The 2016 Boston Marathon, where do I begin?
I grew up in Boston but I never experienced the city as a runner. I went to High School in Newton, volunteered in Boston every summer but I wasn’t a runner back then. I didn’t start running until 2008. Honestly I never thought I would run Boston. The qualification times for my age group were not within my current pace capacity. Then I found out you can run through a charity. Last year many of my friends ran the Boston Marathon either by qualifying or through a charity. I thought since I have fundraising experience I could try to be accepted as a charity runner.
I know the Fisher House Foundation was a fantastic organization. They provide comfort homes for our military families while a military loved one is receiving medical care at a VA Hospital. These comfort homes are in walking distance to the VA Hospital. I fundraised for them through our Veterans Awareness virtual race. I also saw the camaraderie Fisher House teams shared by watching them at the Marine Corps Marathon last year. As a prior service member and coming from a military family it was the charity that I felt very close to. The more I learned about what they do for our Veterans the deeper my drive became to raise more money for them than my required minimum. I went through Charity Teams. A wonderful organization run by Susan Hurley. She introduced me to Jennifer DeLuca, the Executive Director of the Fisher House of Boston. These two powerhouse business women are incredible, professional, giving, and wonderful human beings. I am so grateful to have met them and I have learned so much from them. Jennifer DeLuca is an exceptional woman that gives so much of herself to this cause. Our team consisted of 9 amazing people who are truly wonderful down-to-earth people that I am proud to call family. Through my Boston Wicked Strong virtual race, and donations from businesses and family and friends, I was able to raise over $12,300. This was $4,800 over my initial commitment goal. My entire team raised over $91,000 for Fisher House of Boston.
My training started during the Fall months. I was training for the Dopey Challenge and picked up from where that left off to train for Boston. My coach Michael from Run Nerds Rock tailored a great training plan for me again. He has helped me prepare for all my marathons.
I was able to travel to Boston twice for two very important training runs hosted by Charity Teams. One was in February called the SuperHero17. Which was the last 17 miles of the Boston Marathon course. The other one was in March called the Hop21. Which was the first 21 miles of the course. It provided me an opportunity to run on the race route twice. Unfortunately my foot injury from the Dopey Challenge made training for Boston more challenging. I needed more time off the foot than I had planned and I missed important tempo runs.
Race Weekend Fun
Race weekend was finally here! I drove up from Maryland on Friday. It was about a 7.5 hr drive. I stayed at the Boston Park Plaza hotel right across from the Boston Public Garden. The Arlington station T stop was right at the corner. This hotel was in a fantastic location for walking around anywhere in the city.
I was able to make it to Packet pickup Friday afternoon after I got into town. The expo was only 1 mile away from the hotel. I noticed the Expo was not crowded at all. I picked up my bib and the limited edition Newton Running Boston Marathon shoes. I highly recommend going to packet pickup on Friday rather than on Saturday. It was a mad house on Saturday. I met up with my fellow INKnBURN Ambassadors. I also met my running coach Michael too!
Friday night I attended the Charity Teams gala hosted by Susan Hurley which was absolutely exceptional. It was a celebration and gathering of all the charity runners. There were guest speakers to include Meb Keflezighi, Tatyana McFadden, Rob Gronkowski, and Bill Richard (MR8). Apparently Mark Wahlberg was there too but I had missed him. He left earlier in the night. It was a great night of celebrating the culmination of this fantastic journey.
Saturday I met up with family and visited my old stomping grounds in Newton. Sunday morning we enjoyed the public gardens in the spring. Bostonian squirrels are so friendly!
Sunday night we walked to the North End where we were able to find delicious Baba Rum at Marie’s Pastry Shop. Not many Italian bakeries have real authentic Babas. My husband was stationed in Italy for 5 years and knows real Italian desserts. He gave this one his seal of approval. Another must go to pastry shop is Mike’s Pastry Shop around the corner. I had my pre-race pasta dinner at a fantastic Italian restaurant called Bricco’s.
Race Day Morning
At 8:30am Monday morning I walked to the Boston Common area where the BAA buses were parked with my teammate Mark. It was about a 45 minute bus ride to Hopkinton. I met up with the rest of my Fisher House Team at Athlete’s Village. There were plenty of porta potties around but with 30,000 runners you can imagine the long lines. Thankfully someone was also passing around sunscreen because it was super sunny and the heat was rising. I was actually starting to sweat and I hadn’t gone anywhere. My first thoughts were “Uh oh! – If it’s this hot now what will it be when we actually start?!” Around 10:45 am we all started our 1 mile walk to our corrals. At 11:15 our corral took off for the start line! As soon as I stepped on the start line I got misty eyed. Holy shit! I’m running the Boston Freaken Marathon!
Respect the Course
I tried to mentally break up the race into sections. I knew from the Disney Marathon running the mile you’re in works wonders. I was going to use the mile markers as mini milestones. My plan: Miles 1-4 would be a slower pace; Miles 5-13 would be getting to the first half; Miles 14-19 would be getting to see my family; Miles 20-26 would be time to pick it up. That was the plan. But you know what they say about having a plan, right?
I didn’t want to start off too fast which is what I usually do as I get caught up in the excitement. I stayed back at a slower pace for the first 4 miles but the heat was more than I expected. Granted it wasn’t that hot out but I wasn’t used to weather over 50 degrees for months. I haven’t trained in heat. All my training runs were in the fall and winter. I am a cold weather runner. The best temps for me is in the low 40’s. It was high 60’s in Boston and getting hotter. I kept hydrating every mile. I had my snacks and salt pills. I was following the plan well. I wanted to reserve my energy for the last part of the race and not bonk. I had previously run the last 17 miles of the course in a training run without any problems. In fact I was in a peak pace that cold day in February the entire time. Now it was a totally different story with the heat and humidity rising.
Miles 5-13 was more challenging trying to maintain a faster yet reserved pace. The hills were consistent. I recognized the streets but my body wasn’t reacting the way it had the last time I ran this course. I was starting to worry but figured once the sea breeze they were predicting comes I would be fine. Come on sea breeze! Once I reached the half-way point I saw my timing wasn’t too bad at 2:20. If I could keep this pace I could potentially finish around 4:45. I would be happy with anything under 5 hours. By this point the temps reached 70 degrees.
To break up the mental struggles I would occasionally get compliments on my running capris. This one gentlemen thought I was actually running in jeans and in a judgey voice asked his running partner “What are those jeans?”. I actually laughed out loud. I love my INKnBURN apparel. Several ladies asked me about them and commented how they liked that my phone fit securely in the leg pocket. They definitely make an impression and they are so comfortable to wear.
Phew! Miles 14, 15 and 16 were tough. I couldn’t get out of my head and think of something else. I was looking forward to mile 17 because I knew that’s where my husband and daughter where waiting for me. They were at the Newton Fire Department Station 2 where the wonderful people of the Fisher House of Boston volunteers had a table. That’s all I thought about. I knew after seeing them I had Heartbreak Hill to tackle then it was all downhill. At miles 16 my legs were way too tired. All I needed was that turn onto Commonwealth Ave. That’s where the fire station was and my family. A few feet away I saw one of my teammates wife yell out my name. She pointed ahead of me and said Fisher House is around the corner. I was so happy. Making that turn I saw my husband looking for me. I raised my hands and had the biggest smile. Then I saw my daughter. I gave them kisses and hugs and told them I loved them and thanked them for being there. The timing and location was perfect. Then Jennifer came and hugged me and her daughter Abi gave me a water bottle and chocolate covered coffee beans. Wow those were so good!
Did you know chewing coffee beans produces black grinds on your teeth? Haha, that’s why I’m half smiling in this picture. I was trying to chew the coffee beans at the same time. I also got to meet Nic Van Landeghem. Please listen to his story. He’s extraordinary. I thought about him and the vets during the remainder of my miles on this course. If they can endure what they have gone through then I can endure this journey.
At Mile 19 I saw my step dad Len waiting for me at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Homer Street. I have no idea how long he was waiting there but he didn’t see me until I ran up to him for a hug. He told me he was proud of me and that he got me salami from the corner deli and to not forget to pick it up. Love that man!
Heartbreak Hill (20-21)
Where is Heartbreak Hill, exactly? Honestly, I’m not sure but I’ll tell you what, it’s not one hill. I believe it’s a series of “tiny” hills that all come together to make one grand mega hill. At least that’s what it felt like. All I know is that the hills kept on coming. Never have my legs ever cramped in any other marathon or race for that matter. My thighs started to cramp. It started on my right leg then my left leg. I started taking more salt pills and the cramps would go away for a little while but they would come right back as I approached another uphill incline. I had to stop and massage them periodically.
The best part about Heartbreak Hill was the spectators. If it weren’t for them I would have walked all the hills. They were so encouraging. They would look at you, point at you, and tell you “keep that pace you’re going to make it through this hill”. I wish I had my name on my shirt or wrote it on my arms. Hearing your name during a time like this would do wonders. That’s why I don’t run with headphones anymore. The crowd’s encouragement is so powerful especially when it’s personal or a positive message directed at you.
“All Downhill from Here” – Haha, Is it?
Miles 22 to 25 was supposed to be smooth sailing. I kept hearing that after Heartbreak Hill it’s all downhill until the finish line. That’s bull! Ha! If you look at the elevation map scaled down yes, it looks flat. But if you increase the scale you will see that nope it’s not all downhill. It’s more hills! Ah! There’s a nice elevation at mile 24 by the Citgo sign where you run on an overpass over the Massachusetts Turnpike. It’s a mixed emotion when you see the Citgo sign because you know the finish line is ever so close but you have this hill.
The last 5 miles
Oh my goodness. Mind over matter…mind over matter…I was digging deep. So deep in fact that I reached a mental depth I have never had experienced. Everything from the waist down hurt; my thighs, my feet, my calves, my toes. My lips were dry and my face was sun and wind burnt. This is where some would say they reach another plane of existence. Truly I was a zombie. My legs were moving somehow and a moan was coming from my mouth in cadence with every step. I tried to focus and occasionally smiled when I came to realize how far I have come and that I was running in my hometown. I could tell I was smiling big because spectators would say “Yeah! Keep on smiling”. The people of Boston got me to the finish line. I can still see their faces and genuine look of enthusiasm and caring. They would say things like “You got this!”, or “You’re awesome”, “You are here for a reason and that reason is to cross that finish line!”. I gave him a fist pump in the air and replied “Yes it is!” I was going to finish the Boston Marathon. This thought made me so happy. I wanted it to be over but then I didn’t want it to end. That’s runner’s mentality.
I passed a very strong looking man wearing one prosthetic running blade from the knee down. He had a steady pace and a focused look. As I passed him very slowly I gave him a thumbs up and said “You got this!” He replied with “You too!” He had his game face on and it helped me. [Update 4/29/2016] I found out who this incredible person was that I was running behind. His name is Jose Luis Sanchez. He showed me that there are no excuses and to keep pushing forward when I felt like walking.
I started to get emotional when I saw the “1 mile to go” sign. They also have it painted across the road on the ground so you run over it. Someone yelled out “You’ve got 25 miles behind you- you got this!” I love this city so much! I pulled back the tears and kept focus on my legs moving and not stopping. As soon as I turned the corner onto Hereford Street I couldn’t hold back the tears or the emotions because I knew the end was around that corner. I wanted to stop so badly I was fighting that urge with everything I had. I took a left onto Boylston Street and there it was!
Victory is Mine!
As I turned onto Boylston street I saw the beautiful blue stage where the finish line was located. It was so close yet so far away. I heard myself panting my pace. I kept telling myself, “Come on Jo, come on!” It was later in the day around 4 pm at this point. Most of the runners had already crossed. Being in the last wave you can expect fewer crowds at the end but there were still so many people around. It was still very crowded. The cheering was infectious. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, “Come on Jo, come on!” I looked down at my watch and saw I was approaching 5 hours. Hell no! Keep going! My legs were done, they were on fire. Left foot, right foot… just a little bit more to go. At this point I would have had tears streaming down my face but I was a bit dehydrated and my body apparently needed the salt. Left foot, right foot… The finish line! I raised both my arms and crossed. Oh my God! I can’t believe I just did this!
The walk to the medals was longer than I expected. Maybe I was so exhausted it just felt that way. When the wonderful volunteer ladies put on my medal I just fell apart. This moment was indescribable. So many months and miles of training and fundraising. So much support from family and friends helping me get here. It was an incredible weekend. I proved to myself once again that limitations are only in your mind. The course was very challenging with constant hills, sporadic heat, and headwind but it made the finish even sweeter. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Thank you Fisher House of Boston, Jennifer DeLuca, for this opportunity. Thank you Coach Micheal for getting me ready for this course. Thank you friends, family, my husband and daughter for all your love and support. Thank you the people of Boston. I truly could not have done it without all of you.