This week, in honour of Monday’s 115th Boston Marathon, I share with you my race recap from last year. Today I am working at mentally rehearsing success and a big PB at Boston. A wise man once said that marathon running is 90% mental. Rereading this helps my mental preparation.
114th Boston Marathon 2010
Erin Callaghan, Halifax, Nova Scotia
It’s only been a few days and my super happy race already feels like a blur so I am capturing the highlights that I want to hold onto. I write this for myself but am happy to share if you are ready for a long read.
First it’s important to thank all of the people who made my strong and fit appearance at the start line possible. Thanks to Greg for his patience with my training absences. Thanks to Amanda for listening to me talk about every last mundane training detail that I wanted to obsess about. My training group gets a huge shout out for providing fun, camaraderie and a sense of survival through months of Mon & Weds workouts; as well as occasional shared disbelief when reading ahead in our training schedule (hello, 5 x 5k intervals!? Or my favorite: “tonight’s workout is easy. 6k at race pace. 3 or 4 times.”) Although he is too humble to acknowledge it, I feel that I owe much of my race fitness and many of the minutes that made up this personal best to my coach Matt Sheffield’s careful training plan and coaching- he’s the best.
So 15 weeks of training lands my support crew Greg, Andrew and Jenn and I in Boston at a happy reunion with my beloved Boston friends. Although I don’t quite recognize the Erin who arrives in Boston because she is wound crazy tight and is nervous and orders about 3 restaurants meals that she doesn’t eat because of nerves. Real Erin always eats all of her food and sometimes other people’s. Nervous Erin doesn’t disappear until training partner Catherine calls her at 7pm on Sunday. Ready and strong Erin hangs up the phone, thank God and thank Catherine the Great.
Saturday and Sunday are a whirlwind of Fenway Park; shopping; Greg, Andrew & Jenn partying with my American friends; and meeting super cool running dude Bart Yasso at the expo. I note that the marathon really brings the best out in Bostonians as they unite with a common goal to encourage runners. I wear my 2009 jacket and people who aren’t known for random acts of niceness begin to wish me “the very best of luck” at Starbucks, at Fenway, on the sidewalks, at the grocery store.
Then I am eating pasta with 7 of my favorite people and then it is 5am and I’m pulling on my race clothes and making my way to the Boston Commons for the organized chaos that will transport 22 000 runners to Hopkinton. I try not to focus too much on the one-hour drive. Until the driver says, “I’ll drive ya they-a, but ya gotta git yer own way back!”
I start in wave 1 this year, which I am psyched about because I really want to be standing at the start line when the fighter jets do their fly-over. This moment doesn’t disappoint. With a chill down my spine, the announcer chides that the jets will “reach the finish line in 4 minutes… do what you like with that info” and the guns fires and we are off. Sort off. In corral 13, we cross the start line 11 minutes later. I have a very clear image of coach Matt’s last race pace workout where he opens up his book which reads “Erin- 4:43/k = 3:19” and says very simply, “you can do it.” I never would have had the confidence or balls to gun for 3:19 myself but I’d decided 3 weeks ago to trust he is right.
My first 5km feel like a mix of very easy running pace and a ninja mission to shake off many hundreds of people who are running at 3:30:00 marathon pace. I hit the first 5k mat slightly under pace in my ninja mission so I start to tell myself over and over to “relax, relax, and run on pace.” I hit 10k only one second off my split and have settled into a part of the field where runners are running my pace. Boston taught me a lot last year. My goal is to run a smart first half and stick to my pace and not get carried away when it feels easy because easy always ends. I approach the half point on pace feeling that this is very, very easy and being very, very careful not to blow my pacing. Focus is easy; I am repeating my splits in my head. I am pleased.
I enter the scream tunnel at Wellesley College around 20k where college girls line the course for a full km. The girls’ runner love hits me hard. I get kinda emotional and feel amazing and easy and am very happy. If you can run through this section of the course without feeling moved then I don’t think that you are human. I watch a man grab a kiss and then proclaim that the only year he didn’t get a smooch, he blew up on the hills so he must have a kiss. Then 2 other runners dart over to willing girls lest they also blow up. I laugh out loud. The sun is shining warm on my face. I hit the 21.1k mat super tight on pace. Nice.
Now I start looking for my good pal Brian who says he will be in Newton. I’m running with my head up (looking down = bad habit) and my form feels good and I am getting a TON of “Go Canada!” yells and I love it. But I can’t find Brian, where the heck is he? Then oh shit, this is Wellesley not Newton. So I look for him in the next town: Brian, Brian, where are you? Scanning the crowd, running strong, Jesus this isn’t Newton either, where the heck is Newton? Another town, I’ll look for him here. I’m grabbing as much water from sweet kids as from the amazing volunteers. And orange slices. I love orange slices more than life, how are they so impossibly delicious and wet. Why don’t I eat them every day? I’m having a thought that “this is boring” but it goes away easily. Man, that was training partner McKim’s evil voice, not even mine! I grab a yellow sponge from a professional spectator dude’s icy cooler and it is heaven on my hot face. I look for Brian with a dripping face and he’s still not there but 9km have slipped by in my pursuit of him. This was probably an even bigger help then actually seeing him. I run by a line of about 20 elementary kids who are hilariously bouncing on individual trampolines, boing-boing-boing, I feel a renewed spring in my legs.
Then it’s almost 30k and the first Newton hill catches me by surprise as I thought that Newton might be lost forever. Now I know where Newton is and understand I’ve missed Brian. What I can’t understand is how and why Lt. Dan (my Garmin) is ringing for kilometer markers at least 100m before the timing mats. I decide I must have started my watch late, this makes sense, I’ll match my splits to the timing mats. Of course this is totally ridiculous, how would I have started my watch a full 100m (entire straightaway of a track) late? Alas, the marathon-brain does not function logically. Andrew has been telling me I will kick 2009-Erin’s ass (this joke gets elaborated so much that 2009-Erin end ups figuratively crying in the streets) so I promise not to high-five 250 kids a la 2009-Erin. Now I am slightly off pace post Newton Hill 1. I’ve already high-fived my quota of 3 kids. Then a pure and good soldier in fatigues on the sidewalk gets in my face and yells “Go Canada, you got this girl, RUN” and I high-five him and I reclaim most of the seconds that slipped off up that hill.
Now I kick some hill ass and I fly down onto Beacon Street ready for the glory of seeing Greg, Andrew, Jenn and Shannon whom I’ve stationed at km 34. OH the glory of seeing them is so sweet. 35k mat, done. Now I follow Matt’s plan and start running as hard as I can. I’m done with my paceband and my Garmin, I have a finish line to get to. Which is good because the Garmin mystery has grown more puzzling as it’s now at least 400m off. I pass Mike’s wife Lexi and I’m happy to see her and am happy thinking about Mike kicking some ass too.
I am now running hard down the mind-numbing sameness of Beacon Street, checking off each km. People around me are walking. A lot of them. My evil voice finally makes it through my mental guard and whispers sexily, “Look at them walking. They feel so good walking. Don’t you want to walk too?” I say “No! F-off and get lost evil voice” and it leaves. I run to km 39. Sue and friends are coming soon. Actually right at this point, unknown to me, my crazy friends are getting ticketing for drinking in public and are telling the police officer, “Listen cop, you do what you gotta do but we got a race to monitor here and a Canadian to high-five.” I’m still pretty much on pace, only maybe 20 seconds off and my goal is within reach. I’ve mentally rehearsed the last hard 3k. Now I tell myself over and over that Matt believes I can do it. I high-five Sue and gang. I turn the corner onto Herreford onto Boylston. I salute pal Brenda who is yelling her lovely head off at me. And I do it. 3:19:37.
I am teary and emotional at the finish line for the first time ever. I walk stiffly to my bus for my stuff. Another runner and I ignore a volunteer’s plea not to sit down and we sit down to take off our sneakers. My water bottle starts to roll away and I tell it goodbye. The blood returns to my brain and I understand that my Garmin was off because I was running all over the damn place on the course. Sue & Liz come to get me to take me to my celebration party back where they were getting cited and Sue yells at several random Bostonians, “Move out of the way, I have a marathon runner here!!” And then I have the most delicious celebration beer ever, not quite able to understand that I’ve become a 3:19 marathoner. Greg notes, “I’ve noticed you’ve become much faster since you started dating me.”