Marathon weekend can be as exhausting as the marathon, itself. There are four essential parts to a marathon weekend: 1) the expo; 2) resting and hydrating; 3) the pre-race pasta dinner; and 4) race day. The larger the race, the more exhausting and stressful the weekend, so along with this recap, I am going to be offering some tips to ensure that you have the most stress-free marathon weekend possible.
Rule 1: Visit the expo as soon as possible.
We arrived at the Boston Marathon expo on Saturday morning at 10:30. That was TOO LATE. We stood in line outside the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo for about thirty minutes and then stood in line inside the expo for another 20 before I received my bib. There was a second entrance to the expo (with no line) that we didn’t learn about until we were already inside. The Hynes Convention Center, where the expo is located, is one of the smaller convention centers in Boston and there were over 30,000 people running the marathon. Suffice it to say, the expo was madness.
We only had a short amount of time to attend the expo because we were attending a tribute to Meb Keflezighi that was sponsored by Generation UCAN. This was a top priority that we didn’t want to miss. Hearing Meb and his colleagues discuss his career was a major highlight of the weekend. Meb has performed well and not-so-well in front of millions of people, but he always finishes his races with grace. See also here and here. He is retiring this fall — the NYC Marathon will be Meb’s 26th and final marathon as a professional athlete.
Once the #mebnificent event was over, I was finally able to relax and enjoy being in Boston. So visit the expo on the earliest day you can, at the earliest time you can, so you can enjoy the “relax and hydrate” portion of the weekend.
Rule 2: Make a reservation for your pre-race dinner.
The Boston marathon offers a free pre-race dinner for runners, which sounds great in theory, but we drove past City Hall Plaza at 6 PM and saw runners standing in a huge line waiting to get into the event.
We decided that instead of joining thousands of runners at City Hall Plaza, we’d join thousands of runners searching for Italian restaurants in the North End. We had the foresight to make a reservation for dinner and were glad we did because we watched many panicked runners try to find restaurants with short wait times. So always make a reservation!
Rule 3: Enjoy Marathon Day
This is what you came for. If you qualified, it took approximately 36 weeks of hard work to make it to the starting line of the Boston Marathon.
There are numerous ways a marathon can go: 1) You can kill it and run an amazing time; 2) You can try to kill it, but the race ends up killing you; or 3) You can not care about your finish time and just be there to enjoy the experience.
I’ve executed option one a few times. Those few races where I run fast and feel strong through the final .2 miles are what keep me coming back to race again. And I am a pro at executing option 2: pretending that I am in better shape that I am, and seeing how long I can hold a certain pace until I crash and burn.
I had not trained very well for the marathon. I had only run one twenty-miler and had averaged a mere 24 miles a week during my training. To put that into perspective, I was about to run more in one day that I had run most weeks. This was my second time running Boston and I remembered how much pain I had been in during my first Boston, so I was going for option 3: run slowly and enjoy the day.
As chaotic as Saturday was, Monday was perfection. I caught a bus at Boston Common at 8:30 and arrived in Hopkinton with enough time to hit the port-a-potty twice, eat my pre-race meal, write my name on my arm, and get an awesome “Chase Your Unicorn” tattoo courtesy of Clif Bar.
I was in the first corral of the third wave. While I was trying to move into my corral I looked up to find the “Welcome to Hopkinton, It All Starts Here” sign. I had been looking for this sign as we were walking towards the starting line and was pumped to see it (if I was any further back in the corrals I would have missed it). A few minutes after snapping this selfie the gun went off and we were on our way to Boston.
Although it was supposed to be a hot day, the weather forecast had “promised” partly cloudy skies. There were no clouds. The heat turned out to be a blessing because although I had “planned” on running slow, I knew that If I tried to push the pace the heat would make me pay for my speed somewhere along the course.
If you have tapered properly, it is impossible to the run the first few miles of a marathon slowly. It is especially hard to run slowly at Boston where the first six miles are downhill. I was passed by every-single-runner during the first nine miles, but I had planned my race and I was racing my plan. Still, I couldn’t run slower than an 8:45 mile for the first eight miles, or slower than 9:00 for the first half.
Every time I started to hurt I focused on how hard I had trained to qualify for Boston. How many years I had tried to qualify and fallen short, and how many injuries had sidelined me along my journey. But most of all, I thought about how disappointed I would be after the race if I focused more on my pace than the experience, itself. So I would pull my pace back, high-five some kids, smile, and feel grateful.
I was SO GLAD I had written my name on my arm. At first, the cheers of “Go Liz!” faded into the crowd. It wasn’t until mile 16 (the start of the Newton Hills) that I noticed “Go Liz!” had changed to “Looking Strong, Liz!” And it wasn’t until mile 18 that I realized that people weren’t just telling me I looked strong, I was strong. I felt better on the uphills than the downhills. I was passing all of the runners who had passed me during the first nine miles of the race. On Heartbreak Hill, I fist pumped along as some Boston College students changed “Liz! Liz! Liz!” It was absolutely exhilarating!!
At mile 24 I heard another chant of “Liz! Liz! Liz!” and I was off. I felt wonderful. I had only two miles left to enjoy the experience of running the Boston Marathon! At mile 25, I realized I had “maybe” run mile 24 too quickly. In order to keep that pace, I decided to dedicate my final mile to my dad. At first I thought, my dad has never given up on me so I’m not going to give up on this mile. That thought quickly transformed into, my dad has never given up on me so I’m not giving up on him. I was surprised to find that dedicating that final mile worked because I was turning onto Boylston street and had the finish line in my sights before I knew it.
I have never smiled harder when finishing a race. And I cannot wait to run this epic race again.
Here are other things I don’t want to forget about the marathon:
- Mile 5: The bar patrons and runners all singing and fist pumping to “Sweet Caroline;”
- Mile 8: A loooong row of children bouncing on trampolines;
- Mile 12: The Wellesley Scream Tunnel was so fun I almost forgot that I was racing;
- Mile 13.2: My husband cheering me on;
- Mile 19: Forest Gump blazing past me;
- The open fire hydrants and sprinklers that the spectators turned on for the runners;
- The Boston Marathon would be nothing without the spectators cheering along every mile and handing out water, popsicles, ice cubes, wet paper towels, oranges, bananas, Twizzlers, beer, and anything else you could imagine;
- The blind runner who ran near me almost the entire race. His guides were MEAN, which means they were awesome guides. I became tired of passing him and then his handlers yelling at me to get out of the way when he was about to re-pass me, and I think that gave me my second (twentieth??) wind at Mile 24; and
- Finishing near a Team Hoyt Team.