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)

8 thoughts on “Boston Marathon Race Report

  1. Hi, Caroline. I started following you after your UltraRunner Podcast interview. Fellow momma & very new to the Ultra scene. I saw your Boston finishing time and knew it wasn’t what you were shooting for. Your honest recap is good to read and remember, though. If it helps, I had a similar experience. After an amazing (to me) first 100-miler, I thought Boston would be a breeze. It sucked the life out of me when I, too, quickly realized it was going to be a rough race. Lets have it fuel us for our next one.
    Great job on the sub-3 on a tough day and thank you again for sharing your experiences.

    • Thanks Jennifer! I’m glad you enjoyed the podcast! I wish I’d had a better day out there, but some days are just like that. As you say, it’s time to pick myself up , dust myself off, and start all over again 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your story! Please say hello if our paths ever cross, and best of luck with your upcoming races.

  2. Beautifully and honestly written, Caroline. Inspiring words about expectations and disappointment and gratefulness that apply to life and not just races. We are all so proud of you

  3. Caroline, my husband and I were spectators at Boston and saw you run past at mile 6. I, too, had listened to your Ultrarunner Podcast interview and so enjoyed seeing you on the course–really inspiring. Best wishes to you as your season continues!

    • Wow, that is so awesome! Thank you so much for being out there and cheering for the runners, especially considering the weather. The spectators were the absolute best. I thought I heard someone tell “Go Caroline!” early-on along the course — maybe that was you? It struck me because I thought, who on earth would know my name? Regardless, thank you, thank you for being there and for letting me know with your comment here.

      • Caroline, I bet anything it was me you heard at mile 6…that’s what I was yelling! 🙂 Was just thinking this afternoon how very much I enjoyed watching all you speedsters!

      • That is really amazing to think about you being out there. Cheering for (among others) … me!! Just wonderful. Thank you so very much for being out there!

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