It’s THE marathon!
Last Monday, April 18, I ran the 120th Boston Marathon.
I noticed that people approach Boston in many different ways. Some of them consider it a victory lap, a celebration of all the hard work it took to qualify for it, and go into the race with the intention of taking it all in and just enjoy the whole experience. That’s what I was often suggested of doing.
I qualified for Boston last April at the New Jersey Marathon, a marathon I trained pretty hard for. When things took a turn for the worse at mile 19 of that marathon, Boston was the one single thing that gave me the strength to keep going. I wanted to be in Boston in 2016 so badly. Last fall, due to a metatarsal stress fracture, I had to skip the Chicago marathon. Boston was what kept me sane during those long weeks spent in a walking boot while people around me where getting ready for their fall marathons. I would keep repeating to myself: “You still got Boston. Boston is what really counts.” Needless to say, the thought of running Boston “for fun” never crossed my mind. I was going to train as hard as I could for it and I was going to give it all I had on race day. My motto for this training cycle: no regrets.
My training cycle was intense and far from perfect, yet I enjoyed every second of it. I didn’t nail every workout (who does??), but I was fortunate enough to get every single run in. For the first time in my life, I averaged 60-70 miles per week while incorporating a weekly session of hot yoga and a weekly session of indoor rowing. I would go to hot yoga every Saturday after my long run and I would go rowing on Wednesday evening, running 5-9 miles beforehand or afterwards. Run-commuting from work became my new Tuesday-night hobby! Rain or shine, my backpack and I would go from SoHo all the way to Central Park via the West Side Highway and then up to Inwood cutting through the hills on St Nicholas Ave and Ft Washington Ave. The hills in Fort Tryon Park became my best friends. On Thursday, you would find me either at the Columbia track or around the lower loop of Central Park doing my tempo runs while pretty high on caffeine (yay for Nespresso and caffeinated Nuun, a treat I’d save for my toughest workouts). It might sound overwhelming to some of you, but I truly cherish every single memory I made during those solo runs and during those long runs with my teammates. Training for a marathon is hard but it brings me so much joy! To a pretty successful half marathon in March followed a super-disappointing 10K in April. And then, all of a sudden, marathon day arrived. Was I feeling confident about my goals? NOPE. And yet I never felt so calm in my life.
YOU CANNOT GO INTO BOSTON WITHOUT A RACE STRATEGY!
I read every possible article about the Boston Marathon. I spent one entire year asking questions to people who had run it before.
What did I learn?
- That you absolutely need a race strategy for Boston and that you have to stick to it.
- Run YOUR own race.
- Don’t go out too fast.
- And good luck with the weather!
I had been obsessing about the weather for months. I’m a cold weather runner. My ideal running weather is in the upper 30s. I still do well in the 40s. In the 50s, I might suffer if it’s sunny. 60 degrees and up? I simply cannot deal with it. Thing is, the weather in New England is crazy! In 2012, it was 90F and sunny during the marathon. Last year, it was 45F with heavy rain and head winds. For this year, the temperatures kept going up and up until they suddenly went down again. Final forecast I saw before the race: low 60s and partially cloudy. Not ideal, but it could be worse. Knowing how bad I do in the heat, I did everything possible to avoid a disaster.
In the 3 days leading up to the race, I drank one gallon of water a day (part of it mixed with Gatorade Endurance Formula). I loaded up on sodium like there was no tomorrow. Think packets of salt, salt bagels with prosciutto, white rice swimming in soy sauce. Next was potassium: Nuun, more bananas in a day than a monkey would eat in a month, coconut water. On marathon morning, I drank 750ml of water and 750ml of water mixed with Gatorade Endurance Formula two hours prior. I had a salt bagel with honey, a banana, espresso (3 shots after spending 8 days without drinking any caffeine), a Powerbar (chocolate flavor->it has the highest amount of sodium. Yes, I did my researches) and a Powergel (Powergels have a higher amount of sodium compared to other gels).
I showed up at the athlete village in shorts and a sports bra and I was already feeling SO hot! There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky and the sun was so strong! People around me started complaining about how hot it was. The BAA ended up posting an advisory on their Facebook page warning runners about warmer than usual weather conditions (I later found out that it was actually 70 degrees at the start). It was going to be bad.
Strangely though, I felt calm.
Five minutes before the start, I threw a bottle of iced water that I kept in the freezer overnight over my head and I put a pack of instant ice inside my bra to keep my core temperature low. I did receive some weird looks for it but I didn’t care: better safe than sorry.
Thirty seconds before the gun went off, I made my final decision:
- Stick to your race plan like white on rice.
- Try to go for a 3:20 but do stop at every single water station.
- Gatorade in your mouth, water on your head.
- Don’t mix the two (Gatorade on my head… thanks, but no thanks) and take water with your gels.
- See how you feel and go from there.
My first 9 miles were perfection. My pace bracelet accounted for the hills and I had previously promised to myself (several times) that I would not go out fast during those very steep opening miles. And I didn’t.
To slow myself down, I high-fived every single person I saw during mile 1. Miles 1-9: 7:45; 7:35; 7:31; 7:33; 7:34; 7:32; 7:33; 7:36; 7:35.
I started stopping for Gatorade and water at mile 2. One cup of Gatorade in my mouth, one cup of water on my head, one cup of water in my bra, one cup of water on my face. Four cups at every single mile.
I entered a rhythm: press the lap button, take your cups, thank the volunteers, keep running.
Yes, it killed my running rhythm a little bit and yes, I wasted quite a bit of time, but when it is 70 degrees with no shade, these steps are necessary. I took my first gel at mile 7.
After mile 9, I knew I wasn’t going to break 3:20. I suddenly started feeling fatigued and I slowed down. Instead of panicking, I simply told myself to keep myself together. As my running idol Desi Linden would say: “Calm, calm, calm. Relax, relax, relax.” “Stay in the mile Martina, just stay in the mile.”
Mile 10-11: 7:45; 7:48.
During mile 12-16, probably thanks to the Wellesley girls, I got a second wind! My pace went back to sub 7:40.
I decided to put a smile on my face and just go for it for as long as I could. Miles 12-16: 7:30; 7:36; 7:34; 7:41; 7:36.
I crossed the half point in 1:39:50, still on pace for a sub 3:20. However, I have run a marathon before (three, to be exact). I knew that with the hills ahead, that kind of weather and all the time I was wasting at the water stations, a 3:20 was 99% out of the question.
I took my second gel at mile 14. Note about Wellesley: it was a bit disappointing. I imagined it being similar to the “Wall of Sound” you get once you approach First Avenue during the New York City Marathon… yeah, not even close. Don’t get me wrong though: those girls were amazing and I’ll be forever thankful to them for being out and putting a huge smile on my face!
At mile 17, the infamous Newton Hills started. Here is where my “no regrets” motto should have come into place and yet it didn’t. I chickened out on those hills. I trained on hills the whole winter and I’m better on hills than I am on flat.
Yet I got scared and I didn’t push as much as I should have had. Miles 17-21: 7:55; 8:00; 7:48; 8:00; 8:18.
I would love to tell you that the hills were crazy hard, that the heat prevented me from going faster. Truth is: I chose to slow down. I got afraid of the pain and I took my sweet time going up those hills. I tried to keep myself distracted grabbing wet paper towels from the spectators and putting them over my forehead to stay fresh. While reaching the top of Hearth Break, I started yelling around: “This is it right? Is this over?” Gee Martina.
Mile 22 was GLORIOUS! It is straight downhill and you know that, at that point, the worst is over. Also, those Boston College kids are amazing! I started seeing a sub 7:00 pace and I immediately remembered what Francesca told me: “Even if it is downhill and fast after Heart Break, wait a few more miles before really going for it.” So I slowed down (maybe a bit too much since mile 22 was a 7:44).
Mile 23-25 were pretty uneventful. I took my third and last gel at mile 23. I didn’t feel like I needed it, but better safe than sorry. For it being the end of a marathon, I was still feeling good, but somehow I couldn’t get my pre-hills pace back. I focused on trying to at least keep my pace under 8:00. I stopped taking water after mile 23. At this point, I was passing people left and right. I wasn’t going faster, but it seemed as if everyone else around me was slowing down quite a bit.
Some people would suddenly stop right in front of me, which was pretty annoying. Splits: 7:59; 7:44; 8:03.
Saw my Whippets at mile 25 and that gave me the extra boost I needed to dash to the finish line! Thank you guys so much for being out there.
Mile 26-26.2 was a BLAST! Although my pace for this stretch ended up being just 7:50, I felt as if I was flying! What they say about the last stretch on Boylston Street is so true though: it truly is never ending!
I crossed the finish line in 3:23:07 (7:45 min/mile), an over 6-minute PR for me. I thought I would feel so emotional at this point! Instead, I felt as if I had just finished a longer-than-usual workout. Of course I was over the moon about my time! However, now that I had the time to process everything, I came to realize that I finished with a lot left in the tank. Do I have any regrets? Yes and no. It was a warmer than usual day and the course was new to me, so I had to play it safe. However, I do regret not pushing harder on those hills and losing focus a little bit during the last five miles. 2016 was about getting to know Boston and conquering it; 2017 will be about crushing it. Next stop: the New York City Marathon!