Race: Boston Marathon
Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Date: April 20, 2015
“This is the story of how I died. Don’t worry, this is actually a very fun story…”
So…here is the preface to this. If you saw and read my previous post, you’ll know that I’m injured. Not because of over-training or pushing too hard or running too fast. This is all about body mechanics. A torn labrum in the hip is, actually, a very common injury in women in their thirties. And, for me, because I am active, this happened sooner rather than later. It just seemed to happen at the worst possible time. I have a tight lower back…which started the problem. I have short and tight hamstrings, which added to the problem. This was a cocktail for injury that had been building, then something finally gave. My anterior labrum tore. Small tear. But, mother of Meb…it hurts to move. Like, literally move.
But I’ve never been good at timing things.
Anyway…the basic gist of the weeks leading up to Boston is…I did no running from early February. In fact…every bit of activity ceased due to lower back pain. Lower back pain soon became hip pain. And I immediately went to see the top sports orthopedic doctor in the area. He got me into physical therapy…where I was given stretches and even tried dry needling. Relief came and went and I found myself back in the doctor’s office with a week to go to Boston. He sent me in for an MRI. NOT an experience I ever want to have again. That was the Tuesday leading into Marathon Monday. Wednesday morning and the rushed results were brought up and delivered to me in my doctor’s office…torn labrum. SUCK. I had him scrambling to find something for my tears. He gave me a paper towel. We discussed some options for healing and he said…I could TRY to walk/run Boston. He sent me for a Cortisone shot and wished me luck. That night I had the most epic meltdown ever. I have never cried so hard and so long in my life. There was no calming me down. I dreamed of the day I’d run in the Boston Marathon, and while I could still participate, it wasn’t going to be the experience I envisioned. And I was struggling with accepting that. I was broken. Mentally and physically…shattered.
“I learned, for example, that running injuries can be caused by being female, being male, being old, being young, pronating too much, pronating too little, training too much, and training too little.” ~Amby Burfoot in The Top 10 Laws of Injury Prevention
Thursday, the Cortisone shot from the day before was causing more pain than anything, but that soon subsided. Thank God, because I was certain something was wrong. I got through work, went to a soccer match, then came home and packed things up for Boston. Late bedtime…then into work…then off to the airport. Boston bound.
We got in late in the evening and stayed the night at a hotel near the airport. My friend Heather joined Cathy and I in the hours before midnight, having caught a late flight out. We got a few hours of sleep and in the morning, got up to head to our actual hotel in downtown Boston, get some coffee, and get to the race expo.
Sorry…I don’t function without my coffee. And the Starbucks on Tremont was giving out free tall coffees to any Boston Marathon runners. So for Saturday and Sunday, I got a free Blonde Roast coffee. Thanks, Starbucks!
We hopped the T to head to the John B. Hynes Convention Center, where the race expo and packet pickup were being held. This was the most organized expo I have ever been to. Seriously. Our bags were checked when we stepped into the center itself, and then we followed the directions of the volunteers and the signs toward where I would pick up my race packet. I had my Runner’s Passport (which came in the mail) with me and I went up to my designated number area to receive my race bib. Now, I wasn’t actually allowed to post the bib itself on social media because last year people swiped bibs that were posted and ran with them. Seriously. So, we took pictures, but nothing went up. After that, I went to get my race packet (which had LOTS of goodies and my shirt inside) and then we headed down to the expo.
The official merch was the first area you are shuttled through. All the Adidas goodness (I love Adidas!) you could ever want. I already had purchased (so I would be guaranteed to have my size) my jacket, but I picked up a little (okay…a lot) more, and also a few things for some friends. So…I have a lot of Boston merchandise. But this might be my only Boston. This was one expensive trip and marathon to do…and that was another thing tugging on my heartstrings…all this money and I couldn’t even perform the race the way I wanted. Life…is not fair at times. But, I was here to make the most of it. With those purchases made, my friends and I ventured further into the expo. I round one corner and immediately see familiar faces – Dawn & Matthew from my running group. Matthew was running too and we were in the same corral and wave too. But he was there to run it and I was there to…survive it. Definitely not the plan we had going into this. We took pictures and talked and eventually parted ways to check out the different booths, merchandise, and expo stuff. We finished up at the expo and took the stroll down to the actual Finish Line on Boylston Street. That…gave me chills and sent my heart fluttering. I touched the line. I sat on it. I goofed around a bit, hoping that the way I was currently feeling would hold through Monday afternoon. After we wrapped that up, dropped by Trader Joe’s for some water and snacks, then strolled back to the hotel to drop things off. Our room was ready now, so we got our key and ventured up and…took a load off. My friend Jenn had landed in Boston at this point and was grabbing a bite to eat before joining us at the hotel. This meant…time to relax for a little bit.
When she arrived, I left to go and bring her up to the room. We let her get settled and rest for a few moments before getting our stuff together and embarking on a Boston adventure. This meant, we took a stroll. Through Boston Common, down some streets, over to the water, up through neighborhoods…until we got to a T stop and hopped it to go out to visit MIT. From MIT…on to Harvard. And that night, I was meeting up with a my best friend from my childhood…the girl I met the day I moved to Big Flats, NY…Lydia…who worked and lived in Boston now. We were hitting up John Harvard’s Pub & Grill for dinner and a lot of catching up. I hadn’t seen her since high school. It was a lot of fun catching up over dinner (I had a beet salad, for the record!), before we decided to stroll through Cambridge for awhile. We ended the evening talking over coffee at a local coffee house until last call. Then, we parted ways and headed back to the hotel to cycle four girls through the shower. I think I finally got to bed around 12:30 a.m. And I had an early morning alarm set.
Why? Because I needed to get back to the expo. I discovered that Sunday morning is the best time to go. It is deserted. We all had a variety of missions to accomplish at the expo, so we split up. And…I ran into Geri and Dan from my running group. I hadn’t seen them in a very long time and we talked and I was told not to hurt myself…more. HA. We snapped a picture and went on our different ways for the day. After we polished off the expo for a second time, we hopped the T back to the hotel to leave things in the room. And then…we were hitting up Boston by doing the Freedom Trail. I know…you’re supposed to rest your legs the day before the race, but…I was here to see Boston. And this was a great way to do it! We stopped into church yards, churches, saw the site of the Boston Massacre, and so much more. We grabbed lunch at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, each scattering to get whatever sounded good to us. I got a salad (again), Heather got a prime rib sandwich, Cathy got a bread bowl of clam chowder, and Jenn got lobster bisque. We ate, then did some more shopping and site seeing, before winding our way out to Beacon Hill. Here, it was still too early for dinner (in my book), so we strolled around and ended up stopping into three different local chocolate shops and making purchases from each. Chocolate score! It was very spontaneous of us and very fun. We then made our way back to our dinner destination. A very tiny place called Upper Crust Pizza (which came highly recommended by two locals I know), due to the fact that they have gluten-free pizzas.
Cathy and I were prepared for what to order when we got here. We got down a menu for Jenn & Heather in case they wanted to split a pizza…but they ended up each doing 2 slices each. Cathy and I, however, ordered one of their signature pies…The Charles Street, which is described as “a local favorite combining portabella mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and fresh garlic.” We asked them to go light on the cheese. It was awesome. And Cathy said the gluten-free crust (which I could tell was white rice flour based) was better than the regular crust. It was just what this marathoner needed the night before the run. After that, back to the hotel for showers, some pre-race night prep and then…lots of chocolate.
We settled in a bit earlier this time, but I was pretty restless the entire night. Very little sleep. I don’t think I was alone. While the rest of my room dozed…I tossed and turned and went over things in my head. Sleep would have been nice. When my alarm went off, I was the first up and into the bathroom…time to get dressed for race day.
So, let me now preface this by saying, when I packed for Boston…the weather reports were saying it was going to be about 50 degrees at the start line. After I arrived in Boston, the forecast began to change…and change some more. We were now looking at 42 degrees at the start with 16-20 mph winds and…yep…100% chance of rain. Needless to say, I actually forgot the shirt I was going to wear to this marathon at home. Literally…it was still hanging in my closet. I also had nothing to wear to the start line to toss. I realized that when I was packing…so I ended up bringing one of my warm blankets from home and wrapping that around me for the 2-3 hour wait at the Athlete Village. What I ended up wearing was was my Marathon Maniacs singlet and some arm warmers. That was going to have to do. I mean, I could have bought something to wear from a running store, but I hate not testing my clothing out on runs. No chafing allowed. Running skirt, compression sleeves, toe socks, and my Newtons. I put my hair in pigtails, but had to buy them under a hat, with the impending rain. I hate running in hats…so I was not a happy girl.
Cathy, Heather, and Jenn all took turns in the bathroom and I was a complete spaz, trying to get everything else in order to head to the buses to take me to Hopkinton and the start line. I had made arrangements with my friends Matthew and Jodie to meet them at the Starbucks across from Boston Common (the bus loading spot) the day before. When I had everything on, including the throw-away gloves with bear head mitten tops (a last minute CVS purchase), we all headed out. I was carrying my banana and cereal (because I didn’t want to eat too early), and had my fuel belt stocked with GU and my water and Nuun. We stepped out of the hotel and into the chilly, windy morning. And we headed for Starbucks.
I spotted Jodie the minute I stepped inside and we gave each other huge hugs. Matthew was still not around. We waited for as long as we dared, but we had a narrow window for our corral’s bus time and we didn’t want to miss it. I texted Matthew to say we were heading for the buses, and then handed off my phone to Cathy. They walked us over to Boston Common, to the security check point. We gave hugs all around and then Jodie and I stepped on in. And we ran into Matthew. HA! Perfect. We headed past most of the bus loading docks because those were filling fast. We just kept going down further and further until we hit a shorter line. And that was our shuttle. We stepped inside, took seats near the back, and settled in for the ride. As the bus pulled away, we spotted Cathy and the rest standing on the side of the road holding up a sign that read: “RUN LIKE SOMEONE IS SHOUTING GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS!” FUNNY! A lot of people got a kick out of it. I waved…and the journey began.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” ~Mark Twain
It felt like the longest bus ride of my life. Matthew and I talked. Jodie and I talked. We mostly looked out the windows and anticipated our arrival at Hopkinton. Nerves were high. Excitement was high. And for me, I was trying to figure out how I could do this race. It wasn’t going to be pretty. When I got the last-minute word that I could run/walk it…I put it out there that I’d love to have some company on the journey. So many people said they weren’t running this one for time…but for the experience. No one stepped up to take me up on the offer, and I don’t blame them. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s time, expectations, or experience. But all those times I smiled and said, “No…I don’t want/need/…”…that voice inside my head was pleading, “Please…someone get me through this…someone…say you’ll stick it out with me.”
Anyway…we disembarked at Hopkinton and made our way into the Athlete’s Village. It was a city of tents and small vendor stations for Gatorade, bagels, and the like. Unlike NYC, this time, I had my banana with me and the rest of my cereal to polish off. I ate some of it on the bus there. Timing is key. And I also needed to take my Mobic for my pain (I know…this is not a good idea, but it was necessary!). Matthew, Jodie and I immediately got into the lines for the port-a-potties. We met some great people behind us and chatted with them for awhile. We took our turns and then went and found shelter under one of the tents to get off our feet and just try to wrap our head around the experience. The tents were alive with chatter and they had their phones. I was wrapped up in my blanket and poncho, huddled in to keep warm. It was a very breezy morning and I was really regretting my “suck it up, cupcake!” attitude with the start line weather and wishing I had some sleeves on my shirt. The red corral (or the one that goes off with the elites) was already being loaded up. I waited until about 30 minutes before we’d have to be in the corrals to eat my banana. Then, after sitting for a bit more, trying not to tighten up from shivering, the three of us heard the white bibs were being put in their corrals all the way through Wave 8. We were Wave 8. We got up…and we headed that way.
My heart was pounding as we stepped through the different checkpoints with the volunteers. The Mylar cape I had made out of the wrap they gave us to help keep warm at start village was wrapped tightly around my legs. My blanket and poncho adorned my upper half. I was keeping it all in place until 5 minutes before leaving. And I did. Matthew branched off to go find a bathroom again and Jodie and I continued on. We found a spot in the crowd and stood there and shivered, joking around, checking our shoes, and just mentally preparing ourselves. I knew Jodie was going to kill it. She’d been doing amazing things in her training. And she’s super fast. Hell, she qualified for Boston running a marathon in rain, thunder, lightning, and hail. YES. HAIL! She was badass and this race had nothing on her. We finally convinced ourselves to ditch our warm gear…tucking the clothing and blankets and poncho into the bags for donation or handing them off to volunteers. The Mylar went next. And soon, we were shivering with the rest of them.
Our wave was sent off and for the first 1/4 mile, I hung with Jodie. The first part of Boston is downhill and she was trying not to go out too fast. I finally let her go and settled into a pace I thought I could maintain for a little while. Not going to lie, each step was painful, but I could tolerate it. Matthew caught up to me before I got through the first mile. He said, “Well, Karen…we finally got to run a marathon together.” I laughed and told him to enjoy his run. Everyone would be smoking me this time. I soon lost him in the crowd ahead. And then…there was me.
I actually maintained a decent pace (not great…but under the circumstances) for the first 10K. After I hit that though, I started needing to incorporate short walks in with the running. I didn’t want to…but I needed to. I have a torn labrum in the hip…I was hurting. But…I still managed. I maintained small walk breaks with running through the next 5-6 miles. Each move was starting to hurt more and more. Thankfully, there was a great crowd, and I took all the cheering and high fives I could get. Around the halfway point is where you hit Wellesley College, and you can hear the screaming from about a half mile away. It’s insane. There is a reason that area is called “The Scream Tunnel.” The women of the college were out and cheering, just like the rest of Boston, despite the horrific weather and cold. There were a couple of women who had no tops on and were covering up with cardboard signs. Craziness. But that was such a rush. You read about it…but to experience it…that’s another thing. At about Mile 15, I slowed again, and this was where Tammy, from my running group, tapped me on the shoulder. She looked at me and asked, sincerely, how I was doing. I told her I was hurting. She asked if I needed anything and when I said no, she pulled out, glancing back a couple times at me. When I ran into her Annie May’s Sweet Cafe back in Louisville the following Wednesday, she gave me a hug and said she should have stayed with me.
Mile 16, I managed a small surge of speed, but after that, my body was done. It literally hurt to run. Walking was easier, so my walking became more of what I was doing. I had 10 miles to go…and I was determined to get through them. There were people who would call out to me from the sideline, my race number or “Maniac” for the Marathon Manaic singlet I was wearing. They said encouraging words to me. Wrapped an arm around me and told me to keep going. That I was doing good. Instead of tackling Heartbreak Hill…I had to walk the entire thing. My heart was breaking because I had dreamed of taking on these hills. I had a medic stop me around Mile 22 to ask what was wrong. I told him I was doing Boston on a torn labrum and that I was run walking. He asked if I was okay. I nodded. I was freezing. But I was moving. I had a few runners tell me FMP…Forward Moving Progress. Every little bit made me keep pushing because every synapse of my body wanted to quit. I am not a quitter, however. If I cross that starting line, I’m going to cross that finish line. Tears were pretty much part of the race outfit by this point. The rain was coming down. The cold, icy winds were blowing, and I was walking. WALKING…the Boston Marathon. My heart was breaking more than my body was at this point. I was so disappointed and angry…emotions were just bubbling over. Another medic on the course came to walk at my side and asked if I needed a Mylar blanket or anything. I shook my head and sobbed a “No.” I said, “I”m almost there…I just need to get there.” He wished me luck. I had two Marathon Maniacs come up to me and take pictures with me. They were just so uplifting at that moment. I was told I was adorable.
The mental struggle at this point was more than the physical pain. I’ve run with pain before. But knowing that time was ticking away and this race, this race which I had wanted so bad…which I earned…was slipping away…I was WALKING my Boston Marathon…it was more painful than the present limp in my stride. I saw the famous Citgo sign…and I knew I had just over a mile to go.
In my head, as I walked as fast as I could, I said that when I made the turn onto Hereford Street, I would run that hill and then run as much as I could manage…but RUN…down Boylston Street to that finish line. And when the time came, that’s what I did. Mind over matter. Finish this race strong, even though it was the most disappointing, hardest race I’ve attempted. I pushed up the hill on Hereford and rounded that corner to Boylston. I started down the stretch, immediately catching sight of Cathy, Heather and Jenn, who were SCREAMING for me. Not at me…but for me. I made a heart with my hands, and waved…and then focused on that finish line. It felt, literally, like it was 100 miles away. It hurt to make that dash, if you could call it that, but I didn’t care. I was running across that finish line. And when I crossed it, the tears just came down. The rain is a wonderful thing at moments like that. I was shivering. My lips were blue. I couldn’t feel my fingers at all. If my hip hadn’t hurt so much, I probably wouldn’t have known if my legs were still attached.
But I finished.
From there, I hobbled through the finishing area. It actually took a good long while to get to the place where the volunteers were handing out medals. I was shaking and shivering, but I bowed my head as someone slipped it around my neck. I didn’t ever want to take it off. A little further up was the Mylar poncho, which I was helped into. It did little to help. My body temperature was very low. I was then handed some water and a bag of recovery food stuff…and I hobbled along, following the signs that would take me to the family reunion area. It was a long, hard, cold walk. Along the way, I had about 5 volunteers stop me to ask if I wanted to get into a bus to get warm. I was suffering hypothermia at the finish line, but I was so focused on getting to where my friends were. I said I was going to meet my friends and get to my hotel. They let me go.
Sometimes, the best thing you can see after a race like that is smiling faces. I got hugs all around and congratulations. They told me how proud they were of me. And I just cried. I just…couldn’t stop. I wanted to get to the hotel, so we started to walk that way. I could barely walk, and Heather offered to carry me. I told her I’d be fine…I’d just be slow. I was beyond slow. It seemed to take forever and the rain and wind weren’t helping. But I got back to the hotel…freezing…sore as hell…and up to my room. I got my gear off, got out of wet clothes, and took an amazing hot shower. After changing and settling in on my bed…I answered texts and Facebook messages…I called my parents, who backed out of coming, and my sister. I tried very hard to let the accomplishment shine, not the disappointment I was feeling. I think I managed well enough.
We celebrated with cups of wine (Heather & I went high class with paper cups!) and a piece of chocolate. We toasted to the Boston Marathon. And then…Heather had to leave to catch a flight. Hugs were given. Cathy fetched me some ice…and we settled in for some peaceful relaxation in a warm hotel room until we wanted to get dinner.
So…in the end…The Boston Marathon wasn’t the dream race I had hoped to have back when I qualified a year and a half ago. Everything went wrong along the way. My body fell apart months before the actual event. And I did everything I could to get to that start line without further damaging myself. Yes…I am a finisher. I am proud of myself for not quitting. I am proud of myself for perservering. I am not proud of that marathon finishing time. I am not proud of how much I walked. I am proud for finding out just how fucking strong I am. THIS…is Boston Strong. This limpy-gimpy, frozen, crying soul at the finish line…is BOSTON STRONG!
So…with it all said and done, I hobbled my way through to a finish time of 5:07:08. I was 25262/26610 finishers overall. I was the 11262/12022 woman to cross the finish line. And, I was 5608/6011 in my age division. Yeah…you can bet these statistics don’t sit well with me. I actually didn’t want to post them. But, you know…this is a race I won’t forget. I struggled. I cried. I limped. I walked. I would have crawled if it came to that…if it got me to that finish line. But I finished. It is my worst, and yet, most memorable marathon. It is my greatest and my worst moment in the years I have been running. This is, by no means, the race I wanted nor dreamed of. I can only hope that, one day, I’ll get a redo.
“Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” ~Jack Canfield
I find out on Wednesday how my doctor wants to work on getting my hip back into running form. I want whatever will be the best for me in the end, with the least amount of downtime, and the best option to get me back out there, running stronger than before. Please…keep me in your thoughts and prayers. I have a feeling I have a long road ahead of me.