The day I finally got to wear my unicorn jacket! I had hung up my jacket in my closet as a reminder of what I was working towards all winter with the promise that I could wear it to kick off the weekend traveling to the airport. We left for Boston on Friday afternoon as I wanted time to relax before the race and to give us a buffer in case of any flight delays/cancellations since race bibs had to be picked up by Sunday. We were fortunate enough to have a free stay at a family friend’s apartment who was out of town for the weekend in Cambridge; hotels in Boston are really expensive on marathon weekend! We arrived in Boston around 7 p.m. and headed straight for the grocery store once we got our rental car. I wanted to eat foods I was used to as I am someone who has suffered GI issues in races multiple times. We got to the apartment around 8 p.m., had pizza and salad, and shortly thereafter went to sleep.
Saturday we headed to the expo around 10 a.m. and used the day as our primary activities day since I wanted to be off my feet as much as I could be on Sunday. The line to get through security to get into the expo wrapped around the convention center, but it moved relatively quickly. Once inside, I saw a unicorn statue and had Ross snap a photo of me. As we were walking away from the statue and into the room for bib pickup, I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed that my dream was finally coming true. All the years of hard work had paid off and I was finally at the race of my dreams. Bib pickup was seamless and the volunteer checking me in was so excited for me in my first Boston Marathon; it just added to the excitement! From bib pickup we headed into the rest of the expo to pick up the official race packet and then to of course buy some official merchandise. I got the little stuffed unicorn named Spike and a coffee mug with the Boston Marathon logo imprinted on it. The line for checkout for gear was insane and not the most organized (there was a break in the line so people were cutting unfortunately), but after the checkout we went into the vendor section of the expo and got to see some really cool displays. My favorite display was Saucony’s as they had a whole donut display case for the donut shoes and lots of fun signs related to Boston (and donuts!). We waited in line for the Brooks vending machine for about an hour but with the line barely moving and me starting to feel light headed, we decided it was time to get off our feet and to grab some food. As we were leaving the line, we met up with my friend from Chicago, Marie, and we were both so excited to be in Boston!
On Sunday morning Ross and I drove over to the Thinking Cup near Boston Common to meet up with Jessica and Paula from Team Sugar Runs. Jessica is the owner and founder of the team (and also my coach!) and Paula is the team’s registered dietician and nutritionist. I recently was added to the team’s staff as a running coach at the beginning of the year and since all 3 of us were running Boston, Jess’ husband Ricky was able to snap some photos of us together! After our mini photo shoot, we met up with all of Jess’ athletes who were running Boston. She had over 10 athletes qualify for Boston which was so cool to see; I got to meet some of the other runners that I follow on Instagram as well as meet some new friends! We did a 20-minute shakeout run through Boston Common and then talked about the race, hearing from some of the Boston Marathon returners on their advice. It was at this point that everything started feeling more real to me and I’ll admit I was a little nervous that our 8:45 paced shakeout run felt a little fast in the humidity (but I’ve also never had a shakeout run that felt particularly good so I was comforted a little by this fact). We all hung out for a little bit at the coffee shop after the run before heading our separate ways.
Ross and I walked around Boston Common a little longer to kill time before heading to the airport to pick up my parents who had flown in for the race. Once we were all together, we went over to lunch overlooking the bay to stay off my feet and get some fuel. I was feeling pretty exhausted so after lunch we went back to the apartment so that I could nap. After about an hour nap, we drove back out to Newton and went to the Heartbreak Hill Running Company store where my dad picked up a pair of sunglasses (I convinced him to get Goodrs!) before we drove the hills. The worst hill while driving seemed to be the one just past the fire station around mile 17; I had heard this from some locals before too and after running it, I think it’s accurate. After the drive, we went back to the apartment so that I could make dinner. I wanted to keep my routine as similar to possible as when I’m home so I made Banza pasta with crushed tomatoes and the Turkey Trot Meatballs from Run Fast Cook Fast Eat Slow. After dinner I laid out my race outfit, knowing at this point that it was going to be a warmer race, and then headed to bed.
I’ve been having a hard time putting into words what my experience was like at the Boston Marathon. It made me smile, it made me cry, it made me fall in love with the marathon all over again after being unsure if the distance was right for me (spoiler alert: it is).
I woke up to a thunderstorm Monday morning and the skies had opened up. I had slept horribly all weekend being in an unfamiliar place but I was calm, calmer than I’ve ever been before a race before, especially a marathon. I ate my oatmeal that I had brought from home and a cup of coffee and changed into my race day outfit. After one last trip to the bathroom, we headed out from Cambridge to catch the T to get to Boston Common. We got soaked walking from the apartment to the station, but luckily the only wet things were my throwaway shoes and the cheap 99 cent ponchos I had bought on Amazon. We were on the T for about 30 minutes before reaching the Boston Common stop. It was still raining when we made it over to the buses that would take me to Hopkington, so I hugged my parents goodbye, kissed Ross, and headed to use the porta-potties before the long ride out to Hopkinton.
I got on a bus rather quickly around 8 a.m. and chatted with the runner who sat next to me, Daniela. This calmed my nerves a bit to have a friendly person to talk to and we talked nearly the full hour there to Hopkinton, looking at the weather together but assuring one another that we would be just fine. I ate a small bagel on the bus to Hopkinton to get some more carbs in and drank a full water bottle as I didn’t start until 10:50. I didn’t realize how far away the start line was but I had left with plenty of time to spare because I wanted to be relaxed before the start of the race. By the time we made it to Hopkinton, it had stopped raining and it was enjoyable walking around. I had a pair of throwaway sweats on and a sweatshirt with a poncho on top of it all. I teared up seeing the sign that said “Welcome to Athletes’ Village”, snapped a photo, and headed inside. I had heard from friends that as soon as you got to the village that you should get in line for the porta potties. They were not wrong. The lines were insane and I met a friendly girl in line who told me that the lines were much shorter in a different section by the high school as long as I was willing to get a little muddy. Since we both had tossaway shoes on, we were up for it, and headed over together. Our shoes got stuck in ankle-high mud over and over again but they never fell off. It had been worth it to struggle through to the porta potties in this new section because the lines were so much shorter. After the bathroom, I waved goodbye to my new friend who was starting in Wave 2, and headed up for another bagel and water bottle since I had a lot of extra time. While getting a bagel, I ran into my friend Marie from back home in Chicago completely unplanned. We also ran into runners from another Chicago area running club and it helped calm my nerves to chat with them before the race.
The pace went out slow at the beginning and I kept repeating “relax, relax, relax” out loud to myself. I didn’t want to go out too fast and the slower pace was helping to keep me under control. I didn’t realize how many rolling hills were at the beginning of the marathon since all I had heard was that it was downhill for about 10 miles but because I was super hill trained, I didn’t bat an eye about it and just ran. My first mile clicked at a 7:39 (goal marathon pace was 7:30-7:40 so this was perfect). “Good job, Katherine, you’re letting the hill do the work; that didn’t feel hard at all,” I told myself. I spent the next several miles just letting myself run but paying attention to mile splits to make sure I was controlling. Ideally I didn’t want to see anything under a 7:20 in this first section because I knew the hardest part of the course started in mile 17. I did a pretty good job of that with the exception of mile 4 which was a 7:15; the energy on the course was electric and I think crossing the 5K mark made me a little emotional seeing all the fans out there supporting the runners. “You’re running the Boston freaking Marathon. How cool is this?!” I carried a half-full water bottle with me for the first 10K and used it to take my first gel packet. In hindsight, this was one of the smartest things I did to keep myself hydrated for the sunny conditions that were ahead that were unexpected to all of us, so I feel lucky I had done this purely to avoid the first few aid stations. I soaked in the crowds and the course at every mile and soon enough we were at mile 13 and the Wellesley Scream Tunnel. I was fist-pumping with the girls and taking in all the energy they were giving to the runners. This was probably my favorite part along the course because it was incredibly scenic, flat, and also the cheering was unreal. The sun had come out at this point and I could feel it beating down on me.
Around mile 14 I took my arm warmers off and stuck them in my pocket since I knew I would probably see my family around 16.5 and could toss them to them (and if not, they were only $7 so I was going to chuck them). Knowing that my family was close to 17 really helped me power through the beginning of the struggle period. I threw my hands up in the air when I saw them, tossed my arm warmers in their direction, and turned the corner to head up the first hill (Fire Station Hill) which in my opinion was the most challenging hill on the course incline-wise. I remember gasping for air along these hills because of the humidity but had a phrase getting me through them “10 hard steps at the top of each hill to get back to marathon pace”, was a tip I had heard from Ryan Hall on a podcast. I took water at every aid station, sometimes taking an extra cup to dump over my head to keep cool. Because of all the water I was taking in, I could no longer control my bladder and I think I peed on 3 different portions of the course. Yep, it was embarrassing, but I was also still moving pretty fast so I tried to push it out of my mind and just focus on the running. There were so many people walking up the hills, something I wasn’t expecting at the pace we were going. I caught a lot of runners who had started in Wave 2 25 minutes before me on the hills and used that as energy to keep running. “You are doing great. Just keep picking people off and stay strong.” Heartbreak Hill lived up to its name and I ran my slowest miles of the day in this section (Mile 20 was 8:10 and Mile 21 was 8:36). Because I had run a really tough half marathon over hills, I knew it was to be expected that my pace would slow here, so I didn’t freak out about it at all. I wish it had been less sunny because I do think that my pace would’ve been a little faster in this section, but we were all dealing with the same conditions so there is no room to complain. After cresting Heartbreak Hill I could tell we were descending again and I used this as a time to recover before picking it up. By mile 25, I had gotten my pace back down to 7:41 and was running on pure guts at this point.
Mile 25 to 26 was one of the longest miles of my life and although I should’ve been excited about making that right onto Hereford, I was really just thinking, “just hang on…we’re so darn close. You’re almost there.” I didn’t realize there was an incline up Hereford (maybe it’s not noticeable on a regular day but after 26 miles my body was screaming). When I turned left onto Boylston, I could see the finish line in the distance, but there was still about .3 miles to run down it. I looked at my watch and knew I was going to be so close to breaking 3:20, but my body just had nothing more to give. When I look back on the Strava segment, I did get my pace down to a 7:10 for Boylston Street so I’m happy that I got to tap into some more speed, but I wish I had more for my finishing kick. I started approaching the finish line and threw my hands up in the air hoping that someone would snap a good finish line picture of me. I was crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon. My dream race. And I was crossing it in an 8-minute PR. As soon as I crossed the line I got down on my hands and knees gasping for air. Humid air is hard enough to run in but humid air as someone who deals with exercise-induced asthma is a whole different animal. There were many, many times on the course that I thought by pushing as hard as I was that I was risking a crawl to the finish, but I just kept reminding myself that the faster I ran the faster I could be done (seriously) and used the energy of the crowds to pull me along and get me out of some really deep, dark places. A volunteer got me up off my feet and wanted me to walk; I protested but heeded his advice when he warned me that I might cramp up really badly if I didn’t keep moving. I hobbled my way through to get my race medal, thanked every single volunteer that I could, and kept shuffling along for what felt like hours to get to the family finish area.
I knew I hadn’t broken 3:20 and that I’d be short by some change, but it didn’t matter. My goal at the beginning of the cycle was 3:20 and while I know I was in shape for something in the 3:16-3:18 range had conditions been 100%, even though I didn’t run that time doesn’t mean the fitness gains aren’t still there to be capitalized on in the future. I hobbled my way down to “S” where we had decided to meet for Team Sugar Runs and found my Coach who screamed “3:20!!!” at me before giving me the biggest hug (sorry I was literally probably the grossest person to hug, Jess). I then found my husband and mom who also both gave me big hugs and I asked Ross what my official time was. 3:20:09, a 7:38 pace. The pace I had been working so hard last year to run for just a half marathon and I now did it twice back to back. “You were so consistent”, Ross said to me. It was so, so special and to get to share the finish line with my coach and my family was something I’ll never forget.
The entire experience was magical and I can’t believe that it’s officially over. I was so prepared coming into this race and grew to love hills and challenging courses as a result. I learned so much as an athlete, but more so I learned so much as a person. While I’m not looking forward to the downtime because truly I just love running so much, I know I need it, and so I’m not going to run again until my coach gives me the ok. Once I do resume running again, it’ll be pretty easy paces and mileage for awhile but I’m excited to enjoy the run and to stay healthy. I have a 10K scheduled on 5/19 but it happens to fall on the same day as my sister’s college graduation so we’ll see if I run it or not. I won’t be training for it specifically and will just be running on whatever fitness is left from this past season if I do run it so no expectations. I do think I can pull off a 10K PR if the weather cooperates, though, since my half marathon PR is officially the same pace as my 10K PR…lol (I have never trained for a 10K specifically before). I plan to use this summer as my “summer of speed” to get myself uncomfortable with short 5Ks and 10Ks and to work on turnover speed that will translate to a faster finish in my marathons. My next big race is CIM in December with a tune-up half marathon at Indy Monumental so I won’t be starting the official cycle until the end of summer/beginning of Fall. I haven’t set my goals for that yet but I’ve already started dreaming big again so stay tuned…