Race: Boilermaker 15K
Place: Utica, New York
Date: July 14, 2013
When I started running over three years ago, I never dreamed of where my feet would end up taking me. Honestly. That’s the brilliant thing about this sport. You can participate in any event…anywhere you may be traveling through. Or…in this case…there may be a particular event that you are just dying to run because you have heard so much about it. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Last year, I had wanted to register for the Boilermaker 15K after hearing my friend, Jean, talk about it with me. She was doing the 5K race that year and I was really wanting to get in that 15K race. However, it conflicted with another event I was attending, so I didn’t get to run it last year. However, I was determined to make it into the running in 2013. So, Jean texted me one day to alert me that registration would be opening. So the moment it did…you better believe I was online and paying my $40 registration fee. Of course, now logistics of how to get from Louisville, Kentucky to Utica, New York needed to be considered…but I had time for that. The important thing was…I was in! Good thing too, because it sold out fast.
This past weekend was the big event. The Boilermaker is run every second Sunday in July…and it has been that way since the race first began in 1976. This particular race was established by Earle C. Reed, who was looking for a way to give back to the community that had supported his family business. The race was his answer. It began with a humble 800 runners and a budget of $750. But now, over thirty years later, The Boilermaker 15K Road Race is now the largest 15K in the nation with more than 10,000 runners. Each year, this particular race attracts elite runners from all over the world, Olympians, and world record holders. It’s kind of a BIG deal. In addition to the star power this 15K race draws, the Boilermaker 15K is also ranked as the most competitive 15K in the world. What other accolades does this race have? Plenty! The Road Runners Club of America has ranked it as one of the Top 20 Favorite Road Races in the country. Runner’s World Magazine rated the Boilermaker as one of the Top 100 Road Races in the country. USA Track and Field has named it one of the 30 Largest Road Races in the country.
And…after getting off work on Friday and driving up to Columbus, Ohio for the night…Cathy, Jenn and I piled into my car and we made the over 8 hour drive from Columbus, Ohio to Utica, New York on Saturday. We headed out early, with hopes of hitting Jean’s apartment by 1 p.m. Unfortunately…that didn’t happen, and we hit there about an hour later than planned. But we were there. And I was reunited with friends I hadn’t seen since high school…Jean and Jen!! Jen drove all the way up to Utica just to see me and hang out and I was thrilled!! It was like these 15 years had never passed. At all. And Cathy and Jenn fit right in with the group. So it was awesome. As we were all piling into Jean’s car to hit up the race expo so I could pick up my packet and goodie bag, it all dawned on me…
I finally made it to Utica, New York for the annual running of The Boilermaker 15K.
The race expo was actually more substantial than I expected. In fact, it was one of the better organized and better run expos I have attended. The expo itself was held at Mohawk Valley Community College. Inside the gymnasium was where we needed to be for me to get my race bib. I accidentally took the long way around the tables in the center and ended up near where I started in order to get in line for my number. It was all done by alphabet…and it turned out my name was the last name in a stack. My bib, however, was missing. After some hunting, they found it in the next pile over and handed it over to me. With number and some safety pins in hand, we were now heading out toward the expo part, where I would receive my goodie bag and could hit up any vendor shops if I wanted.
The line for the goodie bags went quickly, and soon I was being handed my clear bag with a pint glass in it and some race information. My bib number and pins were tucked into the bag and I was out and moving now to do some browsing of the vendors. I hadn’t actually intended to purchase anything…but when I spotted the compression sleeves in the colors I couldn’t find at my local running store…all bets were off. And I was now a little poorer. And when Cathy spotted BondiBand…well…we all know what happens when BondiBand is in the picture. Needless to say, I picked up three new BondiBands, but none of them would be worn during the race the following day.
After that…we needed to get some food and then head back to Jean’s. We ate, we socialized, and we finally decided it was time to get some sleep. The race kicked off at 8:00 a.m. and I needed to be at the start line prior to that, which also involved me hopping onto a shuttle bus from the finish line area to take to the start line. So, one busy morning…and four ladies to cycle through two bathrooms. We saw Jen off, as she was heading home and would catch up with me on Sunday afternoon when I detoured through the town where I grew up. The futon was assembled, the air mattress was inflated. And after a little foam rolling and some seal jacks (compliments of Jean!), we were ready to get some rest.
As is typical with any night before the race, I didn’t sleep well. Despite having an alarm set, I would wake up every couple of hours. I think subconsciously I worry that my alarm won’t go off and that I’ll be late or miss a race. This happens for every race, no matter how big or small. But…my alarm on my cell phone did go off…at 4:30 a.m. I turned it off and quietly switched to my Weather Channel app to check the temperature. This would determine what I ended up wearing to this particular race.
Originally, the weather had been calling for high 60s. But it was already 77 degrees out and the humidity was up to 80%. Don’t even get me started on the dew point. So, with that in mind…I grabbed my bag that had my running gear in it and headed to the bathroom to change. With the high humidity, I opted to run in my running skirt (company sponsored), compression sleeves, and a simple bra top. Any more fabric would have been unbearable to me. Honestly. I put my hair up in my signature pigtails, adorning it with purple and orange hair extensions. And, as I saw the elevation map for this race, I chose an appropriate BondiBand from my collection at home…the one that said: “BEAT THE HILL!”
To top off everything else, I had new running shoes. You aren’t supposed to wear anything new to a race. I had tested them out in a 7 mile run on Friday morning, and wore them around all day Friday and Saturday in hopes of breaking them in. I had never run an actual race in these…so this would be a testament of their quality. My new shoes are the Pearl Izumi Women’s EM Road M3…and I loved them when I tried them on Saturday night. I’d now find out how much I loved them after actually racing in them. And not just any race. Nope. A humid, hot, and hilly 15K race. Talk about taking risks!
After I cycled out of the bathroom, Jenn was in next, then Cathy. Jean came downstairs and we all put something in our stomachs. Jean washed up some delicious strawberries for me, which I downed. Jenn and Cathy had some Cheerios. And Jean…I believe she ate a banana at home. I was taking a banana with me as about 40 minutes prior to any race, I eat a banana. It has never let me down yet. And with that time frame, it gives things time to settle and everything. The goal was to leave Jean’s apartment by 6 a.m. at the latest. We hit the road at 6:03 a.m. Close enough.
It was a short drive and it wasn’t too hard to find parking. We actually ended up parking near the building where Jean works. From there, we started to head toward the school buses that were being used to shuttle runners up to the start line. As the shuttles only ran to the start line until 7 a.m., this meant I needed to get on one immediately. So, even though it was still very early, I gave hugs to my girls and then departed…leaving them near the finish area. I was now on my way toward the start.
It was weird, actually, to be at the start of a race without my crew (Cathy & Co…usually Jenn or Heather, depending on the race!). There was a lot of action though. People were stretching. Some were picking up their packets. Some were doing some strides to get warmed up. Some were using the port-a-potties. Me…I walked away from the shuttle bus where we were dropped off and started toward where the race would be starting. I wanted to scope it out. Volunteers and runners…that’s all you saw here. No families or friends. It was just a totally different scenario than I am used to.
With the sun already relentlessly beating down at 7 a.m., I was hoping to find a bit of shade. But there was really none to be had. Thankfully, there were cups of water being handed out at a table not far from the start. After I did some stretching, I went to grab some water to keep hydrated. As I was finishing that up, I noticed a bright yellow shirt with the words BLUEMILE across the front of it. BlueMile is my favorite running store in the area. They have two stores in Indianapolis and two stores in Louisville. I tracked down the older gentleman wearing the shirt and asked him what store he was from. He said the Broad Ripple store. Ah…Broad Ripple. I went running with the Broad Ripple team the week before on Saturday morning. I know that store well. Anyway…I told him I was from the Highlands store in Louisville and we stood and talked. He asked where the official start was and I pointed toward the corner, where the start was just up a little hill from there.
I went back to stretching as the announcer came over the speaker system to give the run down of the history of the race. Not only how long it has been (literally) running, but also that this race boasts the most water stops. They weren’t kidding either. The Boilermaker 15K (9.3 miles) has over 20 water stations along the course. That’s awesome because today was definitely a day where hydration was going to be the key to having a good race. In addition to letting us know that we had over 20 aid stations along the way, the announcer told us that it was currently 80 degrees and the humidity was high and only going to get higher as the morning progressed. Fair warning. Adjust your race accordingly.
At this point I decided it was time to eat my banana, so I slowly ate that down as the announcements were repeated. I did a little more stretching and grabbed another small sip of water. Then the announcement came that the wheelchair racers and the elites should report to the starting line. After that, they began to announce the various color bibs. We were directed to make our way to the start area. And so…I stepped into the corrals. My bib was yellow and I was let into the corral at the bottom of the hill.
At 7:45 a.m., the wheelchair racers were sent off. And fifteen minutes later…my corral began to slowly slog forward toward the start line. It started as a walk. Then a job. Soon, we were all slowly finding a pace and crossing over the start line, taking on the beginning of The Boilermaker 15K.
The first half of this race is pretty much going uphill. Honestly. I am not kidding. This also does mean that the second half of the race, in theory, should seem easier. While you still have inclines in the second half, the majority of them hit early on in this race. For that, I am thankful, despite legs that feel heavy at first. Once I got moving, I found my stride. It didn’t take too long to do. I’m used to early morning runs when my muscles are still a little tight from resting…so this warm up actually felt natural to me.
Mile 1 starts you off with music. And crowd support. Hontestly, there were droves of people lining the roads, cheering for runners. At about .3 miles in, a guy standing on the front porch of his house shouts down, “You’re almost there! Just 9 miles to go!” It made me laugh. Gotta love crowds. Especially crowds that come to lift the spirits of the participants in the races. This just makes the race even more amazing.
Mile 2 is what the Boilermaker calls the International Mile. All along this mile, runners get to experience the sounds of different countries and cultures. I noticed different bands and dance groups, all representing different cultures from around the world. And, all along the way, all 192 flags of the United Nations’ member states were represented. It was an amazing second mile.
The heat was going up now, and I was making sure to utilize my fuel belt properly. I had 6 ounces of water and 6 ounces of Gatorade on me. And I was doing as my sports nutritionist had taught me when it came to hydration. Of course, the sips were smaller, because I wanted the fluids to last.
Miles 3 and 4 brought the steepest incline of the entire race. We were running through the golf courses of the area, and that meant hills. And these weren’t those quick hills you power up and say a word of congratulations to yourself when you reach the top and start down. No…these were the hills that are long and slow and they just never seem to stop going up. I rounded turns with these hills. I just kept telling myself to keep going. Keep on pushing. Get to the top!
And I did. And soon, the downhill portion was in front of me. I didn’t want to blitz the hill. That can cause injury and it can really wear out the legs. I was about halfway through the race and I wanted to make sure I had a strong finish at the end. Of course, with the humidity on the rise and the relentless heat…my pace was definitely being affected.
Thank goodness for the lovely people of Utica, New York. The streets were literally lined with spectators. This was their event and it seemed everyone from the region was out there and cheering. Some people with houses along the course came out with their hoses to spray water on the overheated runners. I took full advantage of these showers of cold water. And I thanked every single one of them that helped make the course a little less miserable on that hot day. Some residents came out with orange slices, or popsicles to cool off runners. It was just really great to see a town get so into a race.
That being said, by Mile 7 I was starting to fall victim to the rising mercury. The July heat and humidity in Upstate New York was brutal. My legs were beginning to feel heavy. The course was on another incline, so, I decided I would pop a GU pack and continue to press on. If I had to slow it down due to heat…so be it. Running smart and finishing was most important. I went in wanting to beat my last 15K time (The Hot Chocolate 15K in Columbus, Ohio), but that became less important. Crossing that finish line…no matter the time…was the goal.
The next two miles ticked off quickly, I felt. Perhaps finally getting around to fueling (I apologize to my sports nutritionist for not doing it after 30 minutes as I should have been) and reviving my body. But, soon, I was hitting the marker for Mile 9 and it was a downhill sprint toward the finish line.
I could see Cathy holding up the sign, and right next to her was Jenn and Jean. All three of them were just screaming at me to run, run, go, go…and I did. I just ran my heart out toward that finish line, crossing it, dripping in sweat and feeling like I had just been put through the wringer. But it felt good. And I was smiling. Yes…I was smiling.
I had no idea where to proceed from here. Normally Cathy would hurry over to find me and join me…but there was no way for my friends to head over to where I was standing. So, I began to make my way down the chute. First we were handed our Finisher’s pins (no medals here). They were also handing out fresh orange slices, cold water, and popcicles as we proceeded toward the After Party staging area. I finally noticed a sign for the Family Reunion Area. I figured that would be the best place for me to stand. Of course, then I got distracted by the Chobani truck and went to snag some free Greek yogurt (Blueberry, of course!). As I meandered over toward the Family Reunion Area, I turned around and there, in the sea of humanity behind me, I spotted MY SIGN! And there was Cathy…just searching for me.
I got air hugs (I was dripping with sweat still, despite downing two bottles of cold water), and then she told me to stand there and close my eyes. And with that, she pulled out the official Finisher’s Medal, which she purchased at the race expo the day before. I was so surprised. But she said I had totally earned the finisher’s medal…because I had a new 15K PR…not just according to my Garmin, but also according to Cathy. We went over to the merchandise area to see about getting me a t-shirt, but they didn’t have any in my size. I picked up a new magnet for my car and then we decided to go and find our way back to where Cathy left Jean and Jenn.
We found them without a problem, but Jean had held onto a set of keys for a friend who was also running. That friend was in the Family Reunion Area, so she needed to go and locate her. After that, we could move on back to Jean’s car, get back to her apartment, and I could finally shower. While Jean was gone, I went and did a very slow shake-out run, taking my mileage up to 10 miles that Sunday. And it felt good to keep moving. I finished up just a few minutes before Jean rejoined us.
And with that, we were leaving The Boilermaker 15K behind…making our way to Jean’s car. We made the drive back to her apartment and I went and got cleaned up and changed. And then, sadly, it was time to hop into the car and begin the long drive back toward Columbus, Ohio. It was hard to say goodbye to Jean. It had been ages since I had seen Jean and the time went by way too fast.
Of course, she said that she’ll be ready to run in the Boilermaker next year…so I think I need to come back, revisit it, and run it with her. It would certainly be a good time.
So…the official results of the Boilermaker 15K are that I finished with a new 15K PR of 1:12:14. That meant I shaved an entire minute off my last 15K time (which was done in cold weather, mind you). I was thrilled! I was 1127/11,371 finishers overall. Not too shabby!! In addition to that, I was 193/5379 female runners to cross the finish line. And finally, I was 19/828 in my age division. Super proud of these numbers.
And yes…I do want to come back and give this one another go. I now know what to expect and can train accordingly. I can see why this race is so popular. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it has the most amazing crowd the entire way. Utica welcomes these racers with open arms and really rolls out the red carpet for each participant. And I had one of the best times of my life. Yes…even in that heat.