Claire Walsh, 26, F, 3:36:59
That's good for 396th place overall and most importantly, an entry into the Boston Marathon. I feel like I've been repeatedly punched in the right ass check, my quads and calves on both sides become totally seized up after a few minutes of not moving them, I'm walking up and down stairs like I have ski boots on, and the sole of my left foot seems to have run 26.2 miles on a bed of hot coals. But who gives a damn; I'm going to Boston in April!
Getting There (Not to be confused with the Mary Kate and Ashley feature film of the same name): I had a crazy week last week and was lucky to make it through (relatively) unscathed. Special thanks to my amazing and supportive friends, who spent 5 days reminding me (or lying to me...) about what a bad ass runner person I am. Between the emails, the phone calls, the manicure dates, and the packages shipped to my office, I hardly had time to get stressed about Sunday's race.
I left the city on Friday after work and headed up to Connecticut. This would have been a more efficient process had I not gotten all the way to midtown only to discover I'd left my car keys back at my apartment and had to go back downtown to get them in order to go back up to midtown to get on the train out of the city. The whole process was emblematic of the week I'd had, and frankly I figured if every single thing that could go wrong in the days leading up to the race did, then perhaps I would be spared on Sunday morning.
I finally made it up to Connecticut and spent Friday night unpacking and repacking and double checking my bags. I prepared my pace bracelet, reread Kara Goucher's email, and looked through my training log. Damn I'd done a lot of running already. Another 26.2 miles - really?!
Saturday morning I went for an easy 3 miler before setting out for my journey to the Southern Tier (apparently that is what the Corning/Elmira area is called. I have never in my 26 years thought of New York in tiers, and I suspect this is some weird branding strategy developed by people in Rochester to make themselves feel special for living in a place where it's winter 11.5 months of the year). I didn't take Carl with me on my last pre-race run, deciding instead that I should just focus on how I felt and not how fast I was going. I did, however, wear a long sleeved top for the first time this season. Frigid temps, just in time for my race!
The drive to Corning was easy and uneventful, and the foliage was really spectacular. I peeped so many leaves!
The Expo: Packet pick-up was located right in downtown Corning off Market Street and was really easy to get to. We lucked into a parking spot in the lot right across the street. After I looked up my bib number (1386. Bitches!), I breezed through pick-up, which included a bottle of New York State Champagne (with a screw top) and a commemorative wine glass, of which I have two since I'd paid for two registrations. You can never have enough New York State Champagne... The pace teams had a table at the expo, so I stopped by to meet Diana, the 3:40 pacer, in case I decided to run with her on Sunday.
The expo was really just one booth aside from packet pick-up, but I was able to poke my head in to pick up a pair of gloves to wear on race day. I also picked up a delightful pair of socks with beers on them (pictures of beers; they aren't, like, wet with stale beer. Yet). I wasn't able to find sleeves, but had packed plenty of potential throw away tops, so I wasn't too concerned about my warmth and comfort for Sunday.
The Night Before: Ordinarily I wouldn't make a special note about how I spent the night before my race; generally speaking, it's "eat dinner, set out gear, go to sleep." But Saturday night was special. Especially bad.
Dinner at the hotel restaurant was perfectly adequate, and after retiring to the room, I set about checking the weather forecast every ten minutes and packing my gear bag. At about 9:00, I set my alarm and got into bed.
At 9:02, a booming voice echoed through the room. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Suchandsuch and Whatsherface wedding!" I kid you not, it sounded like the DJ was standing at the foot of my bed. After learning the intimate details of each member of the wedding party as they were announced, the music started. It appeared to be a hip hop-themed wedding. I burst into tears.
By some miracle, the wedding ended by 11:00pm, but I spent much of the night tossing and turning nonetheless. When my alarm finally went off at 4:45am, I was relieved that I could stop pretending to try to sleep.
Race Morning: I went through my usual pre-race routine on Sunday morning: make coffee, get dressed, lube up with Body Glide, nervously force down some granola bars. Before I knew it, it was 5:45 and time to head to the bus to the start.
You'll note my gloves are holding a bottle of champagne and a wine glass. Even phantom Claire is a booze hound.
My mom kindly woke up ass-early and drove me back into downtown Corning to catch one of the buses from the finish line to the start in Bath. I was able to get right on the bus, and it filled up and pulled away within 5 minutes. There were tons of buses waiting; a very smooth process to get to the start. The ride itself seemed to take forever - an unfortunate reminder of just how far I was about to run. After about 35 minutes, we pulled into the Phillips Lighting parking lot where the start was staged.
There wasn't a lot going on at the start; ample Porta Potties, and because I was on a early bus, I do believe I was the very first person to use mine (sorry, everyone who came after me...). Have you ever used a Porta Potty in the pre-dawn hours? It's dark enough outside, but then you go into a Porta Potty and literally cannot see a thing. Anyway, I went to the bathroom and then headed towards gear check, which was just a rental truck with a hand written sign that said "Runner Gear" stuck to it with masking tape. I was pretty sure that it was the local Salvation Army just looking for easy donations... But for a small marathon (2500 runners, which was nearly double the pack last year), things were well organized and easy, if a bit bare boned.
It was COLD at the start, and there was no place to go inside to warm up. While I was glad I'd left myself plenty of time to get to the start and go to the bathroom, I had more than an hour to kill, and the wind was whipping through the parking lot. I kept my gear, including sweatpants, until the bitter end, but even with a few layers on, I was shivering and anxious to get started. Watching the sunrise over the mountains and light up the red and orange leaves was pretty bad ass though. I ran into my colleague, Daniel, at the start and we talked strategy for a few minutes before we headed to our respective self-designated starts (as a 3:09 marathoner, he started well ahead of me, though there weren't specified corrals).
About 7:45am, I lined up near the 3:40 pace group. Huddled together for warmth, I was ready to ditch the plastic garbage bag I'd stuck my head through to keep my top half warm. As I stripped it off and got ready to toss it, the guy behind me ask if he could have it. In just a singlet and shorts, he must have been freezing! I gladly handed my bag over to him and turned back to face the start. Here goes nothing.
The Race: My strategy was to run 8:15-8:20 miles for the first half and see how I was feeling at that point. After struggling with my pacing for so long during training, I wanted to be sure I wasn't heading off like a shot, but wanted a few seconds in the bank to allow me enough time to stop to pee if I needed to. The 3:40 pace group flew out of the start, and after the first mile, I panicked that something was wrong with Carl; he was reading 8:04 for the first mile - already too fast - and the 3:40 pace group was more than 100 yards ahead of me. But everyone around me was commenting on how fast the pace leader had set out, so I was comforted and rather than picking up my pace to catch up, I relaxed and settled into a comfortable pace. After the first mile, I tossed my long sleeved shirt and was adequately warm in a singlet and shorts.
I spent the first few miles running with a couple guys from Ontario who were friendly and chatty and talked all about how great Boston is. I told them to keep up the chatter to inspire me for the next 20 miles. They told me, "3:40? You got this." Given that we were only at mile 5, I wasn't nearly as confident as they were. But I was turning in pretty even splits. The first 5 miles:
While the first couple of miles took us through residential neighborhoods and downtown Bath, pretty soon we were running along a long stretch of paved country road with mountains and trees ahead and Route 17 to our right. The road was flat and pretty straight, so you could see the runners well ahead of you. The road dropped off into a ditch on either side, so there was no coverage to step off and go to the bathroom, and by mile 5 I had to pee. I finally spied a few Porta Potties at mile 7.5 and had to wait about 20 seconds for someone to finish before I could dash in. Miles 6-10:
8:56 (bathroom break)
I was pleased with my pace over the first ten miles, and surprised at how good I was feeling. But I decided to stick to my plan to mentally check in at the half and determine if and how I should adjust my pace. 3 miles to go, I told myself. I choked down a Gu and kept plugging along. Miles 11-13:
By mile 13, the sun was up and I was reminded how smart I'd been to stick with my singlet and not wear a long sleeved top for the whole race. The sole of my left foot was starting to feel painful, but not unmanageable. I decided I'd keep up my pace until mile 15 and check in again. Miles 14-15:
By 15, I was shocked that I kept pace for so long, but also starting to get scared that I still had 11 miles to go. I tried to break up the rest of the course mentally. I'll have another Gu in a mile. I'll see my mom 3 miles after that. Then one more mile and I'm already at 20. 16-20:
8:18 (hi Mom!)
Mile 20 took us onto a very narrow shoulder on a road that was not closed to traffic, and the headwind picked up quite a bit. While I had almost 2 minutes in the bank at that point, I was fearful that the last 6 miles would all be in these less-than-ideal conditions. We'd left the country road and were back on a thoroughfare with gas stations replacing scenic vistas along the road. A perfect time to implement my standard marathon mental game!
Long ago when I was training for my first marathon, I read a tip that suggested you should dedicate each of the last 6 miles to someone or something, and repeat that as a mantra of sorts. In the past, I've dedicated miles to friends who'd come to watch or supportive people I'd encountered along the way. For my BQ attempt, I decided instead that I'd come up with 6 reasons that I should qualify for Boston. The "mantra miles" not only helped to remind me why I was doing this in the first place, but also gave me something to say to myself over and over again in time with my footfalls. I was so busy repeating things like "because I trained for 16 weeks, damnit," and "because my mom is so selfless and came all the way out here with me," and "because I am a good person and deserve good things," that I hardly noticed when we turned off the narrow road and headed down a hill into a park, wound through a neighborhood, and hopped on a paved bike path that meandered back into downtown Corning. Suddenly, I was passing the glass factory and on my way towards the finish. HOLY SHIT, I WAS GOING TO QUALIFY FOR BOSTON! Miles 21-26.2:
2:02 (8:10 pace).
Holy shit. HOLY SHIT. I just PRed. I just BQed. Holy shit. I crossed the finish line and wanted to start crying. I even tried, but it made breathing pretty hard, so instead I settled for collecting a medal and a mylar blanket and a bottle of water. I stumbled over to the bagels, and then to the bag check, and threw myself on the grass in the sun. Holy shit, I'm going to Boston.
Meanwhile, my mom, who is about half my height, was jumping up and down trying to find me among runner after runner streaming down the finish chute, all the while with her eye on the clock. As I made my way to our designated meeting spot (which was no small feat, as my lower back wanted me to do nothing more than to lie on the grass forever), my smallest little mom thought she was watching my dream slip away. When the finish clock said 3:48, she figured I probably wouldn't want my picture taken as I finished, and headed to Market Street to wait me out.
But I was already there! Lying in the middle of the sidewalk, with no shoes on (the things I miss out on by living in Manhattan! It is a DELIGHT to take your shoes off in public, and to sit down on the ground, and not live in fear of sitting on pee and dirty needles), dream safely in hand. Hooray!
And so ends my tale of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. But my running stories are far from over. Mostly because I have to run the New York City Marathon in five weeks...
It's been a crazy couple of weeks, so thanks to the great many of you who have been there for me, offering support and encouragement. I hope to offer you a beer or two in return.
As always, here's to the next great adventure!