I moved to Boston in January 1998 and that April I experienced my first Boston Marathon.
I was working at a little gift shop on Boylston Street called Copley Flair, which was situated immediately past the finish line. We spent the day selling t-shirts to tourists in town for the race. A year later I had a new job at a law firm downtown and the office was closed for Patriots Day. My friend Laura and I went down to watch the race across the street from the Boston Public Library. Since then, the third Monday in April has remained my favorite day in the city. The weather is almost always beautiful and sort of the unofficial start to Spring. My friends and I spent many years cheering for elite runners and strangers at the finish line. Eventually our little cheering section relocated to our friends Erin & Thurm’s house on Beacon Street in Brookline. We’d all crowd along the C-line tracks, mimosas in hand. We were in Washington Square at Mile 23 two years ago when it reached almost 100 degrees and we were there last year when we started hearing rumors of an explosion at the finish line. It was a chilling experience to watch the crowd dissipate as the exhausted athletes ran by with confused and concerned looks on their faces.
After the attacks at last year’s marathon and the events that followed, I felt very helpless. I was revolted by what happened on Boylston Street and running was really the only thing that made me feel better. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to run Boston this year. My friend and co-worker Jennie ran the marathon with the American Liver Foundation Run for Research team in 2012 and 2013. Seeing her commitment to training and fundraising inspired me to do the same. I joined the team last Fall and am honored to be part of such a dedicated charity program. This season the team has raised over $1,500,000.00 for the fight against liver disease.
After months of training, over 400 miles and a Polar Vortex, race weekend had arrived. Jennie and I went to the expo last Friday to pick-up our bibs and buy our official marathon jackets. We went to the Old South Church and picked-out scarves. We went to the Capital Grille for a celebratory glass of Champagne. We were ready.
I woke-up at 5:00am Monday morning feeling confident and extremely excited. I layered-up with throw-away clothes for the start. It was a beautiful, clear and sunny morning. Jennie and I took a BAA bus to Hopkinton with some Liver teammates. I wasn’t nervous or stressed. I had some occasional butterflies, but it was a good feeling. Athletes Village was packed and full of positive energy. The Liver team was assigned to the third wave, which started at 11:00am. There were runners as far as I could see and beyond. We walked to the start-line and passed a group of enthusiastic spectators with a sign that read, “Doughnuts, Cigarettes & Beer”. Shortly after that, we were off.
The crowds were huge from the start and never really let up. I was fortunate to see a lot of familiar faces along the way. Our friends Mary and Guido live just before Wellesley College at Mile 11. I spotted them with our friends Ed and Kristen and ran over for a hug. I felt strong and invigorated and upon entering Wellesley Center I reminded myself I was half-way there. This thought was reassuring, but I also knew I had a long way to go.
Around Mile 14 I started to feel warm. It was a picture-perfect day, but the sun was bright and there was hardly any cloud coverage. Many of my training runs were in the 18 – 28 degree range, so 65 degrees felt unfamiliar. I walked through the Mile 15 water stop and stretched my legs. I foolishly thought that might be the only time I’d have to walk. What’s that? Oh, welcome to Newton! The hilliest village in all the land! I was officially hot by Mile 17 and my legs were fatigued. Some little kids in the crowd were handing out Popsicles so I grabbed one. I didn’t feel dehydrated, but I was hoping it would cool me down. I walked the series of hills leading up to and including Heartbreak. I picked-up the pace when I reached flat terrain, but I was keenly aware I had another hour+ of running ahead of me. Another group was handing out cups of ice. I grabbed one and rubbed the ice on my arms. I started to feel better as I approached Boston College. The BC kids were pretty entertaining with lots of good-natured, inebriated cheering. The hills were behind me, which was a relief psychologically and this was also the first time I was able to get some shade. I remember We Were Promised Jetpacks playing on my Shuffle and hearing the lyrics, “Your body was black and blue.” Seemed fitting.
Cleveland Circle provided a significant surge of adrenaline. I knew my family and friends were nearby and I couldn’t wait to see them. Running into Washington Square was one of the most intense portions of the race for me. Up on the left I saw six giant ‘Caryn-heads’ bobbing in the crowd. It was a hilarious and heartwarming sight and I was completely overcome with happiness. Suddenly I connected with so many familiar faces – Michael, Allyson, Jon, Judi, my Dad, Erin, Ed, Maura, Michelle and Sean. It was absolutely exhilarating.
After I hugged everyone I ran off towards Coolidge Corner. I spotted my Mom and Sue’s smiling faces and as I hugged them, Sue grabbed my hand and said, “Keep going!” It was just what I needed. I ran towards the CITGO sign and as I exited Kenmore Square I ran under an overpass which included an incline that seemed steeper than I’d ever noticed before. The end was near, however and before I knew it I turned right on Hereford. I remember thinking, this is really happening. It was surreal. I took a left on Boylston and ran down the center of the street. It was late in the afternoon, but the crowds were still loud and deep. I ran across the finish line and just like that, I had run the Boston Marathon.
I was completely overwhelmed by the experience, which was more challenging and rewarding than I’d ever imagined. It was a far-greater physical test than I had anticipated. I’d had a great 19-mile training run and based on that time I thought I’d finish the whole thing around 4:20. Once that ship had sailed, I set my sights on 4:40. I finished in 5:02:01. At a certain point, however it occurred to me it wasn’t about my time. It wasn’t about me. It was an undeniable personal achievement, but it was more than that. It was about Boston, Massachusetts. It was about commitment and resiliency and solidarity and strength. We haven’t forgotten about what happened last year, but for 26.2 miles we all came together to celebrate a hard-fought recovery.
I think it would be very difficult to train for a marathon by yourself. You need an understanding and tolerant spouse who will listen to ALOT of running stories, a sister who will talk you off the ledge when you develop Achilles tendonitis four weeks before the race, a running partner who will motivate you to lace-up on blistering cold days, friends who will generously donate to your fundraising efforts and a loving family who will encourage you every step of the way. I cannot properly articulate how much I appreciate every dollar donated and all the positive energy sent my way. I am completely humbled by this experience. It has been life-changing.
I knew I would write about the marathon this week, but I didn’t have specific plans for what to prepare food-wise. I decided to wait and see what I felt like eating after I was done with the race and write about that. Turns out: Doritos. Salty, cheesy, glorious Doritos. I’ll be back next week with a fun treat for Cinco de Mayo, but for now, in the spirit of perseverance and processed goodness, treat yourself to a bag of Doritos.