Together Forward: Garrett Burger’s 2018 Boston Marathon Recap

Photo Credit: Ben Ko

Together Forward. That was the official tagline of the Boston Marathon this year. It was even printed on the temporary tattoos runners received with their race bib and official finisher shirt. On the morning of the race, Jessica Chichester and I put these tattoos on our left quads, snapped a pic for the gram with our sweatpants pulled down around our ankles, and hustled off to bag drop on Boylston. Many of you have already heard what happened next. Along with 27,000 other runners, we ran together forward into 20-30-mile-per-hour headwinds, relentless rain and the coldest race-day temperatures in the past 30 years.

Despite the terrible conditions, Jess made all of our hearts swell with pride by astoundingly placing 5th overall in the women’s race (more on that here), and I hit an over 6 minute PR and cracked 2:40 for the first time. In the words of 2018 Boston Marathon Women’s Champion Desiree Linden, “If it hadn’t been difficult, it probably wouldn’t mean as much.” But in my case, I’m not only talking about the weather. My history with Boston also made this year’s result that much more meaningful. Every year for the past 5 years, on the third Monday in April, I’ve toed the line at the Boston Marathon. Each year has been a different adventure.

2014

This was only my second marathon ever. On a gorgeous day one year after the bombing, the people of Boston turned out in force and with their boisterous cheers showed that “Boston Strong” is much more than just a hashtag. It was a privilege to be part of it. Even before I left Hopkinton, I knew I wanted to run Boston every year until my legs fall off.

2015

It rained this year too. The night before the race, I and fellow Whippets Leah Robbins, Francesca Deluccia, and Alex London, were all awoken by a hotel-wide alarm. Despite disrupted sleep, we all crushed it the next day. I ran a 2:46, which until this past Monday was my Marathon PR. I think all my years of competitive swimming have something to do with my success in wet conditions, and I certainly drew confidence from my 2015 performance going into this year’s race. Leah showed up drenched at our hotel room door with a new PR and a bunch of shopping bags. She had gone straight from the finish line to the mall!

 

2016

Standing in my corral sweating as the sun beat down on us, I knew this was going to be a tough one. It was. I added 10 minutes to my 2015 time. It was also my first time dealing with a disappointing marathon result. What I remember most about this year, however, is Leah and I exploring Harvard while reciting lines from Legally Blonde and wandering the streets of Cambridge while changing up the lyrics to Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker” to make it about dominating Heartbreak Hill. The Boston Marathon is about so much more than just the time you run. Good or bad, your time is nothing but fuel for your next race.

2017

This year was even hotter than 2016. I stubbornly refused to adjust my goals to the temperature. I told myself that it wasn’t that hot and that, even though I had struggled in the heat in 2016, this time would be different. Sometimes (like I was this past Monday), you’re rewarded for being stubborn. This was not one of the times. I barely made it through the race. Still, I took solace in the fact that I had finished instead of quit. Again, I reminded myself that running Boston isn’t about the time on the finishing clock, it’s about the experience and ridiculous weather is part of that experience; but I also resolved to run for redemption in 2018.

2018

This year, despite the awful weather, I did indeed make like J.Biebs and redeem myself. 2:39:58. By two very important seconds, I achieved what had heretofore been a lifetime goal of breaking 2:40. As Alison Janney said when accepting her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, “I did it all by myself.” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I couldn’t have run faster than I’ve ever run 26.2 miles before without my family, friends, and, of course, the Dashing Whippets. Here’s how it happened:

Training

I mostly followed the Dashing Whippets’ plan, with a few changes here and there due to personal circumstances or when I felt like doing a Brochester workout with Jess and Steve Wo. Although not perfect, I was more diligent than I have ever been before about getting in quality workouts and long runs. I also cutdown on the amount of ClassPass classes I was taking. Although I’m a big believer in cross training, I wasn’t doing myself any favors rolling into a Tuesday night interval workout hobbled by all the kettlebell deadlifts I did at bootcamp.

But the most important part of my training was the people I did it with. Special shoutout to the speedy Jeremy Arthur and Steve Bione who I chased after on many a Tuesday and Thursday night workout, fellow Boston Marathoners Brigette Kolson, Meghan Bongartz and Perry Anderson for always showing up, Karlo Mendoza and Cory Helder for pulling me along through several long runs, and Jess and Steve, whose hard work and dedication have been a constant source of inspiration to me.

Pre-Race

As I said above, Boston is about a lot more than the race itself. Highlights included:

  • Uncannily running into friends both new and old multiple times and and completely unplanned throughout the weekend
  • Saturday night dinner with a party of 16 Whippets
  • A sunday morning shakeout run and brunch with DWRT’s Boston Chapter
  • Hearing the almost oceanic roar of the crowd at Fenway when crossing the street with former Boston resident and first-time Boston Marathoner, Meredith Nadler
  • Chilling in the hotel room with Jess, Leah, and Meredith and trading off using compression boots while drinking coconut water out of wine glasses and constantly checking the weather.

Race Morning

After arising at 5:30 AM from the pullout couch I shared all weekend with Jess, I put on the layers of ridiculous throwaway clothing that I hoped would keep me sufficiently dry and warm before the start of the race. I wore a giant blue raincoat and a pair of tearaway Adidas track pants that had probably been donated to Goodwill by some all male revue. Jess and I also wore old sneakers as throwaway shoes and carried our precious Nike Vapor Fly’s safely swaddled in plastic bags. After dropping our bags at the finish line and riding the buses from Boston Common to the start line in Hopkinton, we emerged into the muddy hellscape that was Athlete’s Village. After much searching, we happened upon Matan Korrub and a band of Whippets in one of the tents and hunkered down on some mylar. Matan’s excitement at running his first Boston brightened the mood considerably. Eventually, our wave and corral were called to the start and after the long walk from the village, replete with a panic-inducing trip to the porta-potties, Jess and I found Steve in the corral and just barely had enough time to strip off our throwaway clothes and jam into our corral. At the start with Jess and Steve and knowing how much hard work we had put in and the big goals we had set, for the first time all day I felt strong, confident and ready to PR.

The Race

Due to the narrowness of the road and the number of runners, many of whom appeared to be running cautiously due to the wet and wind, the start of the race was rather slow. Once the horde of runners thinned to a manageable level after the first two miles, I focused on running on the high part of the road to keep my feet as dry as possible, tucking in behind packs to protect myself from the wind, but also often either striking out away from those groups to pass or run tangents that the packs were inexplicably missing. I did my best to smile and wave at Whippets and other familiar faces I managed to see and hear through the rain and wind, but with my baseball cap pulled down low over my eyes, I was mostly in tunnel vision mode. I barely looked at my watch. I knew I was running faster than was likely prudent, but I was possessed. I wanted to finish and get out of the rain as quickly as possible! Sure enough, I crossed the half in 1:18:02, the second-fastest half-marathon I’ve ever run. Although my overly fast start and Heartbreak Hill did result in a slightly slower, painful last 6 miles, I never fell apart. Making the right on Hereford and left onto Boylston, I knew the seconds to 2:40 were ticking away. After a desperate “sprint” down Boolston, I made it across the finish line with only two seconds to spare. Before being overtaken by full-body shivers and a single-minded pursuit of warmth, I briefly covered my face with my hands in a moment of recognition. What do you do when you achieve a lifetime goal? Set a new one. 2:30 here I come.

More about Jennie Cohen

Jennie is a member of the Dashing Whippets.

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