It's hard to know where to begin with this race recap, but knowing that it ends with happiness makes it a little easier to get started.
The goal for this year's Boston was simple - finish. Nine weeks of training (2 of which were taper) means time goals have to fall by the wayside, and you need to check your ego at the door. The marathon is not a distance to mess with.
Not having a time goal took away some of the pre-race nerves, but the final week before the race became infinitely more stressful when Dante came down with a stomach bug. I washed my hands 'til they were raw, downed megadoses of Vitamin C, and prayed that I would be able to avoid it. To say I was on edge is an understatement.
I pushed all the stress aside for Saturday, though, because that was Expo Day with my friends! We got up to the Expo mid-morning, and immediately picked up our numbers.
The Expo was insanely crowded, and it was tough to even walk in some spots. It felt like there were twice as many people as last year. We made our way through and checked out most of the booths, though, and were even fortunate enough to meet and talk with Kathrine Switzer, and I was completely starstruck. She is amazingly kind and warm and friendly, and I am now even more in awe of her. An incredible woman.
I also got to meet up with some other bloggers/FB page owners, which was really fun. We've shared our Boston journeys all year long, and it was great to finally see each other in person!
Walking down Boylston Street after we left the Expo was kind of strange. I wasn't really sad - it just felt odd to see it all set up for race day again. Almost a little surreal. But exciting, too.
Sunday was Easter, and we didn't have big plans, but we did have enough to do that it made the day slightly less relaxing than I would have wanted. But since I knew I wasn't going into the race with big time goals like last year, I didn't stress too much. I had gathered most of my stuff on Saturday night, so just had to re-check my list and pack everything up, and I got that done early Sunday afternoon, got to bed too late, and the alarm was blaring before I knew it.
Heading to the bus early Monday morning, I found myself crying on and off. It was impossible not to think about that same car ride last year, and how unbelievably excited I was, and how full of anticipation and such glee that I was on my way to run my first Boston - only to have the day come crashing down in such a tragic way.
Once I got there and saw my friends, though, the sadness receded. I've said all through this training that I was so thankful they were all going to be there this year, but I'll say it again - it made all the difference in the world, and put so much joy into a day that was an emotional struggle for me at many times.
We made our final preparations as we waited on the bus in Hopkinton - put on the Boston tattoos they had handed out at the Expo, wrote our names on our arms with Sharpies, final applications of Body Glide, and got ourselves ready to go.
I had throwaway clothes and armwarmers, but I barely needed any of them. It was just slightly cool as we got onto the bus to the Athlete's Village, but by the time we got off the bus and started walking to the start, I had tossed my long sleeves and pants.
It was very close to my wave start time (10:25), so I didn't go to Athlete's Village at all this year, so I'm glad I had time to check it out last year.
A few final porta-pottie stops, and before I knew it, I was standing in my corral, again fighting back tears. The overall mood was incredibly joyful and celebratory, though, and the sun was shining, and it was just a sea of runners everywhere you looked. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring.
It was also warm. Much warmer than I had anticipated. It felt like it was already close to 60 degrees, and I wondered how much that was going to increase as we ran. The forecasts I had seen had predicted highs between 62 and 67, so I was a little bit nervous, but there wasn't anything to be done about it. I did take off my armwarmers before we even started, though. I knew I wasn't going to be needing them.
Since I was way back in Corral 8, it took nearly 5 minutes to actually cross the starting line, but then I was there, and I was off. And I was struggling. Not physically, but emotionally. I was having a hard time getting my head to a happy place, and it took me a good mile to a mile and a half to make that shift.
I got there, though, and once I did, the happier memories from last year came through, and I started smiling as we made our way past spots on the course that I remembered vividly - the bluegrass band playing in the early miles; the biker bar in Ashland - and I soaked up the cheering and the smiles and the enthusiasm of the spectators lining the course, knowing that it was just going to get better.
A few miles in, I saw a sign that completely defined the day for me, and I almost wish I had stopped to take a picture. "Everyone Finishes Today," it read.
It's so hard to not focus on how emotional the day was for me, but there was still the fact that I had to run 26.2 miles, and I was not truly trained for the task.
I was mostly cruising along at about an 8:40 pace in the early miles, with a few miles around 8:30, and even a few in the 8:20s. This was the easy part of the course, and I knew I needed to hold back, but I truly felt the 8:40 pace was one I should be able to hold for the whole race (and if the weather had been cooler, I think I might have been able to come close).
I was stopping to walk at all the water stops, but they were very quick walk breaks, and I was feeling pretty good. The downhills continue right through about mile 7 or 8, and then things flatten out a little bit. I continued to remember landmarks from last year, and every time I did, it made me smile.
The crowds were incredible, and I high-fived countless kids' hands, and every time someone yelled my name I threw my hands in the air and smiled. I remembered that my goal this year was to run these miles and enjoy them, and that's what I was doing.
I can't lie, though - as I continued watching the miles tick slowly by, I did have times where I was feeling daunted at how much further I still had to go. I felt ok, but I definitely didn't have the boundless energy and optimism I had last year. But I just worked on pushing those thoughts aside and running the mile I was in.
Despite not having a real time goal, I did still have the hope in the back of my mind that I might be able to requalify. It was a long shot, but I thought I might be able to pull it off.
But then I hit the halfway point, and my time was 1:53. And it was just getting warmer. And the sun was relentless.
For a few minutes, I halfheartedly tried to do some math in my head and figure out if there was any way I could still pull this off.
But then I let it go. I fully and completely accepted that it was not going to happen today, and once I did that, I felt so much better.
The 13 miles that remained still loomed kind of large, but I knew the pressure was off. I just had to get through them and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I still had a couple more 8:40-ish miles in me, though, and I was still feeling comfortable, so I kept that pace range for the next couple of miles. I dipped down to a 9:12 for mile 16, as I had to duck into a porta-potty. I had felt like I had to pee for at least a few miles, and once I decided I didn't care what my finish time was, I was fine with stopping, and I'm glad I did, because I felt much better.
But the toughest part of the course was coming up, and my pace reflected that. I was getting tired, I was hot, and I was developing some serious shin splints down the front of my left leg - it wasn't the spot where I was injured - it was a new area, and it hurt with every step, as did the outside of my left quad.
I was determined to not stop and walk on any of the hills, though, and I didn't. But I slowed. A lot. And I continued to walk at the water stops, but now my walk breaks were becoming longer and longer.
They rejuvenated me, though, and each time I stopped to walk, I also stretched out my shin a little bit, and I'd feel better for much of the next mile. And I knew I just had to keep repeating that process.
My heart skipped a beat when I stepped in a little divot in the road somewhere around mile 16 or 17 and rolled my ankle a bit. It wasn't enough to cause any pain - just enough to scare the crap out of me.
I kept trudging along, though, and I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed at how much the hills were beating me up this year, when I remembered feeling so triumphant powering up them last year.
But I kept going. Because all I could think about at this point was the finish line. I wanted that finish line so badly, and I knew there was only one way to get to it - run.
I posted on Facebook that I fought for every step of the final 10 miles of the race, and that's the best way to describe it. I still smiled, and I still high-fived, but I was struggling. After each water stop and walk break, I told myself that I just had to get to the next mile marker and the next water stop. One step, one mile at a time.
I didn't feel like I was hitting the wall - that happened to me when I ran Gansett, and it was a different feeling - an almost instantaneous shutdown. This was just the accumulated fatigue, and probably some dehydration (I had seen a bank clock displaying the temperature at 65 degrees, and I could feel the layer of salty sweat that had accumulated on my face), and the lack of proper training all catching up with me.
My pace had slowed at this point to just below 9-minute miles, with a few above 9. I was barely looking at my watch, though. The time was irrelevant. I just needed to finish.
Heading back into the city lifted my spirits, and the crowds had increased tenfold. I'm smiling and getting goosebumps just thinking about it. The energy in Boston was unparalleled. I had been so impressed with it last year, and it was like that times 100 this year. Like nothing I've ever experienced in my life, and I reminded myself how incredibly lucky I was just to be there. Remembering that helped.
Most of the last few miles are a blur, except for when I spotted my friend Crissy in Coolidge Corner. I had seen her last year, but I just waved and flew by, as I was having the race of my life and running negative splits and it was all about the goal. This year, though, I stopped and gave her a big hug, and I'm so glad I did. There's nothing quite like seeing someone you know out on the course, and it was a great moment for me.
I took my final walk break shortly after mile 25. I knew I needed to run the final stretch, and I wanted to gather my energy.
And then, after all that way, and all that pain, and all that persistence, there I was - turning right on Hereford and about to make my way onto Boylston.
I don't think I'll ever be able to adequately describe what that run down Boylston Street felt like. The roar of the crowd was unbelievable. It seeped into your heart, and it carried you along, and legs that had been sore and tired just moments ago suddenly turned over just a little quicker.
As I started down that last half mile, I cried. There was no stopping it. It was an entire year's worth of sadness, confusion, grief, stress, fear, guilt - every emotion that had swirled around in my head since last April came pouring out, as I knew it would.
This is not a flattering race photo, to say the least, but it's one of my favorites, because this was the moment that I had been waiting for - the moment when I let go of the bad from last year, and moved forward. I knew that covering those miles again was what I needed to do in order for that to happen, and I'm incredibly grateful that I was able to do it.
I pulled it together just before the finish line, because I wanted to cross smiling - and I did.
More tears as I made my way through the chute and got my medal, but they were mostly tears of relief that I had done it.
It was nowhere near a qualifying time, and 23 minutes slower than last year, but I had done it.
I fought back from my injury, I fought through a tough, hot, painful final 10 miles, I fought through the emotions - I made my way from Hopkinton to Boston a second time, and I will never forget that experience as long as I live.
The one-mile walk to the hotel where I was meeting other members of my running club was a long, long haul, but it was pretty awesome once I got there - members of the staff were lined up in the lobby cheering on every runner who walked through the door.
And being able to hang out and celebrate - truly celebrate - with my friends in a way we really couldn't last year - that was priceless.
It was blessedly uneventful, as we rehashed each other's race experiences and compared notes on blisters and chafing and sunburn. Normal post-race discussions, normal post-race glows, and normal post-race exhaustion, satisfaction, and joy.
It was exactly as I pictured it, and it was perfect.
I won't be going back to Boston next year, since I didn't requalify, but I'm really ok with that. This is the year I needed to be there, and this is the year that healed the scars from 2013.
My first Boston Marathon will forever be linked with the terrible events of last year, and I won't ever be able to think about it without thinking about that. The sadness won't go away.
But now, I'm able to separate the two events. I'm able to take my race from last year and savor and appreciate it for what it was - the absolute best race experience of my entire life. My heart still breaks to think about how the day ended and about all the innocent lives lost or forever changed.
But I can now look back and smile, and know that it's ok that I had such a great day, and that celebrating that and remembering all the good is alright, too.
It's a little dramatic to say that it's like someone flipped a switch, but that's almost how it feels. Crossing that finish line again and having the day conclude with a truly happy ending for everyone is what my heart and my soul needed.
It was a day of healing, and a day of celebration, and a day of amazing joy and strength and resilience.
But most of all, it was a day to run, which is exactly what it should be.