When Patriot’s Day 2007 began, I truly didn’t think it could have been any worse. I hadn’t slept all night. Instead, I listened to the howling wind, pouring rain, chairs sliding on the balcony, tree branches falling, and thought: the world is ending, and I have to run 26.2 miles in it.
Being in Boston was like being in a hurricane. The wind literally pushed you sideways, along with the stinging rain. I’ve never worn that many clothes: tights, windpants, J’s warm ups, two shirts under a sweatshirt, all topped off with the $9.95 rain suit I scored at Target. I was my own personal sauna.
I could have used my own personal port a potty. I have a nervous stomach. I must have braved the elements 10 times before I hit the starting line, including at least once when I feared my worst nightmare would come true: that the Port-a-Potty would tip over with me in it, and one trip on the bus to Hopkinton (which was a nice diversion from the uber annoying ultra marathoner yapping my ear off). The guy manning the portajohns at the gym in Hopkinton was always happy to see me return.
The wait that morning was unbearable. I wanted nothing to do with anyone. I moved between being so excited and psyched, to being petrified (the latter was usually followed by a port a john visit). I tried to eat, drink, stretch, listen to music. It didn’t help.
The thing that did help was that when we paraded out of the gym to head towards the starting line, it was barely raining. Great. Now I could focus on running a marathon, not being impaled by a flying tree branch or soaking to death. Easy Peasy.
The start was anticlimactic, to say the least. We trekked through Hopkinton, sidestepping trash bags and clothes strewn everywhere, and tried to find our holding corrals. There was no anthem, no flyover, no message from the Governor. The first wave starters got all that glory. We got “And they’re off!” with a starter gun pop about 1/2 mile before we could even see the starting line (oh, the irony: walking almost a mile before you can run a marathon).
Finally: the staring line. A quick check of the clock told us we started 15 minutes after the gun went off, plus 30 minutes after the first wave. Meaning we would have to subtract 45 minutes from each time clock we saw. Which made my head hurt.
Despite the less that ideal conditions, there were people everywhere. Cheering, yelling, holding signs, kids wanting high fives, soldiers in uniform. Even in the smaller towns, there they were. Holding out food and water, ringing cowbells, calling out people’s names. I saw a woman meet her friend around mile 13, both of them crying, so happy to see each other, so happy to be in that moment. I was choked up by the amount of support these strangers gave. Where were they when I was trudging through 20 miles in the snow?
On we went, keeping a pretty good 10 minute per mile pace. Walking a bit through water stations, to suck down GU, to use the port a potty (again). I had friends at mile 10 with orange slices and a camera, ran through the tunnel of screaming, schreeching, kiss giving women at Wellesley College, and saw my Red Cross volunteer boss and wife at mile 16.
I was on top of the world. I felt good. I hadn’t pulled anything, cramped anything, chafed anything. I was finishing. I could have just ran a halfer if I wanted to quit at mile 13. The weather was windy and rainy at times, but it felt like paradise compared that morning. I saw a sign that said “Jack Bauer wouldn’t quit now.” Damn right I wasn’t going to.
Then came the hills.
The hills weren’t as physically hard as they were mentally draining. I ran lots of hills in training, I knew where they were on the course, I knew Heartbreak Hill’s name had little to do with how hard it was to climb. But I had mentally prepared myself for the fact that, once the hills were over, the race almost was as well.
And so I climbed them. I run hills a bit faster than my college roommate/running buddy/person who talked me into this whole thing, Michelle, so I’d walk at the top, catch my breath and wait for her. I saw a sign halfway up the second one that said “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” and again got choked up. It was the two year anniversary of my grandfather’s death, and I thought of him as I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill.
I did it. I couldn’t believe it. A nice easy 5 mile jaunt through the streets of Boston, and on to my medal and beer at the finish. That would be nothing compared to the 21 I had just completed, right?
Worst.Five.Miles.Ever. Everything hurt. I was thirsty, yet my belly was sloshing with water. It hurt more to walk than to run, but we had to do it, about once every mile at the end. I was hot, and had to take off the shirt under my windbreaker, which required repinning my number. It was all pain, stubborness, and desire to eat and drink something other than gatorade or GU at that point.
You can see the Citgo sign and Hancock tower for miles. It means nothing until you’re on top of them. And soon we were. The Sox game had been delayed, and we knew they won (Thanks to the fans along the way), so the timing was perfect to run through Kenmore Square, hundreds of fans screaming, one mile to go.
On we went, one thing on my mind: the finish. We turned up Hereford Street, the crowds 4-5 deep. Up a little hill and onto Boylston.
This was it. I could see the balloons, the finish line right under them. The crowd screamed & cheered the entire way. I saw J on the sidelines, screaming and jumping up and down, and I managed to look back and wave as he took a picture. I saw my friends from mile 10, and just before the finish, Michelle’s mom and sister.
Then it was there. The finish. In under 5 hours. My feet hit the timing mat, and I dropped to a walk. In my own little world, I could hardly believe I did it. I didn’t cry, I didn’t even really smile. I knew what I just did, but I kind of couldn’t believe it. After months of training, hours of waiting, and 5 hours of running, it was over.
Michelle & I went to the VIP tent (our invitational entries were VIP, which got us some nice little extras), where someone was nice enough to take the chip off my shoe and place a medal around my neck, along with an aluminum foil blanket. We retrieved our bags and sat outside planning our next move on a bench we were sure we’d ever get off of. The wind howled between the buildings, our faces were covered in salt, and we were exhausted, but elated. I don’t think we even had any water or Gatorade, we just called & texted friends, tried to stay warm, and sat in a bit of shock.
I found J, changed into clean clothes and my new marathon jacket (happy that I had earned the right to wear it by crossing that finish line, and not wasting another $90 by not finishing), put the medal back around my neck, and went outside to the cheers of my college friends and husband. We spent the rest of the afternoon drinking beers and eating a burger, and I’ve never been so happy or tired or proud in my life. Despite the training, the nerves, the doubts and the pain, I would do it all over again for that moment few have: crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon.