I knew I wanted to sign up for the 2023 Boston Marathon since I made the connection that it would be on the date of my 30th birthday and as a runner, that seemed like the coolest way to celebrate entering into a new decade. I earned my qualifying time at the 2022 Eugene Marathon, took a season off of marathon training feeling very burned out mentally after a couple tough marathons in a row, and vowed to do things differently in my Boston training cycle to avoid that burnout again. I worked with my coach of 5 years to come up with a plan that would challenge me but not push me over the edge feeling my confidence shaken in 2021 and 2022. My main goal for Boston was to feel strong running the race; I never had a time goal which was a big change from past cycles but it was what I needed after Eugene and NYC marathons that I had put so much pressure on myself for. Training-wise I never ran more than 55 miles in a week, a far cry from the 71 miles I hit in a peak week leading up to Eugene, and I always took one rest day per week; I went into Boston feeling a little undercooked vs overcooked so I think in the future I might want to peak closer to 60-65 miles again, but I never had any little niggles pop up or anything that derailed my training so there’s something to be said for that as well! This was marathon #13 and I view each marathon cycle that I do as a learning opportunity and this one taught me that I can get to “pretty good” off of 40-50 miles/week but think that I’ve identified my sweet spot for training right around consistent 50s and into the 60s for a few weeks. I strength trained about 3x/week until the last month of my training cycle where I went down to 2 days/week and then none the week of my race.
Training Cycle Complications
I’m sharing the next couple of paragraphs to encourage open dialogue among runners about topics that aren’t often discussed because they’re uncomfortable. I’ve put some disclaimers on them so if you aren’t interested, feel free to skip these sections or this blog post altogether, but it was an important part of my training cycle so I wanted to be honest.
(Please note if you’re triggered by any talk of body weight, please skip this paragraph). While mileage felt completely manageable this cycle, I struggled a lot with long run workouts. It was hard not to compare this cycle to the last time I ran Boston in 2019; that cycle clicked really well and I was consistently exceeding pace expectations vs missing them like I did this cycle. I’m still sorting through it all but I think right now it’s fair to say it was about 50% mental and 50% physical why I couldn’t hit my paces. In the summer and fall I got really strong in the gym and on the roads focusing on 5K and mile speedwork. It completely changed my body composition and while I could care less what the number on a scale reads so long as I feel confident in my own body, the way we carry our weight does have an effect on different events. I became a lot more powerful and what used to be my weakness, quick sub-threshold and VO2 max repeats, became my strength, and what used to be my strength, long tempos and endurance, seemingly became my weakness. It was baffling to me how I could knock out sub-6 minute 1000 meter repeats which used to be my least favorite workout without much hesitation anymore but ask me to hold 6:50 pace for more than 3 miles at a time and it would feel pretty uncomfortable. My body felt totally different training for this marathon and between clothes not fitting how they used to and my body not responding to paces that used to click so naturally, I spent a lot of the cycle really frustrated. I fully believe in the concept of “lifting heavy” that we see preached time and time again on social media and think it’s a big reason I’ve stayed injury free for over 4 years now, but I think that statement alone is a disservice to runners because as someone who is pretty comfortable getting uncomfortable, I was able to push myself pretty hard in the gym and as a result it totally changed how I felt running with a “new” body. I think I could get used to it eventually so this is in no way me shaming my body, I think it’s pretty incredible how strong it’s gotten, but I am not quite used to it yet with running long distance. Beyond the physical changes, not hitting my long-run workout paces week after week started getting to me mentally; in hindsight I wish we would’ve adjusted long-run workout paces to be more in line with how I was feeling vs forcing paces that just weren’t clicking. I think it’s important to be self-aware of the type of fitness you’re in and while at one point last year I may have been in sub-7 minute marathon shape, I really don’t think this cycle that it was where I physically was at and it felt very forced.
(Skip this paragraph if you aren’t interested in the female menstrual cycle). On the topic of physical changes, another thing that has really started affecting me in the last couple years is the week before I get my period. As I’ve shared before, I went off of hormonal birth control back in January 2021 as it completely messed with my mental health and was not healthy; I’ve later realized it was likely the cause of chronic migraines as well as I have not experienced them since I went off of it. This isn’t a PSA to go off of your birth control – I talked to my doctor about this before making any changes – but after talking with many women and my husband about it, it seemed like the right choice for me at the time. Mentally, it’s been the best decision I ever made, physically it’s come with some new challenges that I haven’t found a good solution for yet. In the week leading up to getting my period, I now get pretty awful PMS symptoms such as tiredness, bloating, and an elevated heart rate which makes efforts feel even harder. My half marathon fell in this window and I went out at goal pace and paid the price for spiking my heart rate too early and crashed and burned so it was a good lesson for Boston which was four weeks later and also in this timeframe. When I felt similarly in the week leading up to Boston, I knew I needed to make an adjustment ahead of time to race expectations to still have a really fun day while respecting where my body was at. Carb loading during this time was very unpleasant as every website will tell you to avoid pre-period bloat to cut out your carbs and sodium…both of which you’re supposed to be increasing your intake of pre-marathon. I did the carb load and drank my Skratch anyway; I knew I was already going to feel gross and feeling under-fueled would just make things feel even worse so I had to embrace the bloaty belly.
Race Expectations & Recap
Knowing the above with how my training cycle went and talking with my coach, we agreed that a 7:10-7:15 pace was more appropriate for where my body was at on a good day. Running a shakeout run the day before the marathon solidified to me that I’d need to take it out easy if I wanted to get through the marathon still feeling strong and happy about the effort. I had so much fun getting to see my teammates and fellow coaches and felt the magic of marathon weekend in the air so while I was disappointed knowing going in the race wouldn’t be at that previously discussed “good day” pace, I was at peace knowing that this weekend was much bigger than me and that I was really just grateful to be there. I also looked back on my goals when I started the cycle – to feel strong running a marathon again – and that kept me grounded beyond a pace.
On race morning, I took the bus to the start with my athletes (and friends!) Megan, Sandee, and Karly. We ended up splurging for a club bus and it was more than worth it as we got to sit inside and stay warm instead of having to stand outside at athletes’ village which was a little damp and cold. There was a lot of nervous, but excited, energy on the bus. It still didn’t feel quite real that we were racing Boston!
We left the bus for athletes’ village where we spent all of about 5 minutes before having to head to the start line. We did a quick stop at the porta-potties and then while throwing on ponchos as the rain started to come down, Megan mentioned to one of the volunteers that it was my birthday which resulted in everyone singing happy birthday to me. I couldn’t help but tear up; this is why I love this race so much – it’s much more than a time on the clock – it’s the people who make this race what is is. After the singing, we hurried over to our corrals with little time to spare and it was much more chaotic of a start than what I remember from 2019. I think there is something to be said for starting in the first corral of a wave; in 2019 I started in wave 3 corral 1 and so I was there when the gun went off for our wave and could feel that race day anticipation. This year, I was in the back of wave 2 in corral 7 (there are 8 corrals) and so we did not hear a gun go off and basically just started running as soon as we got up to the start. It was very anticlimactic compared to 2019! The other downside to being in the back of a wave is the congestion; because they wait between the waves, when I was in corral 1 of wave 3 in 2019 I felt like I had plenty of space to run and didn’t know what people were talking about when they said the first 7 or 8 miles of Boston felt congested. This year, I certainly understood what they meant. My first mile was a 7:52, and unless I was weaving in and out of people or hopping on sidewalks like I saw some women do, it was impossible to move any faster. On the plus side, that keeps you from going out too hard, but had I actually wanted to hit my splits it would’ve been a little frustrating this year. It worked out that I was just running off of effort for this race as the congestion kept me within myself and I eventually found paces in the 7:30s that felt pretty comfortable; it would appear that this is where I’d stay for most of the race.
I’ll admit that a few miles into the race I was nervous about even being able to finish. My heart rate was already high in mile 1 and I felt so bloated and uncomfortable. I think what helped me get through the first few miles was reminding myself just how lucky I was to be running this race and what a special way it was to celebrate my birthday. I tried to engage with the fans, smiling at them as we ran by, knowing that smiling can make things feel easier, too which would benefit me! I can’t remember exactly where it was but around mile 5 or so Megan came up behind me and yelled, “hi birthday girl!” and we got to share some miles together. She looked so comfortable and so strong and I made sure to tell her to leave me behind if I started to fall off of her pace; she was ready for a big PR and I didn’t want to get in the way of that! She did move ahead eventually and I kept her within eyeshot for awhile which was helpful to pull me along to some of my fastest splits of the day in the 7:20s. I don’t remember Wellesley College being as early in the race as it felt this year but it snuck up so quickly! The scream tunnel is electric – you can’t even hear yourself think! Wellesley is always a boost into the half marathon in the downtown which I came through in 1:39 and change. At this point I knew I was going to finish the race and had found an effort comfortably within myself to do it. My next point of motivation was knowing Ross and Jack, my brother, were going to be somewhere close to mile 16.5 or 17. I focused on running strong to them, wanting to at least appear like I was having a good time! I kept a really steady effort through when I saw them, just before the first Newton hill, and smiled so big at them when I spotted them! This gave me the boost to get through the four Newton hills which I counted in my head as we went up each one; as one positive note, I ran Strava PRs through this segment this time around so although the race itself wasn’t a course PR for me, I ran the Newton hills stronger than I have in the past so that was a big win!
Unfortunately the hills seemed to finally take their toll and I slowed down closer to the 7:50-8:10 range from mile 17 to 26. It wasn’t a huge drop-off but I just couldn’t get any turnover anymore in my legs. I think in the future I’ll want to practice a little more faster downhill running when I train for Boston again as I’d love to be able to hammer those final miles after Heartbreak but just couldn’t find the extra gear this time around. Despite slowing down, the last hour of the race flew by for me and I soaked in the sounds of the crowds cheering as we got closer and closer to downtown Boston. I’ve run four of the six majors so far and this one always has the most crowd support lining the course; you can’t help but keep moving even when you’re tired because the crowds will carry you along! I made the historic right turn on Hereford and by the time I got to the top of it, was throwing my arms up trying to pump up the crowds before making that left onto Boylston. Having run the race before, I knew how long that Boylston stretch feels, and I just wanted to get to the finish line to be done running! I threw my arms up at the finish, crossing officially in 3:24:06, and was proud of the effort I gave on the day. A BQ at Boston on your birthday isn’t too shabby, either!
Getting back to Ross and Jack felt like an eternity because as soon as I stopped running, my quads tightened up and it was a very slow go! On the course the wind didn’t feel so bad but it got pretty gusty walking through the finishing shoot and I got so cold being wet from the rain/sweat. Fortunately, about a half mile later, I met up with them and hopped into a mall connected to our hotel to warm up! I don’t think I’ve ever showered so quickly after a marathon; it was nice staying close to the finish area this time around! As any classic post-marathon shower goes, I found the chafing spots as they stung with the water hitting them! I had body-glided pre-race but the rain definitely washed some of that away and I was eternally grateful for the aid station volunteers who were holding out popsicle sticks with Vaseline slathered on them mid-race to help with some earlier than anticipated chafing!
I’ve gone through a mix of emotions since the race. I am a little bummed that I didn’t get to race to my full potential on race day, but I know that I raced within myself and gave it everything I had that day. I’m not disappointed in that; I didn’t go out too hard and I was pretty self-aware of where my fitness was at so I didn’t have unrealistic expectations. I wish it would’ve felt more comfortable than it did at least in the first few miles, but every marathon is a new learning opportunity and from this one I learned that I can still be proud of a race even if it’s not a new PR. I had so much fun running Boston this year; I’ve really nailed down my fueling on course and I never felt like I hit a wall in the race so that alone is a valuable piece of the puzzle of marathons. It was the best way to ring in my 30th birthday and to snag a BQ on top of it was just icing on the (non-existent) cake! (Don’t worry, we celebrated with cake on Easter the weekend before!)
I’ve seen some people talking about the weather as being super windy and wet; while it’s true that it did rain on us multiple times during the race, at least having trained through a much windier winter the wind didn’t seem to bother me a whole lot and by all accords low 50s and a little rain is pretty standard and manageable spring marathon weather in my opinion. Would it have been nice for it to be dry and to have a tailwind instead of a headwind? Absolutely! But I don’t think the weather this year had a big impact on the race as evidenced especially by the pro marathon times which would usually be affected if the weather was poor.
On paper I’ve been in a bit of a rut the last couple years and admittedly that’s been really hard to deal with emotionally, but I’m putting the pieces together and I know one day it’s all going to come together and click and all the patience and consistency will be worth it. I’m not quite sure what’s next; I’m signed up for Chicago in the fall but haven’t decided if it’s going to be a goal race for me or not. Fortunately I have a little time to make that decision! I have some things I need to work on with my body to feel both strong and comfortable in distance running again so I’m trying to navigate that with help from my doctor and also in the gym doing things differently in the off-season. The spark for marathoning is back and that’s the greatest gift this cycle could’ve given me after feeling so burned out by the distance this time a year ago. The best is yet to come and I’m going to keep working hard to find that magic feeling on race day again!