Only One Boston

The months leading up to the Boston Marathon were some of the best training cycles I have ever had. It all started in March of 2016 when I ran the Myrtle Beach Marathon (MBM) with my college teammates Megan and Jamie. I have to start this post with a shout-out to Meg and Jamie because they encouraged me to run the MBM with them right out of college. If they had not done that, I don’t know if I would have run any marathons yet. And, if I had not gone to Myrtle Beach, I would have not qualified for Boston.

If you have somebody in your life that has encouraged you to do something new and you absolutely fell in love with it, make sure you thank them.

Thank you, Megan & Jamie. Once teammates, always teammates. ❤

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Megan, Jamie, and I after Myrtle Beach where I qualified for Boston.

The anticipation of applying for Boston and getting accepted was exhilarating. It was like being invited to an exclusive party that was all about running. I self-coached myself for six months taking in lots of advice from more experienced runners. For six months, I showed up to the track for my interval work. I showed up Saturday morning for my long runs. I showed up at the bar, not for a drink but for many lifting session. It can be hard to show up by yourself all of the time. I learned to love it, finding motivation and energy in the solace of getting lost within my own mind and in the strength of the running community around me. A way that I tried to avoid the exhaustion of training alone was to sign up for races in the months leading up to the marathon. As a runner, it was very important for me to take part in the running community around me. I loved those local races that motivated me to work hard in my training and acted as stepping stones for Boston. Thank you, Pittsburgh for having an amazing running community! #RunPgh

There was a point, four months into training, where I felt that I had hit a wall. It was after Christmas and before I raced the Austin Half Marathon. My body was physically exhausted. So guess what? I rested for two weeks. And it didn’t set me back at all…instead, it gave my body time to catch up with the training. After running the half at the end of February,  I knew that the toughest part of my training was ahead of me. For the next four weeks, I increased my training from 60 miles to 75 miles the first week, 80 miles the second, 90 miles the third, and ending in 100 miles before starting my taper. I was happily surprised at the physical reaction that my body had with running twice a day, five days a week, increasing the distance in my interval work, and doing 18 plus mile long runs for four weeks straight. Not only was the physical reaction satisfying, so was the mental reaction. My mind felt strong and capable. I was very happy running twice a week, taking the time to fuel properly, hydrate well, and sleep a crazy amount of hours each night.

Peak week came to an end and my three-week progression taper began. These three weeks flew by. I spent them taking plenty of time to stretch, do core work, foam roll, race strategize, mentally prepare, etc. Finally, it was marathon weekend and I was thrilled to be going to Boston! Growing up on the West Coast, my vision of everything out East consisted of a replica of Boston in my mind: cobblestone sidewalks, stunning brick buildings, historic statues everywhere, etc. As a runner growing up, I also knew the importance of the marathon in Boston. I swore that I would never visit the city of Boston unless I was there to run the marathon. Here I was, 24 years old, with almost twelve years of running under my belt, going to the Boston Marathon. Yippee!!! ❤

Race morning, I had the privilege of sleeping in. A friend had agreed to drive me and a co-worker to the start of the race in Hopkinton. This was a luxury because the only other way to get there was to catch a 6:30 a.m. bus to the start. Boston is a point-to-point race so, once you are out in Hopkinton there is only one direction to run: East, towards the city. Arriving half an hour before the start of the race was the perfect amount of time to use the restroom, drink water, shake out a bit, and soak up the environment of the athlete’s village. I have never seen anything like it…. a whole school-yard of thousands of runners, doing runner things. It smelled something like wet shoes, vaseline, Clif Shots, and Gatorade. The port-a-john lines were crazy and I was thankful that I had not spent three hours of my morning waiting in weaving bathroom lines. The energy in the village was unreal, though. I am sure it is magical every year but with Meb running his last Boston and Katherine Switzer running on the 50th anniversary of women running Boston, the vibe was really special! An announcer called the first wave over and we began our walk to the start. This part of the morning felt surreal. Here I was with 10,000 other wave-1 runners who ran hard and trained harder to qualify, all walking to the start of the Boston Marathon. I wanted to jump out of my skin!

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My co-worker and I in the athlete’s village.

When they did the singing of the national anthem, I almost lost it. The singer reached the high notes of “home of the free, land of the brave” and there I was in my Nike shorts and compression socks, ready to bawl my eyes out. If there was ever a perfect image to describe someone as “emotionally excited”, it was my face before the start of the Boston Marathon. We finally started the race and for the first five miles, I could not get over the fact that every time I looked up, all I saw was hundreds of bobbing heads for as far as the road went. It thinned out slightly, but not a lot. At first, I thought that the number of people running next to me would drive me crazy. Instead, I fed off the energy and lost myself in the miles. I don’t remember what it felt like to run miles one to eleven. I do remember looking around at the road out of Hopkinton and feeling like I could have been running in my college town, a backroad somewhere, etc. I high-fived every little kid that I could, smiled at families that were gathered on their lawns with breakfast in hand, and said many sorries for all of the people that I dodged in-between of in an attempt to pick up my pace.

When I reached mile twelve, I began to hear a rumbling noise. I knew that Wellesley College was somewhere near the halfway mark but I did not expect to be so overwhelmed with the noise of the girls. When you reach Wellesley college in the Boston course, the girls are lining the streets, forming what is called the Scream Tunnel. Running through it may have been one of the most empowering moments that running has given me. It was electric….the kind of wildfire that you want to spread. I ran to the sidelines and ran fast through the scream tunnel with my hand extended out, touching fingers with girls who were pouring their hearts into their most important task for the day: cheering for the runners in the Boston Marathon. I loved it! Thank you, ladies! xoxo

After the Scream Tunnel, I began to mentally prepare for the Newton Hills. I knew they were coming but they somehow still caught me off guard. The first two were a breeze. The third one was a grind. I was unaware of when the third Newton hill ended and Heartbreak Hill began. I think this worked in my favor because even though I was in a lot of pain running uphill at mile 21, I had no clue where I was and before I knew it, a banner telling me that “the heartbreak is over”, was above my head. Only five more miles to go!

These last five miles were brutal. I had never felt my IT Bands tighten the way they did at mile 22 in the Boston Marathon. There is something bittersweet about pain while running. I almost want to feel pain. Pain and discomfort keep you grounded in the fact that you are only human but, it also plays as motivation to push past it. I truly believe that if we can redirect our pain, it can work for us, not against us. I tried my best to redirect my pain into energy. It really started working when I finally reached the Citgo sign.

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This famous sign in Boston symbolizes one mile until the finish. If you have run a marathon before, you know that the last mile feels like the longest. There is something magnificent about the crowds in Boston in the last mile. I smiled so hard, watching strangers loose their minds and their voices in cheering for the runners. I had fewer people around me at this point in the race but still enough to pick people out that I wanted to catch. There was a runner in a blue tank top that I was set on catching for the past two miles. It was really satisfying to pass him in the final mile. It was even more satisfying to high-five him after he finished. 🙂

The whole time I was running the last mile, I kept thinking “right on Hereford, left on
Boylston”. I could not wait to make that left turn! When you do, it is like nothing you could ever imagine.There is a heck of a lot of love on Boylston street on Patriot’s Day in Boston!

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Left on Boylston feels like your heels grew wings. Left on Boylston feels like floating through a tunnel of encouragement. Left on Boylston feels like a little piece of heaven.

I was so overwhelmed crossing the finish line that I forgot to look up at the camera.

Oh well!

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Even though I did not PR in Boston, there is no way that you can cross that symbolic finish line, upset. In my mind, I had to separate the physical experience from the emotional experience of running Boston. They were both very overwhelming and special. My time of 3:14:59 left me satisfied with a good effort and hungry for a faster marathon. Racing always has a way of leaving me thankful, competitive, gracious, and satisfied all at once.

When you finish the Boston Marathon, they make you keep walking for what feels like another mile. It is a fun mile though…. you get lots of smiles and hugs from volunteers, food, and of course your medal. Okay, guys….I usually don’t care too much about medals but the Boston unicorn is so special and beautiful!

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After the race, I relaxed in the hotel, showered, went to the Boston after-party, checked into my AirB&B, and celebrated marathon Monday for the next three days, doing Bostonian-like things: Italian food in the North End (with lots of tiramisu, limoncello, and espresso), an oyster bar near the harbor, Harvard Square, etc. Boston was everything I had hoped for, and more!

Boston is more than a race….it’s a journey where you re-define what running means to you. Now I know what people mean when they talk about the significance of Boston. It is like nothing I have ever felt before. This road to Boston taught me to have confidence in my training, playfulness in my racing, and joy in my struggles.

My experience running the Boston Marathon was sacred. It has been a privilege to wake up every day and train for something as empowering as the Boston Marathon. I am thankful to God for my health and to my support system for all their love along the way.

 Thank you to everyone who has supported my training from day one. My coaches in high school and at Waynesburg University: thank you for instilling good habits in me and teaching me how to train smart and race hard. To my former teammates and friends in Pittsburgh: thank you for joining me on an occasional workout, and for listening to me talk about running for the past six months. To my boyfriend who knew little about running two years ago: thank you for timing my track sessions, stretching me out afterward, cooking breakfast after long runs, blending smoothies, and meeting me at many finish lines. To Pivot Physical Therapy: thank you for being a team-player, encouraging athleticism, supporting local races, and putting up with me arriving at meetings in running clothes. To the PNC YMCA: thank you for being my number one place to run on a treadmill, lift, stretch, swim, bike, do yoga, and prepare for races at. To the whole running community in Pittsburgh: thank you for being a smiling face, a high five, a pacer, a motivator, and a lover of running in this beautiful city with me. To everyone who has tracked my progress on Facebook, Instagram, and the blog: thank you for encouraging me along the way.

I am so encouraged by all of you! xoxo

I will return to Boston at some point but for now, it’s time to rest and tackle some other running goals!

The most important lesson that running has taught me is how to be competitive and gracious at the same time. The most important lesson that Boston taught me is how to incorporate playfulness and joy into that competitive spirit.

Boston is a beautiful celebration of life. Boston is a tribute to anyone who has not let “no” stop them. Boston is a victory for those who have been pushing the limits of their mental and physical strength for years. There will be more marathons for me, but there will only be one Boston. 

Thank you, Boston.

Happy Running,

❤ A

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6 thoughts on “Only One Boston

  1. Thank you for reading!!!! this is an experience that I will carry with me forever and one that I will always encourage others to do. Running has given me a lot in life. This is how I give back. 🙂

    Like

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