Boston Marathon Race Report

Almost giddy (and drenched in sweat and water) near mid-race, in Wellesley, where my spirits soared. (Taken by Christy Zuzelo, my Boston Marathon photo hero!)

This year's Boston Marathon viral campaign by race sponsor adidas was the phrase, "all in," e.g. along the race course, as runners entered into a new town along the point-to-point course, there was a massive fabric billboard announcing, "Natick is all in," or "Wellesley is all in." I'm co-opting the phrase, announcing to the world: Sarah Bowen Shea was all in at the 2012 Boston Marathon. While the weather slowed me down considerably--I finished in 4:43:56, 30 to 40 minutes slower than the time I trained for--I am incredibly proud of my finish, and I felt like a badass mother runner from start to finish.

If you haven't heard, temperatures topped 89 degrees midday on Monday, not exactly what I'd trained for in chilly, overcast Portland. The sun beat down on us the entire way, and it was in the low 80s for the mid-morning start. When I arrived at the Athletes' Village in Hopkinton (after being bussed out from Beantown), I immediately peeled off toward a brick school. Forget soaking up ambiance; I was seeking scarce shade. I set up my mat, and struck up a conversation with two other first-timers--Neil, a local, 42-year-old math teacher who had raised money to gain entry, and Carl, 75, a Coloradan who had a heart attack in the fall of 2010 yet qualified last year in a time of 4:24. Time passed quickly and I enjoyed talking to the gentlemen, but I longed to chat with some mother runners. I spied my opening when I saw three women close to my age (29, of course!) applying BodyGlide. I dashed over to them, asking if I could use some. We instantly bonded when one of them, Leslie, a nurse from Wisconsin who was doing her fourth Boston, shot back, "Sure, but it depends on where you want to put it." Turns out she once witnessed a guy runner drop trou pre-race and apply the anti-chafing lube all over his man-bits. I was just looking to protect underside of my upper arms and near bra straps, so we were good.

Leslie, me, and Amy getting close in the shade

I ended up hanging with my new BFFs--Leslie, Amy, and Gay--through the start of the race. It was delightful to joke around with them and garner race tidbits from Leslie rather than fretting or feeling alone. We tromped together toward the starting line, nearly a mile from the Athletes' Village, stopping to ink names on our arms with Sharpies provided by some thoughtful Hopkinton residents. The gals clued me in that our wave had already started, so we were closer to the back of the pack than up in corral 3 (of 9) of Wave 3. If I'd been solo, I might have fretted; instead, it was all a source of merriment. It meant I was surrounded by charity runners during the race, a new experience for me and it added a heart-warming, soul-stirring component. (As well as a ton of rowdy cheers--especially since, thank heavens, many of the charity gals were named Sara/Sarah so I could pretend the rousing exclamations were for me!)

I was successful in slowing my roll for the first few miles, as all Boston vets had recommended. I soaked in the crowd support and pretty bucolic setting. Hopkinton highlight: A woman dressed as a fairy waving a magic wand over the crowd fro a second-floor window of a building lining the course. I imagined her sprinkling fairy dust on us all, to ease our load down the road.

But I'm not going to sugarcoat it: It was brutally hot for the first 12 or so miles. While not too humid (thank heavens for small miracles!), the air was stagnant. It was like running in an oven, and I had to fight a panic attack once or twice. Daydreaming about chilly, damp Pacific Northwest weather helped cool my mind, if not my body. I gave myself a mental carrot, deciding I could start to walk at Mile 15, if it came to it.

But the ambiance of the race took a delightful, dramatic shift in Wellesley, a town I lived in for three years (including the worst year of my life, when my first husband moved out and we debated our [eventual] divorce--so not a ton of fond memories). The enthusiasm of the Wellesley women lining the right side of the course lived up to the hype: I whooped and hollered right back at them, high-fiving countless outstretched hands. (But no smooches: I couldn't decide which gal to kiss, although the "Kiss Me--I'm Gluten Free" and "Kiss Me--I'm a Math Major" were tempting, as I love a sense of humor.) After that hoopla, I cruised along, eagerly looking for my friend Nichole and her five children, sure to have an awesome sign. Instead, a mile later, I spied a bunch of Portlanders from Phoebe's soccer team, including Stuart, whose cheer of, "Run Like a Mother, Sarah" had helped propel me to my BQ-finish in the 2010 Portland Marathon. The high of embracing them, plus seeing mother runner Christy Zuzelo, buoyed my mood greatly. I never spied Nichole and her brood, but I was good, especially thanks to the generosity of several Wellesley residents who dispensed ice cubes (which I stuffed in my hat and down my bra) and bottled water.

Giving Court the "all good" thumbs up near Mile 16

I stopped to chat with my best friend, Courtenay, who had flown up from the D.C. area the night before to visit and offer support. She seemed concerned about me, but I reassured her several times I was feeling fine and cogent. (I told proclaimed her full name to prove my point.) I downed one bottle of water, and took another one with me.

The next standout memories were the notorious Newton hills. Yes, they were challenging, but my legs actually enjoyed the change of terrain--and my confidence soared as I started to pass countless runners at this point. At times, it seemed as if the majority of the field was walking instead of running; it felt more like a zombie apocalypse than a major marathon.

Then came a sequence a Hollywood director couldn't have scripted more perfectly: At the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, there was Team Hoyt--father Dick Hoyt pushing his grown son, Rick, in a wheelchair. It was so moving, I had to suppress a body-wracking sob as I started to climb the infamous incline. As if that wasn't enough, my ultimate psych-up song from college rowing days--R.E.M.'s "Superman"--started playing. It was a perfect storm of inspiration.

I knew the course stayed hilly until just passed Mile 21, so I stayed focused on reaching that point. From there out, I told myself, "one more mile." It was the limit my brain could handle. And, since Wellesley, my revised goal for the marathon was: Don't walk except when drinking, taking in gels, or greeting a friend. A big revised goal from my, "finish in close to 4:00," but given the weather, it was anything but a given.

I think I look pretty darn happy--and proud--just after the finish line

The closer we got to Boston, the greater the crowd support became. I was grabbing motivation and energy where I could find it, including chomping on two pieces of Jolt caffeinated gum and downing two gels in the final 10K of the race. And when someone yelled out, "Yes, you can!" I kept repeating to myself, "you can do this; you can do this." My quads felt like cinder blocks by this point, but when I did a mental "systems check" I had to admit to myself I felt pretty good. I'd gotten sprayed by dozens of hoses and "misting tents" (think: car wash for runners, minus the soap and brushes) and drank loads of water (and chewed several Starbucks' salt packets at one point), so I didn't feel overheated and my fitness had been finely honed from following the Marathon: Own It plan in Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line - and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity.

But the final miles were rough. By that point, trying to repeat, "you're badass" became too much for my addled brain, so I just kept silently saying, "badass, badass, badass." Yet I never slowed to a walk, and the final 1/3-mile made all the grueling work and discomfort worth it: The roar of the crowd echoed off the city buildings as we turned onto Hereford St., then  turned left onto the final straightaway on Boylston St., and W-O-W.

Throngs of spectators cheered and screamed like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Jesus were running next to me. I milked the moments for all they were worth, throwing my arms in the air and whooping like a banshee. The marathon crowd was relatively sparse at this point, so I honestly felt like all eyes were on me. (Obviously I was delusional.) It was an incomparable thrill. I cast a quick glance down at my Garmin 610 (something I'd rarely done during the 'thon), and it told me I was running about a 9:30 mile. After all my body had been through by this point, my mind fireworked with pride as if I was breaking the 4-minute mile. As I cruised toward the finish line with my arms raised in triumphant glee, a smile spread across my face--and utter joy banished my fatigue.

118 responses to “Boston Marathon Race Report

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  4. How the heck did I miss this last week??
    I’m so glad you had such a great experience despite the conditions we were put through. I was exactly an hour plus on my BQ time. Brutal! I was really tryin, to take it all in but I was in so much pain and so uncomfortable through most of it that it was difficult to make it through. I high-fived as many BC kids as I could and they loved me! And they loved it even more when I made fun of the cops for not fiving me. I even had a shot of beer! Those last few miles were so awful I don’t know that I soaked in as much of the Boston love that I wanted to. I can tell that you are a very experienced marathoner in that you can stay focused on something. My mind seems to wander so much and all I can do is focus on how bad it sucks.
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It was really great to meet you at the expo. Congrats on your Boston finish.

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