The 118th Boston Marathon was an absolutely amazing experience.
For me, it began with the alarm going off at 5:30 a.m. A short walk to the 'T' station and then a 30-minute train ride to Park Street Station landed me on the corner of Boston Common, and in view of the perhaps the longest line of school buses ever known to exist.
Security was tight, with authorities having runners show their bib numbers at the bus boarding entrance. Runners were also prohibited from bringing bags onto the busses. This meant that whatever runners brought onto the bus was either left in Hopkinton or worn on the course.
After an hour-long bus ride, a sea of runners and portable toilets greeted me as I walked through the gates of Athlete’s Village, located at Hopkinton High/Middle School. Music blared from huge speakers and an announcer told us where to go, what to do and how to do it. I watched the Wave 1 runners exit the gate at 9:05 for their 10:00 start while I meandered my way to a small patch of grass to sit down and nibble on a breakfast bar.
I was assigned to Corral 1 of Wave 2, which meant that I was the first group of runners to approach the starting line next to the town common for our 10:25 a.m. start time. I managed to make my way up to the front of the first corral and before I knew it I was toeing the starting line. There was nothing but the empty road in front of me.
A few feet away from me was the official timer, ticking away the final minutes, then seconds, until the pop of the starting gun sounded. The stampede of Wave 2 runners began their 26.2 mile run to Boylston Street, and I was a front-runner for about two seconds before getting passed by speedier runners.
I ran by my favorite group of spectators along the way, starting with the biker bar on the left just past the starting line with hundreds more supporters this year than last. Running past the screaming young women from Wellesley College around Mile 12 is always entertaining. Their signs s“Kiss Me, I’m pint-sized” and “Kiss me, my parents won’t know” signs always cause some sweaty runners to veer off plant a kiss on a young co-ed.
At the 16.2-mile mark I saw my boyfriend on the side of the road, just after I crossed over I-95. His words of encouragement gave me a little pick-me-up and I kept plodding along, garnering strength for the five miles of hills that lay ahead of me.
By Mile 18, I started hating life. The heat was definitely affecting me, so I slowed my pace by 45 seconds per mile. My 15-mile training run happened in 25-degree weather and it was 30 degrees for my 20-mile rraining run. It felt like it was 85 degrees on Monday, although the local bank sign read just 65. My goal of finishing in 3:25 vanished.
After ingesting a snack and some water I started feeling human again. I was inwardly complaining about my toe hurting, my foot hurting and my legs hurting, until I saw an amputee ahead of me making his way up Heartbreak Hill. I have both of my legs, and I decided I shouldn't be complaining at that point. That guy was my hero, and I knew I could do it.
Two high school friends spotted me around Mile 23 and screamed my name and I waved back. I thought to myself, “I can’t walk now. Someone else I know will see me. Besides, walking looks bad in the marathon pictures.”
My physical strength was failing me, but my mental strength was alive and well.
At Mile 25, with the iconic Citgo sign in front of me, I more or less decided that if I had run this far, I might as well finish the darn race. I went into the zone and put one foot in front of the other, chanting to myself “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston.”
Before I knew it, there ahead of me was the bright yellow and blue finish line banner I had run so far to see. A million spectators had joined more than 35,000 runners, uniting in solidarity to show the world that terrorism will not win. We were all in Boston to show those affected by the bombings that they are not alone in their fight for regaining their strength and will to survive.
Tears of joy mixed with tears of pain and rained down runners’ cheeks at the finish line as we were herded like maimed cattle towards the finisher’s medals, heat blankets and water. I finished in 3:38:27. This is certainly not my fastest time, but given my sub-par training and the heat, I know it’s a respectable finish.
Besides, I qualified to run Boston next year and that’s all that matters.
The Boston Marathon is such a well-choreographed event. Never before have I seen such efficiency and competence among the race support, medical personnel and security forces. Thanks to everyone who personally supported me and every other athlete, and to those million spectators who flocked to Boston to support this year’s runners and last year’s survivors.
See you all next year.