Sunday, May 28, 2017

Race Report: 2017 Boston Marathon

It's very hard to believe it has been more than a month since I did the Boston Marathon. Most days it feels like 10 months ago, and others it seems like the whole thing was some weird dream.

Or maybe nightmare.

Immediately after the race, I started to write an entry. I didn't finish and when I logged in again and read it back, I ended up deleting the whole thing and starting again. I've done that three times now. The problem is that I still haven't quite been able to sort out my feelings about the race. I still haven't really, but the second problem is that I am already starting to forget things. I imagine that running marathons is a lot like child birth; afterwards, you forget all the details - especially the bad ones - so that you'll be able to trick yourself into doing it again some day.

What I'm going to try to knock out right now is the quick and dirty account of my spectacular, horrible, terrible first Boston Marathon.

Being in Boston was incredible. The energy in the city was amazing and it was awesome to be surrounded by so many other marathon runners. Picking up my bib number felt surreal. So did walking down Boylston and seeing the finish line as we made our way back to the hotel from the expo. Everywhere you looked there was a runner, a run-related slogan, good luck signs. All of the shops on Newbury and Boylston (and every where else) had athletic wear in their front windows; Boston blue and yellow were all over the place. The commercials on the local channels were dominated by Sketchers, with Meb and Kara schilling of course. All of the news reports had some marathon-focused story.





The news reports spent a lot of time talking about the weather. I had been having anxiety about it for about a week, watching as the temperature crept up degree by degree. On Sunday, as we sat at Fenway Park sweating in 85* heat, my panic about the weather continued to build. The BAA sent runners an email with a heat warning and advice as to how to adjust race day plans accordingly. I drank a Gatorade at the game and water for the rest of the day, trying to reach juuuuuust the right level of hydration. In my mind, I adjusted my goal for the day to something between a 3:45 and a 4:15. I told myself I would be fine if I took it easy, but my anxiety continued to grow.

On race morning, my stomach was in knots. It was 70* and sunny when I stepped out of the hotel lobby on to the sidewalk. I've never been as terrified of a marathon in my life. The dread in me was huge. I tried to put on my game face and pump myself up as I was getting ready, but as soon as I boarded the charter bus to Hopkinton, I got into my head and never quite got out again.

Walking into Athlete's Village

At Athelete's Village, I searched for a girl named Nicole, who I know from an online running group. We were assigned to the same wave and corral and were going to try to at least start the race together. The plan was to find each other at the Med tent in Athlete's Village, but it was impossible. I've run big races before - 30,000 person races - but it didn't prepare me for the complete chaos at Athlete's Village. I circled the med tent about a dozen times, taking a break to hit the portie potty one last time before they called us to start walking to our corral. Even as we did that, I stopped on the sidewalk and searched the sea of runners for Nicole's bright pink shorts and blonde hair. A woman came up to me with a huge Sharpie in her hand and asked if I would write her name on her arm for her. I wanted to be like "Are you kidding me? I'm obviously looking for someone right now!" but I didn't want to be rude, so I did it. I have no idea what her name was, by the way. I wasn't going to write my name on my arm but decided at that point to have her return the favor and she scrawled "KATHRYN" on my right arm.

During the walk to the corals, the goosebumps came and reality of what I was about to do set in. I teared up quite a few times and just kept saying to myself, "Oh my God, I'm about to run the Boston Marathon." I tried to ignore the fact that I was already sweating and we hadn't even started running yet. Instead, I tried to revel in the moment and soak it in. All around me, my fellow runners were strangely quiet. I had expected excitement and a lot of energy, but it seemed more like a death march, which didn't help my anxiety.

Being in coral 1 meant that I had the longest walk. As I finally found my gateway into my corral and started to work my way toward the front(ish) area, I heard my name being called. I turned around to find Stuart, the man who was my pacer at Wrightsville and who helped me get my BQ. I was so relieved to see a familiar face that I almost cried. How he found me in that press of people I will never know, but I'm so glad he did because something clicked in me and I suddenly felt more calm than I had for days.

Before I knew it, we were counting down. 5-4-3-2-BAM. We were off. Stuart had run Boston 8 times, so he was giving me course tips and strategies as we quickly made our way through the first 5k. It was hot, but I thought maybe it would be bearable. We were also hot, pace-wise. Everyone warns you to not get swept up in the downhill and adrenaline of the first few miles of this course. EVERYONE. I had told myself over and over that I couldn't allow that to happen and that I needed to try very hard to keep an 8:30/mile pace during those first 5 miles or so, but here I was, running happily next to Stuart at a sub 8:00.

"Stuart, we're going too fast," I warned. He assured me that we'd be ok and our pace would even out when we hit the first hills. I figured that he is a Boston vet, that he was an excellent pacer who got me to the race in the first place, and that I was safe with him. So I stuck by his side, cutting through people to get the best tangents and sailing for the first 10k. I was grateful for his company and knew that he wouldn't lead me astray. We stayed together through mile 7, when I knew that I needed to let him go if I was going to survive this race.

Mile 1 - 8:05
Mile 2 - 7:48
Mile 3 - 7:53
Mile 4 - 7:50
Mile 5 - 8:02
Mile 6 - 8:05
Mile 7 - 8:19

Having consumed an entire Gatorade and a bottle of water at Athlete's Village, I found that I really needed to go to the bathroom. Normally stopping at a portie potty during  a race is not something I would do; I'd just run through it until the feeling went away, which for me it inevitably does. But I knew this wasn't going to be a PR and I didn't see the point in making myself remain uncomfortable, so I stopped during mile 8. Honestly, I don't remember much about miles 9-12. I took a salt tab, probably sometime around 10. In an effort to avoid dehydration, I walked through each water stop to make sure that I actually consumed a full cup of water. I also dumped a cup on my head and neck. The walking started to show in my splits, but again, I knew this wasn't a PR and I was ok with doing everything that I could to have a decent race experience and prevent complete misery.

Faking it early, somewhere around mile 8

Mile 8 - 9:26
Mile 9 - 9:02
Mile 10 - 8:34
Mile 11 - 9:16
Mile 12 - 8:41


During training and in the days leading up to the race, as my anxiety about the weather reached a fevered pitch, I just kept telling Kit (and anyone else who would listen) that all I wanted to do in Boston was enjoy it and not get to the point where I just wanted it to be over. Walking through the aid stations was helping me keep my mental shit together, at least at first. If I walked, I could drink. If I drank enough, I wouldn't dehydrate. If I didn't dehydrate, I'd be ok.

Everyone always says that you hear the famous Wellesley Scream Tunnel before you get to it. I started listening for it during Mile 12 as we entered the town. Even before throwing my time goal out of the window due to the heat, I had planned on kissing at least one of the Wellesley girls. Now, having walked through aid stations and stopped to go to the bathroom, I decided I was going to kiss as many of them as I could.

And I did. So many that I lost count. Probably somewhere between 8-10. Maybe more. I kissed the ones who had funny signs, I kissed the one who had the sign that said she was from Maryland, I kissed the ones who looked like they weren't getting many takers, and the ones who were about to graduate.

I kissed that girl! The one with the Maryland sign.

I was running Boston, dammit, and I was going to do it right.

Despite these antics, I was still pretty much on pace for a 4:00 marathon at the half way mark. My time was 1:52:34 at this point, with an 8:35 average. Pretty much just where I had aimed to be.

But after the adrenaline rush or Wellesley, I completely crashed. In comparing battle stories after the race, it seems that a lot of other people also started to really feel the effects of the heat and sun between miles 13-15. A lot of others told me that they felt ok until that point and then BAM, it hit them all at once.

Yup, pretty much.

Mile 13 - 9:55 (Still a decent pace considering all the kissing)
Mile 14 - 9:21
Mile 15 - 10:01

I kept to my plan of only walking during aid stations until 16, when we hit a pretty steep hill. I walked up it and after that, I never quite got myself moving again. I was completely, utterly miserable. After Wellesley and until mile 21 is pretty much already wiped from my memory. I was taking handfuls of ice from spectators and cold wet paper towels. I put them under my arm pits, on the back of my neck, and down into my sports bra. I ran through every fire hydrant, every hose. Dumping the water over my head at aid stations felt like heaven. In the small town of Woodland, there is a right hand turn (one of only 4 turns in the entire race, which is why I remember it) and on the corner was a fire station that had set up a misting tent. I had been toward the outside of the turn but as soon as I saw that mist tent, I cut across (along with every else) and ran through, summoning the most enthusiasm I'd had since Wellesley as I released a happy "Whoop!!!" I was completely soaked through, head to toe, but I didn't care.

A lot of people around me were in complete misery too. I commiserated with a few of them, but I never really made a friend in the same way that I have at past marathons. As the day wore on, I feel like we all started to retreat into our own personal bubbles of determined misery. Honestly, it was the loneliest race I have ever run. At one point, I was so desperate for some encouragement that thought about stopping and asking a spectator - a nice, kind looking spectator - if I could borrow their phone to call my husband. I just wanted to hear a comforting voice so badly. I even started to toy with the idea of stopping and asking some of the grandmotherly-looking spectators for a hug.

I cried. I don't know when I first broke down, but it was during this stretch.

I started to feel so full that at aid stations I simply couldn't drink any more Gatorade or water. Despite that, I forced myself to take a few sips and dumped the rest over my head.  My mouth got extraordinarily dry - like sand paper.

The hills of Newton barely registered. Don't ask me about Heartbreak Hill... I couldn't tell you which one it was. It seemed like there were 50. There were SO many spectators throughout Newton. I walked a lot and I was downright ASHAMED. One of the few memories I still have of this section is of a woman running past me on my left and as she did, she smacked my butt really hard and said, "Get moving, girl - come on!" I was soaking wet and the sound that her hand made when it connectedly solidly with my backside was almost deafening in my ears and wouldn't you know it - it actually worked. I ran a couple hundred yards up to the top of whatever hill we had been climbing at the time. Don't ask me if it was Heartbreak. I have no idea. But I'm grateful for that woman who literally smacked me out of my stupor for a few minutes.

After Newton and it's hills, we were suddenly in the last 10k and I was becoming aware of the fact that my hands were starting to go numb. It started on the outside, with my pinkies, and was working its way across my fingers toward my thumbs. I also noticed that despite having run through all the hoses, fire hydrants, and dumping water on my head, my top was bone dry. I had stopped sweating.

This is the point where my mental game completely broke down. I had never experienced my hands going numb during a hot race and suddenly the specter of heat stroke entered my brain. I knew if I passed out, they would never let me continue the race and I would DNF.

I had come too far to DNF.

With my fear building - and no doubt causing even more symptoms to manifest as I went in to full on panic mode - I made the decision that I was going to stop at the med tent at mile 21.

I was completely lucid and apparently didn't look too bad, because the staff just asked me if I was dizzy (no), if I was cramping (no), if I needed water (I guess, but I'm having a hard time drinking). They asked me if this was my first marathon. I laughed and said, "Heck no, this is my eighth." Obviously they thought I was a rookie who had no idea what I was doing. That chapped.

I sat in a chair, forcing myself to sip a bottle of water and watching people run by. I have no idea how long I stayed there... from what I can figure out from my cumulative vs moving time in my split breakdown, it looks like I sat there for 5-6 minutes. My mind was gone. I asked, "So how far do I have left to go?" The medic replied, "About 5 miles." I could walk 5 miles if I could. I got up and kept moving.

Mile 16 - 8:55
Mile 17 - 11:06
Mile 18 - 11:17
Mile 19 - 11:51
Mile 20 - 12:11
Mile 21 - 15:39

Aside from the threat of a DNF, the thing that kept me going was knowing that Jason and Kit were up ahead, probably worried to death, waiting for me to come. My muddled brain couldn't remember where Kit said he'd be, but I thankfully was able to remember that he was wearing his bright blue Monument Avenue 10k shirt, so I spent the next few miles desperately searching for him.

When I finally spotted Kit, at the left hand turn (don't ask me what mile it was. I have no clue...22? 23? 24?), I picked up into a run and went straight to him. He had that look on his face - the one where you're trying really hard to smile to offer encouragement, trying not to cry yourself. I knew that look very well because I wore it at Erie for 13 miles, when I was worried sick and waiting for him to run past.

"This is the worst, hardest thing I've ever done," I wailed, and hugged him. If I hadn't been so terribly dehydrated, tears would've been pouring down my cheeks. Kit gave me a big hug and then held me at arms length and just said, "I know, but you're going to finish, ok?"

"I can't!" I wailed again. I was so done.

"But you WILL FINISH."

I suddenly became aware of the fact that immediately to my right, there was a giant TV camera/cameraman, pointed our direction. "Oh GOD this better not ever be on TV!" I cried. The fear of national embarrassment is what got me moving again. Before I left, I begged Kit to call Jason and tell him I was alive and I was coming. Slowly, but coming.

Boston College was next and as I passed through all the drunk college students proffering beer and yelling "16334, you can do it!" embarrassment started to wash over me. As I walked/shuffled I tried to keep my head up and sometimes gave a thumbs up to people who yelled my name or bib number. But I was devastated inside.

During those last five miles I remember little. There was a woman who power walked past me and said, "This is sad for us, yeah? So sad." I could only mumble my agreement. Later on, a man running for Dana-Farber came up next to me and for a little while we walked/ran together. I became a bit jealous of his Dana-Farber status, because the spectators all yelled and cheered for him as we passed. Being with him for a few minutes helped me, though, and when he said he was running the rest and left me, I wanted to run with him but I just couldn't. I was saving my energy for Boylston Street. There was no way in hell I was walking down Boylston.

At some point, I realized that a race photographer station was set up and snapping pictures of me walking. Something I always try to do is fake it for the cameras, but I didn't even do that. You can see the frustration and humiliation all over my face in the photos.



When I saw the Boston Strong sign on the overpass just before the right on Hereford, a surge of emotions washed over me: relief, that I was almost finished; shame, that I hadn't been able to power through and be truly Boston Strong; sadness, that my experience was about to be over and I wanted it to be; and excitement; Jason was just around the corner and so was the most famous stretch of street in the marathon world.

Jason had told me his plan was to be on the outside corner of Hereford and Boylston, so as soon as I turned right on Hereford I had one mission, which was to spot him. I needed him so badly at that point. I was emotionally drained; completely bereft, devastated, and ashamed. My brain could only think of three things: red hat, green shirt, yellow sign. Then there he was. I found my legs again and ran toward him. By some miracle, a friend from a Facebook running group, who I'd just met the day before, was across the street on the opposite corner and somehow managed to record this moment.

video

I can't tell you how much I needed to be embraced, how I much I needed someone who knew me to comfort me in that moment. Yes, the spectators are all amazing at Boston. But they didn't know the whole story. Jason knows how hard I worked, all that I (we) went through, and just how disappointed I was that this was how things turned out.

Jason gave me the strength I'd needed to finish and as I left him and made the turn onto Boylston, all of the negativity that I had been feeling disappeared as the cheers of the crowds washed over me. Again overwhelmed by emotions, I started to cry. It didn't matter that it had taken me God-only-knows-how-long to get there, but I got there. I was on Boylston Street, about to finish the freaking Boston Marathon. I fixed my eyes on the finish line and ran.





Mile 22 - 17:29
Mile 23 - 14:38
Mile 24 - 12:52
Mile 25 - 15:51
Mile 26 - 17:35
Mile .2 - 5:16

When I was out on the course at my lowest point, I couldn't wait to cross the finish line because as soon as I did, I was going to lay down flat on my back on the pavement and let them carry me off. I just didn't want to have to move anymore. But after I crossed, I didn't do that. Instead I headed directly for the hard earned medal that had been the focus of everything for more than a year. I sobbed as the volunteer put it around my neck and she said, 'Ohhhh we've got another emotional one here!" At that moment, I wanted to punch that lady. OF COURSE I'M EMOTIONAL DO YOU KNOW WHAT I JUST WENT THROUGH???

I didn't punch the lady.

Instead, I shuffled to the mylar sheets. I wasn't cold, but I wanted one to have as a souvenir. I didn't have the wherewithal to put it around my shoulders, but two volunteers tag teamed one with one draping it around me and the other fastening my new super hero cape with a piece of tape. I continued through the chute, gathering a Gatorade and a big bag of food, as I headed toward what I thought was an exit at the end of Boylston. The plan had been to meet Jason, Kit, and Lauren at the Make Way for Ducklings statue in Boston Green. Unfortunately, I couldn't get there by the most direct route and was being forced to go right to walk a few blocks to the family meet up area - which was in the opposite direction of the Ducklings.

I took one look at what seemed like a very long walk to the family meet up area, then at the line of wheelchair-wielding volunteers in red shirts who lined the street, and decided I was going to med. I walked up to the closest volunteer and asked if she would take me to med and before I knew it, I was sitting (blessed sitting!) and moving faster than I had in 3 hours as she wheeled me toward the tent.

To be clear, I didn't go to med just because I was tired. I was also aware that I was bone dry (not sweating), my hands were tingling again, and I figured that given how I'd felt on the course it was probably a good idea to at least get looked at by some medical professionals.

In med, I gratefully laid on a cot while a very nice nurse took my blood pressure (60/90... low, but as she said, "you're a runner so I'm not too worried). She listened to my pulse and heart, asked me how I felt. I really couldn't say anything more than tired. I was just really tired and really NOT sweaty. I asked if they had a phone I could borrow. No doubt Jason was worried about me and wondering where I was. They handed me a little Nokia and my mind was so gone that it took me a few tries to remember how to use it. First I called Jason. He didn't answer. I figured I should try Kit, but I don't have his number memorized. It was written on the back of my bib, but I found that I couldn't sit up to read it. I unfastened the safety pins and when the nurse came back, I asked her to read his number. I called him, he didn't answer either. I was tired, so I gave up and laid back for a little while. I tried again in a little bit and finally got a hold of Jason. I told him the situation and that he needed to come meet me at med.

I felt better so I sat up and asked the nurse if I could be discharged. As she finished my paper work, I looked around me at the other runners - most far worse off than me - and said, "Why on Earth do we do this to ourselves??" The nurse just looked at me, shrugged and said, "I really don't know!"

"It's because we're all f*cking crazy," I said and stood up to leave.

I expected Jason to be outside of the med tent but he wasn't; I figured that maybe they didn't let non-runners into the barricades so I headed toward the family meet up area. On the way, I passed the official finisher portrait area so I stopped to get one. Why the hell not, right? 

Fake it til you make it, right?
Notice the salt on my shorts. That has never happened to me before.
I'll spare you the rest of the details, but it took a while for me to finally find Jason and Kit. By the time we were reunited, my mind was pretty much gone and I was starving. I had accidentally left my bag of food back at the med tent and there was no way in hell I was going back for it.

We walked to the hotel and I insisted on taking a few pictures. I was feeling proud that I had muscled through and finished. I still had no clue what my actual finish time was.


Afterwards, Kit was a dear and walked to get us some pizza. We were all starving. Jason went upstairs to the room with me and I got my shower and got in bed, which is where I ate my pizza.


After lounging in bed for a while, I decided that I wanted ice cream so Jason and I headed out to Boylston for some dessert.


All around me were other runners, all telling similar tales of woe. No one had a great race that day, it seemed. After my initial surge of pride at having finished, I was circling back toward disappointment in my race.

Later, when I was laying in my bed again, I couldn't quiet my mind so I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone when I saw a post show up in the RVA Runners page. It was me, running on the Potterfield Bridge. The caption on the post said, "RVA Represent on the big screen in Fenway!" A friend had tagged the post, "Kathryn isn't that you??"



It was!! I was so confused. What was happening and why was I on the big screen at Fenway?? Then I remembered. We took the video on my birthday run. The BAA had sent out a call for runners to take short videos of them during their training to submit for possible inclusion in a compilation they were putting together. I had been wracking my brain trying to think of where to film a short segment that would get noticed in what I assumed would be a sea of submissions. I settled on the T Pot, with the Richmond skyline in the background. It's a striking and not just another road or sea of trees, so I thought it would have a chance. I had never heard from BAA and assumed it wasn't included. But it was - and it was shown as part of this video at the official BAA after party.

How ironic was it that when I was feeling like a huge failure, there I was running across the big screen at Fenway, with that particular quote under me?

I've continued to struggle with my feelings about the whole experience. Six weeks (!) later, the misery is starting to fade and I have come to terms with it... kind of. I didn't know what my official finish time was until the next day. Jason and Kit knew, but I hadn't been able to summon the courage to look. When they told me, I started to laugh hysterically. It's a cruel kind of joke to have your personal worst race at your first Boston.

Even though my official Boston finish time is 4:49(something) the time I will always associate with my first Boston Marathon is that BQ of 3:30:05. That number is why I was there and that is still what I am most proud of. During the race, when I was walking, I wanted to yell at people, "I am a 3:30 marathoner. I've been injured. I don't walk. This is NOT ME."

Of course I've thought long and hard about what happened. Physically and mentally, I was on the edge of a knife. I knew I was barely trained; not through fault of my own but just due to the foot surgery and longer than expected recovery. Knowing that created the seed of self doubt in my mind, which was then blown out of proportion by the weather forecast.

Everyone asked me, "Was it your foot?" No. It wasn't my foot. My foot didn't hurt afterwards either, though I have a bet with Kit as to whether or not I'm going to lose the 2nd toenail on my right foot (note - I have NEVER lost a toenail from running). The only real pain I experienced was in my mid-back, and it was intense. But it wasn't anything that I could have pushed through and would have pushed through any other time.

No, what happened to me in Boston was simple. I got into my head, I let anxiety take over, and I let it rule my day. The heat scared me. There had been a lot of reports prior to Boston about runners keeling over and dying after finishing races. Those reports scare the crap out of me. I always wonder if I'm next, even though I've gone to my doctor and had my heart looked at, etc. Those thoughts were in the back of my mind in Boston.

Mostly, I am disappointed in myself and the lack of mental strength. I have no doubt that I could have run that marathon in four hours, even with the heat, if I just hadn't given in to all of my fears. But I did. I let my mind win. It's a hard lesson to learn, especially at an iconic race like Boston. But it happened. I can't change it. I won't make the same mistake again. I am also a person who hates excuses. Other people had bad races that day, but not epically bad like mine. I was weak and that's that.

In a way it is kind of fitting that I had to struggle so hard to complete Boston. The twelve months leading to the race were marked by struggle, pain, and determination. The marathon was the same.

Everybody has a blow up race. Mine was my Boston debut. It sucks. But hey... I finished the thing. That's what I hold on to.

I also have to thank everyone who tracked me that day, who wished me well, who congratulated me afterwards. My sweet coworkers who decorated my cube for my return, my family who tracked me the whole time, everyone who hugged me. Knowing you were all watching helped me get through. I only hope I didn't disappoint you.

I have to also thank Jason for believing in me and letting me pursue this insane thing. And of course to Kit, for training with me and never letting me give up.

There's a lot to learn from running.  It taught me ultimate respect for the people who are out there for 5 hours. It taught me to just keep going. That the time on the clock doesn't always define a success.

The day after the race, I visited the Adidas running headquarters on Boylston. They have a cool topographical relief of the course there, surrounded by quotes from Boston greats. This one struck me, hard.

"I have as much respect for those who run and do not finish first
as I have for the ones whose strength, endurance and training brings them first place."
- Roberta 'Bobbi" Gibb, first women to run the Boston Marathon

Boston humbled me. It hurt me, it tried to put me down. But I won't let it. I trained really hard to get there and fought back from an injury that wouldn't quit. I did something big that day, even if it didn' turn out the way I wanted it to.

Onwards and upwards.


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