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., thenΒ  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.

122 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.

  5. I kissed the Math Major! She was more surprised than I was, but the guys behind me loved it! This captures the experience beautifully. Thank you for sharing it. I loved the car washes sans soap!!

  6. You are DA BOMB. I was tracking you online and sending you a mental spectator mantra of “Don’t Stop” and “Be Safe” – I figured both would cover it!

  7. You have accomplished something many of use will never qualify for or finish. I’m impressed with your attitude and hope you really “soaked it up”. Congratulations!

  8. Congratulations on a great race.

    And on a lovely race report. It makes me want to sign up for a full, though it’s something I told myself I’d table until my kids were a little older!

  9. finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible. Congratulations Sarah, you did us all so PROUD!!

  10. Loved your post Sarah! Sounds like an awesome race, I saw Team Hoyt at the Bellingham Bay 1/2 a few years ago, so inspiring. I just wanted to let you know your recap was perfect and really reminds me why I enjoy marathons! Keep up the great work!

  11. Loved this post Sarah! I got tears in my eyes at the end when you described getting to the finish! I went to Wellesley and also lived in Boston for a few years and while I never ran (and actually hated running back then) I have some great memories of watching the marathon and screaming at the wellesley scream tunnel! You totally rocked the marathon and I am so excited for you!

  12. Huge congratulations to you, SBS! I was thinking of you all day on Monday and tracking you online. Your splits all looked great and you paced yourself so well (given the conditions). I can’t wait to get to Boston next year!

  13. Congrats, SBS!! What an amazing accomplishment! I, too, ran the 2010 Portland Marathon with hopes of qualifying, but it didn’t happen. (So rainy.) I love your books and relate so much to all you and Dimity write. How do I get you guys to follow me on Twitter? I am not on Facebook, but am on Twitter. @sjmeltz I am currently training for the Missoula Marathon in July. My 4th, but first in the state I live. Thanks for all the inspiration!

  14. Congratulations, SBS!! I teared up reading this. I stalked, I mean tracked, your progress on Monday and couldn’t wait to read your race report. I just ran my first half a little over two weeks ago in low-70s weather, which was bad enough. I can’t imagine how you and all the other runners felt on Monday! You’re a rock star!

    Reading this actually made me reconsider my previous declaration that I will never run a marathon. Maybe.

  15. I cried reading your description of your race and your struggles at the end. I am very proud of you and am encouraged to complete my first marathon in August! Thank you for writing this! Happy running!

  16. I too was following you online. Don’t think of me as a stalker, think of me as a fan! πŸ˜‰ Great job, SBS!!! I love your account of your experience and feel like I was right there with you. What an incredible accomplishment. CONGRATULATIONS BAMR!!!

  17. What a rush! Your account takes me back to my one and only marathon – a hot, humid Miami run in January 2006. Congratulations on a job well done!

  18. Thank you for sharing such a vivid and inspirational account of Monday’s race! We watched for you and for others in front of my family’s store in the center of Wellesley but I missed you somehow. My preschool-aged kids and their friends were handing out oranges and water and it was so amazing to see the wonder in their eyes as these tough-as-nails BAMR athletes stopped to say hello and grab some a quick drink. Actually, I think I had the same look of wonder in my eyes – you were all phenomenal to watch on Monday. Congratulations! I’ll be running my second half next month and hope to run my own 26.2 someday!

  19. I am so proud of you and taking on Boston in those temperatures. I am in awe of everyone who took on the beastly weather on Monday – you are my idol.

  20. Congratulations! I remember sitting in that room at ClubSport with you for the book reading after the Portland when you qualified! So excited to read about your journey now! What a major accomplishment, Sarah! Enthusiastic “Hell Yeah, ya Badass Mother Runner!!!!!”

  21. For crying out loud!!! That was an awesome race report!!! I felt like I was with you every second including the sobs in seeing team hoyt (that would have done me in, I’m sure of it) to hooping and hollering with you at the end!!! so amazing. Congrats, Sarah! I texted and tweeted in congrats but not sure they got to you! So proud of you. You truly look like you soaked it all in and enjoyed every minute despite the horrific marathon weather. Love that last picture of you. It is the perfect display of exhausted exuberance, pride, and elation. You represented us well, ms. badass mother runner. Thanks for taking us to the streets of Boston!!! Much love to you, Sarah. You rocked it WELL!!! makes me want it even more….

  22. Congrats!!! The thought of running when the temps are in the 80’s makes me want to puke, and you ran a marathon in it!! Wow!! I love both of the books and truly appreciate all you both put into them and the webposts!!

  23. I CAN’T BELIEVE I MISSED YOU!!! We were at the corner of Washington and Wellesley Ave for an hour, cheering our heads off! Do you know what time you passed through? We got there at 11:30…

    Funny: Walking home uphill in the heat, the 6yo said, “Those runners are LUCKY. This is HARDER. No one’s handing ME cups of water!”

  24. Congratulations!!! I think you’ve been officially upgraded to Wicked Bad Ass Mother Runner! I enjoyed your recap and am so impressed how you turned a potentially awful experience into a positive one. Way to go!

  25. Congratulations, SBS! So happy and proud of you. Especially considering those temps. I hope some day to be able to enjoy the experience in participating in a Boston Marathon.

  26. Amazing run, fantastic story, chills and tears and pointers and things to help me with my mental prep for this Saturday’s half! Team Hoyt would have made me stop and bawl, how inspiring that you used the experience to keep going. Truly spectacular. SO happy for you!!! Enjoy the rest of your journey. And when all else fails, I’m going to visualize Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Jesus running with me :).

  27. SBS – I ran Boston too – wish I had thought to look for you. I was a charity runner with the Tufts Marathon Team and in wave 3, corral 9. I love your description of the race – perfectly attuned to mine. It was horrific and terrific all rolled into one. And Boylston, I will never forget seeing the finish line banner. I had chills and tears in my eyes. But I will NEVER run a 90 degree marathon again. πŸ™‚ Congrats!

  28. Awesome job, Sarah!!!! I am really proud of you! Sounds tough but so rewarding–you are an inspiration! Thank you for the idea of writing a play-by-play of your marathon–I think I will do this the day after I run my first this coming October. Way! to! GO!!!!

  29. I love this!!! Oh, what if Lady GaGa and Jesus could trot alongside us?! πŸ™‚

    Awesome, awesome time, ESPECIALLY given the heat! When I was living in Massachusetts, I did a sprint tri with Team Hoyt, and my lord is that a tear jerker..>I can’t imagine seeing them that far into a marathon. Great job, you certainly owned Boston!

  30. Way to go – congratulations on a great run in tough conditions! You have totally inspired me as I continue to work on healing my PF and psyching myself up for my first full marathon in Chicago this October!!! When I do it, I think I’ll pretend that GaGa, Beiber and Jesus are running next to me…love that!

  31. I was tracking you that day, like so many others, sending you strength. So happy that you didn’t encounter any heat issues. I love the moments along the race and how they can propel you. I’m always amazed I can recount them afterward and I’ve only done a few halfs, kudos to you for doing so after this heat induced full! These special, personal moments during a race are what keep me going back for more and challenging myself. Congratulations! I hope to meet you in Annapolis, in June!

  32. A big congrats! Nice work out there! I’m proud of you–anyone who gutted it out on Monday has lots of mental toughness. It was hot as Hades and like you, I had a few moments of panic in those first few miles. I didn’t think I would be able to finish. But once I hit 10, I turned my mindset around and told myself I would finish.

    In some ways, I find this personal worst time of mine the most satisfying marathon I’ve ever run. How about you?

  33. I love it! I can’t wait to feel the pride of finishing my own marathon. Best line: Throngs of spectators cheered and screamed like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Jesus were running next to me.


  34. Congratulations! I am running my first marathon (the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll) in June, and you have given me extra inspiration!

  35. All hail the queen of Badass Mother Runners! Great job Sarah! Glad you were able to soak up the experience rather than stress about splits and paces, etc.

  36. Wow, TOTALLY crying!! Way to go SARAH!! Loved every word of your report and the toughness you had to get through a race of that gravity and heat! Such a fantastic recap and I’m thrilled you’ll savor the exact things you felt all the rest of your life!! Congrats!!

  37. But I thought that Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Jesus were using the ‘Finish It Plan’..I suspect they may have been crossing the line hours after you Way to own it, in the heat – You are amazing, I’m going for a run!

  38. Sarah! First, congratulations! You worked so hard to get to Boston and ran a great (and smart) race. And second, wow! you can really tell a great story…. I was on the edge of my chair reading your recap. I am so inspired by the many beautiful mother runners and think of you and Dimity as “friends”. I actually told my mailman on Monday that I had a friend who ran Boston. That friend was you πŸ™‚ Congratulations and enjoy your success and wonderful memories!

  39. Awesome job! I had to laugh at your Body Glide comment because his man-bits was about the only place my husband hadn’t used the Body Glide for his Boston race on Monday, but for the first time in his life his “manhood” was chaffed!!! ouch πŸ™‚

  40. A.MA.ZING!!! What a great race and a great race report! Truly inspirational! I love that you were able to take it all in and the energy and emotion of the race really came through in your race report! Congratulations on an amazing race!

  41. The southern California mother runners are “all in!” Way to go! I was sooo excited to read your race report and for good reason. Sometimes our biggest challenges yield our largest personal rewards. Thanks for inspiring us!

  42. Awesome job and recap! Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I was not prepared for the stinging in my eyes and the almost tears. You really touch us!

  43. Amazing post! Congratulations on an awesome race under tough conditions. Your words really made me feel like I was right there with you. The joy and exhilaration you felt leaped off the page and brought tears to my eyes. You are an inspiration to all of us bad ass runner mothers!

  44. In an odd way, I think the heat “freed me”. I didn’t feel any time pressure. I knew the goal was to stay hydrated and cool. I walked through water stations, visited with other runners and sucked in all the energy from the crowd that I could. While it might have been my PW time ever, it was by far my personal best day ever. I fought hard for every step, I listened to & cared for my body and I soaked it all in with a damn big smile on my face, just being oh so thankful for the experience! Congratulations on a job well done! Wish we could’ve crossed paths, but I loved knowing you were “there”.

    1. Yes. Well said. It wasn’t my PW, but close. And I really did focus on taking care of myself. I knew my husband was watching my splits and counting on me to run smart. Congratulations!!!

  45. THIS was the Boston Recap I have been scouring the web for!! Your words made me feel like I was there. Well, as close to there as possible considering I’m snuggled on the couch drinking coffee in my bathrobe. My heart raced and tears welled up! Thank you! And congratulations on your amazing finish!! I look forward to meeting you at Hippie Chick! Best Wishes!

  46. What an awesome recap! It made me tear up reading about the feeling of approaching the finish line. You are so amazing and strong for pushing through during such a tough race. Congrats!

  47. Way to go Sarah!
    Now you’ll need to explain to us what the following phrase means.

    “and chewed several Starbucks’ salt packets at one point”

    Were you really eating salt packets? With the paper or not?

  48. Aw, I have tears in my eyes. I watched from Wellesley this year (was standing near one of the guys with hoses after Wellesley Center) and it was so inspiring to watch. I used to live about four blocks from the finish line in Back Bay and so know that canyon of cheers at the end (and of course remember it myself from when I ran down it in 1999). We Bostonians love the marathon, and your heart warming (again: I cried!) account reminds me why. Congrats!!!!!

  49. Ahhh! I am feeling a little verklempt!! I loved following your journey to get to Boston and have really looked forward to reading this post and living the experience through your eyes. I am sure no words can do it justice, but the emotion, pride and sense of accomplishment is busting out and I loved reading your account. You are badass…what an accomplishment!! Congrats and much love!!! It is awesome being part of this tribe!!

  50. Woo hoo, Champy!!! Tears in my eyes because your words convey the brutality of the weather and your badassery in conquering the course while drinking in the jubilation of your experience. Way to go!!!

  51. Awesome. You are my hero! Not only did you run Boston in 80+ degree weather, you finished, AND kept a great attitude. Someday, maybe someday I will accomplish half of that! Be proud and bask in the joy!

  52. Loved reading every last word!! Way to push through the heat and enjoy everything. I will read this again on Sunday morning for the inspirational boost as I head out to run the London Marathon! Way to go SBS-I love the ‘all in’ motto-super encouraged by your story!

  53. Thanks for be the recap. I followed you online and for the first time felt like I knew someone who ran the Boston. So proud of you for not only finishing but finishing STRONG!

  54. Sarah, this recap is so awesome! You can feel the excitement and pride in your words. So much to be proud of-you raced smart, soaked it all in and finished strong. Congratulations – you are a rock star!

  55. What a wonderful and motivating story! Congratulations on finishing and doing well despite the heat! 9:30 min/miles in that heat for a full marathon – definitely something to be proud of!

  56. NEVER again will I complain about race/running conditions in Portland…Happy beyond words for you Champy! Watched the little orange running icon throughout the morning and watched the finish line webcam, but it was blurry…I know how much this meant to you – you deserve to be proud and elated…what motivation this will be for future races…you are the the epitome of a ‘badass mother runner’,,,much love – Jo.

  57. Sarah. you rock!! I have been anticipating reading your story of Boston since the start of the race. It was beautiful and I was so emotional reading it. As always I am awed by mother runners and you, at this moment are THE BADASSS!!!!” Hope youa re feeling well and still basking in the deserve to hold on to this one forever!!

  58. Congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment (on it’s own, nevermind the freakish hot weather!). I really appreciated your ability to change your goals to the changing conditions and not let unrealistic and potentially dangerous expectations change the way you felt at the finish line…It was so great to watch you prepare for this race all these months from afar and to virtually experience the accomplishment of your goal! Thanks for another day of inspiration…from one of many mother runners who are so proud of you!

  59. Congratulations, Sarah!! I was tracking you online during the race to see how you were doing. So excited for you. Job well done. πŸ™‚

  60. Congratulations!!!! Such an amazing accomplishment. You’re a real inspiration.
    Btw- I totally laughed at loud at “Throngs of spectators cheered and screamed like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Jesus were running next to me.”. So funny.

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