Boston Marathon

A sleepless Friday night was partially due to an early Saturday morning flight, but mostly due to an overactive brain reminiscing about past trips to Boston. My first time traveling to the capital of Massachusetts was in 2012 for my very first Boston Marathon. It was not a pleasant experience for many reasons, the most significant of which is that my race ended at mile 10. Temperatures approached 90 degrees when wave 2 started at 10:20 am and I was not mentally fit enough to deal with it. I returned to California embarrassed and medal-less, but determined to hang that left onto Boylston Street, which I did in 2013. The euphoria which followed finally finishing one of the best marathons in the world (and with my favorite running partner, Frank) was quickly extinguished when we learned of the events happening right outside of our hotel. It was surreal, awful and unforgettable.

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In fact, I think that the run we did the day after the marathon stands out in my memory more than the actual race. Boston seemed so sad and ravaged, a completely different city from the one through which we’d run the day before. I continued to crave that perfect Boston Marathon experience, so I decided to return for the 2014 race. There was electricity in the air that year and the start line buzzed with a current of human energy comprised of sadness, enmity and dogged determination. I think that all 32,144 of the finishers last year were fueled by a mixture of sadness and anger – I know that I was. Though that trip was a quick in-and-out, I managed to earn a new personal record and enjoyed a few hours in the largest city in New England. When I found out that a few friends had qualified to run in this year’s marathon, I decided to plan a group trip for the 119th running of the Boston Marathon.

Cristina, Brent, Alaina, Frank, Gil and I landed in Boston at about 12:30pm EST on Saturday and set out for shake out runs. Gil, Frank and I enjoyed 6 miles alongside the Charles River and the whole group enjoyed good food and great conversation at Masa that evening.

During our Sunday morning run, Frank, John and I ended up at the finish line amidst 50-100 other runners taking pictures and mentally preparing to see it again the next day. Butterflies flew around in my stomach as I walked by the empty bleachers and finish line scaffolding. I knew both would be packed with race staff and spectators in less than 24 hours. As I laid down next to the painted-on-the-road finish line and asked John to take a quick picture, I noticed a photographer (with a very fancy camera) also snapping a photo. I was surprised to see my picture in an Associated Press publication.

Finish Line

After showers, breakfast, and a stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee, we made our way to the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo to pick up bibs and spend too much money.

I made sure to stop by the Big Sur booth to say hello and to pick up my Boston 2 Big Sur gift. John and I split off and went to Whiskey’s for hot wings, drinks and to catch up on life. We realized that we have run in five different states together: New York, Massachusetts, California, Washington and Utah. I enjoyed some much-needed alone time while the others went to the pre-race dinner. Boston Marathon-eve was upon us and we were ready.

One benefit to a later race start is the opportunity to sleep in. We all began the walk to Boston Common at ~7:00am and boarded the buses to Hopkinton quickly. I am always in awe of the finesse with which the Boston Marathon logistics operate. The expo, pre-race, race, and post-race are wonderfully seamless.I fell asleep for a few minutes on the bus and woke up to the sound of rain – not a good sign. I was prepared to deal with the cold, but not the rain. Thankfully, it stopped raining as we walked to Athlete’s Village. To a non-runner, it would look like like a group of really fit transients – people dressed up in old bathrobes, trash bags, odd-looking silver blankets, and sweatpants that look to be from the first Boston Marathon in 1897.  Despite it being my third* Boston Marathon, it is still a very special experience that I will never take for granted.

I kept asking the first-timers (Cristina, John and Gil) if they were excited – I wanted their first Boston Marathon experience to be incredible. We followed the typical pre-race routine: running through a mental checklist of items needed, standing in line for a porta potty, applying anti-chafe cream, etc. John and I wished Cristina and Frank good luck and started the long walk toward the start line for the Wave 1 start. I was sad to have to shed my Christmas lobster pajamas, but it was time to run to Boston.

John and I started together and chatted easily through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, until about Natick. I came up with this during our time together: “You’re either drunk or running on Marathon Monday.” It seemed like 65% of the spectators had a beer in hand, especially in the first few cities. Although it was cold and a bit rainy, the number of people lining the course was impressive. My hands warmed up a bit after the first few miles, but then it started to rain and we battled off and on wind gusts. Shortly after John and I separated, I thought to myself “well, I can’t feel my legs anymore, so that’s good.” In actuality, it was good, because feeling nothing is better than feeling pain!

I really enjoy feeling the transition from city to city. The first few have a rural vibe to them – not heavily barricaded and there are small kids serving up big high fives. There was a man at a gas station honking his horn in tune to a song (I wonder how long his arm lasted), and people often offer random food items like licorice, pretzels and cups of beer. Arriving in the city of Wellesley gave me a boost of energy as it is the halfway point and we start to hear the loud screams of the famous Wellesley girls. I felt great at mile 13.1 and confident that I would survive the Newton Hills.

It was at this point that I felt a surge of gratitude for everyone who was there – whether they were a community member cheering for a group of strangers running through their city, a volunteer, or a runner. The sense of togetherness was almost overwhelming and this stayed on mind until the finish.

Heartbreak Hill feels different each year, and this year I felt great on the climb. It felt steeper in 2014, but this was likely because I was running faster. In fact, my legs seemed to welcome to the changes in elevation and I had no trouble with any of the inclines. Only one city left between Newton and Boston, Brookline. I don’t remember the exact spot at which I noticed the famous CITGO sign in the distance, but I do remember a huge grin spreading across my face. I was cold, wet, tired and completely elated. I started to think about my 23-26 mile “routine” after crossing the 22 mile marker. Mile 23-24 is for my sister, mile 24-25 is my dad’s, and mile 25-26 goes to my mom. I try to draw as much energy as possible from thinking about my family when my legs are zapped and my mind is tired, and it always works. I felt like I was flying during the last 3 miles and could never forget this year’s finish. My grin widened after I made a right turn onto Hereford Street and emotion swelled large and deep in my heart as I made a left turn on Boylston Street.

The feeling of running down Boylston Street, enveloped in the cheers and support of the spectators, is an experience I will never tire of.

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I crossed the finish line in 3:17:16 and though I was physically very cold, I felt so warm surrounded by my running kin and in the wonderfully supportive city of Boston. I received my third Boston Marathon medal, thanked a helpful volunteer for wrapping me up in a finish line poncho, collected various post-race food and drink items, and walked toward our hotel. It was very cold and I was soaking wet – I could not wait for a hot shower. As expected, Gil was the first one back in the room and my first question to him was “did you do it?!” He had been trying to run under 3 hours for the marathon for a while and was going to attempt it again that day. “2:58!” he responded. Congratulations Gil!

Speedy Gil.

Speedy Gil.

The post-race shower proved to be more difficult that I’d anticipated. I couldn’t grip anything and my frozen hands burned when in contact with the warm water. I finally warmed up with some hot coffee and greeted Frank, Cristina and John as they arrived one by one. We were all excitedly sharing our race experiences and I was again overcome with a huge feeling of gratitude and warmth – I was here with some of my favorite people and we had just completed the Boston Marathon. I am blessed.

Frank stated that he was going to “naw his arm off” if we didn’t eat soon, so Gil, Frank and I left in search of food. We weren’t able to cross Boylston Street, so we had to take a long route around, allowing me to snap some pictures of finishers. The weather condition had progressively worsened since we finished, so these runners were dealing with a lot more rain and wind than we had been.

We went to Pour House which initially seemed like a bad idea because we spent close to 15 minutes fighting throngs of non-sober non-runners, but ended up being totally worth it. See picture below.

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A large serving of nachos and one drink later, I was ready to party for a nap. I checked emails in the hotel room while Frank foam rolled and Gil checked all 1,000 of his congratulatory text messages and then a few of us made our last Dunkin Donuts trip of the run. I am fully aware that the Dunkin Donuts franchise has expanded to California, but I enjoy obsessed over it while on the east coast.

(I was mad in this picture.)

(I was mad in this picture.)

Though we had an early morning flight and I was pretty spent, I did not sleep well on Monday night. I spent a few moments in front of our large hotel window in the morning observing Boston’s wake up routine and trying to figure out whether I was more happy for the experience, or sad to be leaving. I’d spent the last 3 days in the Disneyland of running, so it was a bittersweet departure. I was, however, looking forward to warmer weather.

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Hotel lobby before leaving.

The flight home wasn’t eventful, but wearing the medal earned a few “good jobs!” while walking through the airport.

In thinking about this trip in its entirety, the recurring theme is togetherness. Though I only interacted with a few volunteers, runners, residents of Boston, et cetera of the thousands who were there that weekend, I felt like we were all interconnected and together for a weekend. It was such a warm and communal feeling, like going home to a huge family for Thanksgiving weekend. Even at Pour House, the college-aged “kids” partying for Marathon Monday were congratulatory and genuinely so. I believe that the feeling of togetherness propelled my fellow runners and I through the cities. We all arrived at the starting line via different race times, lifestyles, training methods, reasons to run, and various other factors, but ran as a group that day. Running is an individual sport, and a large reason as to why I was drawn to it in the first place. I enjoy my solitary runs very much and view them as a form of free therapy. However, I’ve come to realize over the years that the running community of which I have become a part has become just as important to me as the individualistic aspect of the sport.

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