Friday, May 10, 2019

Boston Marathon 2019: Race Recap!

Finally, my Boston Marathon 2019 race report! This was obviously a very different kind of race for me with all of my real-life stuff going on -- most notably having surgery just 3 weeks before. A post with that background, my feelings leading up to the race, and the race morning recap is here.

And IG posts about the race are here: Finish | Post-Race | Mother Runner Moment. MmK, onto the show! The last post left off on the bus ride to Hopkinton, so:


We arrived to a muddy athlete’s village, but the rain had stopped! It was nice to not worry about getting wet before the race started. It was also nice to not worry about getting our race shoes muddy – those shoe covers were worth every penny.

Heather and I hopped off the bus and headed straight to the potty lines. We were planning on meeting up with our friend Kristen before the start, and conveniently bumped into her and her friend Stacey shortly after arriving. (I actually tried to find one of my athletes for a solid ten minutes to no avail, so finding Kristen so easily was helpful.) The four of us hung out in the century-long line and made it out of the potties right when it was time to shed the layers and start walking over to the corrals. In 2017, Kindal and I left late and totally missed our corral (almost our whole wave!) so it was nice to walk over in a more relaxed fashion.

We ditched our shoe covers and layers at a drop spot along the way and had a good laugh with some of the residents. As we got closer to the start, Heather started to tear up. She’d been working toward this moment for so long! It had been so special for me to be part of that journey with her as both a friend and a coach, and it was really special to be experiencing the race with her now. We slotted into our corral with a couple minutes to spare, and then the Wave 2 gun sounded and everyone started jogging toward the start. I got out my camera to capture the moment for Heather as we stepped over the yellow line:

“Heather, you’re running the Boston Marathon!”

Ashley, you’re really running the Boston Marathon.

Hopkinton to Wellesley (The first half)

Here we go. Just try to hang on. The downhill will help. The muscle memory is in there. Your legs know how to do this.

I wanted to run with my friends as long as possible for the fun of it, yes. But I also wanted to stay up with them because I wanted to feel like a Boston Marathoner for as long as I could.

It’s easy to lose sight of yourself while doing the whole military wife/mom/secondary infertility thing. For years, I haven’t been able to get pregnant and I haven’t had the chance to race fast, and I was busy transplanting my family and our lives across the country and back anyway, and it’s all kind of hit a peak recently. But running in this race meant I could tap into feeling normal. I knew the pace would be fleeting, but I wanted to stay “in it” as long as I could: in the mile, in the race, in that semblance of the regular, old, ME.

My resting heart rate that morning was still 59, which is crazy high for me. For reference, it was 43 the morning I ran the Kulia Marathon. So it wasn’t surprising when I checked my watch a half mile in and my heart rate was already in the 160s. No miracles happening today, folks! Haha. This was going to be a long one. But adrenaline was doing its thing and I was hanging with my girls just fine. So when Heather asked, “How are you feeling?” I just responded, “I’m in it.” Right now, I’m running the Boston Marathon and I’m in it and that’s all I could hope for at this point.

The street was crowded but the sardines were moving more smoothly than in 2017. We stayed to the left and were able to stick together pretty well without much effort, and stick to the pace without much weaving. So far, so good. One mile down, and then two. Still with them after two! Let’s see if I can hang for 4 miles. That’d be about 1/6th of the race done. That’d be good. Another benefit to staying on the side = catching lots of high fives! The crowds are a little more sparse in the beginning miles, which makes it easy to hit up every little group of kids with their hands out! Meanwhile, thanks to our awesome custom Hyperthreads tanks, the adults would cheer for us by name. I heard “Go Ash!” more than I ever have in my entire life.
Heather was clearly feeling good so I made sure to keep reigning her in when her legs started to go faster than planned. We were right on her ideal pace through Ashland. Four miles down! Entering unknown territory mileage-wise, but Heather asked how I was again, and my answer was the same: “Right now I’m in it.” Just stay in it for one more mile, I told myself.

You know that feeling when you’re at Disney World and it’s about to rain but is holding off, so the air is just super heavy? Yes, welcome to the 2019 Boston Marathon Wave 2 (the weather was different for every wave!). I stated the obvious: “It’s muggy.” Then I reached for an extra water cup at the mile 4 aid station to cool off my arms and told Heather to do the same. Having to cool off at mile 4 is never a great sign when you’re racing for time! And even now, I figured there were precisely two things I could do to help me through that day: fuel properly and manage the heat. (Wait, was this an Ironman marathon? Ha.)

We made it to Framingham and hit the 5-mile mark. I can make it to six!, I thought. And then I did. A whole 10K done!!! With my friends and at a respectable pace, too. It felt like such a huge win. The aid stations were crowded and I lost some time to Heather and Kristen around here, so I used a match to catch back up. Goodness knows I only had a few pennies to spend that day, but putting in a little push here to hopefully have another mile or so with friends was worth it. I was working so much harder than I’d ever even consider at that point in a marathon, but it was going to end with walking the back half either way so why not? This was fun.

Mile 7 clicked over and they were still on pace. And I was still with them. I knew this couldn’t last much longer, but I was enjoying it while I could. If I can make it to mile 8, that’s almost a full third of the race done. Gosh, that’d be nice. Just try to hang with them ‘till mile 8.

Nothing about my body felt good. But the Hamilton soundtrack was playing in my ears and I heard: “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” And I just felt so overwhelmingly lucky to look around and be running the Boston Marathon right now. It was such a wonderful day already. Mile 8 down. 7:35 average. I can’t believe I’ve held on for this long.

Some random alarm went off on my phone shortly after the mile 8 sign (whhhy do I do this to myself?) so I pulled it out to turn it off -– and then dropped my phone while trying to put it away. Insert ALL the face palm emojis here. I stopped and stepped back to grab it. With my phone in hand, I looked ahead and realized I didn’t have another match to catch back up. Before the race, I told Heather I’d only drop back to her corral if she promised to never wait for me. “There will be no drama when I wave you ahead,” I demanded. I’d thought it might happen at mile 2, and had hoped it could happen at mile 4. So for the wave to come after mile 8 was such a huge victory for me, and I felt content.
I was still focused on getting to Kindal and Charlie as quickly as possible, so I still wanted to make decent time. For the first time, I was able to wrap my head around the remaining race and come up with a plan. I figured I could run to mile 13.5, and run/walk from there. I could use that downhill into Newton Falls to get to mile 16. On the other side of 16 miles, I’d have cheering crowds stacked and single-digit miles left for the remainder of the race. A marathon still felt daunting, but I was 1/3rd of the way done, with the majority of the crowds awaiting ahead. “Boston will be louder,” I reminded myself. You’ve got this, Ash.

As I passed the lake, I whipped out my phone (in a more controlled manner this time, ha) and took a little video to save the memory. It’s a quiet part of the race, but it’s pretty and I was happy to be there. I stepped across a timing mat and immediately thought about Matt and my family -- and the fact that these tracker times were giving them terribly false hopes about my day, ha. I should call Matt soon.I kept on trucking to the city center in Natick, which is full of awesome spectators. Lots of high fives, lots of fun, and I still felt like I was running fairly strong despite it all.
On the other side of town, there are some little rolling hills through the woods. I pulled off to the side there and walked while I made my phone call. “I know it looks like I’m doing well, but really I’m just running to Kindal and then my pace is going to drop way off and I don’t want you to be worried. I’m fine, it’s just going to be a lot longer of a day than the tracker is saying. Tell my mom.” He gave me a little pep talk and told me to be smart and that he was proud of me. During that phone call, a familiar face from Utah came over and gave me a hug. So, happy thoughts all around and then I was back to running again. For the past few miles and from this point on, my running pace was between 8:00-8:30 and I was walking through aid stations (plus a lot more walking to come!).

Finally, I could hear the cheers coming from Wellesley College and knew I was getting close to that half marathon point! I started getting SO excited to see my friends!!!
Kindal and Charlie said they’d be somewhere between 13.1 and 13.5, but I started scanning the crowds anxiously a little ahead of the timing mat just in case. I hit the halfway mark at 1:45, which just feels unreal to me knowing the actual state of my body that day. I’m going to positive split this thing like a boss, I laughed to myself. And I'm going to love every second of it.

I continued frantically scanning the crowds through downtown Wellesley – the anticipation was killing me! And then there they were!!! I ran over with my arms open and gave Kindal the biggest hug. Again, I’ll tell this story later because GEEZ this is long enough already! But my Garmin shows that I stood there for a full, literal 3 minutes talking to them while the Boston Marathon continued on past me. I didn’t care one bit about the passing time – it was just a happy little visit with Kindal and Charlie, and one that I’ll remember forever!

I’m going to walk the rest of this thing, I told them as I got ready to leave. See you in two hours!

(Which is funny, because spoiler alert – I finished the race just seconds under 2 hours after I left them. Ha!)

Wellesley to Boston (The Second Half)

This is where the race started to get really, really hard physically. And interesting mentally. And really, really fun with all the crowds!

The endless spectators really start once you get to the Newton Hills, so I wanted to be able to keep moving well through those next couple miles that are maybe a little harder mentally, but that also gift you a downhill. I walked through an aid station around mile 15 but still clocked an 8:48 and 8:20 for 15 & 16. It probably seems backward from a pride standpoint, but I wanted to save the walking for when there were crowds and use up my energy during the more desolate and therefore mentally harder parts of the course. After all, I only had so much energy to use that day, and surely it would be easier to borrow some from humans than from freeways or trees. ;)

As I dropped down into Newton Falls and hit the 16.2-mile mark, I was grateful to know I only had single-digit miles left – but I also knew that they would be the toughest miles of the day, by far. With the overwhelming desire to walk but also the desire to not be walking on the course for-absolutely-ever, the Finding Nemo scene with Marlin frantically making up rules for Dory and the jellyfish popped into my head: “Rules! Rules! Rules!” You need rules for these things or it gets out of hand. 😂

I decided on the simple rule that I could walk up hills, through aid stations/at a mile marker, but nowhere else. Seemed fair enough. Coincidentally, I was about to discover just how much flat and downhill are really hiding in those final miles hahaha. I’ve never wished for an uphill so much in my life!

The Newton hills were so fun and full of high-fives and cheers. I grabbed a popsicle, and I also grabbed some friends along the way – I’d find someone walking between the hills and encourage them to run with me for a bit. More enjoyable for everyone that way, right? I literally walked up every hill, running up just a bit here and there where the crowds were extra fun (hi Lululemon up Heartbreak!). And then I ran down every hill, and along every flat as planned. It turns out there really are a lot of downhills and flats in that back half! I was so sick in 2017 that I didn’t really notice one way or another, but I reaaally noticed them this time. And I think I’ll bank on them a bit for the next round in Boston!
One of my most favorite parts this year was Boston College. They were *screaming* loud! I veered right and stuck my hand out for the entirety of the B.C. and got caught up in the cheers on that high-energy, high-five-filled stretch downhill. Adrenaline is crazy and those college kids were fun!

The crowds everywhere were amazing and I felt almost guilty when I was walking – and planned on continuing to walk – and they’d cheer for me by name. But my body was increasingly exhausted and I definitely didn’t have pennies to spare for climbing lots of hills, so I’d smile and wave and say thanks and continue on with my power walk. I loved finding the little kid hands that were sticking out closer to the ground (and therefore passed over more by all the tired runners) – they’re always extra excited to get that high-five in return! And in a way, it’s kind of like a proxy to having my own kids there. They’ll love cheering in Boston someday. And for now, I just kept replaying their sweet little voices saying “Go Mommy!” before the race.
Time was irrelevant so I didn’t pay attention to my watch on that back half, other than peeking once on an uphill and giving myself a gold sticker for walking “so fast” haha! Post-race analysis says I went 8:00-8:30 pace while running and 12:30-14:00 pace while walking. Frankly, it was the best-case scenario for that day.

I think about those last 10 miles now, and I tear up thinking about how right Carolyn was. It was hot and muggy and nothing about my body felt good and inside it was screaming. But Boston? Boston was SO. LOUD. The power from the cheers was louder than any exhaustion or pain or doubt. I didn’t have to worry about making it to the end, because the crowds carried me there. My memories from this race aren’t of staring at long roads or never-ending hills, but of smiling back at the long lines of never-ending smiling faces with signs and outstretched hands. The Boston Marathon is indeed magical. But it’s not the streets that make it so – it’s the people.

So again, to every volunteer who handed me water, every policeman and National Guard member who kept me safe, every runner who inspired me, every friend who ran with me, and every spectator who buoyed me up – from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for carrying me on Marathon Monday.

Kindal and Charlie were waiting again near the Citgo sign. One final hug, one last quick walk up the little blip of a hill at mile 25.5, and then my longest running-only segment of the back half. Zero-point-seven miles. I’ve got this.
I took a right on Hereford and then a left on Boylston.

I couldn’t hold back the tears as I ran toward that yellow line. This had been so massively hard, all of it. The two months before and the weeks preceding and every step of every mile that day. And yet the past few hours had been so incredibly uplifting and fulfilling. I couldn’t believe that after all of this, I really got to be here, right now, running down a tunnel of deafening cheers on Boylston. And with my body feeling the way it did, I couldn’t believe I’d really done it.

Before the race, I expected it to take me around five hours. I finished in 3:49.

With only a few steps left, I happily threw up my hands – with a 2 and a 3 on my fingers. Because this race was for my two kids, to show them that we can adapt and make the most of a situation and do hard things -- even when it's not how we hoped it would be. And it was for that baby #3 we’re fighting for, because that’s what made this race so challenging to being with – and what will hopefully make it such a victory in the end.

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