Monday 17th April 2017 (Patriots Day)
So, my journey began in April last year when I ran the Brighton Marathon and finally achieved my Good for Age with a time of 3.34:30. However, not only did this qualify me to run the London Marathon but the Boston Marathon too, the oldest Annual Marathon in the world!
In May 2016, I decided to give it a shot and registered with the Boston Athletic Association. The long, anxious wait had begun.
In September 2016, I received my Confirmation of Entry Acceptance. Shit - things just got real!
We booked our flights and a hotel for 4 nights so that we could make the most of our stay in Boston.
Training was already well underway with 2 to 3 runs per week, including some sessions with Adam Hickey and my running buddies, Natasha and Helen. But, things quickly started to go wrong. I’d had a ‘twinge’ in my hip for some time, which I had ignored, hoping it would go away. It didn’t. I went to see Arron for some advice who suggested I go for an MRI scan.
In early October I made an appointment to see a consultant and had an MRI. I had the results within a week. I was diagnosed with a Gluteus Medius Tendinopathy, Proximal Hamstring Tendinopathy and a Degeneration of the left hip joint. Nothing Major then!!! My consultant told me to stop running & cycling for 8 weeks at least and start physio immediately. With the injury I had, he was doubtful that I would make the start line. Boston suddenly seemed hopeless.
After a brief meltdown, I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off and fight for my place on that start line.
My physio, who by default became my counsellor too, was fantastic. I was an emotional wreck throughout! She gave me strength work to do every night, which I did religiously. After 8 weeks of laborious exercises and a lot of swimming, which I am utterly useless at, I was allowed to attempt my first run/walk. By Christmas she felt I was ready to try a 2 mile continuous run. Hallelujah!
It was shortly after I had started running again that I developed an annoying ‘popping’ sensation in the back of my knee and I couldn’t fully extend my leg! Back I went to the Consultant again (red faced), who performed ultra sound and found that I had a Bakers Cyst. Who’s even heard of that?!! Strong anti-inflammatories, ice & complete rest (not even swimming) were the suggested course of action this time, with a possible cortisone injection if it didn’t settle. A further meltdown occurred and my husband (Rich Ager aka ‘Kit Man’) was close to moving out!
12 weeks to Boston and I started over again with 5 miles on the ‘dreadmill’. I was told to avoid hills, where possible. Unless you live on Southend Sea Front, it’s fairly difficult to avoid the hills!
When I finally started pounding the pavements again, I was advised not to increase my mileage by any more than 10% a week and to have at least 2 days’ rest between each run. My marathon plan went out the window at this point! I was just not going to get to where I needed to be in time and everything hurt from the waist down.
I’m not quite sure how, but by the beginning of February, I was up to 12 miles, accompanied by my friend, Lisa, who was training for the Brighton Marathon. I didn’t quite stick to the 10% rule! However, I was only running twice a week, so had a reasonable amount of time to recover.
8 weeks to Boston and I was up to 16 miles. Lisa still by my side. That’s when I thought I might actually be able to do this. The pain was still there, but bearable. It was actually worse a day or two after I ran, not during. I spent every evening with an ice pack on my hip and knee and more often than not, a Budweiser in my hand! Beer definitely helped. As did wine. As did vodka. Oh, and my foam roller became my new best friend.
The weeks went by quickly after that and every long run felt like I was a little step closer. They really hurt though and I cried a lot afterwards! Thank goodness for Natasha, Helen and Michelle on group chat. They were there to pick me up when I was in the depths of despair, despite their issues and anxieties with their own forthcoming events. Rich had lost the will to live!
3 weeks to Boston. Lisa and I completed our longest run of 20 miles and I didn’t break! Taper time………my favourite part of marathon training.
2 weeks to Boston. My Runners Passport finally arrived confirming my number (18300), wave (Blue) and corral (3). My start time was 10.50am. Much later than I was expecting. Oh, and it was snowing in Boston – great. That wasn’t in the plan. But, I decided cold was better than hot.
I went for one last long run of 14 miles, with Natasha and Michelle, followed by a quick dip in the sea to help alleviate the aches and pains! It was freezing, but it felt great afterwards.
1 week to Boston. One last run and a few giggles with the RRC girls and Mike. Just what I needed.
2 days to Boston. I bloody made it! It was time to get on the plane.
We arrived in Boston on the Saturday night and went straight to our hotel, which overlooked the Harbour. It was only 9pm, but I was still on UK time and I needed to sleep. Rich told me not to go to bed, but as he is always wrong, I didn’t take his advice.
1 day to Boston. Rich was right! Woke at about 4am! Facebook saved me though, as you lot were all awake. I was astounded by the amount of good luck messages I had received already. I managed to get back to sleep for a couple of hours and finally got up at 7am. The view of the Harbour from our window was stunning. The sun was shining and there was not a single cloud in the sky. Shit, it was forecast to be 83 degrees! What? How? It was snowing a fortnight ago. Another meltdown ensued and once again, Rich was on hand to knock some sense into me!
Expo time! Everybody looked really professional. I didn’t feel like I belonged! I collected my number and had the obligatory photo in front of the board along with 29,999 others!
It didn’t take me long to find the exhibition and then I was in heaven. Mainly because Rich had given me the use of his credit card! I bought an item of Boston clothing for every body part and of course ‘Spike’
the Unicorn, the Boston Marathon Mascot.
We left several hundred dollars later and took a walk down Boylston Street to the finish line where I had another obligatory photo, of course.
The slogan ‘Boston Strong’ was literally everywhere you looked. This was created as part of the reaction to the April 2013 bombings. Flowers, photos and a pair of trainers hung from the trees where it happened.
We headed back to our hotel and then out to Little Italy for the last supper. We had to wrap it up early as I fell asleep in my pasta. Not that that’s any reflection on Rich!
We got back to the hotel & ordered breakfast for the morning. I laid out my kit like it was my first day at school and hit the sack, but not before a small prayer for a 30 degree drop in temperature!
Race Day. I woke at 3.00, 3.30, 4.00, 4.30, & 5.00 for the last time. I woke Rich up too as didn’t think it was fair that he should be sleeping when I couldn’t! Unfortunately, my prayers were not answered. It was cooler than Sunday, but still predicted to be in the mid 70’s. The application of sun cream hadn’t been a part of my plan. Breakfast arrived at 7.00 and wasn’t quite the Quaker Oats that I was expecting, but it would have to do. All kitted out, we left the hotel on a shuttle bus bound for Boston Common. That’s when I met Jill from Michigan, who was also in blue wave and became my new best friend, for the next few hours at least. Jill had already completed the Boston Marathon and had told me it was really hard as it was so hilly. Cheers Jill! My face must’ve said it all. Rich laughed.
We arrived at Boston Common where we ditched our husbands and jumped on one of the 40 odd school buses that lined Charles Street. The journey to Hopkinton was only about 45 minutes, but it seemed to take forever.
The atmosphere on that bus was electric! Everyone was buzzing with excitement. Some, who’d ran it previously, were telling horror stories of the hills in Newton. I was anxious, excited & terrified all at the same time, but most of all desperate to get on with it!
We (me and Jill) arrived at the Athletes Village and parked ourselves on the only bit of grass available and waited to be called to the start line. The blue wave was due to leave at 10.10am and it was a 0.7 mile walk to the start. We had just enough time to visit the portaloos, or so we thought. The queues were huge and Jill started to panic! For the first time in 6 months, I was actually the composed one! They called our wave while we were still queuing and we just about made it to the front in time. We left the Athletes Village, stopping for a professional picture on the way.
We joined the sea of people on the way to the start. Wow! What an incredible sight! There were runners as far as the eye could see. The walk to the start line didn’t take long, but I had to make another last minute portaloo stop. Big mistake! I ran out of time and had to run to my corral, which was edging ever closer to the start line. This is when Jill and I said our good lucks and goodbyes.
Thankfully, I found my corral, ducked under the tape and we were off! Gutted, as I didn’t even have time for a selfie! I had crossed the start line of the Boston Marathon
My aim? To finish. I didn’t really have a plan. My injuries hadn’t allowed me to train as I would’ve liked, so there were no expectations, which felt great. Armed with a small bottle of water, 4 gels, a zero tablet and some Imodium, I went on my way!
The first mile was lost in a haze of emotion, adrenalin, nerves – and bodies. The surrounding pack of marathoners made it hard to focus on much else.
Hopkinton was now far behind me. I was bound for Ashland and had increased my pace a little.
Ashland was where the party was just getting started! Loud music (Rocky if I recall) and raucous support from literally thousands of spectators. Then some hills. Up, not down. What? There wasn’t supposed to be any hills in this half!
The heat was intense and the Gatorade and water stations were a welcome sight. I decided it would be far wiser to tip the water on my head instead of actually drinking it! This worked well, but I dried off pretty quick and began to struggle. Bollocks to the pace!
5 miles in. I’d reached Framingham and was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to finish!! In that moment, I decided I would NEVER run another marathon as long as I live. In fact, I would NEVER run again, EVER! Then came some more hills, but this time down – hallelujah! I said goodbye to Framingham, bound for Natick.
Miles 7 to 10 were relatively flat, but still the heat took its toll. Lots of people were really suffering now. The medical tents were as frequent as the water stations though, so the organisers had it well in hand.
I took a shower in a tunnel and ran through 2 open fire hydrants that were spraying ice cold water on the runners! Nearly got taken out by one of them. A bit of a shock to the system but needs must!
I was now heading toward Natick Town Centre. It was rumoured that the crowds here were huge and the rumours were not wrong! The town was overflowing with adoring fans and kids with outstretched hands for a high five. I turned the corner and was greeted with the overpowering stench of beer. Under normal circumstances I would’ve been jealous, but not at that precise moment!
Things quietened down a little after this and the next mile allowed me to prepare myself for what was about to come at mile 12.
I heard them before I saw them……the girls from Wellesley College! This is where the noise goes through the roof. The women of Wellesley were loud and proud and impossible to ignore. Some of the guys took the opportunity to play to the crowd here – typical! I was surprised Rich hadn’t chosen this spot to cheer me on!
Halfway. It was still roasting. That’s when I spotted kids holding out brightly coloured batons. Batons???
No………..ice pops! All my Christmas’s had come at once! I opted for a blue one and wondered why on earth they don’t do this at home.
Mile 14 to 15. The crowds were still lining the streets in their thousands, handing out all sorts of goodies and playing ‘Sweet Caroline’ full blast. The runners joined in with the chorus. This song, I later discovered, is special to the people of Boston as it was sung live by Neil Diamond at a Red Sox game in honour of the victims of the 2013 bombings.
Mile 16. I had reached Newton. This is where the fun started and I began my long ascent to the finish. The first hill was tough, but not because of its elevation, because of its length – more than half a mile. With 10 miles still to go, it was gruelling. One down, three to go!
Mile 17. Things levelled out here and I was heading for Commonwealth Avenue and the Firehouse. The crowds here were huge and it was buzzing with excitement and energy. I managed to find another ice pop here too! A little past the Firehouse was the Firehouse Hill. This one was steeper than the last, but not nearly as long. I kept my head down and made it to the top. Two down, two to go.
Mile 18. I was in a bit of a daze by now and I don’t recall much. I think I was too worried about what was coming next. It had cooled down though and the risk of keeling over had reduced somewhat!
Mile 19 was surprisingly flat until about a quarter of a mile in, when the road ahead began to rise again. I remember thinking ‘Please let this be Heartbreak Hill’. It wasn’t. Three down, one to go.
Mile 20. The big one. I had reached the infamous Heartbreak Hill – a steep half mile incline. It’s probably not as bad as it sounds, but trust me, your legs have had it by now!! Many were walking by this point and I wondered if it were those that had overtaken me at the start. I didn’t walk. I didn’t look at the top either, just the road immediately ahead. The crowds were great here and it was their shouts of encouragement that got me to the top. I felt a massive sense of accomplishment when I reached the top and I thought “It’ll be easy now as it’s all downhill from here”.
Bugger, another hill. The ‘You’ve got to be kidding me hill’. Only small, thank goodness, but nevertheless, a hill that I wasn’t expecting.
Mile 21 to 23. The course plummeted here, which sounds nice, but now the downs had become just as hard as the ups. There’s just no pleasing some people! My quads were burning and moving forward seemed a lot harder than it was the mile before. I was now in Brookline.
Mile 23 to 24. More downhills and thankfully more ice lollies! I think I was on my fourth now! It was here that my hip decided to play up, but with only 2 miles to go I had to grin and bear it. I was surprised that I’d made it that far without any problems to be honest.
Mile 24 to 25. I was expecting to see Rich at any time. He had purchased a fluorescent orange t-shirt especially, so that I’d spot him in the crowds. Unfortunately, 10% of the spectators had also purchased fluorescent orange t-shirts, I guess for the same reason, so it took me a while to spot him!
I saw him before he saw me and I started waving frantically! I’d like to say it was really emotional, but it wasn’t! I stopped to give him a sweaty hug, told him I was ok and couldn’t stop and went on my way!!
Then I saw it……the infamous Citgo sign. That’s all everyone kept talking about. That’s when you know you’re on the home straight. It was a little way off but in my sights, finally.
And then it was behind me.
Mile 25 to 26. The final full mile. I passed Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play (sorry Rich – he never did get to go & see them!) and then the ‘1 Mile to Go’ marker. I was talking to myself now, willing myself to keep going! I was nearly there.
A right turn took me into Hereford and then a final left turn onto Boylston Street. I knew exactly where I was now.
And there it was………..the finish. That’s when I started to cry!
I didn’t think it was possible for the crowds to get any bigger. How wrong I was.
380 Yards to go! I’m not even sure I saw the 26 mile mark. All I could see was the finish line. The crowds were deafening. I started to up the pace. I’ve got goose bumps whilst writing this!
This was it. The moment I had been waiting for for the best part of a year. I can’t even begin to describe the elation I was feeling in that moment. I managed to up the pace again and had enough in me to sprint the last 50 yards to the finish line in a time of 4.01:45.
I’d done it. I had actually completed the Boston Marathon. WTF!?!?
I put my hands on my knees and sobbed! A medic assumed I was not in a good way and came straight to my aid, wrapping me in foil and directing me away from the crowds. I remember thinking “Let go, I want to go and get my medal”! I was in such a daze, I couldn’t even tell you if they were male or female, but they were very kind and I think I was probably a bit rude!
I collected my medal and had a final professional photo. That’ll be stunning I thought!
Then I noticed that there was another medal being handed out. A special one. Hmmmmm, I’d have to check that out later when I had Wi-Fi.
I shuffled through the finishers tunnel with all of the other foil clad marathoners, collecting an abundance of free stuff along the way!
I finally arrived at Boston Common where I had arranged to meet Rich at the ‘Sumner’ statue and found a spot of grass to collapse on! The relief was overwhelming. The trainers and socks came off and I analysed my wounds, a couple of rather large blisters & a sore from my running belt. Though, I got off lightly compared to some.
I messaged my mum, sister, Lisa and the girls to tell them I’d finished, which was daft as they’d been tracking me for 4 hours and probably knew before I did! They all asked to see the medal, so I took the opportunity for a selfie on Boston Common.
Then came the familiar feeling of nausea I often get after a big race. Bugger, where was Rich with the salt and vinegar crisps, which are always the best remedy.
Rich finally found me amongst the masses, slurping on a recovery drink in desperation. After a brief kiss and cuddle (I say brief because I probably wasn’t smelling too pleasant!), we were making our way out of the park and hailing a cab to our hotel – me still feeling rather green.
At the hotel and on entering our room, I was shocked to find a bottle of Champagne courtesy of my lovely sister, mum & dad! I was now wishing that I hadn’t text my sister in the cab, telling her of my bout of nausea! I text her to say thank you and assured her that I felt much better and that the Champers would not go to waste.
Rich was eager to open the Champagne, but we decided to make our way to the Spa for a well earned hot tub. A number of others obviously had the same idea as it was full of runners soothing their tired and aching limbs. Rich whispered “I’m not really sure I fit in here”!!
Back at the room and feeling more human, I finally settled down with a glass of Champagne, whilst catching up on the numerous comments of ‘Congratulations’ on Facebook. I couldn’t believe how many people had been following me that day and I felt quite choked.
That evening, we continued our celebrations at ‘The Cheesecake Factory’, which not surprisingly, was brimming with euphoric marathoners all reliving their own version of the day’s events. We sampled some of Boston’s finest ‘Samuel Adams’ ale (I ordered a Budweiser next!), ordered a steak (I was sick of pasta) and of course, a giant piece of Cheesecake – I was in heaven once again!
It wasn’t long before I was yearning for my bed, so we made our way back to the hotel where my epic day came to a close.
And that brings me to the end of my roller coaster ride, almost. That special medal I mentioned earlier was for those who had completed all 6 World Marathon Majors…
Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo and Berlin.
Oh my god!! I want one of those. Rich doesn’t know it yet, but we’re off to Berlin……!
To sum up, the Boston Marathon was the most incredible running experience I have ever had and the most perfectly organised. If ever you get the chance to enter this iconic race, I would highly recommend it. If you’re after a PB, however, I’m not sure that this is the race for you! Oh and headphones are an absolute no no. You have to be able to hear, see, smell and feel every single moment of the 26.2 mile ride!
Any regrets? Not a single one. I just wish my running buddies could’ve been there to share it with me.