I was able to write about the pre-race moments immediately after the event, but I needed certain time to elapse from the race itself before writing about it. Time helped me sort my thoughts and forget insignificant details.
The race started at 10 o’clock. It took me a little over 2 minutes to reach the start line. Due to the dense crowd and narrow road in Hopkinton the pace was slow, but acceptable. The first few miles are just to warm up, anyway. I learned at the NYC marathon that I would have to start fueling and drinking sooner than at mile 7. So, I stopped at the mile 3 fluid station. There is no time gain in running and sipping. I watched the person who was running next to me before the break and I caught up with that person soon after. At mile 4, I used one of the gels I carried on me in a pocket and at mile 5 I stopped again for a cup of Gatorade. In contrast with NYC marathon I stopped often, probably every other fluid station. I also was taking orange strides and paper towels offered by kids. What a luxury! I missed on that in NYC.
By mile 7, I felt rather full, thinking that I’d better stop eating and drinking, or I would experience the other extreme—bloating. I kept steady pace, felt comfortable, just cruising. I used any downhill for opening my stride and increasing the speed. I set that as my strategy for Boston marathon. I took it easy uphill. I spotted a group of youngsters few yards ahead of me. One of them had a sign on his back stating: “3 hours is my goal.” Great, I thought. I would keep up with them, I had an excellent time that I even didn’t expect. At the marathon half point, I realized either they didn’t run for their goal, or they started way behind me and were just controlling their pace. Since they were not a reliable indicator of time, I stopped paying attention to them and lost sight of them. Instead I paid attention to my body. There was a sharp difference between the upper body and legs.
I noticed my legs were unusually achy for this stage of the race—mile 15. It’s a light, general fatigue of legs when I could feel quads. I usually don’t get this feeling until mile 18. I wasn’t surprised, as I didn’t train enough in winter and there were only 7 weeks of true marathon preparation after the skiing season. We were at mile 16 when I overheard one guy saying to another this was the fastest mile of the whole marathon. It could be true, the mile consisted of the longest and steepest downhill. True to my strategy, I zoomed down. After that I expected the Heartbreak Hill (1/2 mile uphill) to come sometime soon, but the wait was infinite. It’s a big thing. Each article about the Boston marathon mentions it. As soon as I spotted a hill ahead I asked a runner next to me who looked seasoned if this was the Heartbreak Hill. He gave me a look not hiding his amusement before he nodded his head that no this was not the Hill. I asked again at the bottom of another hill and I got the same smile and answer. So, I calmed down and stopped asking. And then, it came.
I shortened my stride and started swinging my arms forcefully. I was actually happy with the way how effortlessly I was running up. For the first time during the race, I started to breathe faster and my legs didn’t hurt too much. I was passing plenty of walkers and slow runners. I was very excited after I reached the top. This was the most elevated point of the race. I knew it would go only down from there.
And it did. While zooming down that famous hill, suddenly, I felt strange pulls of my right hamstring. It was painful and uncoordinated. I couldn’t do anything to stop those strange movements. It got worse and developed into cramps. I got cramps for the first time in my life. I didn’t know what to do and thought this would be the end of the marathon for me—at mile 21. I stopped and looked desperately around for some support I would lean on. There was nothing, just bystanders. They came just for that reason, to see the suffering of runners and limping walkers.
I didn’t want to sit down, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get up again. Some high school girl saw my desperate state and came over encouraging me to get over it and stretch the muscles. I doubted her, nonetheless, I did what she was suggesting. It really helped. I started jogging again—very carefully at first. I observed the feet for about a mile. I didn’t care about the time. I just didn’t want to end before crossing the finish line. Since the cramps were not coming back, I picked up some speed. With the help of the downhill course, I finished relatively strong.