It’s closing in on 72 hours since I turned right on Hereford, left on Boylston and completed the transition from athlete to invalid. In case there’s any doubt in your mind: marathons hurt like hell! I’m healing now, but I shudder to think what choice I would have made if someone had offered me a double leg amputation yesterday or the day before. My command of the English language returned sooner than full use of my lower extremities, so this morning I sat down (sllloooowly) and wrote this, my very first marathon race report ever.
Bottom line: getting to run World-Famous Boston as my first-ever marathon feels as decadent as eating dessert before dinner. Got room for it? Then grab a spoon and I’ll share my yummy details.
Starting 26.2 Kardashian-Style
The Children’s Hospital team is insanely pampered; aside from the Elites, we were the only runners spared spending the super-chilly morning in Athlete’s Village—that’s a mosh pit of adrenaline a full mile away from the start line. Instead, the Masons of Hopkinton let us use their cozy Lodge which is only a few pool lengths away from the start line and right next door to the BAA’s HQ. One of my teammates, (.5 of C-Squared, for those who have been following this blog) reports she’s been re-nicknamed Ms. Fancy Pants by her Liver-Foundation-runner-friend whose internal organs are on ice in the Athlete’s Village. Up in Children’s Palace we have heat and indoor bathrooms and our very own busses to transport our bags safely to the Westin, where we are all hoping to convene after our 26.2 mile trek. This is the marathoning equivalent of being a Kardashian. I chat with teammates—one of whom is Brendan Donovan, who was apparently on the reality TV show “The Biggest Loser” but of course since I don’t watch TV (aside from the occasional “iCarly” or “Cake Boss” episode Daughter #2 demands I endure) I don’t know who he is. I make him relive the whole season start to finish for my edification. I also chat with a guy named Jack from just outside Philadelphia who has done this many times before and is a coach as well as a runner. I pass my race-day strategy by him and grill him for last-minute tips. He smiles at my “wanna qualify” comment and says he’d love to talk post-race, see how my strategy panned out.
A Visitor for Me?
A Miles for Miracles worker comes up to me and says I have a visitor waiting at the front door. Me! A visitor! I head out the door and it’s none other than Andy Schachat, the race-day announcer with the unpronounceable name who has now been a part of three of my firsts: he announced at my very first tri ever (the Marlborough Tri just eight short months ago), at my first road race ever (the BP-16 in January, where we officially met and he calmed me down pre-race) and now he has made a special trip to the Lodge from Grove Street (where he is announcing) to say hi and offer words of wisdom before I head out on the nuttiest of all runs. How insanely cool is that??? He politely endures a huge hug.
“Remember what I told you back at the Boston Prep?” he asks. I confess that I am so nervous right now I barely remember my first name. So he reminds me. “I told you that it’s absolutely crazy to run 26.2 miles, but if you’re going to do it, you gotta run Boston. You’re about to do that.”
He endures more hugs—I am tickled pink he came up to see me and wish me well. He tells me he’ll be heading to the finish line once all the runners are off but will be long gone by the time I cross it. He reminds me to go slower than I want to in the early miles so there’s something left to sacrifice to The Hills. Most importantly, he says, enjoy the day; all other races pale in comparison to Boston, the granddaddy of ‘em all.
Giddy Groupie with a Backstage Pass to Claflin Street
We have a few runners in Wave 2—those are BQ-ing runners (remember that term, folks? Boston Qualifying) who did not need a Children’s waiver to run but still chose to raise money for the hospital. As our Wave 2 runners warm up with our coaches, I walk through the back yard of the Masonic Lodge and catch a glimpse of the Elites doing their warm ups on Claflin Street, which runs directly behind both the Lodge and where the elites are housed in the BAA’s headquarters. The Kenyan runners warm up en masse, graceful and fit beyond words. I search for Joan Benoit but never do find her. This is my version of scoring a backstage pass at ________ (feel free to insert your favorite music festival here). I am a giddy groupie. I venture a little closer and a BAA official asks me if I have a bib number. I flash it proudly (yes! I do!) and he guffaws at my 24777; in a grandfatherly manner he tells me only numbers lower than 100 are allowed to tred the hallowed ground I’m presently violating. He admires my enthusiasm but sorry, he says; he’d get fired if he let me stay there. Whoops! I go back to where we twenty four thousands belong.
Off to Corral #7
Soon it is time for us Wave 3-ers to grab our bags, toss them in our plush chartered bus, do our warm ups and head to the corrals for the start. It feels surreal enough and then I am suddenly being hugged by a complete stranger. At first I think he’s just overwhelmed with emotion, and then I realize he’s actually thrilled to have found his numerical forerunner; he is #24778. He asks a passerby to snap a picture of the two of us with his iphone, which he is apparently planning to run with. He sees me shivering in my singlet and gives me a Runners Wrap to stay warm. I adore this man, Maurice or Maury from Las Vegas or Los Angeles—all I can seem to retain is that the name begins with M and the city with L. He tells me his life story as we wait in the corral: ex-wife, current wife, second marathon in 18 months. He is hoping to run sub-5.5 hours this time. I break it to him that #24777 and 24778 won’t run consecutively for very long, this girl’s got a loftier goal.
Slow Shuffle to the Start
The gun goes off. Thousands of runners hoot and holler but nothing remotely mistakable for running takes place; we instead begin a slow shuffle to the start line, which is still some five minutes up ahead for Lucky Corral #7. Whilst we shuffle I internally run through my strategy du jour, the template for which I borrowed from the best: Marathon George, a guy I’ve never met but who has been e-advising me since Day One and was actually the first human being to know I’d been given a slot on the Children’s team (I say “first human” as Sam the Dalmatian was the first sentient being to know; he wagged his tail as I hooted and hollered when the congrats-you’re-on-the-team email arrived in my inbox last October 18th). Marathon George breaks the course down into four segments and has goals for each and so naturally I will today too.
~ SEGMENT 1: Miles 1-6 ~
According to Marathon George’s notes, this six-mile segment heads steeply downhill at first with an overall net loss of some 250 vertical feet. Here I will try to heed the advice of Marathon George, Andy the announcer, my lawyer (long story) and every other Boston Marathon runner I’ve spoken to over the past 160 days: go easy, don’t let the emotion of the day overwhelm me, conserve energy and take it easy of the legs. Although not strictly at the 6-mile mark (so sayeth Marathon George), the Framingham train station will be my signal that I am down the hill and transitioning to the next section.
Men Have No Modesty!
I cruise as well as I can. Runners are bunched up, most are running two and three abreast with friends and teammates at this point. But not me—I shed #24778 along with my Runner’s Wrap at the start line and I’m running this race solo just as I ran the vast majority of my training miles. So I weave in and out when I can, trying to find and keep my pace, reminding myself that this’ll be a loooong day and sprinting here will do me zero good. I am mortified to see that even before we’ve run a single mile, there are men peeing in the bushes, just a few feet from the road. Boys! There were port-a-potties aplenty pre-start! What on EARTH are you thinking?!?!?
It starts to feel warm by Mile 2—I can tell many runners are second-guessing their clothing choices. Many are shedding throw-away layers on the sides of the streets; others are more invested in their clothing (some are even wearing their $85 official 2011 Boston Marathon jackets—what were they thinking?) I make my first strategy change du jour: I had planned to ditch the water bottle I am carrying after the first five or so miles—it was just to keep me hydrated whilst allowing me to avoid the overcrowded early water stops. But my new plan is to keep it with me and keep filling it at water stops so I am sure to take in as much water as I should.
Seeing Darlene 🙂
My first supporter is supposed to be somewhere on this stretch—my high school buddy Darlene has driven up with her boys all the way from Rhode Island just to cheer me on. 🙂 She told me if I pass La Cantina I’ve missed her. I have yet to do so, but I still worry then all of a sudden I hear “Chris-TEEEN!!! WHOOO!” and they are there and then they are gone and I am smiling about it all the way to Segment 2. I am completely on target to hit my goals and life is, as we say in Bah-stun, wicked good.
Mile 1: 8:17.73 / cadence 86 spm / HR 151 bpm
Mile 2:8:18.97 / cadence 84 spm / HR 173 bpm
Mile 3:8:28.06 / cadence 85 spm /HR 156 bpm
Mile 4: 8:28.74 / cadence 84 spm / HR 154 bpm
Mile 5: 8:38.15 / cadence 84 spm / HR 157 bpm
Mile 6: 8:45.10 / cadence 84 spm / HR 174 bpm
~ SEGMENT 2: Miles 7-16 ~
Sonic the Hedgehog and Patrick the Starfish
I officially love Marathon George for giving me this strategy to pilfer; what fun to be able to consider myself a quarter done! As I pass the train depot I feel fantastic and shoo away thoughts of a great first date that took place right here years and years and years ago. The irony hits me and I laugh out loud: my Great Relationship Train Wreck of 2008 literally began at a defunct train depot five years prior. As I cross the intersection of 135 and 126, a guy dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog sprints past and a Patrick the Starfish balloon travels in slow motion, caught in the telephone wires. This is no time for rearview-mirror thoughts; I channel the silly starfish. He is my five-legged running partner for a few moments, until the winds set him free. I remind myself of my mantra: STRONG and READY, STRONG and READY. Yes I am!
“You’ve Got Gatorade, WE’VE GOT BEER!”
My girls are waiting for me at the Natick town green, which is completely perfect as it is precisely the scene of our many three-girl Marathon Monday picnics of the past—all those years I dreamt about running the marathon but didn’t. I have zero problem finding my cheer chicks—they are with a gaggle of other Johansens and are waving signs and clanging cowbells like stark-raving-mad lunatics. My father’s sign says “My Dottah isa Wicked Fast Runnah”. Love it! 🙂 Sister-brother-stepmother, they are all there and I dash over and high-five as many as I can, smashing dozens of water cups in the process. My sister came up all the way from North Carolina and I am so entirely thrilled she is there. Yeah! She is there! 🙂 Once I pass they are going to pile into my minivan and head to the finish line; I think “race ya to Boston!” but the words don’t come out of my mouth in time. I am still smiling about the brief visit when I pass a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower and my favorite sign du jour: “You’ve got Gatorade, WE’VE GOT BEER!” It taunts. Pure Bah-stun awesomeness!
Sorry, Ma–No Time to Pose!
On towards Wellesley I go, the next supporters to look forward to will be my mother and Grace (my patient-partner) and Grace’s family. They are all going to be at the first Children’s Cheering Section. I can tell I am approaching, as the sidewalk churns out a sea of bright orange shirts. A few kids see my orange and blue checkered singlet and let out a disappointingly wimpy clap and an incredibly anemic “whoo!” I shake my head fervently and move my arms in a “no-dice” gesture to let them know this runner won’t tolerate a less-than-exuberant greeting. They get the message; their smiles widen and I get the full treatment. Children’s and non-Children’s spectators alike cheer for CJ, cheer for Children’s, just plain scream at the top of their lungs. As I pass my mother screams “Wait! Come back! I didn’t get a picture!” Sorry Ma…see ya! I never do see Grace, though.
Mile 7: 8:32.18 / cadence 85 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 8:8:45.65 / cadence 84 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 9: 8:40.81 / cadence 85 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 10: 8:44.46 / cadence 86 spm/ HR malfunctioned
Mile 11: 8:32.71 / cadence 86 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 12: 8:33.83 / cadence 86 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 13: 8:26.63 / cadence 86 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 14: 8:55.80 / cadence 86 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 15: 9:08.55 / cadence 85 spm / HR malfunctioned
Mile 16: 8:49.57 / cadence 85 spm / HR 172 bpm
~ SEGMENT 3: The Hills ~
Chris-Christine-CJ-Lucy: What’s in a Name Anyways?
Heartbreak Hill gets all the publicity, but it is just one of four ascents over a 3.5-mile stretch of asphalt. I didn’t need Marathon George to tell me these would be tough both singularly and cumulatively—I had experienced them twice during team runs (the Team 17-miler, when we started at the Natick town green and therefore hit the Hills with five miles on our feet; and the Team 21-miler, when we were bused from Boston College all the way to the start line and therefore hit the hills with as many miles on our legs as we would come Marathon Monday—16 whole freaking long miles).
I am finally running the fabled hills. I am running them alongside a woman who has been much more exuberant in her application of the Sharpie than I–her name, Lucy, is not just written on her bib but also plastered up and down her arms. The crowd is going wild for her. “LOO-SEEE! LOO-SEE! LOO-SEE! You’ve GOT this, Lucy! KILL this HILL! KILL this HILL!” they chant. I desperately need some of their energy and so make a snap decision: I *am* Lucy—not just any old Lucy but Lucy Liu. I am Lucy Liu and I will Kill the Hill as the star of Kill Bill. I am aware of the fact that my transformation into a stunning yet odd actress of Asian descent may very well be an indication of delirium; oh well, I’ll deal with that later. RUN, LUCY RUN! They yell. And run I do, powering up the hills slower than some but faster than others and certainly faster than I ever have. I run past a house that has gotten a flag custom-made to fly one day out of the year: it proudly announces the real estate is at mile marker “20.8”, how cool is that? I run past medical tents which are now placed at a one-per-mile cadence.
Mile 17: 9:05.69 / cadence 86 spm / HR 165 bpm
Mile 18: 9:23.67 / cadence 85 spm / HR 172 bpm
Mile 19: 9:17.24 / cadence 85 spm / HR 172 bpm
Mile 20: 9:26.15 / cadence 86 spm /HR 166 bpm
~ SEGMENT 4: THE FINAL 10 K ~
I glance at the Garmin. I knowknowknow in my heart of hearts that I could not have done any better up that hill today. I gave it my all, I really did, and I say aloud “don’t forget that”. I don’t want to have any day-after coulda-woulda-shouldas. Now, ya’ll know I’m no good at math, but it doesn’t take an MIT grad to see I left my hopes of a BQ on those hills. That’s OK, I smile; let’s reset expectations, try for sub-four.
According the Marathon George and scores of other BQ-ers, this final segment is where the real race starts—can you dig deep enough to run the final 10K with something approaching pride? I think I can, but not carrying this damn water bottle and wearing this goofy fuel belt around my waist, which has been holding the jelly beans, pretzels and M&Ms I’ve been diligently eating the entire run to stay fueled. I remember the admonition of my IronWoman friend LeAnne: “EAT at Mile 21—you won’t want to , but DO IT!” I take a final handful of jelly beans, pop them in my mouth and unclip the belt from around my waist. I am now at BC. The BC boys are completely plastered, the beer enabling them to be even louder than the Wellesley College girls were many miles back. I pick a cute one who looks like he could be a runner. I hand the (rather pricey, rather new) belt and bottle to him. “I gotta run the rest naked!” I announce. The crowd around him hoots as if I had shimmied off a garter not a fuel belt (Note to family: I shed only the fuel belt! Promise!)
I blame the “run naked” comment on Lucy. It sounds like something she would have said on Ally McBeal.
“Left Foot, Right Foot”
I unintentionally ditched my STRONG AND READY mantra at BC too, for now my mantra by default becomes LEFT FOOT, RIGHT FOOT. LEFT FOOT, RIGHT FOOT. My mind still wants to rock and roll but my legs have morphed into tree trunks; they miraculously sprout whole new root systems with every footfall and need to be uprooted anew for each stride. This cracks me up, which I am sure confirms the suspicions of the runners who had witnessed my BC strip tease that I should head straight from the finish line to the funny farm.
Hello, Self; It’s Really Great to Meet You
In between left-foot-right-foot, I remember something Jack-from-Just-Outside-Philly said to me back at the Masonic Lodge: he said in the final 6.2 I would learn a lot about myself.
I take a quick inventory. Yes, Jack is right. I am learning that I am one tough chick who can still smile even when the day’s strategy has clearly gotta change. I’m a girl who can roll with the punches and uproot stubborn tree trunks as needed. Hello, self; it’s really great to meet this side of you. Thank you, Boston Marathon, for introducing us and please don’t let us die before we fully bond. I glance at the Garmin one more time, change the strategy yet again. Sub-four is simply not in the cards. Girl (or should I say girls), let’s do our best and finish with a smile on our face.
Grab a Cheeseburger in Kenmore Square?
Check it out—there’s the Citgo sign. Geez, that is so far away. How am I possibly going to make it there with these darn tree trunks in tow? Does anyone have a chain saw? OMG, is that a cheeseburger running through Kenmore Square? Seriously? He’s beating me? Dressed as pureed cow’s flesh? Am I imagining this? The vegetarian chick is being beaten by a cheeseburger?
I turn right on Hereford and a let out an audible, uncontrollable sob. My hands cover my face—it isn’t that I am intensely upset about the cheeseburger guy; it’s because I’ve envisioned this moment for seven freaking months and now it is here and I simply cannot believe I am actually going to finish the Boston Marathon. Now left on Boylston—hey! Did someone move Lord & Taylor’s farther away from the Boston Public Library than it has historically been? It sure does seem like it, for the finish line is a lot further down the road than I had imagined. Someone in the crowd tells me to “kick it”. At first I think I’ve got no kick to give and then I think what the hell, it’s gonna hurt no matter what, might as well see if there’s anything there. I flip a switch; it may not be discernible to the naked eye but I know in my heart of hearts I am now going faster than I was just a moment before.
Mile 21: 9:51.57 / cadence 85 spm / HR 173 bpm
Mile 22: 10:05.20 / cadence 85 spm / HR 167 bpm
Mile 23: 9:07.36 / cadence 86 spm / HR 164 bpm
Mile 24: 9:12.89 / cadence 86 spm / HR 167 bpm
Mile 25: 9:26.65 / cadence 86 spm / HR 171 bpm
Mile 26: 10:33.20 / cadence 84 spm / HR 158 bpm
Mile 27:12:09.33 / cadence 82 spm /HR 143 bpm
Mile 28: 10:07.0 / cadence 82 spm / HR 192 bpm*
[*I can hear you thinking: “wait—for seven freaking months she’s told us over and over again that a marathon is, say it with her, 26.2 miles…so why is she giving splits for 28 miles???” A few reasons: first, I failed to turn off my Garmin right after the finish line—so add a bit there. But my Garmin recorded the marathon as a race of 27.47 miles—so that lapse doesn’t account for all the overage. Either my Garmin is slightly off in its measurements (could be) or I fail to “run the tangents” very well, making my race a little longer than, say, Joan Benoit’s (definitely could be—both in life and in running I have a lot to learn about efficiency.) Probably all three of these are at play.]
I cross the finish line hooting and hollering at the top of my lungs (after the race, we’ll relive the moment on Flip video and you can actually hear my screams above those of my family). I must officially be delirious as I think I see Andy Schachat again—that simply cannot be. But then he is approaching me and putting his arm around me and telling me I did great and should be really proud of my time. He says he was tracking me and when he saw when I was expected to finish he thought what the hell he’d stay and congratulate me and make sure I lived to find my family which I do with a little help from his cell phone.
What perfect bookends—I was cheered on from start to finish by family (my mother, father, step-mother, brother, sister, and daughters), old friends (Darlene all the way from Rhode Island) and new friends (Andy who did not have to either walk up from the Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton or hang around at the finish, but did both), not to mention 500,000 perfect strangers who for four hours nine minutes and 55 seconds wanted nothing more than to help me reach my goal, whatever that may be.
So there you have it folks. I failed to BQ. I did not even score a sub-four. But it was a positively luscious experience from first bite to last lick. I wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, when Daughter #1 told me post-race that several new world records were set on the course, I replied, “Sounds like those runners had pretty good days too. I sure do hope they’re almost as happy with their performance as I am with mine.”
As always, thanks for ingesting the essay I’ve served up. Over and out!