Every other race I've done up to this point - all the 5Ks, and the biathlons - they all seem like silly little fun runs now that I've experienced a REAL RACE, because that's what Sunday was. A Real Race.
After a stop to get a bagel and coffee, I hit the road around 5:45, and listened to a CD of all my favorite running songs. And since it was 6am on a Sunday morning, there was virtually no traffic, so it was a really nice ride, and the nervous jitters didn't start until I was about 15 minutes outside the city.
I got up to Boston right around 7am, which was plenty early enough to get a spot right next to the Seaport, so parking wasn't an issue at all.
Things were still pretty quiet when I headed in to pick up my packet, so I took my time and gathered my materials and pinned my number to my shirt, and wondered how I was supposed to attach my timing chip to my shoe, and then realized that I just had to copy what everyone else was doing, so that's what I did.
I still had tons of time before the race started, so I walked outside to soak up the scene. It was starting to get more crowded now, and I just walked around and checked out the start and finish lines, and strolled along the waterfront a little.
For the next hour or so, I basically just went in and out of the building, checking out the scene both inside and outside, and making numerous trips to the bathroom, and tying and retying my shoelaces, and adjusting my number on my shirt, and checking my iPod settings, and getting more and more excited as the start time drew closer and the crowd swelled.
The sun had come out from behind the clouds at this point, but the temperature was still low enough that it wasn't feeling too hot at all, so I didn't mind the sun - it actually made for a beautiful, sparkling blue sky, and made things seem even more perfect.
There were countdown clocks for both the half and the 5-mile (which started 15 minutes after the half), and when I saw that the half was about to start, I made one last stop in the bathroom and came out just in time to see the runners take off. I was a little jealous, since I was 'supposed' to be one of them, but I know full well that I am nowhere near ready to run 13.1 miles, so I wasn't all that green with envy - just a tad.
After that, I actually did a very short warmup run - something I've never done before a race, but something I think I will do from now on. It really helped me get some nervous energy out, and get in running mode. A few stretches later, and it was time for the 5-milers (more than 1,500 of us) to line up.
I was nervous, but not as nervous as I thought I would be. I've actually been more nervous before most of my 5Ks. I'm still not sure why I felt so much calmer this time. Maybe doing the warm-up, or maybe knowing that I wasn't going to try to break any PRs or anything? Who knows? Either way, I felt great, and I was READY for things to get started - and before I knew it, we were off.
I've read about this, but this is the first time I've experienced it. The gun went off, and...... nothing happened. We stood there. Then, after 15 or 20 seconds, people started to walk, then the pace picked up to a slow jog, and then we were running - slowly - and jostling for space. So yes, clearly, there are drawbacks to running a big race.
Mile 1 went by ridiculously fast, despite the slow, crowded start. And two things happened during Mile 1 - First, my Garmin totally flaked on me. We started along the waterfront, which was a relatively flat, open area. But we quickly headed into downtown Boston, and the tall buildings just made it too tough to pick up a signal, so from that point on, I was basically just wearing a stopwatch on my wrist, as the pace and mileage were all wacky and could not be trusted. Which threw my 10-minute-mile goal out the window, since I'd now have to literally pace myself. So I just ran what felt easy, and as it turns out, that was 9-minute miles.
Anyway, the second thing that happened during Mile 1 was, apart from the start and finish, the highlight of the race for me. We had run through downtown a bit, and I was really enjoying myself, since I knew this area of the city really well, and it was fun to run through familiar territory - and fun to be running in a city; something I've never done before. Then we rounded a corner and were at the top of a hill, and there was a gorgeous breeze - not enough to slow me down; just enough to cool me off - and a U2 song came on my iPod. I'm not even a huge fan of U2, but there's something about listening to U2 in Boston that just seems so right. So I'm already feeling like I'm on top of the world, and then I get to the crest of the hill, and I look down, and ahead of me, fanning out and taking over the entire street, is a literal wall of runners. And I sneak a glance back, and there is a similar wall behind me, and I'm just grinning ear to ear, thinking "Wow, I am running with ALL these people!"
I still felt great during Mile 2, but somewhere between Mile 2 and Mile 3, I started getting concerned. Either there was no Mile 2 marker, or I totally missed it, but I was running and running and thinking that we MUST have gone 2 miles by now, but there was nothing to tell me if we had or not. And I couldn't rely on my Garmin, so I just kept running and running and thinking "Man, if we haven't hit 2 miles by now, I'm going to be really bummed, because, although I still feel pretty good, I do feel like I've run at LEAST 2 miles, if not more...."
Then, after a few more minutes of worrying, I spotted the Mile 3 marker up ahead. Whew! That made me feel a LOT better. I think there was a water stop right before Mile 3, too, which helped. So now I was thinking that I was pretty happy I was doing the 5-mile race, because that meant only 2 miles to go. And we were now running in the area of Beacon Street and the Public Gardens, so the scenery was pretty nice, to.
I wouldn't say I struggled during Mile 4, but it was slightly less enjoyable for me. I was getting tired by this time, and I was really happy when some of my favorite "pick-me-up" songs came on my iPod, and they worked like a charm. By this time we were back into the heart of downtown, and I have to say, it's really cool to 'take over' the streets of Boston and just run, without having to worry about traffic.
Soon we passed the half-marathon 12-mile marker, so I knew we were getting close, and sure enough, our 4-mile mark was just around the corner. That last mile always seems like the longest, though....
We were now headed back toward the waterfront, and there was a nice breeze - again, just enough of a wind to cool things off, and it was really refreshing. We turned a few corners, and then the finish line was in sight. I knew I wasn't even close to a PR, and I knew I didn't want to risk hurting myself by sprinting to the finish line, and to tell you the truth, I don't know if I had a sprint in me. I was still feeling ok, but I was feeling ready to be done running, so I pretty much just coasted to the finish line, crossing the mat with the clock reading just over 46 minutes.
They were calling out names randomly as people finished, and mine was one of the ones they happened to call out, except that they called out "Michael" instead of "Michelle." Oh well. I guess hearing the wrong name is better than not hearing your name at all. Or not? At that point, I really didn't care - I was just so happy, and as I walked back into the Seaport and took off my chip and got some water, I realized that I felt good. I wasn't exhausted, and I wasn't hurting - I just felt great, and I had had a really nice, fun run. What more can you ask for, really?
So my actual chip time was 45:41, which was 30th out of 118 in my age group, and 628th overall - out of 1,554 participants. I'm absolutely thrilled with my results! I ran a little faster than I had planned on, but if I had been struggling, I would have slowed down. I ran what felt right, and I'm happy that what felt right was 9-minute miles : )
I collected my medal, stretched, grabbed a bunch of snacks and water, and went outside and saw the first of the half-marathon finishers, took one last look at all the festivities, and went on my way. I would have lingered and watched a bit more, but we had company arriving in the afternoon, so I had to get myself back home.
It was a fantastic race, and such a good experience. And all it's done is whet my appetite for more, so I'm really glad that my marathon training starts in just a few weeks. I'm ready to dive in. I get butterflies when I think about the long, long runs ahead of me - 10, 12, 15, and 20 miles - but they're good butterflies.