I DID IT. 26.2 miles.
I got 5 hours of sleep Sunday night, awoke without an alarm, and stuffed my face with a banana, supplements, and every ounce of water I could find. After an anxious drive to Hopkinton, I was bummed because by the time I battled my way against the flow of runner-traffic to get to Athlete’s Village, my coach was no longer there. I desperately needed his encouragement.
My spirits were low, but upon seeing staff from my charity and taking in what a beautiful day we’d been granted, I knew that it would be a great day. So I spent the next hour in the company of my teammates, chit-chatting, applying sunscreen, the smell of bengay potent in the air, and taking turns writing names and phrases on extremeties with a black marker. I wrote “Go Sox!” on my right shoulder (which people yelled at me when they couldn’t pronounce my name). I also paid tribute to lost loved ones on my back:
By the time we’d made our way to the starting line, I was ready. No more nerves. It was my race now.
Leading up to this moment at the starting line, I’d worried mostly about the pain I knew I would feel toward the end. For those of you who read my last long-run entry, 21 miles. A little blood. Some sweat. A lotta tears. , you know what I’m talking about. I’d spent the last 7 miles of that 21-mile run stopping to massage my legs. If I’d felt it then, I was sure to feel it during the marathon, and that worried me. It also worried me that I finished 21 miles in 5 hours because that estimated my finish to be over 6 hours. The Boston Marathon time limit IS 6 hours. I didn’t want to run down empty streets. I wanted to finish. With a medal. And with the finish line still there.
I went against the advice of most people and made some last minute changes before Marathon Day. I tried some supplements (magnesium, potassium, and electrolyte stamina), I changed my bulky fuel belt to something lighter, I chose not to carry water like I always did in training, and I changed my snacks; all things I really shouldn’t have done two days before the marathon. But I hoped, more than knew, that these changes would work.
In my first 10K, people were passing me left and right. My motto? If I don’t feel like I am going uncomfortably slow in the beginning, then I am not going slow enough. It turns out, in fact, that my average pace for the first half was around 11:30/mile, which is still 1 min/mile faster than I usually go. It’s true what they say: The crowd is an unbelievable motivator and I found myself so happy, high-fiving the little kids along the way. It also seemed that my changes were working, because I kept that pace through mile 17 without a problem…and more importantly without cramping.
I knew I was having a good day when I reached the half-marathon mark with no signs of fatigue. I was looking forward to seeing Coach Rick at mile 15, because I knew he would be proud. When I got there, he immediately said, “Sheree. I have never seen you looking this strong 15 miles in. I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon!” Those words made me more confident than ever. I really was having a spectacular run.
I owed a lot of this to the changes I’d made:
- I left the kitchen sink at home and carried a lightweight fuel belt that allowed me to keep better posture and form.
- The supplements I took worked, because I had no cramps at all until mile 22, and when I had them, they were nowhere near the same magnitude as in training.
- I took Gu early BEFORE I needed it. Preventative thinking helped keep me from ever hitting a wall.
- Carrying gatorade on my person allowed me to constantly be sipping electrolytes, which also contributed to less cramping. And the little hand-held, no-grip bottle was brilliant, because it helped keep the weight off my waist.
- Taking water only at the stops gave me something to look forward to and helped to prevent over-hydrating.
All of these measures created an unusually positive experience for me in this marathon. I was actually on pace to finish at 5 hours until I hit Heartbreak Hill and tweaked my achilles. The last 5 miles through Brookline and Boston took me much longer on average to complete. But what helped me through the last difficult stretch was to soak in the experience.
Running a marathon is something I will always treasure. The people I met en route from Hopkinton to Boston were some of the most inspiring folks I’d ever met. I started behind this man:
I ran the bulk of the distance beside a biggest loser contestant who’d lost 202 lbs. I kept switching leads back and forth with a woman who was a breast cancer survivor. Most people who run a marathon for time miss out on these things. They miss out on the inspiration and the heart that comes from people who train for bigger purposes. But I didn’t, and that’s what helped carry me that last 5 miles.
I thought of the kids that were benefitting from my fundraising efforts, and surged forward. I watched sadly as some of the runners who’d sprinted past me in the beginning came to a complete halt at the medic tents. I watched a complete stranger slow his pace to help someone he didn’t even know make it up Heartbreak Hill. I listened as people shouted my name in support when I was clearly losing it in the last 2 miles. “You got this, Sheree. You are less than 2 miles away from the finish.” And “Looking good, Sheree. You go girl!” And my favorite, “Sheree, you have to finish. The red sox won!!”
And I did finish. 5 hours 20 minutes 19 seconds, at a 12:13/mile pace, and proud as ever.