To read Part One of the Boston Marathon race report/weather miracle, click here.
After we crossed the half way point, I began searching the swelling crowds for signs of our race crew. I recognized the spot where we had ’spectated’ from last year, when we were desperately looking for jeff, only to learn that we had just missed him. As we approached mile 14, my hopes of seeing the race crew began to diminish, and I worried about them – were they lost? were they OK? It would have been a good spirit-booster to see them, and I had wanted to pass off some of my gear to ‘lighten my load’ but I also knew how tricky it was to get to just the right spot last year. Jeff helped keep my spirits up by scooping up a ton more ‘high-fives’ from a million little kids. It was awesome to watch the sidewalk explode with cheers as he would run over to them. It never failed to make me smile.
The temperature had a dropped a bit, and we were feeling more of the winds. We attributed this fact to our approach towards the water and away from the sheltered inland.
There were some interesting moments during miles 15 and 16. We spotted a red Staples ‘easy’ button on the ground, and instantly regretted not picking it up. How cool would it have been to press the button at the finish line and hear “That was easy!” It also reminded me of my friend Joan, who bought me my very own ‘easy’ button after I qualified for Boston.
We also spotted a male runner with incredible legs, especially his calf (gastroc) muscles. He shaved his legs too, so they were all smooth and shiny, flexing spectacularly with each foot fall. I lost all control of my internal filters, turned to jeff and blurted out ‘I just want to lick his calves!’ Of course, jeff found this hilarious and made sure to tell the guy that I liked his calves as we passed by. When I confirmed what jeff said with a ‘You have great legs!’ the runner modestly remarked that he wished they were stronger.
We pushed up a hill, heading over an overpass (might have been the 128) and I was instantly struck by the crowd support there. People were packed onto the bridge, waving signs, hooting and hollering like crazy. I saw one sign that say ‘We are so proud of you Stephanie’ and felt myself get all emotional, eyes welling up. How amazing…to have our family and friends be so proud of us…proud enough to come out in the cold, windy, awful day to cheer for us – for all of us. Even though they would get to see their runner for only a few seconds, they were out there, cheering like mad, like each one of us could win the race. It was overwhelming.
Then I realized it was way too soon to start crying, and I was starting to hyperventilate which made getting up the hill even more difficult. I managed to pull myself together without jeff noticing that I was turning into a mush-head again. He would have yelled at me, reminding me that ‘there’s no crying in running.’
We passed the sign for Newton, and jeff announced that we had 4 hills to tackle, the last of which would be the infamous Heartbreak Hill. I was already starting to tighten up, and was beginning to worry about my calves cramping, but I steeled my resolve and got to work.
Mile 14 – 8:02
Mile 15 – 8:13
Mile 16 – 8:03
I was struggling on the up-hills. Always my cheerleader, jeff would wave his arms and egg on the crowd to get them to cheer for us/me. Again, I was amazed at the crowd support. People would even make eye contact and yell encouragement right at me. (I really wish I’d had my name on my shirt, but with the weather forecast, I figured I’d been soaking wet the whole time and the tape would just fall off my shirt/jacket so I didn’t even bother. I’ll never make that mistake again.)
As we passed the mile 17 marker, I reluctantly asked for our split and coach replied with “8:19.” That was the slowest mile since the start and it made me angry. I didn’t want the hills to beat me. I didn’t want the infamous Boston course to chew me up. I had worked hard to get there, and I didn’t want it to end on those hills. I began to ‘pull inwards’ and grew even quieter than I had been.
I could tell jeff was getting a little concerned about me, as the reminders to keep my ‘chin up and chest out’ were coming more often. As we tackled each hill, he would try to get me to celebrate by tapping fists. It got to the point where my fingers were so swollen, I couldn’t even make a fist to tap against his. The swelling, and the dull headache, alerted me that I might be over-hydrated, and I decided to slow down my fluid intake.
I completely missed the statue of John Kelley on Heartbreak Hill…how disappointing! I wasn’t sure where it was located, and I just kept looking towards to crest of the hill for something shiny and brassy. Heartbreak was challenging, but not nearly as tough as I had imagined it to be. I think what made it manageable was the fact that I knew the worst would be over once we crested the top.
Mile 17 – 8:19
Mile 18 – 8:13
Mile 19 – 8:09
Mile 20 – 8:20
Mile 21 – 8:20
The temperature continued to drop and the winds were still present, but we had yet to encounter any real rain. I was flabbergasted, relieved and grateful.
My muscles were really starting to ache and tighten – pretty much everywhere. Neck, shoulders, low back, and every inch of my legs and feet. It hurt. I wasn’t having any fun, just working hard to get it done. Panic set in when heard jeff utter ‘Oh sh*t.’ I knew without even asking. I said ‘You OK?’ and I believe his response was ‘I’ll be fine.’ We both knew he was getting a cramp, but neither one of us said anything. If we uttered the word, it would happen. And if he got a cramp, I was certain to get one too. (They are contagious you know!).
But we pushed on. I was determined to not let all the training go to waste. I was determined to not feel like all the early mornings and weekends were for nothing. I wanted my friends and family to be proud of me. I wanted to run for the people in my life who would love to be able to run, but are physically unable. I still wanted to beat Boston, and prove that even in less than ideal conditions, with less than ideal training, mental fortitude could win the day. I wanted to make sure that jeff didn’t spend 16 months training me, as well as a plane ticket cross country, for a performance that was less than I truly had to give. With all that other people had given to me, I had to give something back. Boston had to be the gift I could give. For me, and for them.
At some point during mile 23, jeff said ‘Flipper, you do realize…” and I cut him off with a finger to my lips and a “Shhhhh.” I knew he wanted to tell me that I was about to set a PR. But I didn’t want to break the spell. Stay focused on the task – left, right, left, right.
Mile 24, and jeff starts telling bad jokes. He sees a runner with a faux-hawk (fake mohawk) and begins to comment on the ridiculous nature of the hair style, questioning why the young man with the bad hair couldn’t just commit to a REAL mohawk. All I can do is smile feebly. Then, during Mile 25, as if it were a hair style convention instead of a marathon, we come up on a runner with a REAL mohawk, shaved properly. My marathon partner ponders out loud, wondering if the Mohawk Indians used egg whites to make their mohawks stand up. I overheard a spectator say ‘How can he even be talking right now!?’ I thought to myself…’Easy…because he’s the Amazing Hip.’
Mile 22 – 7:59
Mile 23 – 8:03
Mile 24 – 7:58
Mile 25 – 8:02
Mile 25. We can do anything for one mile. And we do. We run. For one more mile. We pass our cheering section just before the turn up to Boylston Street. We smile and wave, and push on. As we round the corner for the finish, jeff asks me if I’m ready to be a rock star, because what I’m about to hear is all for me.
Sure enough, a deafening roar hits us, and we give one last push for the finish. The blue finish banner looks so far away, almost like it’s getting farther as we run towards it, but I try to turn on the jets. I open up what is left of my stride and go, go, go…just wanting to cross the line. To be done. To stop. I see the clock says 3:34:xx and I gun it, hoping for the PR by the skin of my teeth…not remembering that the clock is net time, not chip time.
Side by side, we cross the mats. I stop. I start to hyperventilate. I put my arm around jeff and say ‘Thank you.’ He looks at me and says ‘We did it flipper!’ We’re both elated.
Mile 26.2 – 9:42 (8:05 pace) – official finishing time 3:33:12 – a PR by a minute and 50 seconds.
We are both hobbling through the finish area with slow, precise steps. We get some water and the volunteers are smiling and congratulating us, telling us how amazing we are…I start to hyperventilate again, and begin to feel emotional (again). Coach gives me permission to cry, but I manage to hold it together…mostly because I am quickly becoming aware of just how sore I am, and how cold I am beginning to feel. We find a spot to stretch for a couple of minutes and then get our heat blankets.
We hobble over to get our chips removed, and again the volunteers are wonderful – just bursting with enthusiasm and pride for us. We receive our medals, and I give mine a kiss. We grab some snacks and make our way down the increasingly cold and windy street to locate the buses that have our gear bags. Getting the bags is almost harder than the marathon.
We accomplish the Feats of Strength of Festivus. Eventually – probably about 30 minutes later – we find each other again, and find our way to Jason (thank goodness for cell phones!). I continue with the Festivus theme, with an Airing of Grievances when I realize that Jason has forgotten the backpack with our jackets in it.
We are reunited with the race crew, and we are officially introduced to the exuberant, warm, wonderful Jeanne. There are photos, hugs, smiles, jokes, and stories swapped and shared. We slowly begin the long walk towards the car, shivering and chattering away the whole time. The best way to sum up how it felt to have run Boston is to quote one of the signs that we saw numerous times along the route: ‘It’s a pissah!’
-End of Part Two-