BOSTON!

Okay, so apologies for the very delayed recap post…after Boston I took the rest of the week off work which meant NO WRITING. It was blissful. Definitely needed the time off to just recharge, hang out with friends and family, read, bake, go to church, yoga and on lots of relaxing walks.

That said, it was awesome going back to work on Monday and walking in to see this:

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What awesome colleagues! I was so touched by their thoughtfulness.

Alright, so…Boston! I DID IT! 🙂 And it was one of the most moving, emotional, uplifting and joyful experiences of my life. Wow. It’s been nine days since the race but I still get chills thinking about it. Here goes…

“Boston Strong!”

That was the rallying cry that carried me 26.2 miles (yes, those 385 yards at the end definitely count!) from the town of Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston Street last week for the 118th Boston Marathon.

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The burning pain in my quads has eased somewhat, and going up and down stairs doesn’t present the same insurmountable challenge as it did last week, but the one thing that will never fade are my memories of that day.

The bus ride to the start in Hopkinton, eight towns away from Boston, was filled with nervous chatter amongst runners as we swapped hometowns, horror stories from training and hopes for the looming race.

But as the bus kept going…and going…and the miles started to add up, we fell into a tense, ominous silence. You mean, the only way we’d be getting back to the city would be by our own legs? Were we insane?

Insanity is often a trait you’ll hear attributed to runners.

But you’ll also hear the words determination and resilience. One year after the tragic terrorist attack that claimed four innocent lives and wounded hundreds of runners, spectators and volunteers, we were back and ready to run.

Eager to help prove that the city could get back on its feet, pick itself up from the dust and desolation of last April’s senseless violence and run once more.

Boston Strong.

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Speaking with returning runners, I heard how things were different this year. There was an increased security presence everywhere you looked – from the helicopters circling overhead to the military police lining the course. Security checkpoints made sure every runner had a visible race bib and no one was carrying backpacks, bags or large water bottles. Despite the minor inconveniences, the security measures never felt obtrusive and certainly did nothing to dampen the spirit of the day.

And boy, that spirit!

Over one million spectators squeezed together along the route, often four or five rows deep, cheering and waving signs that ranged from the inspiring (When your legs hurt, run with your heart) to the hilarious (Run like someone called you a jogger).

Babies in their parents’ arms held out tiny palms for high fives while kids bounced up and down on a row of 20 mini-trampolines at one point. A raucous group of fraternity members offered pints of beer and a selection of doughnuts for those lucky runners blessed with iron stomachs (I stuck to Gu, that nasty carbohydrate gel in a squeeze tube that tastes as appetizing as its name sounds).

Other spectators handed out water bottles, cold sponges, orange slices and bananas, licorice, bandaids and hair elastics. Their thoughtfulness and encouragement was touching, inspiring and very much appreciated.

And in typical Boston sports-mad fashion, there were numerous signs along the way with the updated Red Sox-Orioles score (too bad the Sox weren’t as lucky as the Bruins in ousting their competition).

At the two-mile mark, I ran past one of the first milestone markers on the course – TJ’s, a biker bar that was blasting Springsteen while motorcycle enthusiasts sat on their bikes and watched us go by with hearty cheers.

Another highlight of the course was reaching the halfway point at Wellesley College. This is the infamous “Screech Tunnel” – a mile-long stretch of screaming undergraduates you hear two miles before you actually run the gauntlet. Be prepared to pause for a couple quick kisses on the cheek from the students! The students were waving signs that read “Kiss me -” – I’m Italian/Irish/Indonesian/etc, I’ve been up since 4 a.m. #rower, I’m in med school, I brushed my teeth (did you?), I do netflix marathons, I give full consent, I swing both ways, I have a face…what seemed like hundreds of hilarious variations.

I didn’t stop laughing the entire mile. At the end of it, I looked over at the guy who was running beside me (a double amputee with two blades for feet!) and we grinned at each other. “That was the best mile ever!” we said at the same time, and, still laughing, kept on running.

Then there was the legendary Heartbreak Hill, the fifth and final hill in an excruciating, quad-destroying stretch of climbs from Mile 17.5 to Mile 21.

Honestly?

I have to say the hills I run in Cambridge and even in Norfolk County are a lot tougher and steeper, but maybe that’s because when I run – or more accurately, trudge – up the hills here there are no cheering spectators spurring me on! But I was actually really grateful that I never hit the wall or bonked. My leg started up with what’s become the normal shooting pain at kilometer 10 (ugh…please let this not be my new normal!) and kilometers 10-20 were probably the hardest mentally as I got used to running in pain. But Wellesley College at kilometer 21 provided me with an extra boost of energy, and seriously – how could I complain or even think about quitting when I was running next to people with one leg, no legs, in wheelchairs, on crutches, pregnant or in worse pain than I was in?

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When I say the crowds carried me from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, I truly mean that. I could not have done it without the cheers and support of the incredible spectators and volunteers.

Overall, I felt very positive and upbeat the whole run. Every mile marker I passed after 28 kilometers was a mini victory for me, because 28km was the longest run I got in this year before I pulled my groin, and I hadn’t ran more than 28 in a year. But my thoughts were mainly on the people around me – I wasn’t interested in thinking about myself or my leg. I just wanted to soak up the whole experience, and try as hard as I could not to miss a thing. I wanted to thank as many people as possible too, and give as many high fives as I could!

When I glimpsed the famous Citgo sign looming over the city, I knew we were getting close and I picked up my pace. My plan had been to run as conservatively as possible (basically the opposite approach of Shalane Flanagan, whose bold, inspired, aggressive pace-setting was partly responsible for Rita Jeptoo’s record-breaking 2:18 win!) but as I neared the end, I knew I could pick up my pace and stretch out my legs a bit. I also knew I’d be finishing awfully close to the four hour mark, and I thought it would be awesome if I could run a sub-four. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in under four hours – my time was 4:03:23, but I’m still very happy with it. My goal for the day was to finish the race, and I managed to do it running the whole way and, more importantly, finishing strong and with a smile on my face. That’s what makes me happy and proud.

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There were a couple things that helped me get through those last few miles. Firstly, just the sheer excitement of knowing I was approaching the finish line and getting into Boston proper was a HUGE boost. I also broke down each mile by thinking “this is only four laps of the track” – not long at all! Another way I broke down the miles was by dedicating the final four to a person or people, and running “for” them. Mile 22 was for Martin Richard, the eight-year-old who was killed in last year’s attack. Mile 23 was for John and Hazel Race, philanthropists from Norfolk County who did so much for the community, particularly for raising awareness of Alzheimer’s. John Race died on Good Friday, and all I could think about was how the married couple, madly in love since meeting in a strawberry field in the 1950s, were finally reunited (Hazel passed away a few years ago). Mile 24 was for my family – my mom, dad, brother and sister. Mile 25 was for me – I know that sounds really egoistic and self-congratulatory, but I meant more like thinking back on how much I had wanted this and the miles I had logged over the years as a runner that helped bring me here. And Mile 26? I don’t think I was capable of thinking of anything at that point! I just ran! I remember glimpsing a flash of red and white out of the corner of my eye and then I heard my name – my parents and brother (bravely) wore their Red Wings jerseys the day after the Bruins beat them! It made them easy to spot though in a sea of Boston colours!

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Making that historic left turn onto Boylston Street, in a marathon-fueled daze with the dim roar of the crowds in my ears, will forever remain one of the most surreal moments of my life. All I could think of were the famous footsteps I was following in – from Meb to Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar to Kathrine Switzer. So inspiring!

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But my road to Boston began long before I toed up at the start with 36,000 other runners from around the world.

I couldn’t have made it to that start line – not to mention the euphoric, thank-goodness-it’s-over finish – without the help and support of so many people.

Thank you to the random stranger who offered me a ride as I ran along Blueline Road in the middle of a snowstorm with 90 km/hour winds in January. Trust me, I really wanted to take you up on that offer, but my training plan had other ideas.

Thank you to the lifeguards and patrons at the Annaleise Carr Aquatic Centre, who encouraged me and cheered me on after a pulled groin forced me to train in the pool instead of on the roads.

Thank you to the talented runners and athletes in Norfolk and around the world who provided me with constant inspiration and motivation (ESPECIALLY Team Hoyt!)

Thank you to the physiotherapists and staff at Great Lakes Physiotherapy for setting me on the road to recovery.

Thank you to my incredible colleagues at the Norfolk News and my fellow journalists around the county for your understanding, interest and willingness to listen to me gripe about running in a polar vortex.

Thank you to the friends who asked me how training was going, encouraged me, looked up treatment ideas for pulled groins and went running with me (especially Rhea, Kelly and Blair).

And the BIGGEST thank you to my parents. I never would have become a runner if it hadn’t been for my mum’s example. And I would never have made it to Boston without the two of them supporting me in every way possible. They are the best parents in the world, hands down, because they see their children have dreams and they help us achieve them.

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One sign I glimpsed everywhere during the marathon last week read: We all run Boston. We run together.

It’s true. No one could do it alone.

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Pressure is a privilege

In my last post, I mentioned the podcast Runner Academy with Matt Johnson. The past three episodes have all had to do with the Boston Marathon, leading up to the big day on April 21. The most recent podcast features an interview with Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray, and it. was. fantastic.

One of the things he said during the interview really stuck out for me: pressure is a privilege. The pressure, fears, jitters and worries you feel as race day approaches are emotions you’re lucky to feel, whether you’re feeling pressure to PR, BQ or just cross that finish line in one piece.

It’s a privilege to have qualified. It’s a privilege to have been healthy enough to train and get to Hopkinton and to have put in all those hours of hard work over the winter.

It’s a privilege to have family members, friends and colleagues who supported your training, who understood why you couldn’t make an event or had to readjust a time because “today’s my long run” (although there may have been a few eyerolls here and there). It’s a privilege to have the time and resources to train and then travel to Boston for the race, to be able to take off work and to have your company’s health benefits cover your physiotherapy sessions.

It’s a privilege to be able to afford new running shoes, gels, gus and protein powders, technical fabric clothing, foam rollers and even those special bandaids for blood blisters and black toenails. It’s a privilege to get to come back to a warm house and hot shower after a long, cold run during the infamous polar vortex.

It’s a privilege to be able to obsess about something as inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, as running. It’s a privilege to run not because you’re being chased, or because you want to go to school and the nearest school is 20 miles away, but simply because…you can. Because it’s fun.

Most importantly, it’s simply a privilege to run. To have the legs and the health to line up with 36,000 other runners on April 21 and celebrate this sport, this city, this race.

Am I feeling the pressure, less than two weeks out, to run the perfect race of my dreams? Oh, definitely.

But I’m also feeling pretty damn lucky.

Two weeks to go, and time to taper?

I’m writing this at quarter after 5 on April 7. In two weeks time, I will (hopefully, please God) have crossed the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon. Hard to believe it’s so soon!

That means everyone planning on racing is now in taper mode (for a marathon, it traditionally starts three weeks out from race day), when you seriously dial back your running distance and focus on getting physically and mentally ready to run 42.2 km. That usually involves lots of stretching, gentle cross-training, shorter, less intense runs and, of course, the infamous carbo-loading.

The problem is that this go-around, I don’t really feel like I have anything to taper from. My last run was February 27, so I’ve kind of already been tapering for the past six weeks.

The taper period is already notorious for being a very difficult time mentally for many runners. I was listening to a taper-themed episode on the fantastic Runner Academy podcast with Matt Johnson, who said a runner’s biggest enemy during the taper is him or herself. Your mind starts playing games with you, and you become convinced you haven’t trained nearly enough. You’re still consuming lots of calories, mainly in the form of carbohydrates (although there are interesting arguments for fat-loading as a way to gain some extra seconds), but because your workouts are reduced significantly, you may put on two or three pounds, so you could feel a little sluggish, bloated or heavy during the taper period (although you will NEED that extra weight and energy from that glucose storing on race day so don’t panic!). You also have a lot more free time now that your days aren’t filled up with 3 hour runs, so that translates to a lot more time to worry!

But the most important thing to remember is that by this point, what’s done is done. Getting in one last long run or squeezing in more intense speed workouts isn’t going to help you – it will only increase the possibility of injury or fatigue. You want to show up on race day with well-rested legs that are ready to run.

Last year I felt fairly good throughout my taper leading up to the Gettysburg North and South marathon. I had followed my training schedule perfectly and felt confident and prepared. My only mistake was in checking out a bunch of running magazines from the library and reading all their marathon advice articles, because that seriously messed with my head and I started second-guessing myself. My advice would be to stay away from the mags and don’t compare yourself to, say, Kara Goucher’s taper plan.

This year is completely different because of the injury so I’m not really sure how to approach tapering. Do I decrease my pool and cycle workouts? Do I decrease both time and intensity, or just intensity? Is there anything else I can do?

I don’t think very many people read this blog, which is fine – it’s more of a personal log, I suppose, but if anyone out there reading this has advice on how to taper when you’re injured, I’d love to hear it!

 

Running update: Yesterday I went to the track again and did five rounds of 2 km slow jog with 400 m walking intervals between each round. I guess technically that means I ran 10 km, but not all at once because of the interspersed walking, and my running was very, very slow. It seemed to work though – my leg felt the strain, but it wasn’t serious enough pain to affect my gait (maybe a level 3.5 on a scale of 0-10).

I’m debating right now if this should be my strategy for Boston, because the “run 2km, walk 400 m” was manageable and today, although both my legs are sore, I have no pain and was fine walking to work this morning, although the rest of today is definitely a total rest day. Tomorrow I’ll go back to the track and maybe experiment with a different ratio of run:walk.

Back on the track

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I am verrrrrrry slowly getting back into running. On Monday I ran 1 minute, walked 1 minute for 20 minutes and cut it off there. My doctor recommended running on a treadmill but since I don’t have access to one here, I just stuck to the flat residential streets around my neighbourhood.

On Wednesday I had the brilliant idea of biking over to the high school track in the evening, which ended up being deserted save for a surprisingly well-behaved off-leash dog who didn’t chase after me (good, because at the pace I was going, he would have had no problem catching me!).

Soft, flat track…sunshine…bliss. I ran one lap, walked one lap for five intervals, then ran 2 laps consecutively at the end (PAIN FREE!!!). I was so tempted to keep running, but I don’t want to push my luck so I stopped, did some gentle lunges to stretch out the quad and groin, then biked home and loaded up on some protein (tuna mixed with Greek yogurt on pita bread = 42 grams of protein!). I have no idea if eating more protein = strengthening my poor injured muscle, but in my non-sciency brain it makes sense, so I’m going to keep doing it.

The best part about the run last night was that I actually fell back into my normal stride. At first, I was running very, very slowly and barely picking my feet off the ground. It was more of a shuffle than anything, and my feet felt awkward and clumsy and I was overly conscious of how I was running. But by the last two laps, I felt confident and strong enough to lengthen my stride and settle into a more normal, unconscious gait. I have to admit, it felt goooood. At one point I even spread out my arms and tilted my head up to look at the brilliant blue sky and feel the warm sun on my face – I felt like I was flying! I’ve missed running so much!!