This is my Boston Marathon race recap. I write this every year for myself because these are memories that I want to hold onto. I’m happy to share if you’re in for a long read.
To begin- to those of you lovely and supportive friends and family who were tracking my 3rd Boston race online, you saw me inching off my pace goal until I feel off by more than an inch at km 25. I was battling a demon. An evil demon in my mind. At km 25, I took stock of my situation. My time goal just simply wasn’t going to happen. I was feeling really bad mentally. I was bummed and my muscles were drenched in both lactic acid and disappointment. Then I looked directly at the crowd and saw something amazing. Something real, unlike the demon. The crowd loved me. They loved my name. They loved my Canada flag. They loved my pink shoes more than my name and my flag. They wanted to cheer for me. They wanted me to feel their love. They wanted me to run happily. They didn’t know that I was losing my time goal to a demon. I looked at the crowd and realized, “They think that I am awesome.” So I decided to let my goal go and run like the awesome fast lady that these amazing people thought that I was. I knew I could still set a personal best. So that’s what I did. I didn’t look at my watch again. I ran like I was awesome. And I had the best and most fun race I’ve ever run.
Now that you know that my story has a happy ending, I’ll take you back to the start.
We arrive in Boston on Saturday. Like a bride glows on her wedding day, the city has a marathon glow. I proudly wear my 2009 finisher’s jacket and soak up “good lucks” from strangers. I hug my beloved Boston friends. I sit and relax all afternoon Sunday in the warm sunshine at Fenway Park with Greg, Sue and MJ. The Sox win. My race feels like it’ll be a win too.
We eat pasta, honor pre-race traditions, and then I meet my running partner MJ at 6:20 and we get on the bus to Hopkinton. I want for MJ to hit a personal best as badly as I want my own personal best.
Our ride and our Athlete’s Village time is easy. We joke some. We talk running some. We are happy when we learn that there is coffee. We sit on the grass in the sun and wind and we curiously watch a guy next to us pull a jar of dill pickles out of his marathon bag.
Then it’s time to walk to the start. I am starting in the first of 3 waves, which I am psyched about. Of course MJ is in wave 1, he’s a fast guy. To me, this is a badge of honor. As we walk I look around and wonder “where the heck are all the ladies?” Wave 1 is predominantly men. After my fall half marathon PB, coach Cliff told me “now you run with the big girls” and I’m happy thinking about this being true.
The gun sounds at 10am and the 115th running of the Boston Marathon begins. My heart pounds. I remind myself to run smart. To run as tight on pace as I can. I knock off my 1st km 3 seconds fast and am bang on for km 2. I feel like I’m running at a warm-up pace, it’s so easy.
The first 5km slip by easily and I enjoy them. I’m on pace at the 5km timing mat and I’m happy. As I cross the mat, I intend to think of my loved ones at home. But my brain says to me, “5km. You have 7 more 5kms to run. That’s a lot.” I’m puzzled. Where the heck did that come from?
Now I run into Ashland, the first big town, where cheering for marathoners is a time-honored tradition passed down for generations. It’s incredible here. I’m wearing my name on my singlet. The sound of “Go ERIN!” with a Massachusetts accent is so sweet. It’s music to my feet. I am running easily. I am on pace.
Ashland ends and the course grows quiet between km 7 and 10. This is where runners can refocus. I’m repeating my splits in my head but the numbers leave my mind too quiet. “10km is far away” I hear myself think. What? No it’s not! It’s not far at all! Why would I think it’s far away? My splits are even at x:30 and x:00. I need to fill the silence around the splits. I alternate repeating “split #” and “easy.” I’m trying to focus.
I get to 10km. I cross the mat. My brain tells me that I have 3 more 10kms to run. “Oh my god, we haven’t even been running an hour” it says. No! No! I’m not supposed to be thinking that. I know I’m not. I know I’m not because my lovely Gina gave me a list of 4 funny and inspiring things to think about at the 10k markers and I’ve written them on the back of my paceband. They sure as heck didn’t read “you have almost 3 hours left to run.” I feel confused. I try to focus. Focus, focus, focus. Repeat splits. Easy!
I breathe an audible sigh of relief as I run into Framingham, the next town. The crowd is big and loud. They cheer for me. I imagine that I am putting their cheers into my pocket to save for when I need them later. But I’m worried about how much I need them now, so early in the race. “You should be worried” a voice in my head tells me. I survive 2 more kilometers. I’m on pace. My legs are fine. The engine is fine. But my race is not.
At kilometer 12 I want to stop. NO! I don’t want to stop! I love running. I love racing. No one wants to stop at km 12, it’s too early to be thinking bullsh*t like this. I realize that I am fighting a demon. An evil demon in my mind. I can’t understand how this could be happening. I pride myself on being a smart racer. A mentally tough racer. I’m trying to think about this but the demon is telling me that we should get into a car. And give up. Erin: “NO! I’m running. I’m running the g.d. Boston Marathon.” Demon: “No, we don’t like running.” Erin: “I am a runner. I am strong. I am prepared. I am not stopping.” Demon: “Fine, we’ll get in a car when we see Greg.”
This goes on for 2 kilometers. I can’t hear my split counting in my mind over the demon’s bullsh*t. “Go away, go away!” I beg the demon. I’m trying to be the boss. I need to silence it. I need to fill my head with something else. I have mantras prepared. I have mental images prepared. I tell myself that I am prepared. It doesn’t work. I tell myself that I trained hard. I put the image of MJ and me in a snow and wind storm on the SMU track. I hold it up like evidence. Look, you demon, I’m well trained, now f-off. It doesn’t work. I think about running toward my husband Greg and my dear friend Rich. It doesn’t work. I’m riffling wildly through my mental filing cabinets. I hold up an image of coach Cliff at the track. He believes in me. But the image isn’t strong enough.
I enter Natick, the 3rd big town on the course and I know that crowds here are big and happy. Please help me, I plead as I look at them. Something is wrong. I imagine putting their words under my feet like clouds. The word-clouds will help me run. I pull into the km 15 timing mat and I’m off by 13 seconds. I wanted those 13 seconds but the demon chewed them up and spit them out onto the ground.
Finally, an image that is strong enough takes hold. I am picturing myself in my role as high school coach. I’m standing on my spot at Beazley Track at the starting line, timing my runners in a track practice. I know that my runners love to run. They know that I love to run. This is good. I can focus. The kids are happy. I am happy. I can run happy now. I can see them running the backstretch of the track as I clock their 200 splits. I clock my Boston Marathon split and my pace is ok. I’m ok.
Being the coach of my high school track team gets me closer to Wellesley. I know that that the Wellesley girls’ Scream Tunnel is coming where college girls line the course for a full km. It’s one of my favorite parts of the course. Come on coach, let’s go. “We want to go on the subway” says the demon. NO! The coach runs!
The Scream Tunnel is the most glorious and loud place on earth. The girls are so loud that I can’t hear any of my thoughts. I can only hear their joy. I want joy too. I have tears in my eyes. I am a coach. I’m a coach who is now 33 seconds off goal pace at km 20. It’s ok though! The Wellesley girls have filled my tank! I’m running smoothly again. I’m counting splits. It can be easy again. Please let it be easy.
At the half-marathon marker, I am still 30 seconds off. But I haven’t lost any more seconds in the last 5km. My time goal has a cushion, up to 59 seconds. It’s ok. I’m back!
But I wasn’t back. I’d been running with the demon for more than 10 km. The demon had already dug a grave for my time goal and was busily shoveling dirt into the hole.
Kilometers 22 through 25 are really hard. And sad. Where is my love? Why is this so hard? I’ve raced so many times. I don’t give up. “We’re giving up today” says the demon happily. Love, come back, I beg. Be a coach. Be a coach. I help kids learn to love running. Love, are you there yet? Demon:“Don’t bother. We hate running.”
At the km 25 timing mat, I’m more than 60 seconds off my goal and I know that my goal just simply isn’t going to happen. “We can’t do this,” points out the demon.
This is when I truly look at the crowd. I see myself the way that they see me. They see a women running in a wave of mostly men. The crowd has no idea that I am losing my time goal. They think I am awesome. I am running with the big girls. I am running with the big girls at the Boston Marathon, the most prestigious and historical marathon in North America. Right here, I respond to the demon, “You’re right, we can’t do this like this.” I decide here and now that I will run the marathon like this crowd sees me. I know I can still set a personal best. I abandon my time goal and begin run like the awesome fast lady that these people see.
Now I smile out of joy, not out of panicked desperation. I smile hugely and the crowd cheers for me more. I put my watch and my paceband away and I throw the demon into the grave along with my time goal and I start having fun. Being a coach helped me through those earlier kilometers and I think about how I would be happy if one of my athletes refocused to have fun.
I run close to the barricaded crowds, smiling happily at them. They love it and chant “Erin! Erin! Erin!” They chant “Canada! Canada! Canada!” It’s so fun. It’s wildly fun. I love it. I love that people shout after my pink shoes. I love that I’ll still set a personal best. I love that I’ve let go of the pressure I’ve put on myself. I hear my pal Brian yell my name around mile 16 and I give him a delighted wave.
I see my coach Cliff as I enter Newton and he calls after me to “keep it steady.” I worry a little bit about Cliff worrying about me but I know that I can explain later. The words “Have fun! Have fun!” are singing themselves in my head. I am having so much fun. I’ve never had this much fun racing. It’s awesome and I am awesome.
The Newton Hills are coming and I’m going to let the crowd pull me up them. I stay close to the crowd on the left and I look those beautiful happy fans in the eyes and they lose their minds yelling for me. I love it. On hill 2, there is a huge tribal drum circle, more than 20 drums, and they make my next 20 steps so light and easy. Now I’m at Heartbreak Hill and nothing can break me with these Boston College kids on my side. I run next to them and listen to “ERIN! ERIN! ERIN!” and “CANADA! CANADA! CANADA!” from the base of the hill to the peak. I give them what they want, smiles and high-fives and happiness. Two 10 year old kids are pounding out a steady rhythm on a huge drum and my heart beats with it. Happy tears are in my eyes. I see Mich, a training partner from Cliff’s group, ringing 2 cowbells and I am so happy that I want to kiss her.
I run underneath Boston College’s sign reading “The Heart Ache is Over” and I salute it. I left my heartache at km 25. I know that Greg and Rich are coming soon and I know that I’m grinning wildly and I’m having fun. I fly down Beacon Street and give them high fives and then I set my focus on Sue, Vira and gang who will be next. Greg tells me later that he’s never seen me so happy in a race.
I run down the crazy big crowds of Beacon Street and “have fun” continues to sing in my head. I know that I am running with love. I’m running now because I love to.
Sue, Vira, Liz, Tom and Mike are cheering just past the “1 mile to go” sign. Sue and I see each other from about 50 metres away. She’s going crazy! She’s practically jumping over the barricade! Their gorgeous hands are stretched out for high-fives and I slap them all. I am ecstatic.
I run under the Mass Ave underpass. I have been smiling since km 25. I turn right onto Herreford. Left onto Boylston. The crowd overwhelms me. My legs, filled with disappointment 20 kilometers ago, are filled with elation. I don’t have much left to run hard but I run as hard as I can down Boylston to finish in 3:18:04. A personal best by 90 seconds. I place 510 out of 10 073 women.
I had the most fun race of my life.
I am proud that I gutted it out. You see, sometimes running a marathon is about more than hitting splits and winning your goal. It’s about pure love. It’s about running because it feels amazing. Because the community around you brings you joy. It’s about taking pleasure in the people in the crowds who are spending their holiday with you. It’s about enjoying the runners next to you who are battling it out too, giving it the same as you are. You run in solidarity with them. It’s about honoring your hard months of training by having fun. It’s about being grateful for your athletic gift to do something that many others can’t.
I may have lost my time goal but the demon didn’t win. My beaming smile and I did.
And I am now a 3:18 marathoner.