Boston Marathon Recap. Spoiler Alert: I Didn’t Finish

April 20, 2015 proved to be the hardest day in my running world.

We arrived in Boston Saturday evening. Sunday I woke Andrew up bright and early so we could do my shakeout run to the marathon expo and pick up my bib right when it opened.

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So excited.

In keeping with tradition I laid across the finish line and thought “see you tomorrow”.

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We had a great day seeing the Red Sox play (unfortunately they lost),  and had a really amazing dinner at Galleria 33. Highly recommend this place for anyone going to Boston who is looking for a great Italian meal.

Monday morning I woke up at 5am. I was meeting Angel Britt at the bus at 6:15am. One of the most challenging things about big races like Boston is the waiting game. After meeting Britt at 6:15am, we took an hour long bus ride to Athlete’s Village where we waited (in the rain) for just over 2 hours before we could walk to the start area (and wait for another half hour). The waiting game really toys with me mentally. It’s like waiting for an exam and you’re with people who are talking about all the training they’ve done, eating things that make you think “should i eat more? Should I be eating that?” and people who look so much faster than you. It’s tough.

Luckily this year I was in wave one which started at 10am. Wave four didn’t start until 11:15am so my mental state was happy to be in the first wave out of the gate. Walking to the start line, I was so excited. It was familiar. I’ve mentioned before Boston is the only marathon I’ve done more than once – I loved being familiar with it.

I had a race plan that I had discussed with my coach right before I left. She said SUB 3 and I said WHAT. She told me she thought I was capable of running a sub 3 hour marathon at Boston if I executed it properly. I have a good/bad habit of reading a lot of blogs about a marathon right before I run it. This jointly scares and prepares me. From what I had read I knew if anything, do not go out too fast. That seemed to be lot of people’s downfall especially since the biggest downhill is in that first mile. My goal was to head out at 4:15/km pace, no faster than 4:10/km pace. 5km down, I felt great and was right on pace.

The neat thing about Boston is that you’re ranked going into it based on your qualifying time. So standing at the start line, I was surrounded by people chasing that sub 3 hour marathon. I crossed the half way point at 1:29:01 feeling good and excited.

Looking back at this time last year I hadn’t broke 1:30 in the half marathon and here I was a year later with two half marathons under my belt at 1:25 and 1:26, and was on pace to run two sub 1:30 half marathons back to back. If you asked me if I thought that would ever be possible a year ago, my answer would be HELL NO.

After crossing the half way point on pace, I mentally prepared myself for the hills that were coming up. I told myself, “just make it to 34km and the hills will be over”. The final stretch is one big downhill and then you’re sailing flat to the finish. While I still wasn’t sure about a sub 3 finish, I was pretty confident I would PB (i.e. sub 3:03). I felt good.

The hills were hard. It was pouring rain on and off so my clothes got heavy and I was cold. At 28km my left calf felt off. I figured it was probably because of the hills and would fix itself once they were over. At 30km I stopped briefly to stretch it out. At 32km it felt like someone had stabbed me in the back of my leg. I had never felt pain like that before. I slowed down thinking maybe I can just “shake it off”. It got progressively worse and at 34km I couldn’t handle it anymore and walked off the course.

The second I walked off tears started streaming down my face. I walked into the medical tent and four volunteers looked up at me and I said, “my calf hurts”. I thought “ok we have 45 seconds to collectively fix this then I can get back out there”. Wishful thinking on my part, but I’ve never had a running injury take me out before so I thought maybe this will pass quickly.  The medics looked at it, massaged it, iced it and I tried to jump back in. I knew my PB was out of sight now, but I wanted to at least cross the finish line.

Not a chance. It hurt too much to run. By that time I was shaking I was so cold.  I turned around and walked back into the medical tent and sat there and cried until they could take me to the finish line.  It took over two and a half hours to get back  – the bus had to stop at every medical tent to see if there were other people injured who needed to get back to meet family/friends. I was in panic mode because I knew my family and friends were tracking me online and would start to stress after I stopped tracking at 30km. Plus my boyfriend Andrew and I had plans to meet at 1pm (3 hours after the start) and since we were in the US, his phone was off so I couldn’t get a hold of him.

I borrowed a phone and made two calls – to my mom and Andrew. I have no idea what I said on either voicemail, a lot of crying and that I hurt myself and wasn’t able to finish the race but not to worry. I didn’t get dropped off at the finish line until after 3pm (the 5 hour mark of the marathon). I limped right away to our meeting spot and Andrew wasn’t there. I was so panicked I didn’t know what to do. I literally had nothing with me and I was shaking I was so cold standing in the rain. Andrew is 6’7 so I NEVER have a problem finding him in a crowd but I looked all around me and didn’t see him. I walked to the end of the street and when I couldn’t see him, I started crying again. People walking by must have thought I was crying because I was so happy to be finished so they were congratulating me. I wanted to disappear.

Then I saw him. He came running over and I have never cried so much in my life. It was like a newborn baby / ugly girl / can’t breath / hysterical – crying. I was so upset and just wanted to forget this happened and immediately be back in Toronto. Andrew literally gave me the shirts off his back to keep me warm and then put me on a warming bus while he ripped off my bib to go and find my bag check. He had spent the last 2 hours running back and forth between our meeting spot and the medical tent trying to get updates on where I was and if I was ok.

What a nightmare. When I imagined going back to Boston over the last four months of training, I never in a million years thought this would happen.

Monday night we had plans to meet up with friends for dinner. Limping back to the hotel after the race I was going to cancel. When I finally warmed up I decided I wasn’t going to wallow in our hotel room all night – heck we are going for dinner and I will drink ALL the cocktails in Boston. After dinner I wanted to keep myself distracted so Andrew and I went to this really cool live reggae/jazz music joint called the Beehive where I continued to drink ALL their cocktails on the menu.

I woke up on Tuesday thinking it was a bad dream. We weren’t flying home until that night and had plans to rent bikes and tour around the city all day. Luckily I didn’t feel any pain while biking so we were still able to do that. We tried all the famous pastries in Boston, ate pizza and drank beers at Cheers – all the things I had been avoiding leading up to the race.

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I had my calf checked out when I got home by Angel Stewie who is a physio on my team. She is like a ray of sunshine. Turns out I tore a muscle in my calf during the run. That explains the stabbing pain I felt. It’s not a bad tear though and Stewie told me I was wise to have stopped running when I did before it got worse.

Coming to realize that I actually didn’t finish the marathon has been challenging. I’ve been way more emotional that I thought I would be this week. I also feel silly being so upset because in retrospect, it’s just one race. I’ve done countless races over the years. But it’s Boston. I’ve never not finished a race before. I trained so hard for this one in the coldest winter on record. I felt good going into it. Marathons are my favourite distance.

Running is huge part of my life and who I am. I had a good talk with my coach afterwards. She said I need to take care of my mind and body now, not to lose confidence in my ability to run and that I will come out of this stronger.

While I left Boston feeling pretty defeated, I was full of pastries, pizza and new life lessons. Sometimes no matter how hard you train things happen that are out of your control. Sometimes life’s a huge bitch. But I’ve been lucky to make it to Boston, my calf will heal and so will my heart.

I will go back to finish what I started – with a vengeance – under three hours.

Thanks to all my friends and family for the unbelievable support xo

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4 thoughts on “Boston Marathon Recap. Spoiler Alert: I Didn’t Finish

  1. I was actually quite emotional reading this post, a testiment to your mental and physical struggle – and I believe TRIUMPH! – as well as your talents at writing. I am proud to know you. Onward and upward! …or downward beyond 3:03?!?

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  2. Sarah!! You are such an inspiration and I know you’ll be back and better than ever because of what happened. Every race teaches us something and hopefully you’ll find the silver lining in this one. It seems like you’re doing a good job of focusing on the positives. And the hard work you put in over the winter just means you’ll be strong and ready to go once your calf heals! Glad you enjoyed the rest of your time in Boston (cocktails always help)! Ps when I read that biking didn’t bother your calf, my first thought was, “she can become a triathlete!” Cross training for the run with swim and bike helps when you’re coming back from injury 😉

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  3. You wrote so beautifully about a not so pleasant experience. You write how you felt which displays a courage and strength to grow as a person, a runner and demonstrates that in life the only way to live it is to experience it, touch it , taste it and in doing so let it impact our road we travel just as you impact the road that people around you travel. Love Dad

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  4. I’m so sorry this happened. I’m impressed with your ability to rapidly gain perspective and set your sights forward after such a disappointing and challenging experience. Glad you have loved ones supporting you and good practitioners to help you recover. I’m sure you’ll be back, stronger and fast, grabbing that dream time.

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