I had a blast at Boston, but I probably should have worn my cheetah shorts.
Once you have a marathon that amounts to a grand slam (like in baseball, not Denny’s), you do everything you can to mimic the conditions under which it happened. I think that if I’d happened to have retiled my bathroom the day before Berlin last September, I probably would’ve been doing it again this past Sunday. Athletics will make superstitious quacks from very sensible people, which is why I didn’t run in my sexy new cheetah shorts. From a performance standpoint, that’s how I went into Boston this year: do everything the same as Berlin to run as well as Berlin.
The problem, of course, is that you can turn to superstitions or cheetah shorts, but some conditions are out of your control. In fact, that’s sorta the point of running these stupid things over and over. Always different, hopefully better. The route, the weather, a body that rebels, a .5-millimeter difference in how much Body Glide you apply that results in debilitating blisters (e.g., Pinto, 2010). You never know what will happen.
As marathon week moved forward, I–like most–checked the forecast online with increasing delusions that if I just kept clicking Refresh, I could actually control the outcome on the screen. I watched the predicted tailwind speed increase and thought maybe I was willing the currents. Then I watched the temperature increase and knew I wasn’t. For many people, the conditions for the race seemed perfect, but I know I perform best when it’s raining and 45 degrees. A 60-degree day–even with a tailwind–was not going to be auspicious for my wintery New England blood.
I got up at 5 a.m. to start my race day rituals. Peanut butter & honey on a power bagel with a banana? Check. Praying prostrate to my poster of Paula? Check. Dry heaving? Check. Eighth marathon, and I still kinda want to curl in the fetal position and whimper on race morning. Why do I do this to myself? I always ask that question on marathon morning. Like they teach you to say in mom-school, my answer is always the same:
Because I said so.
The sky was bright and blue, and the chill in the air was temporary–the sun had a mission. I kitted myself up, and we drove to the Dana-Farber refuge in Hopkinton, where Brian was going to drop me off with a client before the roads closed at 7:30. My house is 26 miles from the starting line, and like a beacon, the lights of police cars on the shoulder of the highway marked our arrival to Marathon Hoopla 2011. As soon as we exited 495, it was clear that other people had the same idea to get to Hopkinton as late as possible before the roads shut down. While we sat in traffic, the elite buses drove by. It was like a metaphor for the day. They go fast enough to set a marathon “record,” effectively making the rest of us look like we’re idling.
It took us 30 minutes to go 4 miles from the exit to the church where the 550-person DFMC group convenes to generate the kind of pre-race jitters that could power the Citgo sign. We made it to the church before the streets closed, and in true “hurry up and wait” fashion, we bolted from the car so Brian could get the heck out of Hopkinton.
And then we waited for 3 hours.
At least I ran longer than I waited.
Camped out on the floor of a parish hall, I dragged out my prep to a glacial pace. I put my hair up at 7:45. I stretched at 8:00. I put on some socks at 8:15. Bathroom at 8:30. Bib pinned at 8:45. A shoe at 9:00. Bathroom at 9:30. The other shoe at 10:00. You get the idea.
By the time they called Wave 2 runners to the corrals, I felt like my day had been going forever. I jogged over to the Start and entered Corral 7 with 500 women aged 18-34 and about a dozen men with a decade of gray hair behind them. It was like a male midlife-crisis fantasy.
It felt warm, so I chucked my throwaway gear long before the gun. It was too warm already. If I’m not shivering, it’s too warm. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be my fastest race. But you never know. That’s where my certainty was. Probably not the best race mantra to devise 5 minutes before the gun: “You never know…” I didn’t feel defeated; this was actually my take on optimism.
With a “you never know” degree of confidence, you pretty much have to sink your faith in the numbers. My plan was to run 8:20s until the half, 8:15s until mile 22, then faster from there, if possible. An ambitious negative split, but everyone says my “numbers are there” from prior runs this Spring. A half-marathon of 1:38, and a 22-miler at 8:17s evidently means your “numbers are there.” I had my rituals and my numbers, but the conditions of your body in relation to the conditions on that particular day mean your numbers and rituals are, ultimately, suggestions.
Also, with the trigger pulled on Wave 2 and the Midlife Crisis Corral moving forward, I decided I really had to pee.
We started to run, and with a seeded start, the pack was open enough to get going. The route was lined the entire way with spectators. It was a beautiful day to watch a race, which means it was sub-optimal for me to run one. But you never know.
Working my plan for a negative split, my first mile downhill was a conservative 8:37. That was fine. The building pressure at the base of my bladder was not. I knew it was psychosomatic incontinence–I’d just hit the porta potty on my way to the Start–but Freud or no, I had to go. Men pulled off to “use” the woods, and I glared at them and their exterior plumbing. I suppose you could call it a modern sportsgirl’s penis envy.
The last time I stopped during a race to pee, I lost 2 minutes and my mojo. After that stop, I blew off the race and ran for–gasp–fun. I didn’t want to pee out my mojo before the 5k mark in the Boston Marathon–one has some street cred to maintain when running an Ivy League-type marathon–so I decided to keep going. If I was going to pee in my pants, so be it. My shorts were both micro and wicking, and frankly, that option seemed more hygienic than using a porta potty already christened by one wave of wicked fast, majorly competitive, and probably very rushed marathoners.
With my name printed on my shirt, I heard personalized cheering perhaps every 15 seconds. That’s the beauty of running a Major. Thousands of people are determined to be your #1 fan. I decided that if I peed myself, it couldn’t be in front of someone who called my name. Ultimately, that meant I couldn’t pee–there were just so many enthused people yelling “Kristina!”
By mile 5, my bladder stopped messing with my head, and I forgot about having to go. I tried to settle into a pace. I couldn’t feel the tailwind, but I knew it was there because every time we hit a water stop, we’d chase the cups on the ground for about 200 meters. Maybe because of the wind, or maybe because of the hills, but I struggled to secure a steady pace for myself. It was starting to get frustrating.
Somewhere after mile 5 but before mile 10, a woman came running up next to me and said, “Hi! How are you?!” I turned my head and nearly tripped over my own feet.
When I ran the Tucson Marathon in 2009, I ran alongside a woman for about 8 miles, and we chatted about writing and running for a good while. Crazy as it was, she ran up to me at last year’s Boston around mile 22, but I was walking so she ran on. When I mustered enough steam to run the last mile, I caught up with her on Boylston, and we actually finished the race together. In the early miles of this year’s race, Meagan ran up to me again. It was completely surreal. “How was your year?” she joked. “Great!” I told my totally, 100% Twilight Zoney, fated marathon friend. “You?” I don’t know her last name, but I guess we’re destined to run together. We split up shortly after our reunion, promising to see each other in another marathon next year.
After my cosmic meeting with Meagan, I tried to settle my pace down a little again. Running through the early miles of Boston feels easy because it’s downhill, but unlike a lot of other marathons, the spectators line the entire course and cheer like you’re in the home stretch. Berlin had that, too, but it feels different when you’re close to home. Throw in a Dana-Farber singlet, and people treat you like a rockstar. The people vary by neighborhood–Framingham cheers differ from Wellesley cheers–but yelling is yelling, and there’s no feeling like being the recipient of vigorous encouragement for almost four hours. It’s positive psychology on crack.
Framingham, Natick, then Wellesley, we approached the half, which falls at my favorite place on the course. The Wellesley scream tunnel isn’t just college girls. Because you run between the campus on the right and some forest on the left, it really does feel like a tunnel, a gift of shade. Men stopped for Wellesley love, but the women kept going, starting the downhill through the swanky town of Wellesley.
I knew my aunt would be waiting in Wellesley center, and she’d promised to hold a sign for me. When I saw Jean standing on the right with my huge sign, my usual race frown broke and I smiled and hugged her. She was the first family member I’d passed, and it gave me such a charge, I briefly took my pace to a 7:50. She made my favorite part of the course that much better. When I saw my watch, I yanked my pace back to 8:15, where I tried to hold it for the next 7 miles. I felt good, right where I should at the half of this course–ready to throw in another half-marathon. Ready to satisfy my plan.
And I didn’t even have my cheetah shorts. You never know, maybe this day would work. To win your own snazzy shorts, stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to my race report.
My splits for the first half: