Leading up to race day I was more excited than nervous like I usually am before a race. I guess I just wanted to take it all in and not put pressure on myself or stress myself out. Having said that I was adamant that I didn’t do too much walking around and made sure I had my usual food leading up to the day. I did my pre-race shakeout runs. I had spring in my step. I felt so lucky to be there. The only thing that was playing on my mind was the weather which I kept checking every few minutes. As long as it wasn’t like last years cold and rainy weather, I would be happy. Don’t get me wrong; I love running in the rain, just not freezing.
The Night Before
I ate my usual. I meditated. I calmed my mind and got into bed at 8 pm to read a bit before falling asleep. Perfect! At 10:30 pm… The fire alarm went off. The loudest fire alarm one has ever heard! At first, I thought mum had burnt toast or something. We opened the door to the apartment to see other people, also doing the marathon heading to the fire escape. They also looked just as pissed off as me.
Fire engine arrives, firefighters all jump out with hoses and axes. The ladder goes up in case there is a fire on the top floor. It’s action-packed while we are all standing in the rain hoping we can get to bed soon as we have to run a marathon tomorrow. False alarm, someone was smoking a ciggie at the other exit and lit it just before they exited the building. Clearly, not a runner. The firefighters leave but that ear piercing alarm is still going off, and it’s now about 11:30 pm. It Turns out the only way to turn off the worst noise in the world is to get hold of the manager to come and turn it off. By this point, you have tired children, ear piercing alarm and grumpy runners standing in the rain. So, one of the guests decided enough was enough and smashed the alarm. We all cheered and went to bed. I like that man. Thank you.
The Morning of – 5:30 am.
I was wave two, so I was being picked up between 7 am -7 45 am. I set my alarm for 4:45 am as that’s what time I always wake up at home if I were training. I put the coffee on, hot shower, started to get dressed and made my brekkie. I put all my layers on which we throw away at the start. These clothes go to people in need. At this point, I had my race kit on as well as tracksuits, hoody, poncho and plastic bags to pop over my shoes. Sach walked me to the start. It started to pour. I mean, sheets of sideways rain with lightning. I quickly said goodbye and found the nearest line to huddle against some strangers where we waited for the bus. I was supposed to meet my friend Juny and some other’s from back home, but I couldn’t get to them. At this point, I was thrilled with my last minute decision to put plastic bags on my shoes, as when I looked around at other runners; their shoes were not looking so dry.
I sat next to a nice man from Canada. He’s done 4 Boston Marathons. My first question was: “Did you do it last year?” The worst weather of all the years. His answer was, “luckily, no”. Giving me a thankful smile. He gave me some useful tips about the start and the famous Newton Hills. It was probably the longest bus ride of my life. Once we got there, I said goodbye and good luck to my new stranger friend. I wonder how he did. Walking into the athlete’s village was muddy and wet. It didn’t bother me as I was wrapped in all sorts of waterproof attire. Smiley, happy volunteers everywhere handing out bagels, bananas, coffee, water and plenty of high fives. I grabbed some food as I ate a while ago and was starting to get hungry again.
I was walking around like a lost puppy. I knew I wasn’t going to spot anyone I knew and I was at peace with that. I felt very calm but at the same time excited. I decided it was time to get off my feet and find a spot in the massive marque’s they had put up for everyone to wait in. Well, I walked in and it was like a sardine tin of anxious, fidgety runners chomping at the bit to start. A very kind lady and her friend said they had space on their plastic sheet they brought (genius), and I sat on the corner of that.
Finally, “Wave two, please make your way to the starting areas”. We all shimmied to our corral’s. We peeled off our final layers into our racing kits. I still kept on my poncho. You never know with New England weather. The slow walk to the start was like we were all going into battle. Runners were making final adjustments, not much chatter. Some were jumping on the spot, stretching, high fiving people while other’s had earphones in focusing on turning onto Boylston. Me, I was smiling from ear to ear in disbelief that I was here. Slowly, the people began to shuffle a little faster, then jog then I could hear the faint pinging noise of watches starting. I knew I was close. I saw the blue and yellow start line, and I knew it was time.
The first 10km
I felt great. The weather was perfect in my eyes. It was warm but overcast. I was on target with my pacing until I got to the first water station. I found these to be quite congested most of the run, but after the first few I figured out a way to get in and get out. The cheering gave me goosebumps and made me forget what I was doing. If I’m honest, this was a bit of a blur. I was in my element having the time of my life. Although there were lots of people, everyone was all moving at the same pace, so it was easy to weave in and around if you needed to.
10km – 21km
I settled into a nice pace here. One would call it ‘cruise control’. I felt amazing, but I knew there were some seriously tough parts to come. I put that to the back of my mind and kept it steady. Running through the half marathon mark blew my mind. Not just because I was halfway but because the people were cheering and screaming my name put some pep in my step.
Then came the famous ‘scream tunnel’ of Wellesley girls. Cheering and screaming. I had heard about this part, but no words can explain how amazingly uplifting this part was. At this point, the sun was out, and it was hot! I didn’t think Boston got this humid. The girls on the sidelines hold up signs asking to be kissed. Runners were zig-zagging back and forth to grab a good luck peck. One guy went about five times. Why not? I thought. I went in for a good luck kiss too. Think I went in a little hot and almost headbutted the girl. It was more of a ‘running kiss’. I don’t know if it was the kiss or the emotion I felt from the cheering, but I felt good. By this point, it was 25km. I knew that good feeling would be short-lived. I knew what was around the corner.
Newton Hills – 30km – 34km
I did a tour of the route on Saturday before the race. When we got to the hills, I thought to myself “Pfffft this ain’t no hill”, but I knew, like all marathon runners do know that after 30km is where one may experience “hitting the wall”. An imaginary brick wall or bus that hits you thus making your legs feel like lead or in some extreme cases, the feeling of being on a treadmill, not going anywhere. So, now imagine that feeling with some hills added in the mix. No thanks.
I didn’t hit the wall, but I felt the hills. The first one was more of a gradual climb as you turn right onto Commonwealth Avenue. It was hot. My legs were not liking these hills, but I remembered a helpful little downhill on the other side, so I pushed to the top in search of the pot of gold. If only!
I don’t remember the middle two hills. I kept trying to remember the tour I did, but I couldn’t think. I was hot. Every time I splashed cold water over me, I felt like it was drying straight away. I have never run in such humid weather before. Who knew I’d get as burnt as I did. I passed the Heartbreak Hill running Shop which I knew meant one thing. The last hill. Finally, someone I knew! I see my friend Juny up ahead. I was so happy to see her. We were both suffering, but I wanted us to vibe off each other and push to the end. Sadly, she wasn’t having a good one, and I tried to get her to push with me. I was hoping she would be hot on my heals again on the downhill. I know she is super fast and strong. I wanted to stay with her, but I also wanted to get off this damn hill haul ass to Boylston.
The last 8km
I was tired now, but I knew I only had a little bit to go. I kept reminding myself that when you see the Citgo sign it is 1 mile to go. Then you can get excited. Now, I just had to hold on and push. Going through Brookline and crossing the train tracks I knew I was getting closer. I had a name tag on my top for precisely this point in the race. So people could scream my name and make me feel like I was winning the race. This is where you start to see people walking, bent over, cramping. I was NOT going to be that person. I was at the point where I couldn’t feel my legs anymore, but they were moving in a forward movement, that will do. Where is that Citgo sign?
There it is… Citgo Sign. One mile (1.6km) to go. We then go under a small tunnel, it’s dark and quiet for a few moments. Then you go right onto Hereford then left onto Boylston. The moment I had visualised in all my meditations, dreams, all my speed work sessions and long training runs. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I knew I was ugly crying (you’ll see in the pics), but I didn’t care. I could see the finish line. Six months of training, sacrifice, injury, being tired was about to end. The finish line is quite far once you’re on the home stretch, kind of like an optical illusion. I pushed and pushed. Then I heard my mum, Sach and Ramin scream my name. The noise stopped; I could listen to them and only them. I was a little girl again finishing my cross country race with a sprint finish. The only way I knew how.
Tears streamed down my salty, crusty, dry face. I had done it; I did the Boston Marathon. My childhood dream. I wanted to hug someone, but I knew I wouldn’t see my family until we met at our meeting spot. I got ushered through to receive some water, our medals and space blankets to keep us warm. Believe it or not, it was cold once you stopped. The bad weather was coming again. The ugly crying was continuing. I saw a man struggling to stand up so went to help him and tell him “Congratulations, You did it” he gave me the biggest hug. I’ll never forget it.
I started to walk to where I was meeting the family. For the first time since I crossed the line 20 minutes ago, I was alone. It hit me like that brick wall. I didn’t get the sub 3:20 I trained so hard for, but I managed to match my PB of 3:26. It wasn’t good enough in my eyes, and I was sad. I beat myself up. All that hard work for nothing I kept saying. I see my mum, she holds me and comforts me — more ugly crying.
We start the long walk back to our accommodation (it’s not that far, about 2km) but, at this point, it felt like another marathon.
I needed to sit, so I moved over to the gutter and sat for a moment. Mum put her arm around me and told me how proud she was of me. The feeling of sadness slowly disappeared. I wanted to do it all over again! I wanted to run down Boylston again.
It wasn’t until a few days later once I had spoken to a few locals and veterans of the Boston Marathon that they informed me that it’s not a PB course so I should be happy that I was 10 seconds off my PB. No, I didn’t get the time I wanted but It’s a hard route, It’s not about that. They were right. What was the one thing that kept me going through the whole race? The people. The runners, spectators, volunteers. The hurting faces and happy faces. Everyone. Boston, you have my heart, and I will be back. Thank you to everyone involved. You made my Boston Experience surreal.
To anyone looking to set themselves a goal that they think is far fetched or unreachable it’s not. Set it, work hard at it and get it. It won’t be easy, but it will all be worth it in the end.
A HUGE thank you to my No 1 support team. Mum and Ramin for flying over to support me. Dad, for always pushing me and making cross country routes on the farm for me to run. Sach, for being my rock. For cycling next to me on my longest runs. For being patient and putting up with a tired wife. I love you. To my wonder woman Coach Greta for bringing the best out of me and my running. Believing in me and keeping me motivated (she can coach from anywhere people) My dear Gen, the other wonder woman in my life. My friend, my physio, my pep talk guru. Thanks for helping me get to where I am with your expertise. A massive thank you to Saucony South Africa for keeping my feet fancy with shoes that work perfectly for me. Thanks for believing in me.
I would love to hear about any of your goals you set and achieved!