Race Report | 2014 Boston Marathon

In the days leading up to April 21, I genuinely couldn’t articulate how I felt about returning to Boylston Street for the first time since last year to race again. I couldn’t tell you how I’d react. I couldn’t tell you what it meant to me or what I thought it meant, in a broader sense, for the rest of the 36,000-person field. It was all a lot to wrap my brain around, a lot to process. I wanted to express my feelings about it – anyone could tell you I wear my emotions on my sleeve – but I was at a loss for words. I still don’t want to believe it all happened. I felt numb.

And I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way.

So when I arrived a week early to cover the marathon for work, I took a long, slow walk down Boylston that Sunday evening, welling up in front of the Forum and Marathon Sports in the shadow of the finish line photo bridge. I felt so much sadness in a place meant for sheer joy and triumph, the weight of the past year and the tragedy that happened right where I stood bearing down on me.

While I quietly absorbed it all on the otherwise bustling sidewalk, applause suddenly erupted about a block away from me. The One Run For Boston, a cross-country relay to raise money for the One Fund, had reached the finish line. Though it wasn’t Marathon Monday, their expressions were those of sheer joy and triumph. They were taking back Boylston. Replacing bad memories with better, brighter ones. Restoring what was lost last year. I couldn’t help but smile and cheer for them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 2.57.06 PMThat’s when I understood the purpose of the week before me: Make happy memories. 

And April 21 would be the day to finally — and truly — begin to move forward.

For me, the journey from Hopkinton to Copley Square was the climax of an incredible week. The race was, by no means, my best (my quads called it quits at mile 18), but my performance just didn’t matter that day. My goal was to enjoy and embrace the experience of being part of something much bigger than myself. No time goals. Just run.

Here are the highlights:

The Bus Ride: I joined my RW colleague Mark, who had decided to come out of marathon retirement to BQ for this race. Though most of the trip was quiet — save for the round of applause one guy received after his, shall I say, epic pit stop while we waited in traffic — the atmosphere in the bus was buzzing. You could sense everyone’s anticipation for the day we’d all been waiting for since April 15, 2013, at 2:49 p.m.

The Chance Reunions: Last year, I made friends with a woman named Feryal in my corral. We both had the same goal pace, so we ran together for the first 14 or so before I waved her onward. Though I results-stalked her after the race, we haven’t stayed in touch. But get this: Right as we arrived at the Start Village, we found each other! Yes, out of 36,000 people, we reconnected, snapped a photo (below, left), killed time before the race together, and finally exchanged emails. I couldn’t believe it.

Not to mention I also ran into two of my former collegiate competitors and had a reNUUNion with my Hood to Coast teammate Meghan.

StartVillage

The (Not So) Chance Reunion: Andrea (above, right), my best friend and speedy “big sister” on the Lehigh track/cross country team, BQ’d in her first marathon. We’ve been running together for years, and though we didn’t plan to run together at the race, I couldn’t have been happier to have her in Boston to share the experience with me.

So the four of us — new friends and old — hung out together before the race. What a special way to start the day. So much smiling and happiness to go around.

The Spectators: It’s not news that the crowd turnout on race day was massive. Between the spectators (a.k.a. a start-to-finish scream tunnel) and the wave of runners, the race felt like a 26.2-mile long block party. Everyone was happy. Everyone was having a ball. The Boston Marathon showed its truest, most brillant colors that day. After riding the Struggle Bus hard last year, I made a point to really appreciate the spectators this time, no matter what shape I was in. So yes, THANK YOU random spectator you yelled at me around mile 20 to keep on keeping on while I walked through a water stop. Needed that.

Megan Hetzel 2The Big News: I stopped to walk at (what I think was) exactly the same spot I walked last year (I think it’s because there’s a rare patch of shade around mile 18)  and ran into a friend named Chris. Like last year, he graciously asked if I needed anything, then told me that MEB WON! I was just about to board the Struggle Bus, but that news literally gave me some much-needed motivation. Thank you Chris!

The November Project: About a half-mile later, I ran past The Tribe. If you’ve never heard of them, I suggest you read this first. Since I was in Boston for a week, I got to attend all three workouts. And let me tell you: Those 6:30 a.m. workouts were the highlight of my week, hands down. At sunrise, I made new friends, hugged absolute strangers, laughed and danced in Harvard Stadium (despite it being mother f-ing COLD outside), the list goes on. If this group doesn’t reignite your faith in humanity, I don’t know what will.

The Finish: When we ran under the Massachusetts Ave. underpass, a woman near me yelled, “This is where they all got stuck last year. Keep it together!” Her words gave me chills. Then as we made the fabled right on Hereford, left on Boylston, honestly, I nearly lost it. I don’t really have the words to capture how I felt other than I was brimming happy tears. I felt weightless, riding such a high filled with sheer joy and triumph.

It makes my heart race just thinking about it now.BostonFinish

The Post-Race Celebration: After inhaling a Gatorade, Dr Pepper, and a bag of Chex Mix, I got to experience Boston after the marathon. My friends and I joined the throng of runners, all rocking those highlighter orange jackets and their medals, milling around town celebrating the day. Random people and runners alike all shared words of congratulations. The whole city was happy, basking in the perfection of the day. Man, it was awesome.

At the Runner’s World party the Saturday before the marathon, RW’s Mayor of Running Bart Yasso told us that this would be one of the biggest moments in running history. He was exactly right.

And yes, happy memories were made.

Image by Robert Reese

Image by Robert Reese

QUOTE OF THE POST: “And we’re taking back that street, and we’re taking back that finish line, and we will not be denied our running freedom ever.” – Dave McGillivray 

P.S. Because I couldn’t really squeeze everything that happened into this post (I would have to write a novel!), feel free to check out my Instagram feed or my profile over at RW to see what I worked on all week!

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Race Report | 2014 NYC Half

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.40 PMIf I learned anything from the NYC Half this year, it’s BRING THROWAWAY PANTS.

Also, I think I’m in love with half-marathons… Yep, I definitely love ’em.

Like last year, I went into this race with the goal of running by feel. If I felt good, I’d go with the flow and race it. If not, no biggie. It’s only a training run for Boston to Big Sur.

Well, it’s hard not to get jazzed up when you’re surrounded by over 20,000 other runners in Central Park on a chilly March morning, especially when you get a surpise boost of encouragement from twitter friends! (Thank you Jocelyn, Corey, and Mary!) And God knows I’m not able to relax during the first few miles of a race. Gotta go guns blazing, right?

After freezing my buns off for half an hour before the race (re: throwaway pants are essential), off we went, heading north up the east side of the park. The gradual inclines warmed me up pretty quick (thank goodness), so I settled into a comfortable but quick pace. At the top of the park, we ran a hairpin turn before heading into the Harlem hills. Personally, I love hairpin turns. Marine Corps had one, too. I get SO pumped up being able to “watch” the race for a bit and keep an eye out for familiar faces. I spotted elite runner Desi Davila Linden and Corey again, which was so happy on so many levels. The energy among the runners and spectators was electric.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.19 PMAfter the biggest hill at the top of the park, the next two to three miles brought more rolling hills before we exited onto 7th Avenue. I’ll admit, I started to regret pushing it so hard in the park. The hills wore me out. But like last year, the epic, towering view down 7th Avenue was just incredible. It’s literally so breathtaking and awe-inspiring that you can’t really wrap your brain around the fact that you’re running down the center of one of the most famous streets in the world. And you don’t even have to dodge tourists.

It goes without saying my pace quickened quite a bit at this point of the race.

Halfway down 7th, a band started playing YMCA. If you read my blog, you’ll know that the same song played during the Boston Marathon last year. It’s one of my favorite happy memories from that otherwise awful day, so hearing it again at this race left me brimming with emotions, some good and some bad. April 21 is going to be full of moments like this one, I know it.

A brief turn toward the Hudson River brought us to the Westside Highway. At this point, there’s just over five miles to go, and they’re all flat as a pancake. Still high off my jaunt through Times Square, I found a rhythm running around 6:45ish pace. I still, surprisingly, felt comfortable and in control. This is why I love half-marathons.

I felt like I was actually racing rather than surviving. And since 13.1 miles seems short now compared to a marathon, I wasn’t afraid to push the gas pedal a little more. I kept ticking off the miles, soaking in views of the Statue of Liberty, then running in the shadow of the now-complete Freedom Tower before deciding to gun it the last two miles.

At this point, I knew a sub-1:30 was just out of reach, but I was primed to run a PR. A final push through the finish clocked me in at 1:31:05, an almost 2 minute, 30 second PR. Talk about the runner’s high. The whole race was one long hit of the runner’s high.

To top it all off, I ran into an old teammate of mine from Lehigh AND Jenny from Hood to Coast, who had also just crushed her race with a sparkly new PR. So much happiness!

Sunday reaffirmed how awesome this race is and left me feeling much more confident going into Boston and Big Sur next month. Michele summed up my feelings perfectly:

Yes. Exactly. All of those miserable, slushy miles were worth it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.” – Dr. Suess

Dreaming of Dry Roads

unnamedYes, I realize that last time I blogged, I wrote about how the snow ain’t so bad. But two weeks later…

I’ve had enough of this winter!

Let me explain why I’ve changed my tune:

For yesterday’s long run, we did 13.75 miles on our hilliest, most challenging loop. Whether it’s balmy and humid or bone-chillingly cold, this quad-busting route hurts like hell. BUT, even when the inclines leave you wheezing, it rewards you with these breathtaking views of the open, rolling farmlands dotted with old farmhouses. The roads are empty. It’s amazing.

Other than my first 10-miler on a treadmill, I can’t remember the last long run I did during this training cycle that didn’t involve navigating through snow and ice. So I asked the guys if we could do the crazy hill loop because I wanted to get in a real, quality distance run for once. (No) thanks to yet another snowstorm on Saturday, we spent what felt like 13 miles of the 13.75-mile run on either a slick sheet of ice or beach sand-like snow. Not amazing.

Sure, the farmlands blanketed in white were stunning as always. But it was hard to appreciate the views when I was focused on just staying upright. Deep down, I know that the tricky terrain is a bonus workout that’s actually making me stronger. But moving at a snail’s pace up and down hills is doing absolutely nothing for my confidence. I really want to believe that these tough runs will translate into a solid spring marathon just like the slow and steamy summer runs make for a fast fall marathon. My frozen fingers and toes are crossed.

I know I could be doing these runs on the treadmill. But honestly, I just don’t have it in me to sacrifice my daily dose of fresh air when I’ve been cooped up inside even more than normal these days. At this point, though, it feels like a lose-lose situation. Extra kudos to everyone who has made the commitment to get those workouts in regardless. Teach me your ways!

The yucky part of it all is that, since I’m not running Boston as a goal race, I’m feeling even less inclined to get all of my runs in. Rather than doing four or five treadmill miles during a snow storm, I’m opting out of the workout entirely. I just can’t get into a rhythm with my training.

That said, here’s my silver lining:

Since I apparently can’t get enough of this marathon business, I’m hoping that my involuntarily scaled back training routine right now will benefit me later on this year when I’m gearing up for my goal race in October. Even though it feels like I’m cutting myself short, maybe the extra rest will keep me from burning out when I’m actually training for a PR.

I’ve still managed to do my strength routine once a week. I’d like to be going twice per week, but I’m okay with not skipping it entirely for now.

I’m trusting that, come spring and some dry, heavenly roads, I’ll feel fit and more like myself again. I had one fantastic five-miler a couple weeks ago on a warm-ish day. Here’s to hoping that more of those will happen when this Arctic tundra decides to thaw out.

The forecast says Sunday will be sunny with a high of 47 degrees. Hopefully I’ll have a decent run that’ll re-inspire me and get me mentally back on track!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “When it’s pouring rain and you’re bowling along through the wet, there’s satisfaction in knowing that you’re out there and the others aren’t.” – Peter Snell

Hey, The Snow Ain’t So Bad!

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 1.10.13 PMEarly Sunday morning, the temps were in the teens and, after Saturday’s snowfall, the roads still looked like God had poured a giant slushy over them. The parking lot where we usually meet was empty–mind you, this lot is never empty on Sunday mornings. On this dreadmill-worthy day, clearly we were the crazy ones. While I waited for the guys to show up, I sat in my car, toasty and not exactly in the mood to emerge into the slippery Arctic tundra for my 10-miler.

At 7 a.m., the guys arrived and started doing doughnuts through the snow in their compact SUVs. Naturally. Prerun shenanigans like this are honestly one of the few reasons I actually wake up and get my run done at all. They never fail to make me laugh, pull me out of my it’s-far-to-early-for-this-madness funk, and get me excited to run. I love them for it. Find running friends like these guys, and you’ll never skip a run again.

We lurched onto the roads and right up this steep hill beside the lot, spinning our tires… I mean… trainers the whole way up. Yep, that warmed us up! But man was this going to be a rough run. We ran through quiet, sparkling-white neighborhoods with only our voices and the crunching snow beneath our feet to break the silence. Then we reached wide open farmland with the sunrise breaking on the horizon. Stunning moments like these are what made me fall in love with Pennsylvania and remind we why I run.

A few days later, the guys decided to hit the trails at lunch. Initially I resisted the idea, preferring the finally dry roads over the potentially slippery, snow-covered trails. But I gave in to the peer pressure, so off we went… and it was amazing.

The woods had transformed into the definition of a winter wonderland. Armed with trail shoes and Yaktrax, we powered through the powder, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat despite the freezing temps. Like kids on a snow day, we devolved into goofiness (not like we don’t on a regular run), laughing the whole way up and down the mountain. The run was worth every exhausting step.

I stumbled upon a quote this week – summed up these runs perfectly:

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” – Aaron Douglas Trimble

Now don’t get me wrong, I love winter. But this edition has made me seriously wish spring would hurry up and arrive already. I’m so over sliding through my training runs.

But these two runs were the best I’ve had in a while. When the rest of the world stayed cozy and warm inside, we were out embracing the snowy beauty that was SO much better than the view I would’ve had on a treadmill. I’ve got the guys to thank for that. Hey, the snow ain’t so bad after all!

QUOTE OF THE POST: (see above!)

Gearing Up for Boston to Big Sur

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 5.12.19 PMIf you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past few months since Marine Corps, I’ve been recharging the batteries with some active downtime. I ran on my own terms, which meant running whatever distance felt right on a given day, or… not running at all. After months of rising early (and reluctantly) for long runs, staying cozy in bed on Sundays felt ahhh-mazing. I started a new core- and butt-busting gym routine with my coworkers. Dialing back on my running gave me more free time to work on my weak spots. That’s what off-seasons are for, right? I’m already feeling stronger. And finally, I went on hiatus from blogging because, honestly, I needed to take a break from analyzing every workout.

Heading into week four of training for my second Boston Marathon (and six days later, the Big Sur International Marathon), here I am feeling restored (running-wise) and ready to dust off the proverbial cobwebs of this blog. But this time around, even though I’m only ankle-deep in my training, it feels different.

One reason I’ve put off writing this post is because I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this training cycle and what I want to learn from it. One thing I do know is that unlike last year, this race won’t be about setting a PR. It’ll be about joining 36,000 other runners to reclaim the Boston Marathon. I want to run for those who can’t. I want to run to celebrate all of the good that has emerged from the bad. And I want to really feel the emotional highs and lows during the race. What I don’t want is to cloud all of that with my own goals and expectations. Like last year, though, in the epic setting that is Highway 1 along the coast of California, I’ll run Big Sur to embrace how incredible our sport is and to remember why we run in the first place. I think Big Sur will always be a sort of redemption run for me.

With that said, I think Sunday’s long run may have offered an answer:

At 7 a.m., I found myself shivering in the darkness. I was so NOT in the mood to do my 14-miler in 18-degree temps. I wondered, Why, why do I do this to myself again? I’ll admit, my attitude stunk and it stayed that way for most of the run. Even the guys’ goofiness couldn’t shake me out of my frozen, unhappy state. But with a couple miles to go, the sun finally broke out from behind the clouds, drenching the creek and snow-covered trees in warmth. It was stunning. That moment alone lifted my spirits and made the run worth it.

So what do I want out of this training cycle? Rather than focusing too much on mile spits or how many workouts I squeeze in per week, I want to soak in my surroundings, feel the fresh air move in and out of my lungs, and do my best not to resent my ability to push my body and feel it in motion. I want to appreciate those beautiful moments like the one I experienced Sunday morning. During my downtime when I wasn’t running as much as usual, I discovered that I felt most like myself while I was running. Not running made me want to run. (Surprise, surprise, right?) I want to tap into that feeling as often as possible from now on!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “To run outside surrounded by a beautiful natural setting where the air is crisp and cool, the sun is shining, and all I can do is admire my surroundings and listen to my body in motion.” – Jonathan Steckel, an RW Challenger

P.S. Dr. Jordan Metzl created the wicked-tough workout I mentioned above. Called IronStrength, a video series of the routine can be found over at Runner’s World dot com. Here’s a taste:

– 6 sets jump squats (x15), rotatory planks (5 each arm)
– 3 sets rows from plank (x10), pushups (x10), situps with weights (x10)
– 3 sets lunge plyos (x10), alternating sides of hamstring plyos (x5 front, side and rear) in between.
– 3 sets mountain climbers (x10), legs down (x10)
– 4 sets deadlift high pull (x5), biceps curls on single leg (x5), overhead press on other leg (x5)
– planks (60 secs; side, down, side)

My Marathon Playlist: 26.2 Trigger Songs

It’s been almost two months since my last marathon. Believe it or not, all I can think about is running another dang marathon. I’ve been considering squeezing in the El Paso Marathon in my hometown between Disney and (hopefully) Boston. And thanks to twitter, I physically can’t avoid seeing everyone’s super inspring tweets about their races each weekend. (Oh and Spirit of the Marathon II literally made me want to go for a run right after the movie). Bahhh can’t Marine Corps come any faster?!? 129 days is way to far away. I’m in full-blown marathon withdrawal – it feels sort of like…taper crazies?

So with that said, here’s my not-mid-marathon-training-but-still-marathon-related post about what I call “26.2 trigger songs.” During a late-night convo with my roomie (check out her blog if you’re a fitness junkie – it’s awesome!), I realized that I have a song or two for each of my marathons that, whenever I hear it, reminds me of the race. For some, it’s a specific moment and I can picture it clearly. I’d bet I’ll forever associate those songs with each marathon. That’s why I call ’em trigger songs. Without further ado, here’s my playlist so far!

1. Steamtown Marathon, October 2012 – “Twist and Shout”


This came on around mile 24, and, despite the crazy amount of pain I was in, I began singing along, completely and entirely having a blast. Then I turned the corner away from the music and the hurt returned. Still, it carried me through some vital moments in that first, perfect marathon.

2. Walt Disney World Marathon, January 2013 – “Gangnam Style”


I will shamelessly admit that I LOVE this song. And yes, I’ll break into the dance whenever it comes on regardless of where I am. This race happened in the midst of the Gangnam craze, and it’s all Disney played all weekend long (except they bleeped out “sexy” in the chorus, so it was more like Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy…ladyyyyyyy – it was as awkward as it sounds). I danced to it in the pre-race tent, during the race, and even managed to eek out a few moves post-marathon despite my cramping legs. Way too much fun.

3. Boston Marathon, April 2013 – “YMCA” and “Thrift Shop”


This came on around mile 10 (maybe?), and I’ll never forget seeing the sea of runners in front of me throwing their arms up in the air doing the dance while running. It’s such a classic song, and it was so fun seeing everyone do it in unison.

My brother is a boss at finding songs before they become mainstream and popular. This is one of them. He’d been playing it for me when I was home for Christmas, and I always think of him when it comes on. It played a lot between Hopkinton and Boston, and I smiled to myself every time – carried me through some tough miles! Love you (big) little bro!

4. Big Sur Marathon, April 2013 “A Thousand Years”


Played by a tuxedoed man on a baby grand piano next to the Bixby Bridge, this echoed throughout the canyon at the halfway point of Big Sur. It’s by no means a “pump up” song, but given the breathtaking setting, it felt so right at that moment. And with all that happened at Boston and what this race signified because of that tragedy, this song brings me to tears without fail. I’ve heard the original Christina Perri version on the radio a couple times since then, and it instantly reminds me of how I felt in Boston and Big Sur. It’s an elegant, poignant song that makes those emotions bubble right back to the surface. Music has a way of doing that, huh?

———

I’ll update this post as I do more marathons. No doubt each will have its own trigger song.

Tell me about your trigger song moments below!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.” – Pre

Friday Faves | I’m So FREAKIN’ Excited

Lots of pretty sweet stuff happened this week. Let’s get right to it:

  • We officially unveiled the July Boston Marathon cover of Runner’s World last night, which means I couldn’t be more excited to hear everyone’s feedback. We immersed ourselves in this issue for a full month. I’m so proud of what the staff produced. If you want a behind-the-scenes look at how the cover was created (yep, we voted on two cover concepts and put our ballots in a shoe box), check out our Editor-in-Chief David Willey’s note herecoverpadded
  • The only other Boston-related news I’ll share with you this week is this: Bombing victim Jeff Bauman and the man who saved him, Carlos Arredondo (better known as “The Man in the Cowboy Hat”), threw the first pitch at a Red Sox game. Couldn’t be happier to see these two grinning from ear to ear with joy. (Click on the photo to link to the video.)
  • I lied a little… had to share this, too. Fills my heart with joy.
  • Hannah and I booked our flights for Hood to Coast with Nuun! Which means it’s officially happening! I’m so FREAKIN’ excited.
  • Ummmm…I need this shirt. ** hint hint Mom and Dad, birthday’s coming up! hint hint **shop-homeboy-tee
  • This needs no explanation. Just watch. You’ll understand.
    which reminded me of this from college (watch from 1:25):
  • Here’s super fun “Flashback Friday” where @losingrace reviews her first five marathons, complete with highs, lows, and some insanely badass PR crushing.
  • “My big morning drama was … race morning poop! I didn’t have one. Where was it!? And more terrifying, where would it show up?! Hopefully not a mile 17. I would have given anything for a little race morning poop. But we were lining up and its chance was gone.” – @oiselle_mac from her hysterical race recap, which is one of my all-time favorites. (I’ve also had those EXACT thoughts before a race. Perfection.)
  • And I’ll end this post with this adorableness. Love it Jocelyn!

     

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?’” – Peter Maher