How to Reach a Goal, the Grueling Way: The 2010 Boston Marathon

With tears streaming down my face, I recently finished the 2010 Boston Marathon, my 12th marathon. Were they tears of joy?  Well, I did reach my goal, which was to break four hours, with a final time of 3:58.51, or 9:07 pace. This means that at age 46, I have qualified for Boston once again. But no, they were tears of agony; I could barely walk after crossing the finish line.

Here’s a sprint through that day, and how I got through it.

 Expect the Unexpected: I’m always nervous before marathons, and try to deal with it by sticking to a pre-race routine. But, I can’t control everything. In Boston, I stayed with my good friend, Marcia, in Cambridge. Her dog, Rocky, snuck into my bedroom the night before the race and got my running socks. When I was unable to find them the morning of the race, I frantically looked in a pile of Marcia’s clean laundry for a pair of matching socks. I found some that belonged to her 10-year old daughter, decorated with flowers and hearts – in colors that did not match, I might add. But they worked. No blisters this year.

The kindness of strangers: After arriving at the athletes’ village, I soaked up some sun and did a few stretches. A sweet lady sitting beside me heard me say I’d forgotten a plastic grocery bag to wear prior to the race’s start, after you have handed in your bag of personal belongings, to stay warm. So she kindly gave me a sweatshirt to wear till I was ready to toss it. Thank you, whoever you were! It was so nice to be warm.

Family Support. Just before I had to hand the race crew my runner’s bag to be transported to the finish line, I reached my husband and son, via phone. Sweet! (“Run fast Mommy!”)

Runners in Arms: After the race had started, but before I crossed the start line, a lady beside me said, “Turn around and look.” Seeing a sea of runners makes you appreciate what the whole experience is all about.

Heeding Nature’s Call: Despite having been to the bathroom a few times before the race, all I could think about the first mile was that I had to pee. Rather than thinking about it for 25 miles more, I found a nice bush on the side of the road and went for it. Sometimes, you just have to do this, regardless of who’s looking. (And I knew there would be a line-up for the en-route porta-potty.)

Great First Half: I felt really good and I was really excited about feeling really good. The first 13 miles is a straight shot due east from Hopkinton on Route 135.  Though the terrain is rolling, there is a decline in elevation. But, it’s also a weird thing about marathons: The first half goes by so fast, like it’s a little jaunt in the park.

Putting on the brakes: I actually wanted to run faster, because I felt good and kept telling myself to hold back. Given that I’d missed a chunk of training in March due to illness, I knew I was under-trained. So I forced myself to a 9:00 pace, or slightly under, thinking I’d have more left at the end if I did (it was a nice theory anyway). I also thought I could run my first-ever negative split, which is clocking a faster time in the second half of the race than the first. (Didn’t happen, but it was a nice thought.)

Feeling the Fans: Students at Wellesley College scream their hearts out at mile 14. I don’t know how they scream that loud, that strong, for so long. Kudos! You would be amazed at the adrenaline rush you get from people cheering loudly. Boston fans are absolutely amazing along the entire route.

Pumping Up the Volume: At about mile 16, runners turn north onto Route 16 in Newton, climbing a gradual hill for about half a mile. This is when I first started feeling general fatigue and leg aches. And it’s not so much about the hills, because I train on hills, but at mile 16, you have run almost 2/3 of the course. I only did 3 training runs longer than this distance since I got sick with the flu in March at the height of my would-be training. Believe me, my body let me know. This is when I first cranked my music. I was hoping the Black Eyed Peas would give me a lift, and they did, momentarily at least.

Waging an Uphill (and downhill) Battle: The Newton hills last from miles 16 – 20.5, ending with the infamous Heartbreak Hill. The crowd support through this area is incredible, and this does help to a certain extent. And I was pounding Gu power gel every 2-3 miles, hoping that would help, too. But what I noticed more than in past Boston Marathons were the significant downhills after the uphills. My quads were starting to scream. I mean, REALLY scream. To the point that running uphill actually hurt me less than running downhill. That’s not so good.

Banging My Head Against the Wall: Even if you don’t run, you have likely heard the term, “hitting the wall.” But I felt it on Monday – to my very core. Though Heartbreak didn’t actually feel that hard, especially not in comparison to some of the steep climbs in Boise, when I got to the top, my body had had enough. At mile 21, I was in lots of pain and completely out of energy. I tried every mind game I could think of (even visualization!), but nothing worked. I was spent. It’s almost like this was the real beginning of the race.

Considering My Options: My goal was to break four hours, in order to qualify for next year’s race. Though I have run better (my personal best is 3:52), I was going to be happy with a slighter slower pace due to my training interruption, or lack of training, which is likely the more accurate description. At mile 22, I was sitting at exactly 3:20. That meant, in order to break four hours, I had to keep a pace at around 9:15-9:30 to make it. For someone who was almost in tears and wanted nothing more than to walk the rest of the way, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I even said to myself, “It’s OK. You did your best. You can’t always reach your goals.”

“Only three to go:” I was looking at my Garmin watch and seeing a pace of 9:30 or better and, all things considered, I was pretty pleased. Mile 23. I told myself, “Only three to go.” Watch continued to read 9:30 pace or better. It was grueling. I don’t remember ever feeling that bad and trying so hard to stick to a pace, which to a lot of people, is really slow. Mile 24. Only two more to go. “I can do it,” I told myself. I saw the Citgo sign. Fenway Park. People cheering their hearts out. “Come on, you can do it.” This is all I kept telling myself, even though every tenth of a mile seemed like an eternity.

The Inspiration I Needed: I passed Team Hoyt – a father and his wheelchair-bound son, who have done hundreds of international races together – crossing the bridge with 1.2 miles to go. My heart broke when I saw Rick Hoyt in his wheelchair. “How can I complain about being tired? I am blessed to be able to run in the first place,” I told myself. I needed to stick to a 9:00 pace till the finish. When I turned onto Bolyston Street and saw what seemed like miles to the finish line, I picked it up to an 8:30 pace.

The Finish Line: 3:58:51. I did it! Last year when I crossed the finish line, I experienced total elation. I had just completed my first ever no-hit-the-wall marathon and was on top of the world. This year, I thought I might drop dead. I was literally in tears, not over the accomplishment, but over the pain I was feeling. I could barely walk, but the race directors keep the runners moving forward.

The Aftermath: Getting from the finish line to collect my bag and then get back to Marcia’s house seemed like another marathon.  I ate a small snack then laid on her outdoor couch to soak up the sun. I know I should have stretched, lifted my legs and downed lots of healthy post-race elixirs, but lying down was all I could muster the energy to do. Who the heck can stretch legs that don’t bend anyway?

Ice Bath: Since my legs were still screaming, I decided to take my first ever ice bath. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day if I didn’t do something. With my sweatshirt on and cup of hot tea in hand, I submerged my legs in the icy water for 15 minutes. It wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be, and it did quiet the ache a bit. And I rewarded myself with a hot shower afterwards.

R&R: Though in my early 30s I couldn’t wait to go out and celebrate after a marathon, this year I couldn’t have been more happy to hang out with Marcia and her kids that evening. But I will say, after a nice plate of sushi, I felt pretty darn good. Despite my inability to move.

My conclusion on marathon running: It’s like having babies. While you are doing it, you wonder why the heck you put yourself through such torture. Immediately after it’s over, you swear you’ll never do it again. By the next day, you’re planning the next one. In fact, my next event is already planned: the Boise Half Ironman on June 12. And another marathon? Probably not too far behind. 

Melinda Hinson