It’s 6:45AM, a little more than three hours until the gun goes off. I’m sitting on a yellow school bus that is sitting standstill on the side of the road waiting for the rain and the lightning to stop. The person next to me is asking me about my race strategy and what I plan to do at mile 14 when I hit that hill. I’m getting annoyed with him grilling me with questions about my strategy. I thought it was just to run and then to keep running. I keep asking myself, “do I even attempt my stretch goal? Or, do I play it more safe and just shoot for my original goal? Did I train enough? What if my hip falls apart? Where am I going to see my family on the course? Wait, what happens at mile 14…?”
When I ran my first marathon, the San Francisco Marathon, I woke up less than an hour before the race, my fiance dropped me off near the starting line, and the gun went off shortly thereafter. At Boston, however, my schedule was pretty much like this:
- Woke up at 5:30AM
- Got on the shuttle bus at 6:30AM
- Ate a banana at 7:00AM
- Arrived at Athlete’s Village at 7:45AM
- Hung out until 9:00AM to line up to walk to the starting line
- Got to the starting line at 9:45AM
- Gun went off at 10:02AM
- Got across the starting line at 10:04AM
Needless to say, timing along with the number of events were drastically different between my first marathon and Boston. My brain kept thinking through the same questions above and I was nervous, but I was just ready for the gun to go off. I knew once the gun went off, the nerves would go away and I just needed to do my thing.
Only My Second Marathon
I’m fortunate enough to have ran only one marathon to have qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon. When I started to train for Boston, the goal was 2:49. Then, in November, I injured my hip (I don’t know how) and raining dropped. I was only running ~25-30 miles a week up until early March, which is when I was able to get in a couple 50+ mile weeks. But, a couple weeks before Boston, the injury came back. I couldn’t not run Boston and miss this monumental event, so I decided to drop the goal time to 2:53 but keep the stretch goal at 2:49.
Running is extremely mental, we all know that. Personally, I weigh the mental piece more than most people. The only one person telling you that you can’t do something is yourself. You’ll surprise yourself if you don’t listen to yourself sometimes. At Boston, I told myself “Shawn, don’t weave and don’t go out too fast.” While my initial pace was OK, but I could not stop weaving for at least 6 miles. That killed me because by the half marathon point, I already ran an extra 0.21 miles. I was pacing for sub 2:50 coming through the true half mark at 1:24:40. I felt tired, but OK. My hip wasn’t shooting pain yet, but it wasn’t doing too hot either. By mile 14, my hip just decided to give up and stop hurting.
Half Way There
By the time I got to mile 13, I wasn’t feeling as good as I should have. I was worried about hitting the wall too soon and then either not being able to finish the race or just slowing down drastically and not even coming close to my goal of 2:53. But, running is mental, and I told myself that if I didn’t keep trying, I’d regret it. Everything was going well, but after I finished mile 18, I knew I was much lower on energy than I should have been at that point. It was at that moment I decided to put on the brakes and go for the main goal. I think it was my lack of marathon experience and not knowing how much I really had left in the tank.
After mile 20, I hit Heartbreak Hill. It wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was (I run in San Francisco and there are far bigger hills). But, when I got to the top of the hill, my left calf started to cramp badly. My leg would give out every few steps and it was difficult. Needless to say, I hit the wall and I hit it way earlier than I expected. I knew this feeling (I hit the wall at mile 24 my first marathon), and I knew I just had to push and push hard. It was THE BOSTON MARATHON for goodness sake! I was breathing perfectly fine, but my quads were just not having it.
The last 10K were rough. This is the point when I had to tell myself, “Shawn, running is mental. If you stay strong mentally, your legs will pull you through.” I can’t really tell you much about the miles between then and mile 26. I was laser focused on just pushing and getting to the finish line. Every mile seemed like it was two. I kept looking around to enjoy the crowd and the experience, but I just couldn’t take it all in because my head was too focused on getting to the finish line.
Then, I turned the corner. It was the iconic home stretch on Boylston Street. The crowd was insane. So many people were cheering the runners on and I knew I would make it to the finish line. 2:53:00 was the time when I crossed the finish line. I just finished the Boston Marathon, I got a personal record and I achieved my goal. I knew I had an extra second in me for a 2:52:59 but I didn’t have enough energy to look at my watch to see my time near the end.
Until Next Time
After taking a moment to breathe and realize what I had just accomplished, it hit me that I ran another Boston qualifying time and I could be coming back. Next time, I’d take more time to take in the experience, see the crowds, make eye contact and appreciate the city, a city that came out in full force to support all the runners.
It was quite an experience and I am really excited at the opportunity to run it again next year. My training will be better and I’ll better prepare my race strategy to hit 2:49.