“It was different, that’s all. You were different [last year]. And you are different now. And the race took a different shape.” –said my coach after the marathon. And he couldn’t be more spot on. The Boston Marathon on Monday was SO much different than any other race I’ve ever run.

I posted here about not having expectations heading into Boston this year. When I wrote that post, I had a feeling my fitness might be close to where it was last year, when I ran a 3:08. But I thought that a PR would be a long shot. I thought that even coming close to a 3:08 would only happen if I had a magical day.

I’m not sure you can call Monday magical, but I SOMEHOW pulled it off. Another 3:08. 13-seconds slower than last year, but still a PR run in my heart.

Pre-race
One of my favorite moments of time are the days leading up to a marathon: there is so much excitement and so much potential for success. The training has been done and it’s almost time for the showdown. You’re with your friends, family, and teammates, and everyone is supportive of each other. This marathon weekend was no exception. The expo was great, my shakeout with Tara was relaxing, and I was REALLY really excited.

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Told you I was excited.

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Shaking it out. <3

The night before the race, Josh asked me what I was thinking I might run. I really really believed I could be around that elusive 3:08, but with the impending wind and rain storm, I’d settle for a 3:11-12. I thought if shit really hit the fan, I’d be fine with anything under 3:15.

Then he gave me his magical goal number. The number that he gives me before all A-races. The number that has been right 98% of times I’ve run under him.

And that number was a 3:04 or a 3:05.

“NO WAY AM I GOING TO RUN THAT, JOSH,” is how I responded. But then I got really really excited, because Josh is usually right, and I knew that if he thought I could run a 3:04-05, I really could. He matter-of-factly replied that, according to my training data (combined with his 98% raceday prediction accuracy rate) a :04-05 was the time I’d run if the stars aligned and I had another magical day.

So I went for it. And I have zero regrets.

Race Day
I woke up at 5:30 after a restless night’s sleep. I ate a mini bagel with peanut butter and brewed a glorious cup of coffee to break my week-long coffee/caffeine fast. I didn’t have a race plan, but I would be riding the bus to Hopkinton with Josh, so I assumed he’d give me a plan then. Shockingly, I felt calm, but was a bit stressed about the weather.

Our Airbnb was only half a mile from the Boston Commons, which is where we boarded the buses to Hopkinton, so the walk there was relatively quick. I was in the first wave this year, and upon arriving to Boston Commons, I found myself surrounded by mostly guys which was pretty cool. There were exactly 3 girls on our bus, myself included.

Josh and I squished together on the bus and I waited until we were on the road until I asked about my plan. I triple checked with him that a 3:04/05 was actually feasible, because I still had a lot of disbelief. He reassured me that he was planning this goal time for a few weeks now, which really blew my mind, but I trust him. The plan was to hit the half at 1:33 or 1:34 and then chip away. So that would mean I’d need to negative split the course by 2-3 minutes, which didn’t intimidate me. I’ve run most of my races through negative splits (last year, I negative splitted the Boston course by 4 minutes) so there wasn’t too much newness to this run. The only difference in “The Plan” was instead of running the first 5 easy, I was to run the first 5k easy, lock it in for miles 4-13, then roll down through hills between 17-20 and into the city of Boston with as much heart as I could muster.

Well. It didn’t QUITE go according to plan. But I went for it, which I’m extremely proud of.

I lined up in the starting corral with Josh and started to get excited. I peed my pants a little in excitement, like last year, and thought it must be a good sign.

Miles 1-3: 7:14, 7:05, 6:56
Feel-wise, this felt pretty effortless, but I knew we were going downhill. I remember thinking that last year I ran this portion in the 7:20s and I marveled at how great low 7s felt this year. “This run is going to be different,” I thought to myself. I was determined to nail the new plan and score a PR.

I also ran these opening miles with Josh and I wasn’t sure what his plan was, so I tried to stick with him for as long as I could. I asked him if the pace was too hard for me, and he shrugged, so I just went with it.

We also ran into Amanda, who we hung with for a quarter of a mile, and it was a great surprise to chat with her!

The weather was a ticking time bomb. The inevitable was that we would be rained on and have wind in our faces. We just didn’t know when it’d happen. Thankfully, it held off for a while, and we had some great weather for the first handful of miles.

Miles 4-12: 7:01, 7:06, 7:00, 7:06, 7:13, 7:06, 7:10, 7:06, 7:08, 7:09
I hung onto Josh until mile 4 and I realized that it would be detrimental to keep running low/sub 7s, so I let him go. Shortly after that, I ran into another friend, Audrey, and we chatted for a few minutes before I continued on my way.

I took my first gel at mile 6 and then it was metronome time (aka: when I lock into a pace and just zone out, like I used to do as a rower). My legs felt fresh-ish, but I was a bit nervous to run an entire marathon at the pace I was going. I tried to push the fear aside. “You can do this,” I told myself. “You put in the mileage. Your endurance is off the charts right now. You’re fine. Trust the training.”

Mile 7 was when I first felt sleepy, and I think the adrenaline was wearing off and my nerves were starting to get the best of me. I tried to not monitor the pace too much, but it was hard not to. I started doubting myself. I specifically remembered this stretch of the course from last year because I was feeling so happy and amazing and it was so sunny and beautiful and warm…whereas this year, I was feeling cold and starting to doubt myself. And then, of course, the wind and rain started.

I decided to not look at my watch from mile 8 to the half. I told myself to lock it in, which is what I’m good at. My legs actually felt okay, so I tried to stay optimistic. “HAVE FUN, MARY!! HAVE FUN!” I realized I was so worried about my run, I wasn’t even having fun. At the Boston Marathon. I mean, come on, self!

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Finally having a little fun. Just a little.

I was looking forward to the Wellesley girls because it was one of my favorite parts from last year. I started looking out for them at mile 12, and heard them well before I physically encountered them along the course. And they did not disappoint this year. Remember–I was running mostly among dudes because I had started up in Wave 1. The Wellesley Scream Tunnel was a MUCH different experience this year with the guys vs. last year and I couldn’t wipe the shit-eating grin off my face because it was so hysterical. Last year, there was 1 or 2 guys that went in for a kiss. But this year, it seemed like almost all of the guys I was running with went in for a kiss. There was even a guy who, after the scream tunnel, trotted back onto the course yelling, “6! I got 6 kisses! How many did everyone else get?!?! Haha!”

Thank god for those girls. It was just what I needed to loosen up. “Chill OUT, Mary,” I told myself. And I did. I truly wanted to enjoy myself, so I started going for the high fives along the course, watching the spectators more, smiling, and just enjoying the amazingness that is the Boston Marathon.

I took my second gel just before mile 13 but was also grabbing orange slices along the way too. It was cold but I was doing my best to grab either water or Gatorade at the aid stations.

First half – 1:33:32

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It’s working. I’m actually running well. Smiles for running in the rain!

Wow. I was doing it. I actually nailed the first half according to plan.

Miles 14-16: 7:07, 7:14, 7:02

My legs started feeling tired around mile 14, which I thought was optimistic, because I remember feeling fatigued at the half last year. But I was actually starting to enjoy myself, so I don’t regret keeping the pace steady and soaking in the crowds.

I had also been wearing a throwaway rain jacket around my waist. I had been putting it on/taking it off through the patches of rain because I figured it’d be important to stay warm and dry for as long as possible. At mile 16, I knew it was almost time to get to work, so I threw it aside.

Miles 17-20: 7:10, 7:16, 7:05, 7:15
Last year, I got through this portion by not looking at my watch. Back then, working the hills felt light, lovely, and effortless. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as fresh this year, so my splits were not zippy. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was my head. Maybe I needed more hill training. Maybe I went out too fast. But whatever the case–the Newton hills were really hard this year.

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BRF = bitchy running face

I do remember feeling excited that the hills were finally HERE! To me, the Boston course is a 16 mile warmup to the hills. So I felt relieved that I had arrived to the toughest portion of the race with my legs still attached to my body.

The first hill is, in my opinion, almost as bad as heartbreak. You go down this steeeeeep decline and then a really long and steep incline over I-95/Route 128. The wind here SUCKED, and I felt myself working hard. This is where I let myself push. “This course is YOURS,” I told myself. “You are so much stronger than last year. This is about a comeback and here’s where you prove it. This is for YOU.”

We crested the top and I panted out loud, “ok, 3 more. Just 3 more.” I took my third gel at the top, but I also tried to grab an extra one from the aid station, just in case I’d need it. I successfully grabbed one but immediately dropped it, so a tall man running next to me gave me his. I asked if he was sure, and he was so friendly and told me, “yes, of course!! Good luck, have a great race” …so I sped off. God bless runners.

The second hill wasn’t too bad, but I was dogged by the third one. I stayed super positive, but was definitely having a hard time. The rain was pretty intense here and I felt like a wet rat. UGH, GET ME TO BOSTON.

Heartbreak hill: 7:40
Oooooof. That. Sucked. So. Bad. It snuck up on me pretty quickly, and I remember feeling relieved that it was finally here. But it was terrible. Absolutely terrible. The wind was blowing straight for my face and I did the best I could to barrel up the hill. I was tunnelvisioning and just needed to be done with it.

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Tunnelvision and thoughts of death. Thanks, heartbreak.

I got to the top and felt a wave of relief. The worst was over–or so I thought.

Miles 22-23: 7:03, 7:08,
“This is it,” I thought, “This is where you get your PR. Take it home and negative split this bitch.”

With 5.2 miles to go, I was at 2:30:11. I knew a 3:05 was still in reach if I could throw down 6:50s or lower, like I did last year. I still had hope, especially since the remainder of the course was mostly downhill, but I was also hurting a lot. I opened my fourth and final gel at the top of mile 22 but I was starting to feel nauseous. I tried to sip it slowly, but my stomach said no. I threw it away and reminded myself that I’d be okay since I had eaten a lot of orange slices and a few bites of banana from the crowds along the way.

Passing BC is another one of my favorite parts about the race. I looked out for Ellen, whom I know from camp back at home. I was really happy to see her, especially since I was hurting so badly.

Mile 24: 7:14
At the top of mile 24, I knew I just needed to hold on. I was spent. I knew 3:05 had slipped away, but I was still hanging onto 3:06-07. “You have the endurance. You ran 77 miles in a week during this cycle for god’s sake. You can do this,” I thought. I felt the rain and wind pick up. I’d close my eyes in pain for a few moments and trudge on. My quads were screaming. My bad hip was hurting. My glutes burned. I felt a blister forming under one of my toenails. So I started looking to the crowd for support. I’d lock eyes with someone and their screams would carry me for a few steps, until I could find someone else. I looked desperately for Gabe, because I knew he’d be in the crowd somewhere.

I had 3.2 miles to go and never lost hope that I could get back down to a 7:00 split. I didn’t, but I’m really proud of the way I hung on for dear life and just RAN with every ounce of what I had. I might have lost a PR in these last few miles, but I gained so much more. I ran my first gritty, painful marathon and didn’t let go. I stayed positive and never lost sight that I was still running a sub-3:10 on the Boston Marathon course (in a monsoon, nonetheless). An amazing time achieved after an injury that plagued me for 6-months. A run that FAR surpassed my expectations after Josh had told me in February that this Boston wouldn’t be about PRs–it’d just be about getting back into shape.

I just needed to hold on…so I did. No pace checking. No watch obsessing. Just RUNNING with every ounce of what I had left.

Mile 25: 7:07
Sweet mother of pearl, FINALLY, the Citgo sign. We climbed another baby hill that felt like Mt. Everest and I kept telling myself to hang onto that PR. I had a fleeting thought of, “what if I DNFed right now??” because the pain was excruciating, but I hung on. “You can’t stop now,” I thought. “You’re going to make it, so you might as well just keep running.”

Mile 26-26.2: 7:30, last .38 @ 6:44
I had zoned out and suddenly, instead of seeing the Citgo sign, I saw the sign that said, “1 mile to go.” We followed the swoop under Mass Ave and, unlike last year, it felt like a legitimate mountain. Thank god Gabe was there, and he had recruited about 10 people to scream my name to get my attention. Despite the pain, it made me so happy, and I remember telling myself to force a smile and a wave.

I didn’t realize how soon after the swoop we’d turn right onto Hereford, then left onto Boylston. This was it. It was ending. I was finishing a marathon. This might sound nuts, but I had been in so much pain and so dialed in over the last 10k that I almost forgot I was running an entire marathon. I said, “oh my god,” as I saw the finish line, and then repeated it, just to humor myself. It was POURING and I couldn’t wait to get out of the rain and cold. My quads started shutting down and SCREAMED at me as I ramped up the final sprint into the finish line.

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Don’t be deceived. I look 110% better than I felt.

FINAL MARATHON – 3:08:47

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I stopped my watch and stumbled through the finishing chute. I immediately thought, “shit. I didn’t do it,” and kneeled down next to a guardrail to stretch out my quads and catch my breath. It was still pouring, and I started shaking uncontrollably from the cold.

Then, I started crying.

I cried because it was over. I cried because I thought I had failed. I cried because I was so ridiculously cold and miserable. I was confused whether I should be sad or excited: I hadn’t achieved Josh’s projection, but I did achieve my goal of coming back from injury and running a strong race. I took a deep breath and collected myself. I got back up, and realized that a few seconds off my PR was not something to be upset about, especially after the shitstorm that was 2014. A sub-3:10 marathon in the deluge/wind storm that was the 2015 Boston Marathon. I took the risk and was rewarded with a 3:08 marathon. A 3:08 marathon?!?! Holy shit! This might as well be a PR! As I got back on my feet, I thought, “Oh my god, I fucking did it.” A guy I had been yo-yoing with the entire race noticed my Oiselle tattoo/outfit, and as he walked past me he said, “nice job, Oiselle. Really nice job.” He looked impressed. And he was right. I was so proud. I did it.

I blubbered some more as I stumbled to get the medal. Once again, like last year, I found myself ugly-girl crying as the volunteer looped it over my head. A large part of me considered going to the med tent because I was so cold, but I REALLY wanted to find Gabe and get a hug (and a hot shower) because it was all over.

As I walked towards the Boston Commons to pick up my bag, I couldn’t help but think, “omg, I’m really back, aren’t I?” I was in complete disbelief. I’m where I was last year, if not stronger. Going into this race, I thought I was CLOSE to last year, somehow, even though the training wasn’t nearly as intense…but I truly didn’t think that another 3:08 would be the outcome. As miserable as I felt in the moment because of the cold and rain, I started to get excited about summer training. I want more speed and I want stronger finishes. I’m hungry for the next level. Except this time, I’m so much smarter and stronger–both physically and mentally. The comeback isn’t over yet. This is just the beginning.