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April 29, 2014

The Boston Marathon Experience

A week later, I still have many mixed emotions swirling around in my brain and lactic acid lingering in my muscles. The Boston Marathon was the most challenging, most rewarding, and hands down coolest race experience of my life.

I swore after my first marathon in DC last year that I would never run another, but then the bombings happened and I realized that if I was ever going to run Boston, this was the year to do it!

I could talk about it for days, but it's time to move on to other life activities. As closure, I want to summarize my training, the time in Boston, and give my apologies for being super annoying to everyone for the past couple months!

Boston training (the hardest part by a factor of a million) -

It took a solid 2 months to feel normal running again after I got back from Ethiopia, so my training finally started on November 1!

Since I was happy with my friend Tom's coaching for the first marathon, I asked for his help for Boston. This time, I had 6 months to prepare instead of 3 months and had a much better idea of my goals. My basic schedule for the past 6 months has been 4 days of running (2 regular and 2 workout), 2 days of bike workouts and strength training, and one day off.

Since January, that has totaled about 50 miles of running, 2.5 hours of biking and 2 hours in the gym each week, for a total of 10-11 hours of training with the exception of down weeks.

I was lucky to train for this race during a life transition - for the first 2 months I had a flexible internship and for the middle 2 months I was mostly unemployed. As a result of being able to spend so much mental energy on training, I was feeling AWESOME at the end of February. I easily beat my half marathon PR by 2 minutes during a workout and I started to believe Jimmy that I was capable of breaking 3 hours. And most importantly, I was having fun!

But then I got a job. For these past 2 months, when the long runs reached 20 miles and 2 hour workouts were the average, I had to be finished by the time I was used to waking up. The quality of the workouts decreased and I got anxious from feeling stuck in this rigid and difficult schedule. I started to resent that I was going through this exhausting process alone!

One day with a month to go, I was finishing up a 14 mile workout when something very painful happened in my foot and I couldn't run another step. After a few days on the bike it was tolerable enough to get back into running shoes, but it hasn't stopped hurting since and added a whole new level of frustration!

Despite feeling terrible toward the end, other than a few tweaked and/or bombed workouts, I didn't miss a single day of training. I had countless grumpy nights and mornings, obscene levels of chaffing and Gu consumption, resorted to eating snow off the ground when there was no water and will never be able to listen to a certain few songs or think about the Lincoln and the Washington monument as anything other than my 3 and 2 miles-to-go marks.  But overall, I enjoyed the process and surprised myself over and over again by what I was capable of doing.

Race weekend - the fun part!

Jimmy and I started our kitchen chalkboard countdowns - his to the Masters and mine to Boston - when the count was still in the 50s. All of a sudden there was a week to go...

And a second later we were on our way to the airport! My thoughtful co-workers surprised me with a card and balloons. :)

Thanks Mrs. Green's friends!
Once in Boston, I got the much needed moral support of a fellow runner - friend Fiona was there to race too!

We spent Sunday getting ready for the race. We took silly pics in the T:

Got a kick out of our famous Cornell teammates at the expo:

It's Morgan!
It's Sage!
Left our mark on the expo wall:

Scoped out the finish line:

Cooked and ate a giant Easter pasta dinner:

Photo credit to Aeriel
And prepared our outfits:



The Boston course is unusual because the start is 26.2 miles outside of the city and you just run straight in. Runners are shuttled out to the start from downtown Boston, so we were up and out of the apartment by 5:30am to catch our shuttle.

(In case you're wondering what the dietitian eats before a marathon, it was 1/2 cup oats with a mashed banana, chia seeds, and a generous scoop of peanut butter. I ate it on the T at 6:30 - exactly 3.5 hours before the start of the race!)

The ride out to the start felt more like 100 miles than 26, and then we waited in the Athlete's Village, a giant holding pen of food and potties, for 2 hours.

It was cold in the holding pen!
The best moment in the Athlete's Village happened right before we left for the starting line. The announcer asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims of last year's bombings and the fallen MIT police officer, and 36,000 people went completely silent. All you could hear were the American flags flapping in the wind. It was the first of many moments that gave me chills!

At 10am, we took a starting corral selfie.

And then laughed all the way to the starting line.

Fiona and I ran the first couple miles together and then she took off as planned. I didn't think about much in the beginning. I felt totally comfortable running just under 7 minute pace and I concentrated on high-fiving kids on the sidelines and reading all the clever signs. Beginning with the walk to the start, there wasn't a single inch of the course that wasn't packed on both sides with the most excited, supportive and fantastic spectators I have ever experienced. A lot of the runners were yelling right back out to the crowd!

The best thing about this race was that nobody took themselves too seriously. There was an unspoken understanding that we were all taking part in something much bigger and more important than ourselves.

At one point, a spectator yelled out "Hey everyone! An American just won the Boston marathon!!" and we all cheered, fist pumped and high-fived each other in the race.

I never got bored, but I did have plenty of time to think. I laid out a few milestones for myself: at 10k everyone is going to get an alert, at mile 9 you get a Gu, dad might be at the half, mom might be at mile 16, etc.

Around mile 10, I started doing math. If I could make it to 13 with all sub-7s (3:03 pace) I would have a 7 minute buffer to still get a PR. 7 minutes spread over 13 miles was about 30 seconds per mile that I could slow down. Totally doable.

When I got past 13, I decided I could maintain my pace at least to mile 16 where my mom might me.  Then I would have only 10 miles to spread out that 7 minutes of slow down! I never saw my parents and during mile 16 my quads started burning, so I focused on getting one more mile at a time into my bank of sub 7s.

The first and only person I heard cheering for me the entire race was coach friend Tom around mile 19. And for some reason my reaction was to laugh.

At mile 20, I still hadn't clocked anything above 7 minute pace and was encouraged that I could slow down by over a minute per mile and still get a PR! I caught up with Fiona and we ran close together through the hills. We actually had no idea which hill was the infamous heartbreak. All of the hills were long and very gradual - I didn't think any one of them was particularly hard.

Fiona found some energy and surged ahead around mile 22. At the same time, I stopped caring about running a PR. At that point, my quads had been filling up with lactic acid for 6 miles already and I became concerned only with forcing them to keep moving for 4 more miles so I could finish the race.

Jimmy and Aeriel and friends were somewhere around mile 23:

Roommate Ray was somewhere around mile 25:

I didn't hear any of them. The crowd was LOUD and all my brain could process was the raging fire and heaviness in my quads! I kept checking my watch but was completely incapable of doing math - at mile 25 I thought there was no chance that I was going to PR even though I had 16 minutes to get to the finish!

The famous final turn onto Boylston was certainly memorable - what I remember thinking is "why is the finish line still so f-ing far away?!?"

But somehow, it arrived. And I was somehow completely shocked to look down as I crossed the line and see that my time was a PR by almost 8 minutes. Speedster Fiona finished about a minute ahead of me and we found each other right away... for a finish line selfie!

We wobbled over to our predetermined meeting spot and fell onto the dirt.

Gradually, friends and family rolled in. :)

The best sign makers ever!

Cornellians :)

My mama and Paul

I spent the rest of Monday with my visitors, overwhelmed by all of the congrats and well wishes. :)

I wobbled around Boston on Tuesday, enjoying the moments:

 And eating all sorts of delicious things:

Then way too soon it was all over.

Apologies and Thanks

Last but not least, I'm sorry:

To Jimmy, who dealt with the aftermath of bad workouts, the wrath of my anxiety before hard workouts, endless social denials, confusing-even-to-me food preferences, unpleasant torn up skin, early alarms and endless other things. Thank you for always trying to understand, putting things into perspective, making me feel better, always setting up your bike so I didn't get greasy and for surprising me with the marathon jacket when I needed some cheering up!

To my roomies Ray and Alex, who dealt with many of the same things. Sorry about the Friday night you were playing beer pong when I had a 20 mile workout before work the next morning, and for eating many of your bananas. Thanks for cheering me on and not kicking me out! :P

The chalkboard when I got home from Boston.
To my friends, who also dealt with many of the same things. Thank you for still wanting to hang out with me anyway!

To my family, who already know that they'll forever be on the crazy coaster with me. Thanks for braving the crowds to come watch! :)

To my coworkers, who listened to me talk about running and my foot nonstop from the day I started and pretended it was normal. Not normal. Thank you!

To Tom, who I gave a really hard time whenever he tried to help and dealt so gracefully with my complaining and worst moments of training. Thanks for being an amazing coach and also a friend!

What a unique and incredible life experience. You're all the best. 

What's next?

This is where my emotions are mixed. I'm very happy with my race! My goal was to break 3:10 by hanging on to 7 minute pace as long as I could. In the end, my average pace was 7:00.1 - mission accomplished! However, I had several 18-20 mile workouts where my average pace was under 7 minutes and my quads never burned or became sore (for 8 days and counting...).  For them to become an issue so early in this marathon was strange, and maybe just a sign of my body's rising general protest over the last couple months.

I made everyone in my life promise to never let me run another marathon. I don't want to go through that again, but man do I want to break 3 hours.

We shall see...

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