It was a magical weekend. An incredible race.
I feel so thankful for the experience. For the people I shared it all with. For the miles and for the memories that were all truly SO unforgettable.
I have sat in front of my computer screen several times over the last few days, trying to find the words to tell my story, to share with you guys all that transpired from the minute I stepped off the airplane – the little things that were in fact big things and the big things that were truly BIGGER than BIG.
Boston is every bit of what it’s cracked up to be in my opinion. I am absolutely someone who drinks the Kool-aid that is this race. I am “all in” for Boston and I soak up every inch of the energy and excitement and pride that makes it such a magical experience. I consider myself truly blessed to toe the line there. To even be sitting on the school bus out to Hopkinton makes me feel giddy inside. It is just one of those things that I intend to never let get old or stale on me. I want to forever love Boston and to forever be grateful for it and for my experiences there, no matter how fast or slow, how strong or broken I may feel.
What I realized this year when I was in Boston is that I don’t just feel that way about Boston, but that I feel that way about running in and of itself. Running is not just a hobby for me or something I do to be in shape or to reduce stress … it is a part of who I am and has given me so very much in my life. It has given me, ME. Running connects me to who I really am and shows me that there is no need, really or way, to hide from that. I do not ever want my love for running to fade or diminish. I am sure it will change over time – I will run for different reasons and with different goals in mind – but I will always love it for what it is, and will protect my love for it fiercely so that I always keep it in my life. To some of you this may all sound so corny and over-the-top, and I get that … but the fact is I am a corny and over-the-top kind of person so this is just me being me and being very honest.
So, anyway, this post is going to be a long one. I want to tell you the story of my second trip to Boston for my most favorite race in the whole wide world, and how I found out how truly bold I can be, and how much I love to run…
I traveled alone to Boston this year and stayed with my dear friend Meghan who I stayed with last year. I could not imagine going to Boston this year without her, and was so thankful and excited to be with her again. She is one of those people who was just meant to be in my life, who would not be in my life if it weren’t for our mutual love of this sport. We met via Twitter and because of our shared loves of Nuun and Oiselle she contacted me last year in search of a roommate and thought we might click. She was so right. We definitely click. She is one of my most favorite people ever. So this year when she invited me to stay with her and her family I was over-the-moon grateful. We stayed in a nice two bedroom, one bathroom apartment in the South End and I slept on the couch in the living room and was very comfortable. Meghan’s parents and husband could not have been more welcoming of me – they made me feel like family from the second I walked in the door. I will be forever thankful for that.
Not long after I arrived we took a nice walk to the Expo to get our race bibs and do some geeking out over all things Boston and running. The excitement and energy in the air was so incredible and I could not take the smile off my face.
|yep, we click 🙂 sooo happy at the expo together!|
The expo at Boston is really, um, GIANT. There is so much STUFF there and it’s all amazing and exciting – and overwhelming! I was really happy we went there on Friday so that we could take it in without worrying so much about the race yet. On Saturday morning we went back to the expo to see a bunch of the incredible women who run and work for Oiselle (including Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher!). Meghan runs for Oiselle’s racing team and last year she introduced me to so many of these wonderful women when I was there with her, and they all treated me as if I were part of the team. This year was no different. I really cannot find the words to tell you guys how thankful I am for all of them. Traveling to Boston by yourself, without your family, can be be hard. Meghan and her family and the women from Oiselle made me feel like I wasn’t alone. They made me feel so cared about and celebrated and looked after. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this meant and means to me. We had a ton of fun chatting and shopping at the expo, and yes I was completely starstruck upon meeting Kara and Lauren that day!
Saturday was a really awesome day from start to finish. Before we went to the expo we went to the 5k because Meghan’s family was running it (they did great!) and there were also lots of elite runners and Oiselle ladies racing it. We had tons of fun cheering everyone on – and I loved seeing some of my favorite runners do their thing out there! It was absolutely a highlight of the weekend for me.
|Molly Huddle!! She won. Goooo Molly!!|
|Lauren and Sally soaring!|
|Meghan and me cheering!|
|Ben True – truly rocks!!|
I spent the rest of the day being as mellow as I could possibly be, which was in fact not very mellow at all. I got to spend time wandering around Newbury Street, hanging out with dear friends and shopping at Whole Foods for my dinner that night as well as food for the rest of the weekend. When I finally got back to the apartment I knew I had been on my feet way too much, and Meghan felt the same way. We put our legs up the wall and decided to take it easy for the rest of the night and to be as laid back as humanly possible the next day.
|laughing with our legs up the wall 🙂|
Sunday morning came and it was more than I ever could have dreamed. We met up with the Oiselle ladies early for a little (2.5 mile) shake out run and some delicious coffee. And when I say “delicious” here, I am really not exaggerating – it was seriously the BEST, most amazing-est cup of coffee I have had in all my life! – at a little place called Render. Lauren and Sally arrived not long after we did and for a while it was just a few of us sitting and talking about nothing and everything. I have looked up to both of these women for a long time and it was incredible to me how down-to-earth and kind they were to me, how they made me feel like an old friend, how much we had to talk about with such ease, and yet how much I admire them and look up to them for all they have done and do for our sport and especially for women in our sport. We were all a-buzz with chitchat about the race that morning and it was so much fun, but I have to admit that as the time ticked by the reality of the fact that I was preparing to run a marathon the next day began to start hitting me. I’d been floating on this amazing “I’m-in-Boston!!” high and the whole “I’m racing 26.2 miles” thing was just not at the top of my mind up until about mid-day on Sunday. Meghan and I went back to our apartment and chilled out for a while after that, and later that night we went to the home of one of the Oiselle women, Rebecca, and she and her husband hosted all of us for this incredible pre-race dinner.
A house full (but not too full) of amazing women, all running or supporting someone who would be running, the Boston Marathon, on Race Day Eve. We laughed and talked and ate. Some of the conversations were hilarious, some were very emotional and serious. Some had us in tears from laughter and some had us in tears over memories of Boston last year or of dreams for the future. I don’t know quite how to sum up this night, but it was really surreal to me and just so, so special. As the night wound down and we got ready to head home, I found the courage to ask Kara for her advice and thoughts about racing Boston. I told her I wanted to be brave and to take some chances on Monday, but that I also wanted to play it safe and be smart with my execution. That I wanted to protect my love for this race, and that I was worried that if I put too much on the line and was too risky I would be miserable, unable to soak in the amazingness of it all, and have bad memories of this race I loved so much. She was so engaged in our conversation and genuine with her response. I won’t ever forget it. She talked to me about believing in myself and about being bold and taking chances at the right time. We talked about the challenges of the course – how the first 16 miles hammer out your quads with all the rolling downhills and then miles 17-21 are both a relief and a pounding with the uphills…and then those last 5 miles is when you leave it all out there, racing your heart out into the city of Boston — Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston — and the glory of the finish is yours to celebrate. While talking with her, just like talking with Lauren at the coffee shop earlier that day, I was both amazed at how incredibly much I admire her for the runner and woman she is, yet I was also so comfortable and felt like I was talking with a good friend who I’d known forever.
|sandwiched between my heros 🙂|
Before leaving I had a weird idea and asked Lauren if maybe she would entertain me with it. I said “I’m about to ask you to do something sort of psycho…” and she said “cool, I love psycho! Go for it.” I asked her to write a mantra, something I could look at during the race when things got tough, on the inside of my wrist. One wrist for her, one for Kara. She was excited about it and grabbed my wrist and pulled it in front of her. I had no idea what she would write.
She wrote BE GRATEFUL. And she told me that no matter what – no matter how bad I hurt or how much it sucked or how hard it was to keep moving forward – to remember to BE GRATEFUL. Grateful to be in Boston. Grateful for my body and for what it could do. Grateful for the support and love that surrounded me. Grateful for the strength within me. Grateful that I can hurt. That I can feel and move and BE. Just grateful.
Kara wrote BELIEVE on my other wrist. She told me to believe in myself. To believe in all that I can do and to trust myself and to be bold. Not foolish and reckless, but brave and courageous.
That night I went to bed feeling ready to race. And grateful beyond words.
When I woke up the next morning I was as ready as I could be.
Meghan and I planned to take the T to the Commons to get on the buses, our station was closed so we had to walk about a mile and a half to get there. Surprisingly, neither one of us was phased or stressed by this glitch at all. We had plenty of time and we were really calm and relaxed that morning. After dropping our bags off at Gear Check in the Commons we got in line for the school buses. When we got on the bus to head to Hopkinton my heart skipped a beat upon seeing Maddie and Meg sitting there – their smiling faces just lit up and I was instantly floating! We had planned to meet up at Athletes Village but this was WAY better! With 36,000 people running this race I was relieved that we wouldn’t have to search for one another. It was pretty much the perfect thing and I knew it was going to be an amazing day no matter what.
Our time in Athletes Village was fun – we chilled out and were nervous and excited all at once. We peed a lot, laughed a lot and were just full of energy! I was so so happy to be sitting with my close friends before this race – feeling both calm and excited to share this with them. Meghan was in Wave 1 so we had to say our goodbyes to her early. I couldn’t wait to be reunited with her at the finish. Last year we ran the first 20 or so miles together, and it felt strange not to head to the same corral with her.
Not too long after that though it was our turn. I don’t remember our exact words, but Maddie, Meg and I hugged one another and told one another how much we believed in the other and to have an amazing time. It was a wonderful way to start a race, telling your friends how much you love them and believe in them, and feeling the same come from them.
I started running and instantly fell into a groove. I dialed into a pace that felt easy and controlled and as though I was holding something back, saving it for later.
The first 16 miles of this race were perfect. I ate my gels at miles 6 and 11. I was carrying my water bottle and drank from it at every water stop, not actually stopping myself but using them as mental triggers to remember to hydrate. I filled my bottle up once around Mile 10-ish. The sun was bright and it was warm, but not too hot out. My legs felt amazing, my stomach was fine. I was smiling constantly and enjoying every step. When I came through Wellesley and somewhere around Mile 14 I heard someone call my name and it was Meghan. She was not in the race anymore. My heart sank when I realized this, and I gave her a look of concern and confusion. I was worried about her and she knew it. She gave me this look like “NO – you are not allowed to worry about me right now. Run your race.” I really tried to put it out of my mind but it was hard.
7:14, 6:55, 6:58, 6:46, 7:07, 6:57, 7:00, 7:05, 7:02, 7:04, 7:00, 6:57, 7:01, 6:56, 7:05, 6:51
I came through 16 and into the Newton Hills after that. This is when things shift from down hill to up hill and I expected my quads to holler at me. They didn’t. My legs appreciated the switching of gears and I could literally feel my hamstrings and glutes join the party. I told myself to maintain my effort – not to work harder on the uphills. This was my plan all along. My pace slowed which I fully expected. Even effort up the hills would mean a slower pace but conserved energy – I would kick it into a new gear after 21. I ate my next gel at 17 and handled the hills well.
7:27, 7:35, 7:07, 7:31
It was some time towards the end of the 21st mile that I felt it happen. My stomach twisted up into knots and felt like someone was wringing it out all of a sudden. This wasn’t the kind of GI distress I am used to. It felt like I had a stomach virus – I had chills and cramping that I have never experienced while running. I saw a port-a-potty and stopped right away to assess the situation. My stomach was in bad shape. I felt the salt all over my face and believed I was probably dehydrated or dealing with some sort of electrolyte imbalance due to the bright sun and heat.
And just like that a race that was going perfectly, just wasn’t anymore. I honestly was unsure of what the next 5 miles would entail. My legs felt good, really strong in fact, but I had a hard time holding myself upright, wanting to curl over my tummy as it cramped.
I got back on the course and the energy around me was just incredible. This is the most amazing part of the race – so many people cheering – I just cannot even believe it! I kept telling myself “Jess – ENJOY BOSTON!” I let the spirit of the people around me carry me. I did not walk and I did not give up, even though so much of me really, really yearned to at times. I didn’t look at my watch once. Keeping my head up and my heart open, I chose to focus on all there was to be thankful for and to trust that this would carry me across the finish line. Believe me though, I had some really major moments inside where it was a huge battle to do this. My stomach hurt so badly and I was sure I was barely moving at times. I had to consciously choose to be positive over and over and over again. When I made the turn onto Hereford and then onto Boylston I started to cry tears of sheer happiness. THE PEOPLE. The people were everywhere and they were just so incredible!!!!! It was undeniable to me – the specialness of this race, there is nothing like it.
I ran with all of my heart across that finish line and finished Boston in 3:11:56. A PR for me by 3 minutes, and 10 minutes faster than I ran Boston one year ago.
7:13, 7:50, 7:41, 7:49, 8:21 (7:50 pace for the last .45 on my watch)
That was the toughest I have ever been in a race. The most brave and the most bold and the strongest willed and the most grateful and aware of myself ever. I am very proud of this race because I can say for the first time ever — that I gave it everything that I had.
My stomach was a mess for well over 24 hours after I finished and I could not stand up straight for a while, it just cramped so badly. I hydrated as best I could with water and Nuun and some ginger ale, but every time I drank my stomach would cramp. I had the chills and aches. Despite doing my very best to rally later that afternoon so that I could have a celebration dinner or go to a fun post race party, I never made it any farther than from the couch to the bathroom until the next day. That night I stayed up to watch marathon coverage – I was so so so happy about Meb winning and Shalane being so brave! Meghan and her family were so kind to me and took great care of me.
As I’ve been reflecting on the race over the last week, I find myself just feeling so full of gratitude. I love marathons because they show me what I am made of, they are a celebration of hard work and dedication and the choice to live a healthy happy life, to being an example of courage and strength for my children and for the people in my life who I love so much, they are the way I connect with and discover how to be the best version of ME that I can possibly be.
The Boston Marathon is that and so much more to me, because being there was a dream that for a really long time I never would have even dared to dream.
Here’s to another wonderful race, to my 14th marathon in just as many years, and to many more to come.
Thank you guys for all of your support! I love this amazing community and am so thankful to share my stories and my journey with all of you!