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A Slow-Poke’s Perspective of the 2011 Boston Marathon

The big day was one week ago. How did I do? Well, in a nutshell: I finished and I still have all 10 toenails! I’m not one bit happy with my time but hey, I can proudly say I finished the Boston Marathon three times before my 30th birthday. At the end of the day, I accomplished something most people will never do. There’s nothing to be ashamed of there.

Anyway, I think it’s time to recap my day. It all started with a lovely 4 am wake-up call. That was tough - I am not a morning person.  However, as with past Marathon Mondays, I was absolutely panicking about oversleeping and missing the race so I was able to jump out of bed super quick.  I braided my hair, got my stuff together and we were out the door before 5. After a coffee/bagel stop at Dunkies (where the only other customers were wearing the green and black official BAA jacket) and a very scared/dazed ride down Rt. 9, I arrived at the Copley Marriott around 5:30 and met the DFMC team. I continued to feel scared/dazed as I sat on the floor, ignoring everyone around me and panicking in my own little mind.  Around 6:15-6:30,the team walked over to Boston Common to catch the bus to Hopkinton. This was a nightmare, worse than any other year I’ve run. I waited in line for over an hour before finally getting on a bus to make the hour drive to Hopkinton. I took my traditional nap on the bus- shocking, I know.

It was probably about 8:45 when I arrived at St. John’s Church. This is when things turned chaotic. I had barely checked in when everyone was rushing to get outside for the team photo. I had to quickly change into my DFMC singlet and get out there. If there is one thing I hate, it’s rushing- this totally stresses me out.  This was stressful situation #1.

Stressful situation #2: After the team photo, I went back inside and started to take my time while getting myself ready for the race when I hear “last call to put bags on the buses, you have 10 minutes!”  WHAT!!! I was not a happy camper- I quickly took off my comfy sweatpants and flip flops, put on my lucky running hat, applied massive amounts of Body Glide/Vaseline to my feet, put on two pairs of double layer socks and finally my trusty Brooks Adrenalines. I quickly shoved everything into my bag, made sure to grab my gloves, Garmin, Espresso Love Gu, Advil packets, tissues and pins, I threw my duffel bag into the official green BAA bag (enhanced with hot pink duct tape, of course) and then brought it out to the white Dana-Farber bus.  “Goodbye bag, see you on Boylston Street!” I thought.  I returned to the hall in St. John’s to wait some more and then I realized I had a stomachache. I couldn’t tell if it was just from the stress of rushing, nerves or an actual stomachache- I took some meds, covered myself in sunblock, had a quick snack, made one last bathroom run and waited to go to the corrals.

Once I got to the corrals I stopped feeling scared, mostly because it was absolute chaos out there. I did, however, see Tedy Bruschi giving his “Tedy’s Team” runners high fives. That was pretty cool.

Stressful situation #3:  I was trying to find my corral but I could not get in it!  Volunteers kept telling me “no, you have to go over there” and I was panicking.  LET ME IN, I HAVE A NUMBER! All of a sudden, I found myself finding an opportunity to finally squeeze in to corral 5 and it seemed like I magically was crossing the starting line 5 seconds later. 

I love the beginning of the race- the energy of the spectators in Hopkinton is so amazing! I started off feeling pretty good - I was going a nice, steady (slow) pace and the weather was unbelievably perfect. 

Honestly, I was too busy taking everything in to notice I was running.  I do know that I compulsively checked my Garmin to make sure I wasn’t going too fast - a wise man once said “if you think you’re going too slow, you’re not!”  Once I entered Ashland and Framingham, however, the adrenaline slowly started to wear off and I realized “Hey! My stomach still kind of hurts!”

I took some more meds and continued to chug along at a decent pace.  I saw plenty of DFMC supporters on the sidelines and always waved or high-fived them.  I looked for Delores Barr-Weaver in Framingham at mile 7(ish), one of the founders of the Claudia Adams Barr Program that the DFMC raises funds for, but I didn’t see her.  Dang, I guess I wouldn’t be getting a hug after all!  Note: She was probably there but I am out to lunch and on my own planet during races. 

I had my first Espresso Love Gu at mile 8 - it was DELICIOUS.  My first round of Advil at mile 10 was not as delicious.  I felt pretty good during the first half of the race (probably through 20K), through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham and Natick.  My pace also showed this - it was pretty steady through the first few checkpoints:

5K (3.1 mi) - 0:35:15 (11:22/mi)

10K (6.2 mi) - 1:10:34 (11:23/mi)

15K (9.3 mi) - 1:49:41 (11:47/mi)

20K (12.4 mi) - 2:32:42 (12:18/mi)

Half-marathon (13.1 mi) - 2:41:03 (12:18/mi)

My original race plan was to run 11-12 minute miles for the majority of the race.  Before I reached the halfway point of the race, I felt confident I’d be able to stick to this game plan and be successful.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Wrong.  I started to feel worse after the half-marathon point.  Prior to that, I managed to ignore any negative chatter in my head or any stomach pains thanks to the noise that was the scream tunnel, aka Wellesley College.  MAN, those girls are LOUD!  I had my iPod on at a reasonable volume and I couldn’t hear any of my music as I ran through Wellesley College.  Sometimes I wish the entire race could be as loud as the scream tunnel, only so I could continue to ignore myself as I run.  The only downside to that is if I’m actually seriously injured and don’t hear myself saying “STOP NOW!”  That could be painful.

Anyway, I continued through Wellesley and when I passed good old Talbots Store #14, I thought “Hey, if I run inside the store and say I WORK AT TALBOTS! GIVE ME SHELTER! would someone drive me back to Norwood?”  I thought that might be foolish, knowing there was a crowd of DFMC supporters at Mile 25 and my own support team at the finish… so I consumed Espresso Love Gu #2 and continued on through the beautiful town.  In Wellesley, I knew I wasn’t going to have a good time.  I went into this day thinking “I am going to finish in under 5 hours, I know it.  I’ll do it if it kills me” but as I kept going through the day, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  It was a tad bit on the warm side and I was still feeling crummy thanks to my stomach.  I knew I’d be able to make it to the finish line but only if I took my time. 

That’s what I did through the end.  I took my time, measured the end of the race in mile increments and had FUN (which is not a word most people associate with the Boston Marathon or any marathon).  There’s something about giving cute little kids high-fives that can give you the energy you need to get to the end.  Using the mindset, I happily made it past mile 17 in Newton, where DFMC has a cheering section.


I excitedly ran past the Firehouse and knew that I had quite a bit of the dreaded hills ahead of me.  I managed to slowly jog my way up almost all of the hills, taking quick walking breaks either on the downhills or through the water stops.  I was definitely proud of myself.  I didn’t think I had the energy in me to tackle those hills… and I did (sort of)!  

After I passed the water stop at mile 19 (and had Advil break #2), I was struggling.  I was trying to figure out how I would make it through Heartbreak to mile 21 (aka the end of the hills and the beginning of the home stretch) when I saw an expected sight: my uncle and cousin were at the side of the road!  Let me tell you - when you are hurting and struggling through this race, seeing a familiar face and getting a quick hug gives you SO much energy.  I was so happy to see them and it definitely gave me a huge push to finish - thanks guys!

I made it up Heartbreak and walked once I got to the top (and could see BC ahead).  I have never, EVER been so happy to be surrounded by anything/everything BC in my life.  As a BU alumna, I have a fierce loyalty to my alma mater and therefore an equally fierce hatred of the enemy up the street (which, by the way, is neither a college nor in Boston… it should be called Chestnut Hill University, but whatever…).  BC had been promoting their cheering squad at mile 21 for a while - the students basically wanted to copy Wellesley College.  I was definitely disappointed in the level of cheering when I got there (since I was expecting to have another scream tunnel) but it was still a lot of fun and pretty loud.  The drunk undergrads were definitely loving life and ready to motivate us.  Seeing crazy drunk kids chase runners also motivates you to get moving so that you can get away from them ASAP.  On a more serious note, some of us runners aren’t that lucky. SPECTATORS: PLEASE STAY OFF THE COURSE.  Don’t act like a moron and hurt the runners. 

Anyway, so the big slowdown definitely took place from mile 15 on:

25K (15.5 mi) - 3:15:24 (12:36/mi)

30K (18.6 mi) - 3:56:43 (12:44/mi)

35K (21.7 mi)  - 4:40:59 (12:57/mi)

Once I made the turn past BC onto Coolidge Corner, I continued to walk/run until I got to Mile 25 (miles 21-25 were filled with obnoxious drunk college kids - enough said).  I cannot believe how many people were still there over the Mass Pike - Jan, DFMC volunteers, Patient Partners, friends and loved ones.  It was amazing.  They were there, waiting for every last DFMC runner and at that point I shed a few tears.  I had a horrible race.  I was hurting.  I didn’t think I’d be able to make it to mile 14, let alone 25.  I saw those smiling faces and thought “THIS is why I run.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes me - I’m running to get to a world without cancer and the people at mile 25 and my donors are depending on me to get to that finish line.  If I get to that finish line, we will get even closer to the finish line in the race against cancer.”  I ripped off my armband, put it and my iPhone in my hand with my gloves, and off I went.  Mile 25 was overly emotional for me and it gave me the energy to get to the end.

40K (24.8 mi) - 5:24:22 (13:05/mi)

I started to “book it” through Kenmore Square, under Mass Ave, right on Hereford and left on Boylston.  Once I got to Boylston Street, I got chills (just like I’m getting right now thinking about it).  First, I thought “OMG THERE IT IS! THE FINISH LINE” and then I thought “OMG IT’S STILL REALLY FAR AWAY!!”  I just kept going.

There were still TONS of people lining the street, cheering and ringing cowbells.  I looked straight ahead with what little energy I had and continued to run until I could throw my hands up and cross that line.  HOORAY! ALL DONE!  I was exhausted, my feet hurt, my stomach hurt… but I was DONE. 

I managed to get there! 

Full marathon (26.2 mi) - 5:41:40 (13.02/mi)

My parents, sisters and fiance were all there, waiting for me with my beloved DFMC pom poms.  I managed to perk up a little for a quick picture with the pom poms and then it was off to the DFMC recovery zone for me!

I picked up my medal and tinfoil blanket and grabbed my big heavy bag from the DFMC bus.  I walked over to where those wonderful DFMC volunteers in their bright yellow shirts were waiting.  When I walked over there, you would have thought that I won the race by the way the volunteers were congratulating me.  It felt really good, I’m not going to lie!  A nice girl grabbed my bag and we chatted as we walked a block over to Copley Place.  She passed me over to a second volunteer.  This girl was no taller than 4’10” and probably weighed 75-80 pounds.  She was TINY.  I felt bad making her carry my huge bag (oh, by the way, in true Rachael fashion I over packed.  For a marathon.  Yup) - I’m pretty sure the bag was bigger than her!  We eventually made it to the check-in desk at the Copley Marriott.  Again, the DFMC staff and volunteers treated me like I was a rock star! I was probably one of the last runners to make it in but they acted like I won the race.  They are amazing - each and every one of them.  Without all of the hard work they do, I don’t think the DFMC would be able to happen.  They take amazing care of their runners and deserve just as much applause as the runners!

Anyway, I cleaned up thanks to the stash of baby wipes I brought, changed clothes, put on comfy flip flops, went to the BATHROOM (hooray! first time all day) and then sat down for a quick bite to eat.  The recovery zone has food, masseuses - you name it.  I didn’t feel like waiting for a massage so I ate a little sandwich, had some soup and left to meet up with my family. 

Me, my sisters and my dad at the Marriott Copley Place!

We managed to hobble to the T and off we went.  After a long T ride and a MAGNIFICENT shower, I went out to dinner with the family and enjoyed a nice hunk of protein and a delicious beer (another marathon tradition for me) before meeting up with some good friends at Jake n’ Joe’s for more beer and the BRUINS.

While I am disappointed with my time, I am still SO proud that I finished and represented the Dana-Farber team.  I love being a part of that team.  Marathon Monday and Dana-Farber just go together and they will always hold a special place in my heart!

And now, for the answer to the question everyone is asking me…


Yes.  Bring on 2012… and this time it will be in 4:30 or less!  :)

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