Well, the 2023 Boston Marathon has been and gone, and I’m over the moon to say that I did it!
Week 12 of training was low-key as I was trying to make sure that I was well-rested for marathon day. I ran 6.2 miles on the Tuesday and 5.5 miles on the Thursday (mostly easy-paced with some steady-paced on Tuesday’s run) whilst I was still here in Colorado. Friday was taken up with traveling to Boston, then on Saturday I didn’t run but my husband and I did do some walking around downtown Boston – partly to go to the Expo to pick up my race packet and also to see beautiful Boston! I had never been to Boston before this trip and I absolutely loved it. I’m a history buff and I found it absolutely fascinating. I loved the architecture – the old buildings with the modern skyscrapers beside them makes for a stunning setting. I did do a shakeout run on Sunday morning, starting with 1.65 miles to warm up and get from my hotel to the meeting point for our Team RunRun group shakeout run. A bunch of us Team RunRun coaches, athletes and their friends who were in Boston met up for a gentle 3.14 miles. It was fantastic to meet some of my fellow Team RunRun coaches and their athletes and friends and really nice to run with a group, which I hadn’t done for a while. I didn’t do any cross-training during Week 12, although I did continue to do some core strength work, doing the RUN to Change Lives April Abs challenge exercises after my runs on Tuesday and Thursday, and 60 seconds of crunches after Sunday’s run.
So, to my experience of the Boston Marathon itself! This was my first World Major marathon, and the first time I’ve experienced just how busy these events are (this includes the Expo on the Saturday – it was very well-organized but I still found it pretty overwhelming). I was in the blue wave of runners, and we had to be at the bus pick-up point by 8:15am. I arrived there in plenty of time and was amazed at the number of school buses lined up and coming and going and at the number of people, and bear in mind this was only one wave. I knew there were around 30,000 runners participating in the Boston Marathon, but I think it’s hard to visualize what that number of people at an event looks like until you actually experience it. Again, in my experience anyway, everything was very well-organized, and I didn’t have to wait long at all to get onto a bus and start the journey out to Hopkinton, where the Boston Marathon starts. The atmosphere on our bus was fantastic, with everyone excited to get running! It took maybe fifty minutes to drive out to Hopkinton, and I had brought snacks with me to ensure that I would be well-fueled for running the marathon, as did most of the other runners.
When we left Boston the weather was gray and overcast, but mostly dry, and a bit chilly but nothing too concerning. About five minutes after we arrived in Hopkinton at the Athletes’ Village, the heavens opened and it began to pour with rain! I didn’t think that rain had been forecasted for sure, so had come in just the gear that I was going to run in, i.e. a short-sleeved top and shorts. The rain, however, started to make it feel a whole lot chillier! Luckily there was a huge gazebo set up where we could shelter, but they wanted us to start walking down to the start line about 45 minutes before the race start, and I was worried that I was going to get cold. I was incredibly lucky, though – a very nice man approached me who was wearing a plastic poncho with a hood, and he had a spare one! He said to me, “my dear, would you like this?” (the spare), and I was SO grateful! I said, “oh my goodness, yes please!”, thanked him and put it on and then kept it on until about a minute before the start. I’d like to say a HUGE thank you again to this very kind gentleman! Of course, in future I would now bring extra clothes or my own poncho with me! I did think about bringing old clothes that I didn’t mind giving away and donating them at the clothes donation bins before the start line. This is definitely what I should have done! The reason I didn’t was that, on Sunday’s shakeout run, it had also been overcast and cloudy but it had been quite warm and humid. When Monday morning dawned the same, I thought I’d definitely be OK just heading out to the marathon in a short-sleeved top and shorts. Lesson learned – the weather can change quickly, which you would think I would know living in Colorado and having grown up in Scotland!
Anyway, us blue wave runners got down to our corrals at the start line, and we started off a couple of minutes after our official start time of 10:50am. The rain went off for a little while (it came back on later in the race). Due to the numbers of people running Boston, the course is always quite busy with other runners all around you, and this was especially the case during the first few miles. The start is on a downhill, and I think this, combined with the excitement and adrenaline, made me go out a little bit too fast, which I had been determined not to do. However, I felt great at this pace (under 9 minute miles) initially and kept it up all the way to and including mile 16. I was still feeling pretty good during miles 17, 18 and 19, although I did slow down a little bit (9:23, 9:10 and 9:06). Mile 20 is where the struggle started to get real! The hills really started to kick in, and I also started to feel that my quads, hips and knees were REALLY sore. Not sore as in injured, but sore from the impact of running a net downhill up to that point. This is an awesome lesson to learn for me as a newbie coach – if you’re doing a race with a lot of downhill in it, practise a good deal of downhill running during your training! It’s easy to forget this, as we think downhill running is easy, while forgetting the extra pressure it puts on the body.
Feeling as sore and exhausted as I was feeling in miles 20 and 21, I had to incorporate a bit of run / walk on the Newton uphills – I felt like I wasn’t going to make it to the finish otherwise. I rallied somewhat in miles 22 thru’ 24 and ran those in full. Mile 25 saw some more run / walk, then I had a stronger finish, running mile 26 and the 0.2 to the finish! I remember running / walking up the infamous Heartbreak Hill, but I felt like the hills leading up to it were just as tough! The finish felt amazing in some ways – running the iconic left turn onto Boylston Street was very, very cool – but also super rough, as I could see the finish line up ahead but felt like I was never getting there! Crossing the finish line felt, needless to say, awesome! I was so delighted to finish in just under 4 hours (my chip time was 3:58:43). During those very tough last 6 miles, there were times where I thought I wasn’t going to make it in under 4 hours. I had made peace with that and was trying to just enjoy the whole experience (despite the exhaustion!), so I was extra-thrilled to realize that I had in fact done it in under 4 hours. I want to say another HUGE thank you here to my husband – he was cheering for me somewhere fairly close to the finish and seeing his beautiful smile really spurred me on in the home stretch!
It was without doubt a tough day out there. The wet weather didn’t bother me too much while out on the course (I was used to running in those (and worse) conditions back in Scotland), and I would much rather have the cold and wet weather than a hot day (those Newton hills would have been even worse in the heat!). After the finish, though, the cold really kicked in and I was FREEZING on the (thankfully short) walk back to my hotel. Thank goodness they gave us a plastic poncho at the finish!
This was my third full marathon, and my slowest to date. I finished my first marathon, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 3:11:53 back in May 2016. I was 7 years younger then, obviously, but I was also training at that time with Glasgow’s Bellahouston Harriers and doing loads of quality speedwork. There’s no doubt in my mind that this helped with running a quick time that day, and I know that I haven’t incorporated enough speedwork while training for Boston or while training for my second marathon in April 2022 (in Wilmington, Delaware, where I finished in 3:40:13 and qualified for this year’s Boston). I certainly planned to do plenty of good speedwork – it was written into both of my training plans for Wilmington and for Boston – but I found myself lacking the motivation to actually do it. As I’ve said before, I find it difficult to motivate myself to do speed workouts on my own – I really need that group setting that I had at Bellahouston Harriers to get me to do it. This is something that I’m pondering, the possibility of getting a group together locally to do speed workouts.
Finally, just to reiterate my social media post from a couple of days ago, I want to say another THANK YOU to the volunteers and spectators at the Boston Marathon, who did an awesome job on a cold and wet day!
Hope everyone’s had a great week!
Thank you for reading – I know this is long!