As I’m sure you already know, the 2018 Boston Marathon was one for the books. Cold temperatures, persistent rains, and an unrelenting headwind led thousands of runners (elites included) to medical tents seeking aid for hypothermia. There were remarkable upsets in the elite fields and the winning times were a far cry from the best efforts of the professionals on the course. Simply put, Monday was not a day for fast racing or setting PR’s.
Boston 2017 wasn’t a day to run personal records either, but for the opposite reason. It was brutally hot. Last year, I thought I was in 3:15 shape and despite the heat I went out at a pace to run just that. Before I was even hitting double digit miles, I knew I was in trouble. I was walking by the halfway point and just getting to the finish line took everything I had. If nothing else, I was determined not to repeat that fate this year.
As Boston 2018 approached, I knew I was in the best marathon shape of my life and that I was ready to better the 3:14 I ran in Chicago this fall. However, after last year’s race I was scared of the Boston course. Early in my Boston buildup I came to terms that if we were dealt another hot day, I would just run easy and have as much fun as possible. Luckily, as the 10-day forecast began to reveal itself, we learned it wasn’t going to be a hot one. I began looking ahead to race day nervous, but excited about the chance to run fast in better conditions.
But then, the conditions didn’t look so good anymore.
By the time I got to Hopkinton on Monday, I’d readjusted my expectations for the expected cold, rain, and wind, determined not to make the same mistake as last year. I turned off the GPS and decided that it would be a day to have fun. I knew I wouldn’t PR so I didn’t even allow myself to entertain the thought. I decided to start conservatively and have fun soaking up the experience that is Boston. Even on a nasty day, the crowds would be out. I wanted to erase last year’s experience from my mind and move forward with happier memories of Boston. I was also hoping to stay warm enough to avoid hypothermia and stay out of the medical tent.
When the race started, I immediately felt great and knew that I was going to have a blast splashing around in the rain. I floated through the first few miles with ease, before finally looking at my watch at 5k mark. I found myself running much faster than I planned on for the weather, so I took a deep breath and tried to settle in. I didn’t look at my watch again until the 10k, which revealed I hadn’t slowed down at all and had actually sped up slightly. Again, deep breath, settle in.
As I began to encroach on the half-marathon mark I felt like I was still out for a training run; exactly what I wanted. I was feeling comfortable and confident, sure I’d settled into a leisurely pace. Then I looked at my watch. I’d split a 1:34.15. On pace for a 6 minute PR. My confidence wavered and I started questioning when it was all going to blow up in my face. Newton probably, I thought. But after a few panicked minutes I steeled myself. Deep breath, settle in.
At this point, I was feeling more comfortable than I ever have at 13-14 miles into a marathon and I kept feeling that way through miles 15, 16, and 17. During those miles I stayed as calm as possible and finally, I made a deal with myself: hold this effort through the Newton Hills and then reassess. I was still worried the hills were going to break me.
As the first hill began, I focused on November Project. I knew they’d be at the top of the hill and the cheering crowd would help my legs to recover quickly. I bounded my way up with surprising ease and got the boost I hoped for at the top. Then, between miles 19 and 20, a woman caught up to me to say that she loved my attitude and that she was running faster than she should be just to stay with me for the encouragement. This was one by far one of the proudest running moments I’ve ever had. I’ve been carried for miles by the encouragement of others, it felt great to do the same for someone else.
Riding the high of helping another runner on such a tough day, I made it up and over heartbreak with relative ease. My legs barley registered the same uphills that slowed me to a crawl last year. Before I knew it, I was hearing that Desi won and I was passing the 22 mile mark. Four miles to go. At that point, I glanced at my watch again and started doing the math. That’s when I realized if I didn’t slow down in the next four miles, I’d be running a big PR and likely breaking 3:10.
For the next four miles I smiled my face off. The more I smiled, the more support I received from spectators. The more support I received from spectators, the more I smiled. On a day that you weren’t supposed to PR, on a day I didn’t set out to PR, I was about to PR. I just had to keep putting one front in foot of the other.
The rain picked up and the pain set in, but before I knew it, I was turning right onto Hereford and left onto Boylston. There’s something about those two iconic turns, they get better every time. I looked at my watch as I approached the finish line and I think I started laughing. Crossing the finish line in a 3:08.27, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I wasn’t confident I could break 3:10 on a perfect day, I couldn’t believe I was doing so in the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in. I also never thought I’d actually negative split Boston, even if only by 3 seconds.
Chicago this fall was hot and before the race I scaled back my goal from 3:15 to 3:20. My GPS didn’t work so I went out conservatively and ran by feel. Unexpectedly I finished in 3:14, an 8 minute personal best. On Monday, I did the same thing. I threw my expectations out the window, turned off my GPS and trusted my body to know what to do. Of the 9 marathons I’ve run, these happened to be the fastest, but more importantly they were the most fun. I spent 6 or 7 marathons taking myself way too seriously and putting far too much weight on a really expensive long run. Chicago and now Boston have taught me that the only way to achieve a great result is to let go and make a party of the process. I happen to run great times, but I wouldn’t have done so if I wasn’t having so much damn fun.