118th Boston Marathon 4.21.14
“Off to Hopkinton. Only one way to get home.” – Lindsay Stives, my good friend and fellow Dana-Farber runner
This was a momentous year for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for Boston, and for the running community in general. It was the 25th anniversary of Dana-Farber’s Marathon Challenge team (DFMC), as well as the first Boston Marathon since the bombings. More than 32,000 participants registered for the race, many of whom were coming back to finish a race they were denied last year. Getting back into training this year was difficult. Mother Nature threw us a constant barrage of single-digit temps, meaning doubling up on running tights! It wasn’t just the weather. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, it was difficult finding the motivation and strength to return to training, to revisiting the memories of last year. It was physically and emotionally draining. Then to top it off, dealing with an injury wasn’t ideal. Yet, two things kept me excited and motivated throughout this season. The Dana-Farber team and all of you. Every time I logged into Facebook, checked my email, looked at my text messages, or peeked in my mailbox, I had a word of encouragement from each of you. I’ve always said it is you guys who get me through, who inspire me. And this year I’ve felt that ten-fold. From dance videos and running in a superwoman costume to finding the ugliest pair of pre-run pants to late night track workouts and early morning long runs, this season has been unforgettable and I can’t thank you enough for being a part of it.
Leading up to the race
I love when the runners take over the city. There is an electric energy in the air. Such a feeling of joy and anticipation. Boston is a race unlike any other, bringing cities across the state of Massachusetts together for one coordinated effort. We were up at 5am to get to the start line on time with all of the new security measures. Our start time wasn’t until 11am, giving us plenty of time at the runners’ village to do our last minute pre-race prep, have our jerseys signed by legend Jack Fultz, and hold our first annual pre-race pants contest. The goal: Find the ugliest throwaway pants. This year the BAA introduced a “no bags” policy, so runners were not able to bring any warm-ups or items they weren’t willing to abandon at the start. I’m proud to say Meesh and I took home the prize of ugliest pre-race pants – an 80’s inspired print and a faux denim pattern on tights. It was our way of making the new changes to the race lighter.
At the Start
We went through a security checkpoint as the officers did a full body metal detector scan before we entered the starting corrals. There were snipers stationed on the roof of one of the buildings near the starting line.
Before the race this year, one of the race coordinators was asked if they were putting on a race with additional security or a security event with a race thrown in. He confirmed it was the latter. Safety was the number one priority and it was evident throughout. That said, it in no way diminished the community support. In fact, I think it only sought to spur it. I was so impressed by the sheer amount of people that had come out to cheer for the race. Each city brought their rallying crew, some brought boomboxes, and others provided endless lines of high fives. I have never had that many people shouting my name.
Best Marathon Signs
There were signs sprinkled all along the route. These were some of the best: “Run like Justin Bieber is chasing you,” complete with a terrifying photo of the young heartthrob, “Smile if you’re horne-y,” “Go, random stranger, Go,” “Hurry up the Kenyans are drinking your beer,” “Run faster I just farted,” “Cold beer 7 miles ahead.”
At mile 11 I saw the family in Natick that I bonded with on our 22-mile training run two weekends prior. They had come out to cheer then and they were there on marathon day.
All of a sudden it was feeling abnormally hot. We got to the halfway point and I was already boiling. I had taken my first Gu at mile 10, which was earlier than I had anticipated, but good thing I did, because the heat climbed rapidly.
We hit the scream tunnel at Wellesley College. It’s just a wall of sound with girls holding signs and cheering the runners on. Somewhere on this stretch, we passed the legendary Team Hoyt running their final Boston Marathon.
I ran the first 17 miles with my partner in crime, my running buddy, the incredible Meesh. We got a few Go girls! and Go Kovi Meesh! Go Meesh Kovi! As we rounded the corner of the Firehouse we hit the “Newton flats,” which are anything but flat. At the end of this race section lies the infamous Heartbreak Hill. I saw Tara, Joshua, and crew cheering at the top.
Mile 22 and Onward
As soon as I finished the hills my right calf started to quiver. And I still had 4 miles to go! That’s when worry kicked in. I knew that was the start of a cramp, so I backed off on the speed. I just needed to get to the Citgo sign (mile 25) as that’s where the Dana-Farber cheering squad would be with hugs and motivation. I also knew I had so many rallying crews to look out for on Beacon Street.
At this point, I was starting to feel the effects of the warm temperatures (upper 60‘s is quite a change from the single digit temps we had experienced during training). Thankfully, all along Beacon Street I saw people I knew that gave me the motivation when I needed it most. Adrian was stationed at Summit, the site of our Friday morning hill runs. Sarah was cheering loudly thereafter. Old and new roomies sprinkled along the route. Katie capturing another epic pic. Eric, Laura, Bevin, and Alia raising a raucous near mile 24. I know Juliana, Kim, Grace, and Micha were in there too. It was also around this time that my calf was approaching full-blown cramp mode, and my left hamstring was joining the cry.
I wish I could have appreciated these last few miles more so. The amount of people who came out to cheer along this stretch was incredible. At that point I was dying of dehydration and delirium. Plus, I was concentrating on my calf and left hamstring to not give out on me, willing them with my mind to get me to the finish line. I crossed in 3:54:18!!! (Around the same time as my finishing time last year of 3:50:33.)
At the Finish Line
Two moments I will never forget. 1. “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston,” has been a mantra repeated around Boston as that was where so many people were stopped on 4.15.13 and unable to finish the race. That spot is also where my Mom and Aunt were watching as I passed them on my way to the finish. It was from there that they had made their way down Boylston Street one year ago, following me to the finish line when the bombs went off behind them. This year, my mom and sister stationed themselves at this same spot in defiance because that is where they have always cheered and that was not going to change. They greeted me with smiles, tears, and cheers. Seeing how proud they were on their faces is something I hold dear to my heart and a reminder of why I run.
2. After turning from Hereford onto Boylston Street just before I crossed the finish line, I saw Marko. I was able to pick his face out of the crowd despite everything blurring. It might have been because I recognized his voice, or that he was cheering with such force. Marko and I trained together for last year’s marathon. He finished shortly behind me. He was in the medical tent, severely dehydrated when the bombs went off. To see him cheering so strongly at the site that had caused him and me so much pain, was a moment I will never forget. It made me feel as though things were going to be alright — that we were healing, that we were a part of something important.
And we were. We were completing a race that many weren’t able to last year. We were showing the world that we had the guts, resolve, and resiliency to come back –to come back to a place, an event, a city, that had been through so much heartbreak, and say that we wouldn’t be stopped. We did it for the running community, for Boston, for the loved ones inscribed on our jerseys, for ourselves. We did it to show that we won’t be stopped. That we are stronger. That we still have so much ahead.
THANK YOU for being a part of this year’s race, for supporting me with your words, cheers, and donations to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We’ve raised $6,243.20!!!! Smashing our $6,000 goal!!!! This means that over the last two years that I’ve run with Dana-Farber, we have raised a total of over $10,000 for cancer research. As a team (the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge group of over 700 runners), we’ve raised a record of over $8 million this year alone. That is just incredible. And you made that possible. This funding goes to the Claudia Adams Barr Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. These are unrestricted funds, meaning it can facilitate the new, innovative research projects necessary for finding cures, especially projects unable to receive government funding. These projects are what lead to new discoveries in drug treatment and improving patients’ quality of life, and ultimately a cure. Programs like this are what gave my Grandma a longer life. And this specific program allowed my friend on the team to complete her 5th marathon as a cancer survivor. Thank you for letting me run for your friends and family, and for being there along this entire journey – from doubling up on the running tights in single-degree temps (can you tell I’m still traumatized by this?), from my dance videos to wearing a not-very-breathable costume on a training run, and most of all for sending your selfless and endless words of encouragement.
These last two years, I’ve never felt more supported and surrounded by such a loving group of people. I can’t thank you enough for not only helping me finish the race as it was meant to be finished, but for coming along this incredible ride.
“When lights dim and cameras go away, know that our support and love for you will never waver. You are strong at this broken place.” –Mayor Menino