By Liz Costello
While I had watched the 2015 Boston Marathon after moving to the area in the fall of 2014, I did not yet understand just how much the city gets behind this event. What I did know at that time, however, was that my coach was thinking of having me try the distance in the next year or so. Fast forward to the fall of 2016, and those debut plans materialized to running Boston in 2017.
Preparing for the marathon represented a new and exciting challenge, despite my inability to conceptualize racing 26.2 miles. Making the decision more exciting, was that my debut would be in my adopted hometown, where New Balance is headquartered and where a great network of people had become a part of my life since 2014.
Over the sixteen week build-up, my training changed slightly from what I had been doing for the 10k: my mileage increased for a few weeks, workouts were a little longer, and I was introduced to “long run workouts” and fueling. I also chose to race throughout the build-up, and although those performances were not what I had hoped for, I would make the decision to race during the build-up again as a way to break up the training and not overly focus on the large goal ahead. Overall, I feel that I have a lot still to learn about preparing for and racing the marathon, but my experience in Boston certainly left me excited to try the distance again.
What really made the marathon experience unique was that more than any other race I have participated in, the distance was the biggest adversary, more so than the competition. And because of this, there was more camaraderie amongst the runners, as well as support from the community at large. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a highly competitive race, but the key to being able to even enter race mode was to first prepare to tackle the distance. With the understanding that racing 26.2 miles is a formidable challenge for anyone, the event engenders a bond between all involved - both the athletes and the spectators.
I first began to experience this communal support while training in Flagstaff during this past January with my team for our annual altitude training camp. During this time, I was fortunate to share runs with other athletes who were currently training for, or had trained for, the marathon. I was thankful for their willingness to share their insights on this unfamiliar distance, such as preparing to be alone during the race and making sure to log the mileage.
And although my teammates were preparing for their indoor track seasons, they jumped at any opportunity they could to help me prepare for the race. Whether by joining me for a long run on the course, running a tempo workout from the starting line in Hopkinton in the freezing rain, or preparing a list of “26 things” they wanted to tell me to provide inspirational support before the race, they supported me tremendously.
As with all big races, race weekend seemed to approach more quickly than expected. Boston had been transformed in preparation, as all sorts of marathon-related marketing campaigns covered billboards across the city. I took the familiar ride on the T from my apartment in Brighton to Copley Square, the location of the race hotel, and my mentality transformed as well: yes this is home, but it had become a large stage!
At the race hotel, many of the other women graciously provided encouragement knowing it was my debut, and a few of us were open to working together over the first half of the course. The same camaraderie that I had first experienced back in Flagstaff was again apparent. Yes, we are all competitors, but we shared a common goal of conquering the 26.2 mile distance.
The morning of the race, the Fairmont Copley staff and John Hancock Elite Team gathered together in the hotel lobby to send-off the athletes. After piling onto the buses that would take us to the starting line in Hopkinton, I’ll never forget the single police officer with his hand outstretched, halting the building traffic on I-90, to allow the buses onto the interstate. And more notably, none of the cars were honking while being delayed. Everyone seemed to understand what was happening – on Marathon Monday, it’s all about the runners in Boston. Never have I felt like such a rock star in this sport.
Our buses were accompanied by a police escort all the way to Hopkinton, where we were greeted by local spectators and volunteers. It was finally time. I was nervous, but it helped that I had a pacing plan to focus on for the first half. And once we were off, we were never alone. The crowd support that I had heard about from others had not been exaggerated. There were people lining almost the entire course, and they were several deep in some towns. That support really helped carry me during the race. And some of the other women that were racing openly embraced the crowd support by waving their hands in encouragement for more noise!
For me, the race passed relatively quickly. Over the second half of the course, the downhill running from the first half was catching up with me, as my legs were fatiguing. And due to the relatively warm day, some muscle cramping occurred over the final 10k. Although my pace was slowing over the final miles, the crowd support, especially from friends that I was able to recognize, helped me to continue pushing. It was also helpful at this point that the course was so familiar – I was running less than a mile from my apartment as we ran through Cleveland Circle.
And soon enough I was making the famous set of turns, right on Hereford and left on Boylston. The throngs of people, waving flags, and finish line view was all together spectacular. This was a moment that I had been looking forward to for many weeks, especially since I had my family, New Balance family, and teammates, all watching about fifty meters from the finish.
Overall, while I still have a lot to learn about training for and racing the marathon distance, my experience running the 2017 Boston Marathon was really made special by all of the people that were involved in various forms of support throughout it. Because of this experience, I look forward to running other marathons, but sense that I may have been spoiled during this personally memorable debut.