Boston Marathon Race Report

Boston finish line

They filed in. The seasoned pros knew where to go and lost no time heading into a dark room. Where it led I don’t know. Some ended up upstairs. I saw race-favorite Shalane Flanagan’s chiseled and determined face stretching on the balcony above.

I’d been there for an hour and a half already, in the church where the elite runners waited before the start. Since I was staying with relatives in New Hampshire, it made no difference whether we drove straight to the church or to downtown Boston, where buses took runners to Hopkinton. We chose Hopkinton, so my husband could see me off at the start. But we had to arrive early because the roads into town for regular traffic closed at 7am. A kindly volunteer had let my husband in to the church too, so at least I’d had company in the early hours before the bus came.

As I waited, I reflected on my fitness. The groundwork had been laid with solid workouts. This was a body that had thrived on the miles and intensity. Sure, there had been one bad workout about ten days before the race. It was unfortunate, but easy to dismiss as irrelevant overall. I felt ready.

Before long, we got chatting to some of the other runners. I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly they were. I guess expected everyone to be pretty intense and uptight. Accurate or not, that’s the reputation of competitive road runners, in contrast to the community that characterizes the ultra scene. But by the end of the race I’d even made some new friends. The kind you really hope you see again.

Waiting at the church

Waiting at the church (Photo: Robert Boller)

Marathoners really are tiny. Here's two, sharing the same mat.

Pro marathoners really are tiny. Here’s two, sharing the same mat. (Photo: Robert Boller)

I was nervous about the weather. It’s been a year for testing my mettle in varying conditions. I’ve had freezing cold and ice at Bandera, scorching early season temps at Black Canyon and now strong headwinds at Boston. While I don’t exactly enjoy it, I seem to do ok with the heat. But headwinds? As I was about to find out, headwinds suck.

About 20 minutes before we were to head to the start, I joined many of the other elite runners in the warm up area. I felt like a bit of an impostor next to all that sleek speed. Luckily, before I had too much time to dwell on this, it was go time.

Back in the church, I peeled off my layers. Up first were the ‘real’ elites. By that I mean the ones who might win. Lined up, called out by name, and applauded by all as they filed out. A few minutes later, the rest of us ladies joined them (also to applause from the male elites – super cool!). I called out a final “go get em Sage!” to my coach, and he echoed the sentiment right back.

Right before the start

At the start (Photo: Robert Boller)

 

And they're off!

And they’re off! (Photo: Robert Boller)

Running Boston was the realization of a dream. The race filled me with inspiration. The crowds were absolutely incredible. I passed many runners who embodied what it meant to be Boston Strong. The blind. The wheelchair racers. The amputees. The military, who were walking the course in full regalia.

I’d envisioned this day for so long. Every time my mind’s eye saw me running strong and confident, the stars aligned for a magic day. Come Marathon Monday though, I knew from very early on that it wasn’t to be. I tried to keep it in perspective. My race is a small and insignificant part of the Boston whole. I was proud to be there, proud to run. Amazed by the courage of those who, against all odds, rise to the challenge of the Boston Marathon. Having a bad race-day performance doesn’t change any of that.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile when your dreams and the reality are so far out of whack. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that only three weeks of specific training — and a hectic travel schedule during that time to boot — didn’t result in my fastest marathon time. But somehow I am.

Still managed a genuine smile in the recovery tent (Photo: Bean Salmon Wrenn)

I made it! (Photo: Bean Salmon Wrenn)

That’s because my race day performance was far worse than I could even conceptualize going into the race. Heck, my C-goal was to break 2:50. I’m so much fitter and faster than I was in September when I ran 2:51:49! Since I’m not struggling with any injury and my workouts going into the race indicated a 2:45 finish or better, it had simply never occurred to me that my race could be this bad. (To put things in context, we’re talking about a 20-25 second *per mile* difference here. I’d done a 15 mile long run workout at 6:25 pace just 10 days after my race at Way Too Cool, and workouts had only gotten better from there. There was NO WAY I wasn’t running under 2:50.)

To find my legs heavy and uncooperative after a proper taper was a shock. My heart and lungs were ready to party, but my calves and hamstrings ached and dragged even in the early miles. Not that I had much choice, but the headwinds blew away any remaining resolve to gut through it no matter what. In the end, I finished in 2:54:08, 69th woman finisher (9th in age group). The women’s Master’s winner (my division) ran 2:46:44 — a finishing time that I’d hoped to reach. As Shalane put it following her disappointing Boston run, it sure was a “bad day at the office.”

You know what else she said? She said:

“Despite a rough race, I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to race the best in the world on the most storied marathon course. Races that don’t go well always make me appreciate even more the ones that do. Success is not linear. Time to keep pushing on.”

I can’t say it any better.

Post race relaxation with family and friends on our week-long family vacation.

Post-race relaxation with family and friends on our week-long family vacation. We ate. We drank. We made merry. And life came into balance once more (Photo: Peter Hauck)

A Day in the Life

Salad

I don’t know about you, but I’m always curious about what everyone else out there is doing in terms of training and nutrition. While I’m pretty sure there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer that works for everyone, I guess I’m hoping that by reading what they’re doing I might pick up some nuggets along the way that will work for me.

As my running progresses, I continually experiment with various approaches to see what seems to yield the best results. Nothing I do is set in stone. That said, in the hopes it may be of some use or interest to you, here are some of the things that have been working for me lately.

  1. Training. (many thanks to my coaches for giving me permission to share)

My mileage varies significantly depending on where I am in the training cycle. The ramp up to Boston has been shorter than ideal as I was only able to get in about three weeks of actual training. I had to recover from Way Too Cool, plus this week is full-on taper.

I peaked at 95 miles for one of the weeks during this cycle, which is a lot for me. I’m usually more like 65-70 mpw for maintenance weeks, peaking around 80-85 mpw for trail races. However, unlike many runners, I find the road training takes somewhat less of a toll on my body than the same distance on trail, so my recovery from these runs is fairly quick. (The trails I tend to run on are basically running straight up a small mountain and then straight back down, which can be kinda hard on the hammies and quads).

Here are some of the key workouts I ran during this training cycle. All workouts were on a gently rolling road loop, unless otherwise noted (all of 1.6 miles long — hello, boring! — but it’s pretty much the only flattish spot in Temecula). The mileage given doesn’t include warm up or cool down:

  • Paced runs of between 10-20 miles @ anywhere from 6:17 – 7:00 pace
  • 8 x 800 @ 2:42 + 6 x 200m strides (done on treadmill due to travelling to England for a family matter and in a frankly sh*te place to run outside)
  • 2 x 4 miles @ 6:07
  • 4 x 2 miles @ 5:54
Broke out the racing flats for a couple of the faster workouts: wheee!

Broke out the racing flats for a couple of the faster workouts: wheee!

All non-workout days were run easy, which is anywhere from a 7:35 – 8:15 pace for me, on hilly roads or gentle trail. Many of these easy runs include a short set of 100m strides to keep my legs feeling zippy.

Where do these workouts leave me for Boston? If I had another 4-6 weeks, I really think I’d have a shot at pulling off an Olympic Trials qualifier at the new sub-2:43 requirement (yes, I am British, but I applied for US citizenship about a month ago). However, I don’t have the luxury of more time. As a result, instead of risking a race-day disaster by going out too hard and dying in the last miles of the race, I’ve decided to try a more conservative approach, aiming for a time around 2:45. I’ll likely attempt that OT qualifier in the fall, perhaps at the Chicago Marathon.

I take significant time off from running after major races. Really the first week back following anything from the marathon up is pretty low key, with no running at all for at least three to four days, and then transitioning back quite slowly after that. Since I’m not able to sit still for long, though, I’ll often do a gentle spin on the stationary bike or half an hour of easy work on the elliptical in the days after a race just to keep the blood flowing and my mental state hovering somewhere near normal.

  1. Strength.

I’m an enormous believer in strength and core work. I spend 2-2.5 hours per week on strength training, mostly body weight exercises. Most of it comes from articles on Runner’s World or Competitor or from a Matt Fitzgerald book I like called Brain Training For Runners. I try to work one routine for about six weeks, then either make each exercise much harder or ditch it and rotate in something totally new. I always keep in some form of planks and side planks though and focus on exercises that target the glutes and hamstrings (which can otherwise be problem areas for many runners). This stuff is key for injury prevention.

Some suggested exercises:

I also throw in some easy elliptical sessions after many workouts or long run days, for up to an hour. It’s ridiculously boring, but helps maintain/develop endurance and keeps me moving instead of sitting, without the pounding of running.

  1. Recovery.

Sleep. We wake up early in this house. The boys are bouncing off the walls most mornings by about 5:30am. My husband and I hide under the covers for as long as we can before they start jumping on the bed and demanding ‘warm milkies,’ but let’s just say patience is not their strong point. This means when the day is done and the clock hits 8:30pm, I force myself to make my way upstairs most nights. Yep, it’s an exciting, all-out party around here :). Seriously though, don’t underestimate the restorative power of sleep in injury prevention and its role running progress. Get your zzzz’s people!

Nutrition. Find what works for you, but I believe you’re kidding yourself if your diet is full of crud and you think you’re optimizing your training. You’re just not. Period. You can probably get away with eating junk for a while if you’re in your early twenties, but since I haven’t seen that decade for some time, I do what I can to reduce inflammation, promote recovery, and provide my body the nutrients it needs to thrive. Eating well is also fantastically effective at staving off the petri-dish of colds and other errrgh!-wow-really? infections my kids bring home from school on a regular basis. The only daily supplements I take are Blood Builder iron pills (**but only under doctor supervision** — says the lawyer in me), Magnesium/calcium and Vitamin D. On the latter, yes, we live in California, but I use lots of sunscreen because I live in the desert (yay: Western States training! boo: everything else).

A typical day would be, something (loosely) like, as follows:

6:45am                 Black tea with splash of milk (Sometimes 2 cups. Depends how naughty kids are)

8:00am                 Ezikiel brand English Muffin with Kolat brand Blueberry Cinnamon Walnut butter, sometimes with a small smear of Manuka Honey

9:30am                 Pre-run: coffee with agave sweetener and unsweetened soy milk. Small fruit snack such as apple and satsuma, or if really hungry a packet of Think Thin Protein & Fiber Hot Oatmeal – Original Sprouted Grains, with a little sugar. (Or, sometimes, chocolate.)

10:45am               Run

12:30pm               Post run: if run was over 1.5 hours or included a hard workout, I’ll have a recovery drink or bar, or both after workouts lasting 3 hours+. Otherwise, no additional calories before lunch. Lunch is a bowl of Nature’s Path Blueberry Cinnamon Flax cereal with vanilla almond milk, hemp seeds, some nuts/seeds (almonds or walnut or sunflower etc) and a ton of organic berries, usually strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries — from frozen if out of season

1pm                       Gym for core/strength + sometimes, elliptical

2:45pm                 Snack: can be anything from leftovers to edamame to steamed broccoli or roasted sweet potatoes

4pm                       Second afternoon snack: small, often veggies and hummus

7pm                       Glass+ of wine or beer to celebrate kids going to bed (I super-love my kids. They are totally freakin awesome. If you so much as twitch otherwise I will kick your motherloving a$$. But, h*ll yes with the bedtime)

7:30pm                 Enormous salad with lettuce, half an avocado, extra virgin olive oil based dressing or oil-free miso dressing, sprouts, roasted beets, radishes, red pepper, arugula + two hard boiled eggs, or 4 oz oven baked salmon or other fish or vegetarian protein source

Typical shopping cart (really!)

Typical shopping cart (REALLY! Oh, ok, except for the kid’s stuff.)

Some dinner ideas. We try to minimize the carbs at night, often just sticking with veggies + protein and no grains. But not always.

Some dinner ideas. We try to minimize the carbs at night, often just sticking with veggies + protein and no grains. But not always.

Beans, green beans, mushrooms and quinoa with a side salad.

Beans, green beans, mushrooms and quinoa with a side salad. Note: I made this. My husband would freak. He does most of the cooking and darn it, this isn’t nearly pretty enough. I know need some cilantro or something to make this look nice. But, yeah, I also took this photo. And I was hungry.

Dinner 3

Salmon and veggies with quinoa. Again, I made this. My husband’s stuff is much prettier looking (and frankly, better tasting. But equally as healthy).

I also drink multiple cups of tea per day. Probably about 100oz or more of tea! Anything from black tea, green tea, yerba mate, chai tea (yep, all caffeinated) to red rooibos tea, decaf black tea, and nighty-night tea (not caffeinated). I drink no caffeinated tea or other caffeinated beverages after about 3pm.

The above notwithstanding, try as I might — and with the absolute best of intentions — I’m no saint. Conveniently left out of the list is that when my husband takes the boys out for donuts and there’s half of one sitting around at home afterwards, it doesn’t last long. When Christmas comes around, I eat my share of cookies. I’m still trying decide what to do with all of the Easter candy that has ended up in our house. Until I make that decision though, it’s entirely possible I might be eating some-a-lot of that. You get the idea. I try to keep this stuff out of the house, but darn it, it just seems to find its way in!

Anyway, all rambling aside, I hope this was helpful in some capacity! I’d love to hear from you if you have something that has been a success for you.

The Road to Boston

Boston Hat Photo

Before I ever ran ultras, indeed not long after I started running (period), I decided I wanted to qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Initially, I hadn’t realized that you even need to qualify for the race, but my friend Sheila had done so and explained the process. It sounded really challenging. I like challenging.

It was after the bombings had already happened. I’m not much of a writer to begin with, so I don’t know how to capture the way I felt about it, the way I will always feel, without saying anything but the most obvious things. Things that have already been said a thousand times over. I suppose I feel the way I imagine you feel about it. Anger, horror, disbelief. In particular — as a mother — grief. Just thinking about it still rips a tear in my heart. Like so many others, I wanted to run to show solidarity and to pay respect for the fallen and the maimed. In a small way, which, when grouped together with so many other runners would have become a big way, I wanted to be part of what it meant to be defiantly Boston Strong.

When I started training, I could barely string together three miles at the 8:24 average pace I would need to qualify (I was 38 and needed a 3:40 finish). Undeterred, I worked away at it, week after week. The first time I hit the 20 mile mark, I cried. Literally and figuratively, I had come such a long way.

Soon, the training started coming together and I was clocking 24 mile training runs at well under BQ pace. I stepped up to the start line of the August 2013 Santa Rosa Marathon brimming with confidence and eager to run, joining the 3:30 pace group.

If the experience hadn’t been so incredibly painful, it would have been humiliating. The Wall snuck up on me and pounced like a cat. It threw me in the air and dumped me on the pavement, pummeling me with its leaden bricks. In was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life, before or after. Ultras included. By mile 16 I was dizzy, nauseous, suffering from both tunnel vision and double vision (quite the combo!) and had stabbing heart pains so severe that I could not adequately catch my breath. To add insult to injury, my quads seized up. It’s no exaggeration to say I could barely stay upright. I came through the half in 1:44, and hobbled through the finish in 3:53.

A few weeks later, baffled and humbled, I discovered that I was suffering from iron deficiency anemia. That’ll happen when you abruptly adopt a pescatarian diet, begin losing weight and piling on the miles all at the same time. Taking iron pills took me from a constant state of complete and utter exhaustion, thinking that I never wanted to run another step again, to feeling that life itself was breathing energy into my oxygen-starved body. Anemia is a cruel master; it had stripped me bare and robbed me of my dreams. I wanted revenge.

Six months later and without any specific training, I ran a surprise 3:06 at the 2014 Napa Valley Marathon. The accomplishment was a turning point for me. I had more than BQ’d (though too late for the 2014 race) — I’d started a personal revolution. The race was the kind we all fantasize about. Dead-even splits. Near-effortless. Running each mile faster than I ever could have imagined was possible. It lit a fire and left me ravenous for more. I hired a coach and salivated at the prospect of going sub-3.

The finish-line joy of a near-perfect race at the Napa Valley Marathon.

The finish-line joy of a near-perfect race at the Napa Valley Marathon.

Flash forward another six months to the Ventura Marathon (September ’14), where I ran 2:51:49. It wasn’t my best race and I think I can do a lot better than that, but it’s hard to complain about the progress it reflected. Since I turned 40 in December, my Ventura result was enough to qualify me for the elite field at Boston for the upcoming 2015 race, where I’ll be competing in the Masters Women division and hope to end up with a top five result.

A hot day at the Ventura Marathon.

A hot day at the Ventura Marathon.

Of course, in the background to this story is that during this time I’d started to run ultras — and started to do well at them. So it is that I find myself not only in the 2015 Elite Women’s Start at Boston, but a Nike Trail sponsored athlete. Just a few short weeks after Boston, I’ll be toeing the line at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race, and (someone! please!) correct me if I am wrong, but I believe I’ll start the race as the women’s leader in the 2015 Montrail Ultra Cup [as of the time of this post, the official 2015 standings had not yet been published].

It all sounds so absurd, ridiculous even. Because the reality is, I’m just like anyone else. I’m just a Mom who has, rather late in life, discovered that she loves to run. Who finds perfect moments in the movement. Those moments when all of the work comes together and the body abides. That’s why I do it, that’s what I love. Just like you, right?

So… I want to know. What’s your Boston story?