A few months ago, two Chicago Athlete ambassadors detailed their journeys on qualifying for the 2019 Boston Marathon, and later discussed their training strategies. In the final of three installments, Mandi and Jeff reflect on their unique race day experiences.
It’s hard to believe that the Boston Marathon has come and gone. I must admit that I have worn a piece of Boston Marathon attire nearly every day since returning home after the race. It is truly an amazing experience and one that I will never forget.
Upon return, friends and family have been overly supportive and asking about my marathon experience in Boston. It is hard to explain to people who have never been there; the entire city is a buzz of marathon excitement that you feel the instant you step off the plane and the excitement is woven into every minute of marathon weekend and beyond. I feel a connection to everyone who raced with me April 15thand to the City of Boston itself. It was a whirlwind of emotions including excitement, nervousness, fear, elation and pride. I now understand why runners claim to have chased the unicorn in this race.
I attended the expo on Sunday after arriving in Boston on an early morning flight. If you will recall, Sunday, April 14, Chicago got a dumping of snow, canceling and delaying many flights. I was on an extremely early flight and was able to get out without issue. I actually have joked with my family that I missed the entire snowfall; when I returned, the bulk of the snow had melted.
After arriving at the airport, I took an Uber directly to the expo, which was held just minutes away from the start/finish line at a local convention center. The expo was full of products and people, it was hard to navigate around because of the size of the crowds.
Like most big marathons, we were given our bibs and directed to a different area to pick up our shirts. The shirts were a long-sleeve, bright yellow Adidas technical tee. I’ve worn this for several races since being home because I really love that the color and design.
After the expo I headed to the hotel to drop off my items and then went back out to enjoy the city. The Celtics had just won a playoff game so the crowds were filled with fans celebrating in their green. I had dinner and then headed back to the hotel to try sleep before my early morning.
The next morning I met the Chicagoland Area Runner’s Association (CARA) group at the assigned hotel and found my group of friends on the coach buses. We were bussed out to Hopkinton bright and early, leaving right around 7 a.m.
I thought this part was going to be difficult, waiting for our various start times, but it was nice to visit with the other Chicago-area runners. If you had not paid for a package similar to this, you were waiting in Athlete’s Village, which was full of mud from the morning’s rain.
I am extremely thankful for the advice I received to sign up for a bus program. If you are planning to run Boston in the future, I would highly recommend signing onto the CARA Bus program; not only do you have a place to wait that is dry and climate controlled, but you have the opportunity to visit with runners that you have probably seen throughout the year at Chicagoland events. Because I traveled to Boston alone, it was nice to have this comradery. Fleet Feet in Chicago offers a similar package.
I was in Wave 2 and left the bus around 9:45 a.m. to head out to Athlete’s Village. About 10 a.m., they called for us to enter the corrals. Everything was extremely well marked based on our wave and corral numbers. I found my position and waited as they released us to walk to the start line, which was a little less than a mile away. I happened to be in the same wave as Jimmy Johnson, the NASCAR driver, who was running his first Boston Marathon as well.
Everything was extremely calm as we walked to the start line. Runners were shedding layers of clothing and making last minute pit stops, albeit on the side of the road! Announcements were made and I crossed the start line right around 10:35 a.m.
As we left Hopkinton, the weather had warmed significantly throughout the morning. At the starting point, the humidity was not too bad and the sky was still overcast. I felt fairly good as I ran through the various towns leading into Boston. It was downhill which allowed you to gain speed, even if you did not want to.
Like Chicago, the first few miles were packed with people, so it was easy to get carried away with a faster pace than you had intended as you tried to dodge around, finding your running space. I flew until mile 13, at which point, I began to notice my throbbing quads.
As I hit my halfway mark, the sun broke through the clouds, which raised the humidity level considerably, as well as the temperature. As someone who has spent the winter training in the Polar Vortex and temps below 20, this was a huge shock to my body.
I began to feel fatigued and noticed the effect of the heat on my body as I struggled through some of the harder elevation changes of the course. I received an energy boost as I passed through the Wellesley College tunnel. There were girls lined up giving kisses to anyone who wanted to run to the side. It was such a comic relief and carried me through a few miles.
I had to walk a few steps up Heartbreak Hill, but once I reached the top and saw the arch alerting me to it being over, I regained my stride and was able to run into Boston. The last two miles were in Boston and the cheering crowds drove me to the finish line.
I tried to enjoy the last mile and really absorb what it meant to finish the Boston Marathon. Once I crossed the finish line, the effects of the heat and running with dehydrated muscles hit fast. My blood pressure dropped quickly and I began to feel extremely dizzy and unsteady.
Tim Bradley, Director of Training with CARA, was nice enough to take all of our bags from the coach bus into his hotel room. This was only a block or so away from the finish line. Once I got to the hotel room to pick up my bag, my dizziness was overwhelming and I had to sit for about an hour to regain my equilibrium.
I was shocked at how hard this marathon had hit my body. My legs were sorer than they had ever been, I felt hung over, and couldn’t drink enough. I also was not hungry. Normally I eat a significant meal 2-3 hours after a marathon, but I was not hungry for about two days after this race.
The Boston Marathon was an amazing experience and has left me with so much pride as I join the ranks of the other Boston marathon finishers from the last 123 years. The course was extremely challenging and the conditions of the day made it even harder, especially for us Midwesterners who trained in the cold.
If this is something that you are striving to do, I highly encourage you to get that Boston qualifying time and take on the experience, if only for one time. It is well worth the cost, challenging course, and training time. I am so thankful that I was able to race and finish the 123rd Boston Marathon!
It’s hard for me to believe that almost a month has now passed since Boston. This year’s Boston Marathon was such a vastly different experience than last year’s race which was dominated by torrential rains and wind and cold temperatures. I’d been following the weather forecast closely for days, and while they were initially calling for the chance of rain or thunderstorms, thankfully the forecast changed and those didn’t materialize during my run. In fact, the conditions were near perfect for running — which led to a new marathon PR!
I didn’t have the best night’s sleep on Sunday, which I completely expected. I woke up around 5 a.m. on Monday morning to get ready and head down to the Fleet Feet pre-race room at our hotel. I got there a little after 5:30. I had a piece of toast as I was already feeling a little hungry, and I took a bagel and peanut butter to eat later on the bus. We started heading to the motor coach buses around 5:45 and by 6:00 we were off to Hopkinton.
I don’t remember much of the ride as I kept dozing off, although the seat wasn’t especially conducive to sleeping. We were one of the first private buses to arrive. It started raining around the time we got there (before 7:00), but we settled in and rested as much as we could for the day ahead. I ate my bagel a few hours before the race start and walked to the Athlete Village briefly. It wasn’t the muddy mess that it was last year, but it was still wet from the rain. Having the bus to wait on was such a great thing. Eventually the rain did stop and it remained cloudy and comfortably cool.
I started to get everything ready a little after 9, and around 9:20 I started making my way to the Athlete Village and then on to the starting line. It’s about a 3/4 mile walk from the Village to the start corrals but this year I could take my time and absorb the moment.
I was in the sixth corral of the first wave (I should hopefully be closer to the front next year). The race started for the non-elite athletes at 10:02 and by 10:04 I was officially crossing the starting line and running the race.
The first few miles are a little crazy. It’s just a two lane road and you start out running downhill — so people have trouble controlling their speed. There are just people everywhere for as far as you can see. I settled into what felt to be a comfortable pace and began ticking off the miles. Eventually the road does widen and you can start to spread out a little more — but it takes a few miles for that to happen.
I felt like I could really look around and take in everything much more this year. I also felt like there were a lot more people cheering along the course. Yes, there were spectators last year — but this year they really turned out. The course isn’t especially beautiful — you are essentially running through New England towns, but there was plenty of energy from the crowd support.
Everyone talks about the four hills of Newton, but this year I really noticed that there are rolling hills all along the course. Yes, the initial part of the course is a net downhill, but there are still hills even within that. This year, it felt like Newton was just more in a series of hills along the course. I don’t remember at what point I started noticing how hard my quads were working, but I knew I would be sore the next day (I was actually sore for several days).
I checked my watch occasionally and knew that I was running a good pace but still one that I had been able to comfortably maintain for all my long training runs. I also changed up my nutrition a little, delaying my first GU until mile 10 and then taking them again after 16 and 22 (in the past I have started at mile 7). This seemed to work well as my stomach felt great the whole race.
Making it past Heartbreak Hill, I knew the end was getting closer. I passed a lot of people walking and struggling up the hills and I passed a lot more in the last couple miles heading into Boston. Finally, I saw the Citgo sign in the distance, and I knew once I reached that there was only a mile to go.
My quads were definitely feeling all those hills in the home stretch, but I knew that I was on target for a decent PR. I pushed on and finally saw it ahead — Hereford. I knew it was just a right on Hereford and left on Boylston and that was it. I raced up Hereford and made that left turn onto Boylston. There were people packed all along this part cheering. I looked around at the cheering crowds and tried to take in every detail. This had been a well-run race and I was proud of how I ran.
And then I crossed the finish line and saw the message pop up on my watch with my official time — 2:56:05 — a PR by over 3 minutes! I was emotional collecting my medal and heat sheet and drinking water and getting the bag of food. Finishing a marathon is always an emotional accomplishment, but I trained really well for this one and knew that my body was in the kind of shape to run my best. And that’s exactly what I did!
I celebrated that night by relaxing in my room, spending extra time in our Normatec boots, drinking some wine and having a delicious calzone dinner from a local pizza place. It was a long day and I was tired.
If I still lived in Chicago, I fully believe there was no way I could have trained like I did here in Dallas this winter. I was blessed with so many wonderful weekends of weather for my long runs that made training a joy. All that work paid off tenfold in Boston.
I don’t even know what else to say… there is nothing like being in Boston and running the Boston Marathon. To be a part of such a prestigious event steeped in tradition is wonderfully humbling and something runners strive for. I am honored to have run in twice — and I can’t wait to return again in 2020!