somehow missed her (easy enough to do with 30 000 runners out there!) While waiting I met a girl who had a brother who had lived in Australia for a while – I asked her where and she said ‘Adelaide’ – I said ‘No way, that’s where I’m from!’ Normally when I tell Americans that I’m from Australia, they’ve never even heard of Adelaide! I got to meet him briefly – my one Adelaide connection for the day!
I then made my way back to Cambridge (my only issue for the day was getting out – the marathon was still going, so I couldn’t cross Boylston St – so after going round in circles for a while I eventually got out!)
One of the coolest things was the number of people I met during the walk to the bus, who congratulated me – complete strangers! (Of course, for those who were also marathon finishers, the sentiments were reciprocated!) It was pretty obvious in my case as I was still proudly wearing my medal, my race kit and my ‘shiny blanket’!
(Side note – one of the many things I love about Boston is how the people here can actually understand me when I speak, unlike many other places in the USA! It’s because they don’t pronounce the letter ‘R’ unless its followed by a vowel. Just like us! So they pronounce ‘Harvard’ like ‘Hahvuhd’ whereas other Americans would say ‘Harrvarrd’.)
First order of business when I got back home was the rest of last night’s pizza!
Then a shower, compression tights on, and off to Fenway Park for the after party!
I didn’t stay long as I didn’t know anyone there but I did get to walk on the field (not on the grass but on the dirt around the edge) and sit in the dugouts which was really cool!
After that I walked (further than I thought I’d be walking) to Ben and Jerry’s for a non-dairy dessert (PB and Cookies, my favourite!) On the way there was a motorcycle cop leading a bunch of runners who got cheers from passers-by. I asked a girl waiting at the lights what it was all about, she told me it was the marathon race director running the course (this was around 9pm) as he does every year! So that was a really cool thing to have seen!
After Ben and Jerry’s I headed back home to Cambridge and to bed after a long, amazing, huge and very satisfying day!
It was everything I thought it would be and more! Thanks to the city of Boston, the BAA and the 9500 wicked awesome volunteers as well as the 30 000 runners – what a freaking amazing event!
Just a footnote – the following day I happened to be at adidas Runbase on Boylston Street to exchange a hoodie. Talk about being in the right place at the right time – as I walked out of the store, Kathrine Switzer just happened to be involved in a ceremony to retire her famous #261 bib, the one she controversially wore 50 years ago and again this year. It was so fitting to be able to see someone who was essentially a pioneer for women’s marathoners, still doing marathons and being an ambassador for female athletes 50 years later! I’m currently reading her book so this was such a cool way to end my marathon experience!