Race Report | 2014 Big Sur International Marathon

10245396_10152080618037467_8683777888693800241_nThe Big Sur International Marathon is a literally epic reminder of why we run, proving with every step that our sport is awesome. So much so that the high I rode from start to finish muted the throbbing pain I felt in my quads thanks to the fact that, well, I ran Boston six days earlier.

In my course description for RW, I wrote: “… if the rolling hills don’t leave you breathless, the turquoise waves lapping over rocky cliffs beside soaring green mountains most certainly will.” Big Sur proved, yet again, that this fact is totally true.

Earlier in the year when I got offered the opportunity to run Big Sur again with Challenge, I accepted without hesitation. I had such an amazing experience last year that I just couldn’t pass up the chance to go again. What I didn’t realize right away was that Boston was just six days before Big Sur this year, not 13 like it was for my first Boston to Big Sur go-around. But then I figured, Ehh sure, why not? Challenge accepted. 

So after not running a step after a quad-busting Boston Marathon, I found myself more sore than I would’ve preferred after a short, 2-mile shakeout on Saturday morning before the race. I was in enough pain that I decided to take a dip in the (mother f-ing freezing cold) Pacific for an ice bath. Yeah, I’m a major wimp when it comes to cold water. I’ll be honest here and say that I wasn’t convinced I’d finish the marathon. What had I gotten myself into?

But come Sunday morning, there I was lining up to run my seventh marathon. Like last year, I opted to run naked (read: without a watch – didn’t even pack the thing!) and just run for the sake of enjoying the journey. I had no idea how the race would go, but I figured I’d take my time and listen to my body. This game plan worked like a charm last year, so I figured I’d try again this year and pray it would work its magic.

Well, it totally worked.

I started off nice and easy with a colleague through the first six miles or so, letting the downhill carry us along. I could already feel my quad, which freaked me out a bit, but it was still run-able. But once we reached the open road with the pristine beaches on our left and the towering, misty green mountains on our right, the runner’s high hit me like a tidal wave. Screw my quad, let’s have some fun! I thought.

When I get jazzed up in a race like that, my instinct is to run fast and ride the high. It just carries me along, overriding any pain I might be feeling. So I picked up the pace, cruising down toward the taiko drummers whose beats carry you up Hurricane Point, the biggest hill on the course that starts at mile 10.

Since the quads actually felt better going uphill, I took advantage of the opportunity, shifted gears, and churned up the 2-mile incline. Like last year, I could feel my hill training paying off. Heck yes.

But then came the lonnnnnng downhill toward the halfway point on the Bixby Bridge. You better believe I winced with every step I took, trying to figure out how to adjust my form to take the pressure off my quads. Ouch, ouch, ouch! My body was rebelling against this second marathon in a week. Ahhh well, suck it up, Meg, carry on.

The Bixby Bridge a.k.a. quite possibly the coolest 13.1 mark in any marathon ever was up next. While I ran by, the tuxedoed Piano Man played “Hallelujah” on his baby grand piano. The whole scene brought me to tears, a true pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming moment. I closed my eyes for a second and soaked in the moment. This is why we run.

The next eight-ish miles — save for a scary second at mile 18 when I felt a particularly concerning twinge in my left quad that thankfully went away — played out as close to perfectly as I could’ve asked for. I was still riding the high (somehow?! – I think I have the spectacular scenery to thank for that one), feeling solid on the flat and uphill portions while taking things carefully and conservatively on the downhills. Through mile 20, my quads were killing BUT I was able to keep up my pace. I didn’t question it, so I kept plugging onward, thoughts focused on the strawberry station at mile 23.

Believe it or not, I think I managed to work out my quad soreness — again, didn’t question it! — so the final miles, rejuvenated by a ginormous strawberry, really felt no different than they normally would at the end of a marathon. In fact, I was able to run the final .2 feeling strong and in control. Say whaaat?

And get this, I ran Big Sur faster (!?!?!?) than Boston. Talk about the power of a runner’s high, amiright?

I can’t explain the faster finish beyond the fact that I still haven’t quite figured out the Boston course and that Big Sur is freakin’ incredible. In my opinion, it’s hard NOT to run well on the glory that is Highway 1.

I learned that two marathons in one week is no joke, but it’s certainly doable. (Read: I ran more miles in 2 days than my typical average weekly mileage).

I also decided that I want to do Boston to Big Sur every year that I physically can. It’s exhausting, but there’s nothing quite like running two completely different marathons back-to-back. You really get a sense of how unique both experiences are. In one week, I went from a 36,000-person field to a 3,500-person one. I went from navigating Frogger-like aid stations to having adorable middle-schoolers shlepping my H2O. Screaming spectators that were at times 10 people deep transformed into the sound of crashing waves. But no matter how you look at it, both races are unforgettable.

These races remind us why we run.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.” – Jimmy Buffett

 

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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!

Race Report | 2013 Marine Corps Marathon

photo 1I learned a valuable lesson during my fifth marathon:

Take every single negative thought and turn it on its head.

Constantly refocusing on the positive from start to finish led me to a 2 minute 51 second PR and what was probably my first negative split in any race ever. The defining moment came at Mile 14, but let me rewind a bit.

Back in April when I was halfway between Hopkinton and that famous right turn on Hereford Street, I was hurting. I’d realized early on that it just wasn’t my day, and the thought of running another 13 miles was daunting. Rather than easing my pace so I could soak up and enjoy the incredible atmosphere, I wallowed in the fact that I wouldn’t be setting a PR that day. I spent the rest of the race feeling frustrated and sad that I wasn’t having an amazing race at the fabled Boston Marathon.

On Sunday in Washington, D.C. when I reached the half-marathon mark, however, I thought: I only have 13 miles left. I can run 13 miles in my sleep. That’s nothing! New legs baby girl!

I remember consciously noticing at that moment how drastically different my perspective was between the two races. The realization that I felt good and wanted to run the next 13 miles literally set a fire under my butt.

I’d averaged around 8-minute pace for the first half, coming through 13.1 at 1:45:08…and then I ran Mile 14 in 7:36, holding my pace in the 7:30s (and one 7:25!) for eight miles. I dropped to low 7:40s for the next two miles before I ran out of steam for the last three. Even then I hovered just above 8-minute pace.

When I decided to shift gears, I honestly wasn’t sure how long I’d last. But my legs kept churning along, much longer than I would’ve ever expected. Trying to negative split was uncharted territory for this runner that likes to start guns blazing only to crash and burn at the end. After struggling to keep an even pace with the hills and crowds throughout the first few miles, I’d finally found my rhythm.

Early on in the race, I made the decision to mentally break up the race into 10-mile segments that I divided into shorter distance goals. Why 10 miles? Because my cut-back long run during training was 10 miles. The distance felt easy even though I ran it fast. I remember thinking how crazy it was to say that I had to run only 10 miles. Here was my train of thought:

After the first “short and easy” 10, I focused on 13.1. When I got there (happy halfway!), I wanted to get to 16 so that I’d “only have 10 left” (10 is nothing, right?). When I reached 16, I focused on 20 so that I’d finally be in the twenty-somethings AND the single-digits. From there, I broke it down into one- or two-mile chunks to the point where, at Mile 25, I thought, Only eight minutes left. You can do anything for eight minutes. Keep pushing.

For whatever reason, this thought process worked for me. Chipping away at the distance mentally rather than thinking about it as a whole kept my mind busy and sane. I took comfort in the fact that my breathing stayed relaxed, my stomach wasn’t acting up, and my legs were still (somehow) maintaining a decent clip. Fun fact: I felt good at Mile 18, the point in my first marathon where the wheels started to fall off. In this race, I managed a little over four more miles before I hit that point. I genuinely couldn’t believe it.

So you better believe that I soaked up inch of the 26.2-mile journey. The sights from atop bridges and beside monuments were awe-inspiring and serene in the early morning light; out at Hains Point, the quiet, lonely moments punctuated only by footsteps were sobering; the endless tunnels of spectators and Marines were pitch-perfect and made me laugh when I needed to smile; the drum lines and bands got me pumped up like they have since high school; seeing my coworkers at the hair-pin turns was unexpected and way too much fun; it was all incredible.

I finished in 3:26:32. I couldn’t be happier.

photo 2

QUOTE OF THE POST: “That was so far!” – words repeated in a tone of both disbelief and astonishment by my first-time-marathon-crusher/coworker during the car ride home 

To read about my training leading up to the race, click here. To everyone who supported me along the way, THANK YOU!

P.S. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon through the Runner’s World Challenge, an online training program that comes with race weekend perks (think private porta-potties and the epic view (above) at the post-race party) at a few big races around the country. As an RW editor, I love going to these events because it gives me the opportunity to meet more inspiring runners! I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity. Check out photos from our event here.

Race Report | 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival

Unlike my usual Race Reports, I’m dedicating this post to my dad and brother who raced at the 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival. I’ve always been “the runner” in my family, but this weekend proved that that’s so not true anymore. Here’s why:

A few weeks after the Boston Marathon this year, my dad texted me this: photo 1

Honestly, this text nearly brought me to tears. For years now, my dad has hopped on the running wagon only to fall off of it (no) thanks to roadblocks life decided to put in his way. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad could do it (back in January, I wrote about how I secretly wished he’d run the RW Half), but I knew all too well how god-awful it is to train through the summer in Texas. Not to mention a lot can go wrong in six months. Getting to the start line of a race healthy for anyone is a miracle. He had a long road ahead of him.

photo-2But sure enough, weekend after weekend all summer long, my dad reported successful early-morning long runs that started before the sun crested the top of the mountain and weekly 3.1-mile afternoon runs that got progressively faster despite the rising afternoon temps. He challenged himself with hills, pushed through the sweltering heat, learned the importance of hydration on long runs, and didn’t get bogged down or discouraged by the not-so-great runs. I might not have witnessed it in person, but his commitment and focus on his goal of completing a half-marathon was apparent and incredibly inspiring.

photo

Before we knew it, there he was at the expo, picking up his bib with my mom and brother in tow.

Later that night, we attended Dave McGillivray‘s keynote speech. Dave, the race director of the Boston Marathon, not only rocks a wicked Boston accent, but has notched countless running feats throughout his lifetime. (He runs his age in miles on his birthday, he has run across the country more than once, he has finished the Boston Marathon for 40+ years in a row, the list goes on…) The philanthropist had us laughing and crying, all the while teaching us life lessons he’s learned while pounding it out on the roads. I wish I could bottle up his talk and re-live it before ALL of my races. It certainly set the tone for the next day.

On race morning after we pinned on our bibs, my dad and I set off for the start line. The air was crisp, the clear-blue sky was bathed in sunlight – it was the PERFECT day to run. We lined up at the front so we could take it all in. The crowd’s energy was electric. A few minutes before the start, my dad and I snapped a couple pre-race photos and gave each other good-luck hugs. I can’t really put into words how much it meant to me to see my dad on the brink of accomplishing this goal he’d worked so hard for all summer long. It made my heart swell with happiness. Instead of crying nervous tears, I cried happy ones. (Click on the photos to enlarge!)

And with that emotional start, we were off!

The game plan was to finish my race, which doubled as my last long training run before Marine Corps, then run the course backwards until I found my dad. After I finished my run, I snuck back on the course, and it wasn’t long before I saw him cruising past a water stop just before Mile 12. He was crushing it.

With just over a mile to go, the two of us set off for the finish line. Then, with one last hill behind us, we made our way through the tunnel of cheering spectators, spotting Mom and my brother before crossing the finish line. He did it.

photo 3photo

My dad ran every step of the race at his 5K pace from January. He not only finished 13.1 miles, he demolished them.

Seeing my dad’s goal become a reality in the form of a hard-fought finisher’s medal was incredible. I’m literally in awe of the perseverance it took for him to get from “the starting line” he crossed on that day back in April when he texted me to the finish line of his first half-marathon. His accomplishment is the reason why running is awesome. My dad is my inspiration, always has been, and always will be.

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photo-1On Saturday morning, my youngest brother Kyle lined up for the start of the 5K at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. Had you told me that the kid who once quit soccer because he “didn’t like to sweat” would be voluntarily running a 5K, I wouldn’t have believed you. Unlike my other (older) younger brother and I who both dove headfirst into soccer (and eventually running for me) early on and obsessed over athletics more than pretty much anything else in life for years, Kyle tried different sports on and off, but nothing really stuck.

However now that he’s gotten a bit older, he started running for the track and cross country teams at his middle school. Just like I did when I was his age, he’s getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to log some miles at practice before going to school. What’s amazing about my brother is that he already knows how to run just for himself. He doesn’t get bogged down about what others think of his performance. He focuses only on improving from one race to the next, enjoying the camaraderie of his teammates along the way. He knows he’s not the best on the team, but that doesn’t matter to him. I think he just likes to run. Yup, he figured that out about 10 years before I did.

Smarty pants.

It makes me so happy to see my brother enjoy the sport I’ve been passionate about since I was his age. My hope is that it becomes something he enjoys doing for the rest of his life, in whatever way, shape, or form that may be.

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I have to take a second to do a quick shout-out to everyone in the “twitterverse” who I met in real life this weekend: Jocelyn, Ashley, the #RunChat dudes Scott and David, Jaime, Pam, Marcia and more! Y’all are so dang cool, and I seriously wish we all lived closer to one another so we could run together all the time. But hey, thank goodness for twitter, right? Thank you guys so much for coming to our event. I’m so thankful that we all got to connect in person, and I hope that our paths cross again many more times in the future!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” – Fred Lebow 

Race Report | Fifth Avenue Mile

Screen shot 2013-09-24 at 9.04.12 PMThere’s nothing quite like flooring it for a mile to remind you what racing fast really feels like. One: It’s incredibly exhilarating feeling smooth, speedy and powerful. Two: After teaching myself to hold my horses for at least 13 miles in a marathon, getting to unleash them over just a mile is a rush. And three: It still manages to wipe me out after just 5,280 feet.

On race morning, after watching my friends run their heats of the Fifth Avenue Mile, I genuinely couldn’t contain my excitement for my turn. Unlike last year where I lined up with cold legs and paid for it for 800 meters, I wanted to do it right this year and give myself a chance to drop my post-collegiate PR of 5:40. So I snuck into Central Park for a few miles and did some striders with my coworkers. I won’t lie, going through the motions of prepping for a race put me right back in college, reigniting those pre-race nerves. My body and brain knew it was time to race (even if it was purely for fun!).

My favorite part of this race is the start. Since I was in the Media Heat, the field was small so the corral wasn’t jam packed like the normal ones. That meant I could put my toe right on the start line. Ahead of me was the pace truck and a straight stretch of Fifth Avenue framed by skyscrapers and elm trees from the park. For a moment, I could imagine what it’s like to be an elite. Not to mention the anticipation of tearing down the middle of a wide open NYC road was killing me.

With a 30-second warning (cue another round of adrenaline), then the gun, off we went! I think I went through the first quarter in maybe 82 or 83 (WAY too fast) and the 800 in 2:42. Then began the internal battle – I had only 800 meters to go, but man was I hurting already. I might be rusty racing distances like this, but they were tricky then and it was tricky on Sunday. To keep pushing or save something for a kick, that was the dilemma.

I held on and attempted to keep my pace, shifting into a slightly faster gear for the last 100 meters. The crowds got progressively louder and more awesome the closer I got to the finish line, so I tried to feed off their energy. I might’ve been dying inside, but I was having a blast.

And with that, it was over. Short, sweet, and seriously ass-kicking. (It’s amazing how racing a mile and cram the feeling of hitting “the wall” in a marathon into just 1,609 meters.) I ended up sneaking just under my PR, running 5:39 for a second Media Heat win in a row. The funny thing about the mile? I want to do it again, like now. It’s like riding a roller coaster. Let’s go again! Let’s go again!

My with my coworkers Budd and Robert. Thanks Erica for the shot!

My with my coworkers Budd and Robert. Thanks Erica for the photo!

The cherry on top of the cake was watching the pro race that was jam-packed with Olympians and World Champions, then sneaking in a quick congrats to Jenny Simpson (who’s back AND better than ever!) and Nick Symmonds.

This race is definitely making it’s way onto my yearly must-do list. The 20 blocks turn into a running party all morning long and it’s just flat out fun. If you want to read more about my experience, check out this post I wrote for RW’s Race Tour Book Column!

2013 Nissan Fifth Ave Mile

QUOTE OF THE POST: “I told him I was nervous about this because Brussels didn’t go well and I haven’t really raced at 1500 for a while, and he said ‘If you’re nervous, just run as far as you can.’ So that’s what I did. Sometimes the easiest instructions are the best instructions.” – Jenny Simpson to her coach Mark Wetmore before her win on Sunday

Race Report | Big Sur International Marathon

484561_10200887983740417_1146771719_nTo say the Big Sur International Marathon course is stunning, breathtaking, surreal, awe-inspring, and downright b-e-a-U-tiful is an understatement. Holy freakin’ smokes. I still can’t really believe that I ran on it. For this reason, I included three slideshows (one for pre-race, race, and post-race shots) to try to somehow capture its magnificence. To be honest, the photos only capture a fraction of the route’s grandeur. More on this later – had to put that out there because you can’t really start a Big Sur Marathon recap without saying that this place might just be heaven on earth. Anywho…

Our Big Sur taste-buds were whetted with a drive down Highway 1 in, get this, a red Mini Cooper. We took in the sights, dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean, flirted with some high school boys chucking Red Vines at us while we were stuck in traffic, and took a pit stop for the world’s most delicious strawberries. Umm…can we stay…like…forever? After a full day of travel on Friday, we arrived in Monterey exhausted, but completely excited for the weekend.

I had very mixed emotions about this race. I desperately needed to escape the endless stream of all things Boston Marathon. (That laughter-filled first road trip on Highway 1 thankfully provided that.) But for that very same reason, this race took on a whole new level of significance. Running Boston to Big Sur wasn’t just a fun physical challenge anymore. For me (and for every runner on that course Sunday morning), it symbolized the beginning of the healing process. It was one of the first steps toward proving that the running community is strong, resilient, and just can’t be stopped.  We might’ve been hundreds of miles away, but you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Boston Marathon race shirt or jacket. It was a powerful sight to say the least. For many reasons, I knew this race would be unlike any I have ever run.

After expo-ing all day Saturday (where I met a Challenger who’s a fellow El Pasoan! AHH!), the girls and I got dinner on the wharf. We had the most eccentric, hysterical waiter who literally tempted us with strawberry-topped desserts by waving them in front of our faces before serving one to another customer. (Yes, I gave in and ordered some. Nom.) We visited the sea lions on the dock–cue the aargh, aargh, aargh sounds!–before the highlight of the evening: the course tour. Our gear guy Jeff drove Hannah, Beachy and I from the finish to the start and back. And let me put it this way, I spent the whole ride exclaiming, “We get to RUN on this tomorrow! WOW! Look at that!” I was beyond excited to put my bib on and run.

Pre-Race Photos

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On race morning, after getting excited at all of our Runner’s World Challengers in the lobby, we loaded the buses for our hour-long ride to the start. The darkness and eerie fog made this drive unique from my two other pre-marathon bus rides. It only fueled my anticipation for the race.

When we arrived, the runner’s village was buzzing. I’m seriously growing to love this road-racing atmosphere. It truly is a celebration. The girls and I tied our #Run4Boston yellow and blue ribbons in our hair, applied some last-minute Body Glide, snapped some pre-race shots, and made our way to the start.

While we waited for the air horn, the official starter, a representative from the Boston Marathon named Ron Kramer, took the microphone. He spoke about what this race meant for Boston, then began a moment of silence for the victims followed by an uproar of applause for all of the heroes from that day. The crowd then joined together to sing the National Anthem. Another powerful moment. The crowd was ready to run.

The always exhilarating rush of nervous excitement carried me through the first few miles. I’d decided to run this race “naked,” in other words, without a watch, because I didn’t want to be glued to my GPS screen. The goal was to listen to my body, soak in the sights, let my mind wander, and just run. I ran with my colleague Jen for the first four or five miles, taking an easy pace before we reached the coast.

Surprisingly, I felt really good, so I decided to pick up the pace and have a little fun. A convoy of cars, one of which carried my coworkers Bart Yasso, Amby Burfoot, and our brand editor Warren, provided some early words of encouragement. Once we reached the ocean, I was instantly struck by the beauty surrounding me. The sun was out, the air was cool, the ocean a gorgeous shade of blue that perfectly complemented the towering green mountains on my right. It wasn’t long before I yanked my phone out to snap some photos. I held my phone the rest of the way, taking photos while I ran. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The taiko drummers whose beats echoed through the entire valley before we started our ascent up Hurricane Point at Mile 10. This was like my high school drum line on steroids. Check ’em out (and excuse my awkward moment of bliss at the end):
  • The glorious downhill afterward that carried us toward the famous Bixby Bridge and the equally famous piano man just after the halfway point. He played “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri when I ran by. Imagine running in that epic setting listening to this:
  • Literally feeling those crazy hill-filled training runs pay off. I cruised up every hill and loved every downhill. I had no clue what pace I was going, but it didn’t matter–I was having a blast.
  • The hysterical mile markers along the way (there are a few in the slideshow). Those Californians have a sense of humor, that’s for sure.
  • Running into Beachy and Cait and a few of the Challengers along the way. Out of all of the people in the race, it was awesome seeing familiar faces!
  • The too-yummy-to-be-real strawberry I ate at Mile 24. Again, can I just stay here, please?
  • Seeing Boston Marathon race shirts and bibs on literally every inch of that course. Along the way, one such woman commented on my ribbons. We chatted briefly about Boston, then she perfectly summarized our feelings about running this race after Boston. She said, simply, “This is a happy run.”

Race Photos

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I continued to feel great until, you know, “The Wall” around mile 20 or 21. All the fun I had with the hills came back to bite me. I started cramping in my quads and hips, so I slowed my pace and settled into survival mode for the final miles full of more rolling hills in the Highlands paired with some yucky road camber. I was thankful I didn’t have my watch to see how much I’d slowed down. After what we’ve called “an insult” of a final hill, the course ended with a downhill toward the finish line. The satisfaction of finishing a marathon never ceases to amaze me. It’s addicting. On Sunday, I finished for those who couldn’t in Boston.

I was greeted by Bart, Warren, and the Boston Marathon representative afterward. He asked me if I was able to finish Boston, then congratulated me on my races. I tried to thank him for being there, but I’m pretty sure it was some garbled nonsense. I was spent. Still, after spending much of the race reflecting on all that happened in Boston, it was again, another powerful moment.

I wobbled over to our tent, pulled on some dry clothes, snagged a smoothie, and headed back toward the finish line area to wait for Hannah to finish. Before I knew it, I spotted her cruising toward the line, smiling while she ran. I can’t tell you how awesome it was to witness her finishing her first marathon. It’s such a life-changing moment, and it was incredible to see her months and miles of hard work pay off. Read her full recap here.
Post-Race Photos

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Overall, it was indeed, unlike any other race I’ve ever run, and I fully intend to run the Boston to Big Sur double again next year if I get the chance. Jen described my feelings about this race perfectly when she said running is a passport to adventures you wouldn’t otherwise have. Exactly. I ended up running 3:43:14, just under three minutes slower than what I ran in Boston 13 days earlier. And I loved every second of it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us — to push on. To persevere. To not grow weary. To not get faint. Even when it hurts. Even when our heart aches. We summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on. We finish the race. We finish the race. And we do that because of who we are. And we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody is there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think that we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall. We know that.” – President Obama, excerpt from his speech at the Boston service

Race Report | 2013 Boston Marathon

I’ve divided this post into two parts: the first will address yesterday’s tragic events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon; the second will share a few of the happier moments from the weekend because, frankly, I’m weary of reading about the sadness that now surrounds what was meant to be a euphoric, celebratory event. I’ve desperately needed a reason to smile, so, in an attempt at some shred of normalcy, I wrote up a quick race report that will hopefully make you smile, too. So, here we go…    

This was taken early Monday morning on the walk to the buses. I'm just about where the first bomb struck.

This was taken early Monday morning on the walk to the buses. I’m just about where the first bomb struck.

I sat this morning at the airport in Boston in a sort of grief-stricken stupor, trying to wrap my brain around all that’s happened in the past 24 hours. I awoke this morning to the TV replaying that infamous clip taken at the finish line. I begged my Dad to turn it off. I’d seen it on loop all afternoon yesterday while I was holed up in my hotel room just a few blocks away from the explosions, and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. A work friend put it perfectly, “I was gonna call my feeling this morning a ‘bad news hangover’ and realized the better word for it is ‘grief.'” Exactly. I put on my yellow Boston Marathon shirt–runners from around the country are wearing race shirts in support of the victims–and headed to the airport. Outside our hotel were a handful of military personnel clutching assault rifles. When I arrived at the airport, the police debriefed me. It all felt like a horrifically bad dream.

The airport was full of Boston Marathoners, all of whom were hobbling thanks to yesterday’s 26.2-mile effort, a journey that for some was cut short. But I’d venture to guess that they, like me, were trying to hide the aches pervading their legs because that post-race pain now seemed incredibly insignificant when others have lost their lives. Our hearts hurt more.

How fortunate are we that our races played out just so so that we were spared from the disaster? I’d finished maybe 40 minutes before the cannon-fire-like booms rang through the city, and my Dad had been sitting in the grandstands right across from the first bomb for over three hours. My editor Tish was on Boylston just before the second explosion, and my colleague and ’68 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot was just three-quarters of a mile away before he was stopped and instructed to go home. Other friends were just meters away covering the race. (By the grace of God, all of us are safe and accounted for.)

What had been an impatient search for my father turned into a frantic one after the explosions. The crowds around me started piecing together what had happened just a couple of blocks away. I noticed a few people near me were crying. Panic started to set in. I hadn’t brought my phone with me, so I used strangers’ phones to try to contact him again. Thankfully (and miraculously), I spotted him across an intersection, saving both of us from what I’m sure would’ve been very unnerving and scary period of worrying about whether either of us were safe. When I started to process it all during the rush back to the hotel, realizing just how close we had come to the danger, I grabbed my Dad and buried my face in his chest, crying and terrified. How very fortunate we were.

I’ve spent the entire day surrounded by the tragedy. Between the man sitting beside me on the plane reading a newspaper with graphic photos of the scene on the cover to countless conversations with coworkers, my parents, and strangers at the airport, it’s all I can think about. After talking through it all day, here’s where I’m at with it all tonight:

Since this was my first Boston, my coworkers have spent the last few months showering me with stories about the unique magic that surrounds this race. I, like I’m sure every runner on that course, pictured the weekend and the race going off without a hitch, imagining turning onto Boylston, crowds screaming, then crossing the famous finish line triumphant. That this event, one that epitomizes jubilant celebrations of perseverance far deeper than finishing the race itself, is stained forever sickens me. This is not how it was supposed to happen. This is not how it played out in my head for months on end. This is not right.

I think this is why my brain is tricking me into thinking that somehow it’s not a big deal. That it wasn’t an earth-shattering, life-changing event. It’s put up a sort of barrier that’s guarding me from fully taking it all in. But then I see photos from the scene and read about those victims who didn’t make it, and it all hits me again. Realizing that so many of my close friends could’ve easily been one of the victims triggers yet another wave of emotions that I’ve been trying to suppress all day. I just can’t believe that this insane event hit so close to home. Much, much too close.

With that being said, I’m trying to focus on the positive as much as possible. That all of my friends are safe and sound fills me with an enormous amount of relief. My faith in the resiliency of the running community could not be any stronger, and I know we’ll pull through this. Though I worry about how this will affect the sport that touches every aspect of my life, I’m confident that we’ll endure and persevere. Heck, it’s what we do.

So here’s my Race Report of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Rather than a traditional recap, I wanted to share with you a handful of moments that filled my heart with joy:

  • Crying happy tears when I said bye to my Dad before loading the busses. I was so incredibly thankful to have him there to experience it all beside me. Knowing that I’d see him at the finish line made me that much more excited to start the race.IMG_0064
  • Making friends with strangers. I chatted with a Canadian woman on the bus who was running her second Boston and later, in the athlete’s village, a triathlete who was a Boston newbie like me. I also made friends with a woman in the corral who wanted to run the same pace as me, and we ran the first half of the race together. We pulled each other along, and even though I lost her around mile 14, she’s the reason I held my goal pace for as long as I did. If you’re reading this, chica, THANK YOU!
  • Spotting my coworkers Warren, Jeff, and Budd by chance near my corral just before the start. They had run the course backwards, and we hadn’t made any plans to meet each other. Finding them was completely by chance, and their last-minute words of encouragement gave me an extra dose of confidence. 529303_10151848507834838_1346390581_n
  • Witnessing the road packed full of a colorful stream of runners moving together with a common goal was powerful and moving. Mix in the spectators that lined nearly every inch of the course, and the feeling of celebration across states, nations, races, ages, backgrounds, you name it, was palpable. Talk about being a part of something much bigger than yourself.
  • The spontaneous YMCA dance mid-race. More than half the runners did the dance while running, and it was way too much fun.
  • Even though I am so not a baseball fan, I appreciated the couple of spectators with whiteboards displaying the score of the current Red Sox game. That’s dedication right there.
  • Seeing encouraging chalk-written words on the streets for Shalane and Kara. Knowing that they’d covered the same streets that I was on was incredibly cool, and they made me hopeful that the girls had had success further down the road.
  • The odd Dr Pepper craving that plagued me for the last 12 or so miles. (This was quenched later that night.)
  • Passing over each timing mat knowing that I was sending my Dad text messages about my progress. I loved knowing that I was sending him little messages telling him I was getting closer and closer to the finish.
  • The bagpiper near mile 20 that made me think of about whole family.
  • The couple times I heard “Thrift Shop,” which made me think about my brother who discovered that song (and played it for me multiple times) long before it was popular.
  • Making the final right onto Hereford, left onto Boylston. I’d been struggling during the second half of the race, but I was relieved to have a little juice left to actually run the final half mile.
  • Finding my Dad in the grandstands right before crossing the line, waving to him and blowing him a kiss. It’s a moment that I’ll remember and cherish forever. LOVE YOU DAD!
  • Finally, the outpouring of support and love from friends and family. It meant the world to me, and I thank you all so much!

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve read dozens of articles and blogs about the event. Here are a few that struck a chord with me:

So Close, Yet So Far, by Amby Burfoot

Bombing in Boston, by Lauren Fleshman

My Thoughts About Boston: Now What?, by Rebecca Pacheco

Eyewitness to Bravery, Horror, by Peter Sagal

The View From the Finish Line Photo Bridge, by Charlie Butler

Boston Marathon: Undone, by Dimity McDowell

An Old Soul Aches for a Simpler Time, by Kelsey Cannon

Love. Strength. Boston., by Pavement Runner

I also have to give a shout out to my amazing, dedicated coworkers who tirelessly reported their hearts out since all hell broke loose yesterday. Check out their work here.

QUOTE OF THE POST: Via @andrewchaklarge-2