Kelley Hess is a friend of mine from the University of Wisconsin where she is 3 years into her Ph.D. program in astronomy - so she's pretty much a genius. She got her undergraduate degree from Cornell where she was on the varsity soccer and fencing teams. When she's not running or studying she's one of the top female riders on the UW cycling team. Her first marathon was the Mad City Marathon - which she won. Boston was her 2nd marathon. Here is her race report (slightly abridged):
Boston By The Numbers:
- Number of miles between Hopkinton, MA and Copley Station in Boston: 26.2
- Number of miles on racing shoes before the race: 10
- Number of sunburned shoulders: 1
- Number of pounds of fresh, homemade pasta consumed pre-race: a lot
- Number of beers consumed between Spring Break and Mile 20: 0
- Number of beers consumed at mile 20: 1
- Number of people running: >21,962
- Number of people ahead of me: 2976
- Number of women ahead of me: 217
- Number of women 18-39 ahead of me: 178
- Number of Wisconsin women ahead of me: 3
- Number of Madison women ahead of me: 0
- Number of former pro cyclists ahead of me: at least 1
- Number of astronomers ahead of me: unknown (± really bad error bars)
Stepping off the plane at Logan Airport on Friday afternoon was. . . indescribable. I was bouncing
up and down with excitement. In large part because this time last year, I wasn’t allowed to bounce at all due to a Grade 4 (really really bad) stress fracture. And a good portion of this year, injury- wise, has been very up and down–nothing serious, but after running one’s self into the ground once,one gets a little paranoid. I was just happy to arrive in Boston injury free!
The weekend was amazing: we saw the Sox come from behind to beat the Rangers 5-3 on Saturday and celebrated with the rest of Boston when the Bruins came from behind to win game 6, 5-4, against the Canadiens; we watched Magdalena Lewy Boulet run an incredibly smart and inspiringly gutsy marathon at the Olympic trials on Sunday, cheered when Deena Kastor came back from being 2 minutes behind at the half way mark to win the whole thing, and yelled when Joan Benoit, now 45, (Olympic gold medalist in 1984, and therefore first women’s Olympic marathon champion) came charging by.
For reference, the 112th Boston Marathon was my 2nd marathon ever. In the first (Mad City 2006), I ran 3:24 (7:48/mile pace). I was really apprehensive going into this one: the longest training run I had done was only 12.5 miles (as opposed to the recommended 18-20), I was only running about 3 times a week, and up until 3 weeks beforehand I was still working out leg/ankle/foot issues. Finally, I was running with a friend, Rebecca Metzler, whose PR was 3:15–so I was pretty nervous to just stay with her. We had a plan to run 7:30 pace, which sounded great when I thought about it mile by mile, but if I thought about the cumulative time (3:16), I kind of freaked out. So, if you asked me at some point before the marathon, what my goal time was, this is why I hymed and hawed a bit and said something vague about being ”okay” with something under 3:30. I had no sense for how things were going to go.
RM and I decided we would stay together for at least the first half of the marathon (where our friends and fam would be cheering us on before heading into town on the T trying to catch us before the finish line), and then see how we felt from there. RM started a few corrals back from her assigned one so we could start together (corrals were assigned based on qualifying time, and mine was slower). We started out with a pretty comfortable (albeit sub-7:30) pace and the upshot was we were passing people throughout the whole race.
We also spent the vast majority of the time running together telling each other to slow down! . . . or at least casually mentioning that we could ease off the pace a bit. Apparently, that didn’t work...but it probably kept us from picking it up faster than we could sustain. At the exhibition hall where we checked into the race on Saturday, we printed out mile times for a 7:30/mile pace
that took into account the up- and down-hills in the course. I spent the drive from Wellesley to the start line on Monday memorizing the mile paces to distract myself from everything else that was going on in the car. It worked out pretty well because we could know if we expected a mile to be slower or faster than average, and by about how much.
The first three miles were downhill, but the first mile of the race was one of the slowest. We spent a lot of time weaving around people, but everyone was polite, cheery, and in general happy to be there with everyone else. Around mile 4 we started taking gatorade and dumping water on ourselves. Around mile 6, RM’s knee started bothering her. Around mile 8, my left quad felt like it had a huge knot in it. In Ashland, we decided the DQ looked really good. Around mile 9 we passed a guy from Madison in a Brazen Dropouts jersey (my summer cycling team). Around mile 10 I heard ”Standing Outside the Fire” playing from the crowd (subsequently picked up the pace, and got reigned in by RM again).
Around mile 12+ we hit Wellesley College–you could hear the roar of screaming women from more than a quarter mile away–it was incredible! Many of them were holding “Kiss Me” signs, and RM and I wondered when we’d hit the all men’s college along the route. . .Around the half way mark, my right hip flexor started bothering me. As we crossed the 13.1 mile mark, the guy in front of us called his wife on his cell phone and announced to everyone that we were on a 3:13 marathon pace (a pace update was the last thing RM and I wanted to hear).
At mile 14.3 in Wellesley we found our race crew/cheering squad spread out amongst the crowd
along the side of the road. My mom (aka The Paparazzi) was clicking away with the camera–she’d apparently made friends with a Cornell professor and his family, so RM and I had another half dozen people in blue t-shirts yelling for us. Next I saw Tim, and heard, more than saw, my dad ringing the gigantic cow bell. But, given how my legs felt, I had in mind to take advantage of a pre-race contingency plan, and b-lined it for Jen who was standing by with Advil #’s 4, 5, and 6 of the morning. We had a quick, smooth hand off and I started looking for Sean who was holding three gel packets for me (glorified sugar packets). I took about three steps forward and realized I was still holding the bottle of Aquafina I used to chug the Advil–I pulled a counter clockwise 360, throwing the FULL water bottle back to Jen before dashing to Sean’s outstretched hand, and catching back up to RM. Fifty meters later I wondered what had happened to the water bottle–I never saw where it went and Jen and I didn’t make eye contact before I chucked it. I imagined it bonking some kid on the head, or spraying all over the other spectators–both prospects seemed mildly hilarious and simultaneously a little embarrassing. For the record, I did try and toss it so the bottle stayed upright. . .
But there wasn’t much time to worry about that. Around mile 15, I laughed as we passed Heckle St, and thought that some good natured heckling from the crowd would be amusing. Around mile 16, I knew that my body was going to hold up for the rest of the race–aches were muscular and were more from fatigue and pounding than any kind of pending injury. My new goal was to hang on to RM until mile 20. Around mile 17 we hung a right turn at the firehouse, and headed for the Newton hills. I love hills. Even in a marathon. On Monday, I thought about them like a cyclist–keeping your leg cadence the same as on the flats, although your stride gets shorter. After mile 20, we came to the bottom of Heartbreak Hill–the longest, steepest climb on the course.
At the base of the hill I saw the sign of the Hash House Harriers (“a drinking club with a running problem”) chalked on the street–which, having never seen it before, I recognized instantly. A line of people were standing on the side yelling “Beer!”...and I yelled back “Amy Brzezinski!?” I grabbed a cup from some guy at the beginning, before finding my friend. I turned and grabbed a second cup= from her, spilling a bit on both her and myself (nothing like smelling like beer during a marathon!), chugged it to cheers from the Harriers, and chased back up to RM, who’d decided to pass on the libation.
Around mile 20.5 I was feeling good on Heartbreak and told RM I’d pull her up the hill; she told me to take off. So after three quarters of the race we parted ways. It was the opposite of what I
expected to happen, and I never would’ve been there if it wasn’t for Rebecca. Running a marathon, even for time, which ironically we weren’t, is way more fun with someone you know–and I’m sure this won’t be our last together! The hill crests around mile 21, and the rest of the course is relatively downhill into downtown Boston. I’d spent the majority of the race focusing on making it to the next minor goal, so with less than 10K left, I felt good to finally think about the finish line. Around mile 22, I passed by BC–half a dozen people were leaning out of their dorm room windows chanting “Left, left, left, left!”
Around mile 23, I decided to try and make the last 5K my fastest. I was also checking my watch and doing some mental math–I was definitely under 3:15, probably not 3:10, but decided it was time to give it hell. The race started here. Somewhere between there and the finish I ran a 7:10/7:15 mile or two. With about 2 miles to go, my left hamstring decided to stop contracting correctly. This was weird. Mid-stride, with my left foot on the ground, if my mechanics weren’t
correct, it felt as though my knee would have buckled. I thought, “screw this!”, and more or less willed things to start working correctly again. Getting pissed added a dose of adrenaline.
I skipped the last water/gatorade stop with less than 1.5 miles to go (RM and I had hit every one after mile 8 or 10). The one mile to go mark was an amazing sight. I really started to look around for women to pick off before the finish. (Not that I’m competitive or anything!) I don’t think anyone passed me in the last mile–but not many people “kicked” at the end of the race.
I crossed the Boston marathon finish line for the first time in 3:13:33 (7:23/mile)! . . .And my last mile was close to 7 mins. RM came in less than 2 minutes later in 3:15:29 (7:25/mile). Marathoners tend to think of times in terms of whole minutes–but this was still a PR on the most difficult course she has run! We both came away from it knowing we can train smarter and race faster. Our race crew collectively decided that the difference between us was definitely the beer at mile 20!
(There are 5 - count 'em 5 - people in this picture working on a Ph.D. is astronomy or physics. They actually took this picture using only their brains - no camera.)
So, all in all it was a great day! Those hills do a number on your legs–I was definitely more sore than after Mad City, but things are feeling better every day–I can almost walk upstairs normally now. It will be interesting to see how fast I recover. The last time I did this the recovery involved a 16 hour car ride to Colorado, my wisdom teeth getting yanked out, and the subsequent week spent sitting on the couch doped up on Vicodin. And for those of you who are curious what happened to the water bottle at mile 14.3–I knew I could rely on Jen’s quick reflexes! The bottle did one full rotation in the air, not spilling a drop (hurray for centrifugal force)* , before deftly being caught.
*Editors note: Kelley is a huge nerd.