The Boston Marathon
It is December 13th, about 8 months after I ran the Boston Marathon. I received many DMs on Instagram asking when I’d be blogging my recap. Truth be told, I didn’t want to relive this race by writing about it. So, maybe that’s why it’s taken me this long to recap my experience in Boston. Or, maybe I’ve just been lazy. Whatever the reason may be, I am now posting my experience. I have been writing it in bits and pieces over the last several months. Now, I am sure you have read many Boston recaps from the 2018 storm that hit us, but remember not every runners experience is the same. With that being said, I hope some of you are able to relate and that you are able to take away something from reading this.
As all runners do, I crazily checked the weather every day the week leading up to Marathon Monday. All looked good until the Thursday before when the forecast showed snow on Sunday and storms on Monday. On Friday, I did a shake out run in shorts and a t-shirt. It was sunny with just a light breeze - perfect marathon racing weather! On Sunday, my girl, Bri and I did our shakeout in the morning and it was quite a different picture: my warmest leggings, mittens, beanie, a tank top, long sleeve and a wind breaker. It sleeted during our entire shake out. It was so windy and our faces looked like that of dogs sticking their heads out the window cruising down the Pacific Coast Hwy. We laughed so hard and talked about the race we were about to run the next day. We were about to run the boston friken marathon!!! Rain, shine, snow, ice, sleet, humidity, bring - it - on! We were there for the experience and if it wasn’t going to be a PR day, we decided that would be okay.
Last mini tune up before the race!
To be honest, I wasn’t too worried until Sunday night when I was laying out my race day outfit. The wind was howling between the buildings and rain slapping into the side of the window. It continued to get worse.
At 8pm, I walked across the street to TJ Max. I bought a yoga mat for the athletes village (aka refugee camp) and a $19 pair of converse. At check out, I asked for two extra bags: One for my left foot and one for my right foot to wear the next day. I did not come to Boston prepared for the weather. This was as much last minute preparation as I was going to get.
My coach (Jill Deering), sent me and my good friend Bri a pre race pep text and instructions on what to wear (my biggest worry).
Jill: Hey ladies. You both are READY. Yes, it will be cold. Yes, it will probably be raining. So what. Wear layers. Wear a trash bag over your clothes and toss it right before the gun goes off. Ease into marathon pace especially with the cold. Remember to drink lots of fluids during the race. Even though it will be cold, you can still get dehydrated. Wear all the clothes and toss them as you run (beanie, gloves, arm sleeves, etc). I’ll buy you each new clothes if you don’t have extras!! Be mentally prepared for tough conditions. But physically - YOU ARE READY.
Bri: Gosh I’m excited and nervous. Love you so much. Thank you for texting us.
Jill: Jett and I are rooting for you and will be tracking you both!! We are so excited!!
Me: Thank you Jill!! The only thing I’m nervous about is the wind, but we are ready!! It’s going to be a fun one!
Jill: Tuck in behind somehow, even if the pace isn’t 100% perfect. Let someone else block the wind and do the wind. Run the entire race right behind someone (or multiple people). There will be so many runners, this won’t be hard to do. Use anyone you can find - the bigger the person, the better!
[You guys, I am crying right now recapping this. But, a good cry!! I’ve tucked this weekend away in the back of my memory storage for almost 6 months because it damaged me so much mentally and physically; I was afraid to think about it. But, I was more excited, pumped and ready for this race than I have ever been for anything! Remembering that feeling is bringing me joyous tears.]
Back to the recap….
We cannot control the weather, but we can control our attitude about the weather. I had trained in rain. I trained in wind. I trained in cold. I did not train in the three combined. This was going to be a new experience.
My alarm went off Monday morning. I got out of bed, rinsed off in the shower (pre-race ritual), toasted my bagel and smothered it with peanut butter. As I ate my breakfast, I visualized myself crossing the finish line. My goal was to run sub 3 hours, but I knew in my heart that I was in the best shape of my life and could easily run a 2:55 - 2:56 if I had a good day. So, that is what I visualized. I saw myself running down the final stretch, hearing Anthony yell, “Go saigey!” and picking it up to cross in 2:55 and some change. Yes, the weather outside was absolutely dreadful. But, who is to say that I couldn’t still run well on a day like this. I trained my ass off and I decided that morning I was going to give it everything I had, no matter how cold or nasty it got out there.
Anthony took an Uber with me from our hotel to the bus loading zone. We watched the weather spin madly around us on the drive. I couldn’t stop looking at how fast the windshield wipers were moving to keep up with the rain. I remember starting to cry. I looked at Anthony and said,
I worked so hard to get here (cue the waterfall tears). Why is this happening?
In true Anthony fashion, he said to me,
You’re going to run 2:55! I just know it! It’s just a little bit of rain! That never hurt anyone!
He has this way of being optimistic that sometimes pisses me off because it is optimistically UNREALISTIC!! But, it is also one of the things I love the most about him because as bad as the situation is, he ALWAYS tries to get me see the good in it, even if that good is only an ounce of goodness.
Anthony walked me to the buses, gave me a kiss and told me he would see me at the finish line. Little did I know, I wouldn’t see him until 5pm that night.
I hopped on a bus and took a seat near a bunch of guys. All guys that had run Boston before. They were all hyped up, which settled my nerves a little bit. We arrived to the athletes village and I have never had to pee so bad in my life! I walked down to the athletes village and was greeted with mud puddles about ankle deep. There was no way around it - through the mud I trekked to the porta’s! I was feeling very thankful for the trash bags over my feet at this time.
The wind howled throughout the athletes village (which resembled a refugee camp in WWII). I walked through the tent aiming to get as close to the center as possible to keep warm in the sea of marathoners that flooded the tent. Everywhere I looked I saw runners with tense shoulders, shrugged up to their ears trying to keep warm. The sound of chattering teeth was all I could hear. I found a spot with enough ground space to lay down my yoga mat. I took a seat and waited. Two older gentlemen asked if they could sit next to me. I offered them up some mat space and they took a seat. Both men were from New York. This was their 14th Boston Marathon they’d be running together. They shared of all their Boston race experiences. The hot days, the cold days, the windy days. They’d never seen weather quite like this on race day. I shared that this was my first Boston and I planned to run sub 3 hours. They laughed and said it wasn’t a PR course, nor a PR day. I was still going to try.
I ate my banana with peanut butter and heard an announcement for Corral 1 to head to the start line. This was it. There’s no backing out now. I have to run this thing. I started walking towards the start line, which had to be at least a mile walk from the athletes village. The wind still howling and the sleeting rain hitting my face. My teeth were chattering, my bones were shaking, and my muscles cramping from tensing to keep warm. I kept walking. As I got closer to the start line, I realized I had to pee. I stopped off in a bush, peed and marched on to the start. My internal dialogue:
Gosh damn it. I’m so effing cold. I can’t feel my feet. I can’t feel my hands.
We packed into our Corral. I started to cry. I’ve never been so cold. Not being able to feel my feet, scared me. I was about to run 26.2 miles with numb feet and limbs. How? I cried because of discomfort. I cried knowing how hard I worked to get here. I cried in fear of what was going to happen over the next few hours. I cried because all I wanted was to be in Anthony’s arms. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. To race or to drop out. Was I going to waste my fitness on this day? That is what crushed me the most. I knew what I was capable of doing that day. The possibility that, that might be robbed from me due to weather came to the forefront of my mind and it crushed me.
I stripped off my first layer of clothing that was now soaking wet. The race began.
Here we go.
I crossed the start line and started my watch. It was packed. We were moving like sloths out of the gates. My first mile came in at 7:22. I stripped off another layer of clothes. At this point, I was wearing the rabbit legs shorts, a long sleeve, arm warmers and mittens with hand warmers shoved down in the palm. Still could not feel my feet, which is still the weirdest experience I’ve ever had. I could have sprained my ankle and I would have had no idea with the level of numbness. The next five miles clicked on by: 7:08, 7:02, 6:51, 6:54, 6:46. I felt pretty decent for running straight into the wind and rain.
It was time for me to take in fuel. I reached down to my flip belt to pull out a gel. It took me a good 5 minutes to actually grab one. My hands were still completely numb. I finally grabbed a gel. I went to rip it open with my teeth and lost grip of the gel. It flew back behind me and I lost it. Okay, no worries! That’s why you packed 7 gels. I tried to grab another gel. The same exact thing happened!! I lost 2 gels during mile 7, which clocked in at 6:45. I wondered if maybe I was going too fast. I was numb, but felt great and was confident that I could hold a 6:45 pace. I knew that I only had 5 gels left. I decided to wait until mile 10 to try again, hoping that I would get some feeling back in my hands.
I was able to take in some fluids at the first water station. After that, I wouldn’t take in any fluids until after I crossed the finish. Each time I went to grab water, my hands were not responding fast enough to grip the cup and I basically just knocked every cup out of the volunteers hands.
Mile 8 - 6:56
Mile 9 - 6:50
Mile 10 - 6:48
Okay, let’s try this gel thing again. My hands were no less numb than they were before, but I tried anyways. This time I really struggled to even pull one out of my belt. I was in a wrestling match with my belt, twisting it all around my torso trying to get my hands on a stinking gel. I started to cry. I was so frustrated, so cold and so miserable. I grabbed hold of a gel, but lost it when I tried to open it with my teeth. 3 gels lost. I tried to grab another one and lost that one too. 4 gels lost. SHIT!
I downed 2 scoops genucan in the athletes village. I knew that I could sustain effort on that fuel for up to 20 miles (based on what I did in training) without needing more fuel, so that was my new game plan.
Miles 11-14 were pretty uneventful (6:55, 6:49, 6:54, 6:54). I just kept running and tried to keep my effort level the same against the wind. I remember passing by Wellesley and it was a ghost town compared to what I heard it typically is on race day.
I hit a mental block at mile 15 (7:00). I started crying again. I was so damn miserable. I started to consider dropping. All I wanted was to see Anthony. When I thought about Anthony, it made me cry harder. Somehow, I kept running. I was remembering all the training I did leading up to this race. The debate going through my head was:
What is going to get me to the finish line faster? If I finish this damn race, or if I pull off into a medical tent?
I truly didn’t know the answer to that question. My gut told me that it’d be a longer if I dropped, so I kept running. Mile 16 - 6:51.
Half way through mile 17, I hit another mental block. I started telling myself, “just jog it in,” and asking myself, “do you want to risk injury right now by pushing through this weather on frozen legs?” I didn’t. I started crying again. I didn’t know what to do. I was flipping back and forth between, I am in the best shape of my life right now, don’t waste your fitness, and Don’t risk injury and put yourself out of running for longer than needed.
Mile 17 and 18 (7:16, 7:13). This is where the rippling hills of the course began. I trained for this damn it! All those runs through Golden Gate park! Screw this wind! I slowed way down as I contemplated what to do. What kept me going was all the runners around me, who were still running. If they weren’t stopping, then I wasn’t going to either. Eight more miles left until the finish. I could do that.
I tried again to take what was left of my gels and lost all of them by the time I had hit mile 20 (19 - 6:54, 20 - 7:08). All 7 gels, lost in the wind and rain somewhere between here and Hopkinton.
I knew I was coming up on the infamous heart break hill. The crowds were actually out and cheering near this point on the course and that is what gave me a second (more like third or fourth) wind to the finish. Like in training, I charged up and over heart break hill. It was much shorter and much less steep than I had anticipated, which was a pleasant surprise.
Mile 21 - 7:04
At the top of heartbreak hill, someone was handing out Cliff gels. I grabbed one and FINALLY was able to get some fuel into my system for the last 10k. I guzzled it down and told myself to give these last few miles everything I had.
I remember coming down from heart break hill and my quads, OH MY QUADS!! It was the first time during the whole race that I had any feeling in my legs, and man was that feeling DEEP. I wasn’t sure if my femurs were about to break or if my muscles were just really that sore. I could feel my knees starting to buckle on the downhill, but stayed focused.
I remember hearing someone yell my name,
I thought for sure this had to be Anthony or my mom because no one else typically calls me that! But, in retrospect, I didn’t care who it was shouting out. There were people out cheering in this weathering, which is much more brave than running in it!
Mile 22 - 6:26… All right, if I can keep this pace, I’ll run under 3 hours!!
Mile 23 - 6:45… Mmkay, I’m tired. My legs hurt.
Mile 24 - 6:47… Damn it, Saige! Pick it up! You’re so close.
At this point, I really wasn’t sure what my time was going to be. I knew if I could have hung onto that 6:25 - 6:30 pace, I would have run under 3 hours, but by mile 24, I was honestly just proud to have made it that far on a day like April 16, 2018.
Mile 25 - 6:35… The tears were rolling. The pain was throbbing. The joy to be almost done had me laughing and crying at the same time, which gave me the ultimate melting clown face in pictures!! Like, it’s epic you guys.
Mile 26 - 6:40… HOLY SHIT! I am about to finish the Boston friken marathon!! Look for mom, Auntie and Anthony.
I didn’t see or hear my family anywhere between mile 26 and the finish line, as we had planned. I will say that final stretch on Boylston street is the LONGEST final stretch of any race I’ve ever ran.
.2 - 6:13…
Finish time of 3:02:19 - a 3 minute PR. I’ll take it.
After the finish…
I don’t remember much after crossing the finish line. I remember getting wheeled into a tent. Three women stripped off all my clothing until I was standing naked. They wrapped me in foil blankets and laid me down on a cot. I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought I was going to break my teeth from all the chatter. A volunteer took my body temperature - 78 degrees. Two volunteers put heating vents at my feet and up by my head. Another volunteer was feeding me hot chicken broth to bring my core body temperature back to normal. I was in so much pain. All I wanted was to see Anthony. I was in the medical tent for almost 2 hours. Once my body temperature reached 98 degrees, they sent me on my way. A race volunteer brought me the clothes I checked at gear check. I dressed in my warm clothes and off I went to try and find Anthony.
I had no phone. I was still shivering. I had no idea of the time. I asked a race volunteer to borrow her phone. I called Anthony and told him to meet me at the family meeting location. We couldn’t hear each other. I walked towards the family meeting center. No Anthony, no mom, no aunt. I was crying like a 4 year old child who lost their mom in the grocery store. I asked a stranger to borrow their phone. I called Anthony again, told him what hotel umbrella I was standing under and begged him to please find me. About 30 minutes later, I see my mom and Anthony running down the street. I don’t have the energy to say anything, so I just walk out into the street hoping they will see me. Anthony is running towards me while taking his coat off. Once he gets to me, he wraps his coat around me and just hugs me. I am balling. Like, hysterically, hyperventilating balling. I see my mom. We all know what happens when you see your mom… you don’t think you can cry any harder and then boom… the cry for your mother is like no other, whether you are a new born, 27 years old, or 50.
It was 5pm… FIVE P.M. Four hours after I had crossed the finish line… All I had to say was,
I knew the second I crossed that finish line that I wasn’t just done with the race, but I was going to be done with running for quite some time. Not by choice, no no no. By choosing to push my body past its limits.
I made several difficult decisions along the course of those 26.2 miles. Many that I have still thought about over the last 8 months. I have asked myself,
What if I had just dropped? I could have saved my legs and fitness for a marathon a few weeks later.
What if I had decided to not push and just run the marathon as a fun run?
So many, “What if’s?”
All of which, I will never know the answers too. I didn’t know the answer out on the course and I will never know the answers now. I made the decisions I made and for the longest time (about 6 months) I regretted every decision I made out on the course that day. I cried about it more times than I can count. I was angry at myself for being stubborn and insisting I finish strong even if it meant risking injury, which I still think was a stupid decision, but it had its benefits too.
I knew going into Boston 2018 that I was in the best physical and mental fitness I had ever been in. I was hungry. I was committed. I was confident that I could not only run under 3 hours, but faster than that.
While this particular race was clearly very traumatic for me, it has also been the very foundation for which I have started over.
After Boston, I tried to get back into training after 2 weeks off. If I can remember correctly, I lasted a week and a half before my body said BACK OFF SISTER!!
I strained my hamstring while running Boston. I didn’t feel it at the time because I was numb, but it came up later. That strain turned into upper hamstring tendonitis, which I have been dealing with for the last 8 months (luckily still able to train through, albeit carefully). This injury can be completely debilitating and is the most frustrating injury to rehab!!
After getting some blood work done (thanks InsideTracker), I also discovered my DHEA-S levels were at a dangerously low level. For those of you that don’t know, this measures your adrenal and hormone functioning. My adrenals were not functioning. My ferritin (iron storage) levels also came back at a marker of 5, meaning my body was not absorbing iron. Two biomarkers that you DO NOT want to mess around with!
I was falling asleep at work and getting lost on my drive home from work. I remember trying to have conversations with Anthony and I would forget what I was talking about. My speech was slurred and didn’t make sense sometimes. My resting heart rate was anywhere between 80 - 90 (usually my resting HR is at 40-45). I think you get the idea. My body was in shut down mode, which meant running was not going to happen and rest NEEDED to happen.
So, that is what I did… I rested. I ate lots of good food to focus on recovering my body. I took naps everyday and focused on sleeping at least 10 hours a night. I followed a strict protocol to get my iron levels and DHEA-S levels back to normal - all of which can be done through GOOD NUTRITION and having patience.
It took me all of late spring through the end of summer to feel like myself again. It was about 4-5 months. My coach was supportive through it all and it took figuring out my body and what it could handle all over again. I’d take 3 steps forward only to take 5 steps backwards. I had more mental wounds than physical and that took a lot of repairing, which is a whole other blog post on its own.
How I feel about Boston now…
The last two months, my reflection on Boston has changed. I spent 6 months regretting every decision I made during that race. I also spent those 6 months burrowing myself in negative vows (i.e. “i’ll never be as fast as I was before Boston,” “I can’t hit these paces,” etc."). Now, I am so proud of the decisions I made. I did the hard thing that day - I committed to still attempting my goals on a tough day. Yes, it put me out of commission for longer than I would have liked, but that could have happened whether there was the storm of the century or a perfect blue bird, crisp 40 degree day.
While it took me over half a year to mentally recover from Boston, I am mentally stronger now. I never thought I was going to get my grit back. It’s back baby! I have never been a natural athlete, but I am a determined one and that has outweighed my physical fitness every-single-time. I can do hard things. Boston proved to me, once again, that physical limits simply do not exist. They exist only as long as your mind allows them to exist.
As for the course… in my opinion, CIM is a tougher course than Boston. I can’t wait to make it back to Boston some day and experience the race for what it really is - crowds and all!
I am shocked at the amount of time I spent beating myself over this race. But that’s what we do as runners. We always want more and we are our own worst critics. I negative split the course… something I have never done. My body let me perform with minimal fuel - 1 gel!! Reflecting on all of this now allows me to see a world of possibilities in this life long adventure of running and that is the ultimate goal - to do this for as long as my body will physically allow.
I have tons of more thoughts on Boston, but I am tired of writing now… so THE END.
Ps. I’m back in action and ready to make some big things happen :)
Comment or email me with questions or anything you’d like me to cover in more detail and I am happy to do so!!
Happy Running - Saigey