After running all 6 marathon majors in 2015, 2016 and 2017, I took the year off in 2018. Fortunately, in my last marathon in 2017 in Azusa, California (race report), I qualified for Boston. It wasn’t a PR but I did well enough to beat the cutoff time by over 5 minutes.
I started training for the Boston Marathon about 6 months ago. My training had gone exceptionally well. The two training races (one half-marathon and one 10k) had also gone well. I had high expectations for Boston. It was not to be.
For the past 10 days, I started watching the weather in Hopkinton, Framingham and Boston. The race-day forecast fluctuated daily. The worst of it called for cold, rainy conditions with headwinds gusting at 45+ miles per hour. The best of it called for windless, calm but cold and rainy conditions. It was Boston. The weather may not cooperate; the winds would be strong; we runners would just have to be stronger!
After arriving in Boston on Friday, we settled in to our hotel (Westin Waterfront). The journey was uneventful. I saw a couple of bad Hindi movies on the flight and prepared my race-plan. The plan could be summarized easily >> take it easy for the first half, kiss the girls in Wellesley, do the best you can on the hills in Newton, cruise on home! Of course, I had a mile-to-mile breakdown of each mile with expected heartrate and pace and nutrition. I had run Boston in 2015 and knew the course quite well!
On Saturday morning, we took the metro to the finish line. Before walking over to the Expo, we swung by the finish line and Marathon Sports. I picked up a visor and saw the countdown clock. I still had a couple of days before the race The clock read 1 day, 22 hours, 39 minutes and 44 seconds. Jitters!
The Expo was crowded but very well organized. I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to at the Expo. I picked up the official Boston Marathon 2019 jacket and a couple of t-shirts right after picking up my bib. I didn’t even get a magazine cover picture like I did in 2015. I simply picked up my bib, roamed a few shops and returned to the hotel. I wanted to relax.
Sunday was also uneventful. Instead of eating pasta, I changed it up to eat beets. In retrospect, it may have been a mistake. I’m not sure if I had enough carbs in me during the race; hence paid the price!
My race prep on Sunday was routine. I prepared every item meticulously. From head to toe, I set aside my Boston visor (black), my puppy-scarf (green), my Berlin Marathon adidas short-sleeved shirt (blue), Lululemon shorts (blue), Zensah calf sleeves (orange & peach), grey socks and Saucony Kinvara Boston shoes (white and pink). It was a multicolored ensemble. I would also wear my cheap Chinese sunglasses, my Garmin watch and wireless headphones. The weather was still unpredictable. They expected thunderstorms to roll in through Boston. They also expected sunshine. They also expected windy and cold conditions. I decided to go with short sleeves to brave the elements!
For nutrition, I was carrying Gatorade gels, Stinger waffles and salt pills. I would supplement this with the Gel they would hand out on the course. This should make up for plenty of calories!
I slept on the floor because the Westin Heavenly Bed was not so heavenly. It was way too soft. After tossing and turning all night, I got up at 6AM, showered, shaved, put on my contacts and got ready.
I felt good and confident. All indicators were pointing to a good race. At around 7AM, it started to rain. It kept getting heavier and heavier. I had a rain poncho with me. I was prepared! I went down to the lobby with my gearcheck bag. I put on my poncho only to realize that it was a cheap piece of thin plastic. That’s what you get for buying something online. I was hoping it would suffice. I noticed that some other athletes had plastic around their shoes to keep them dry. I went to the hotel concierge and asked for a couple of plastic bags to put around my shoes. I was set!
I took the Westin shuttle bus to the start line. So far, so good. The shuttle dropped us off at the East end of Boston Common, far away from the gearcheck buses. By this time, the downpour had turned into lashing, torrential rain. It was coming down buckets. We disembarked and walked towards gearcheck. My rain poncho barely covered my body. The walk took around 20 minutes. By the time we reached gearcheck, the only part of my body that was semi-dry was my torso. My shoes were soaking wet as were my legs, my shorts, shorts, my visor and my arms. So much for protective plastic! I was cold. We were still at least 2 hours from race start and I was already shivering!
Next, we walked from gearcheck to the buses. This was another 10-15 minutes. Any part that was dry was now wet (including my torso)! I said to myself, “This is Boston. All this is part of the Boston experience!”
I sat next to a girl from San Diego. We made idle chatter as we rode up to Hopkinton. At least it was dry on the bus! I ate a banana as I debated how I could dry off my socks and shoes. I wasn’t the only one thinking this. We were all in the same boat. It took around 45 minutes. By the time we got to the starting line, the rain had fortunately stopped.
Hopkinton – The Starting Line
It as sheer chaos in Hopkinton. It wasn’t raining but everything was wet with puddles. The lines to the restrooms were dozens and dozens long. 30,000 nervous type-A runners had congregated to run the Boston Marathon. He elite of the elite were here. I was one of them.
In the chaos, there were thousands of stories being told. Some were euphoric and some were tragic. If you ever get to run the Boston Marathon, savor every moment for you will share tales with newfound friends who have gone through tragedy, comedy and euphoria. Some have come back from injury to run Boston. Some are still injured but running (or hobbling).
I was slated to start in Wave 3 Corral 2 at 10:50AM. At around 10:20AM, I started the walk to the starting line. It’s a good 15-minute slow walk to the start. The energy is electric. Hardbody runners from all over the world had gathered to run in the most coveted running race in the world.
There are only two races that you have to qualify for; the Olympics and Boston. Of course, if you raise $5,000, you can run Boston as a Charity runner but to us snobbish purists, that is out-of-bounds. We leave that to the likes of Mario Lopez, Katie Holmes and a host of others (no judgement intended since they do raise money for charity).
The Start – Miles 1 to 5
At precisely 10:50, we started running. I felt good. I was going to have a good race. All systems were go. It was crowded. I was running smoothly and patiently; nice and easy. The first mile is mostly downhill with a slight undulating hills. I wanted to average between 8:15 and 8:30 for the first 10 miles while maintaining my heartrate in the high 130s and low 140s. This would lay a solid foundation to a solid race! In theory, this sounded easy. In reality, this would go out-the-door early.
In the first mile, my heart rate had already crept up to the mid-140s. I am still unsure why this happened. I didn’t eat enough carbs the day before the race. I had beets instead. Mistake!
Most of the first few miles are a gentle downhill. My pace was fine; but my heartrate was solidly into Level 2; almost touching Level 3. I could slow down my pace; or I could continue to run at what I thought was a smooth pace. I decided the latter. It was not a wise choice!
At mile 3, I felt my right leg stiffen up. My cadence felt uncomfortably fast. This was unnatural because I run to the rhythm of the music at just faster than 90bpm. I made a slight adjustment to this cadence and the stiffness slowly faded away. First problem encountered; first problem solved!
At mile 5, I ate my first Stinger waffle.
The Early Miles – Miles 6 to 16
I debated if I should slow down to lower my heartrate. On the gentle uphills, it was touching Level 3 only to settle back down into Level 2 on the downhills. At the 7-mile marker, I ate two salt pills. I gulped it down with water.
The weather had changed from cloudy to sunny. There was no sign of rain. We ran through wooded areas alternating between shade and sun through tall leafless trees. Crowds cheered us on in sparse bunches though the meandering countryside. Random signs cheering on dads or moms or cousins or friends were everywhere! Spectators were sitting on rooftops or standing by the roadside. Boston is a sports-town. The talk is mostly about football, baseball and basketball, but once a year, it turns to the Boston Marathon.
My heartrate remained high. My pace remained steady. I knew I’d be fine for the first half of the race. I became keenly aware that the Newton uphills starting at mile 16 would do me in!
At Mile 10, I ate 4 Gatorade Endurance Gels and continued on. The story didn’t change. Downhills were nice and easy but uphills felt tough.
At mile 12, I saw the first signs of Wellesley. Woohoo! The girls screaming their hearts and lungs out were approaching fast. I took off my headphones and continued to run.
And then, there they were! Hundreds of them with signs that ranged from “Kiss me, I’m Irish” to “Kiss me, I’m getting married” to “Kiss me, I won’t tell my boyfriend!” They were in all shapes and sizes and ethnicities.
Of all the traditions at the Boston Marathon, the Wellesley Scream Tunnel is easily my favorite. I kissed a few girls; they kissed me; we took a few selfies; I gave them my phone number and they txt’d me these pics! For all the aches and pains that we go through to finish the marathon, those few moments with the Wellesley girls make it worth every agonizing, unbearable moment.
Thank you Cara, Kiki and Erin. Thank you Marie. Thank you Amanda and Lauren. Thank you Wellesley for sending me selfies and making the Boston Marathon special!
I ran on past the girls towards the continued ups and downs. The crowds thickened. The torture intensified. Two more salt pills and another Stinger waffle later, I ran into Newton and reached mile 16. System shutdown!
Miles 16 to 21 – The Hills
The hills were here. I wasn’t the only one suffering. Tons of people around me were walking. As I stared the steep incline up the first hill, I started to walk. I was out of breath. My legs were toast. I had 10 miles to go. Five up and five down! There was an Asian guy in neon green with Hong Kong written on his shirt. He tapped me on my shoulder to encourage me. He was walking too, but he had long legs and long strides. The walk up the hill took forever.
As I crested, I slowly began to run. 1 hill done, 3 to go! Run downhill, walk uphill. Do this 3 more times and then coast home. Easier said than done! I touched my green scarf and thought of Simi and Missy. My chest grew heavy. My pups are gone, but my heart is still full of them. I am sad when I think of them, but in that sadness is love. They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t want this wound to ever heal.
I passed by the Hong Kong guy. The sun was gone. It was replaced by a chilly wind blowing from the right. The crowds were crazy. They were handing out orange peels and banana cuts. Some were even handing out beer! I walked uphill, slowly ran downhill, stopped for a few selfies, high-fived dozens of spectators and somehow ticked down the miles. 17 miles, 18 miles, 19 miles, 20 miles. Enter heartbreak hill.
I stopped to use the restroom. I had to. I generally don’t have a problem with nipple chafing but this is the Boston Marathon. All kinds of things happen! I felt a burning sensation on my right nip. I stopped by a medical tent and asked for a Band-Aid. A young female intern somewhat embarrassingly put on a Band-Aid on my right nip. Problem solved!
I walked up heartbreak hill. It was brutal. My legs weighed a hundred kilos each. My stomach felt queasy. I was cold at the start; I was hot in the mid-miles and now I was cold again. I had eaten enough carbs and drank enough water. All kinds of negative thoughts were going through my mind. I stopped again for a selfie. Some guy was carrying a handsome puppy. The pup was full of kisses. I got a bit of my mojo back. The hills were done!
Miles 22 to 26.2 – The Finish
As I crested heartbreak hill, I started to run. I decided to make it a fun race. I stopped and took more selfies. I high-fived kids, adults and dogs. Someone offered me a popsicle which I graciously accepted. It tasted like stale pineapple. Yuck! But I was having fun. The crowds were screaming at us to run. I stopped when I wanted and ran when I wanted. I smiled a lot and continued to exchange high-fives. The energy was electric!
The clouds thickened. The wind picked up. And then, it started to drizzle. The drizzle started to come down heavy and turned into a downpour. Everyone was drenched. Everyone!
There was noise all around me. Cowbells, loud speakers, rock music, fog horns, loud cheering and even dogs barking. The miles ticked down quickly. Mile 23, mile 24, mile 25. With a mile to go, I could see the right on Hereford. I walked, I ran, I talked to people, I played with puppies, I smiled for the camera. I took a right on Hereford just as the rain starting lashing us. As I took a left on Boylston, the downpour rained down buckets; but I could see the finish line.
I raised my arms in triumph as I crossed the finish line. 4:13:51 was my official time; more than 28 minutes above my target time of 3:45. Oh well. I had fun. My second Boston Marathon was in the books!
Someone draped a medal around my neck. Someone gave me a shiny silver blanket to protect us from the rain. It barely covered us. I walked slowly but I was not even sore. Today, I didn’t go all out at the Boston Marathon. I had fun. This is the way to run a race!
My medal my sits in my rack along with my other World Marathon Majors medals. It looks just a bit awkward as you can see, but I hope to eventually rack up at least one more Boston! Three is a good number.
So Now What?
I’m sad that Boston is done. I write this blog 4 days after the race, and my right quad is just a bit sore (but not sore as if I ran a marathon).
My next race is Ironman Goa 70.3 on October 20, 2019. Before that though, I have plans to travel to The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Spain. More on that coming up…