Placing 4th in the 2018 Boston Marathon
The following is an edited version of my Athleticore race recap from the 2018 Boston Marathon, where I placed 4th overall for women.
Competition: 122nd Boston Marathon (Road Race)
Event: Marathon @ 2:44:29.00 (6:16 / mi)
Temperature: 30°F to 40°F
Wind: Strong Wind
Intensity: Very Hard
Overall Feeling: Good
“Every runner has a story, and on Marathon Monday we get to share the start line and the road, and move together forward.”
- Des Linden, 2018 Boston Marathon Champion (!)
Our frozen toes and bare legs pound the wet pavement in unison. Race numbers, seed times, and sponsorships fade behind a mass of bulky ponchos and colorful rain jackets; we move into close packs to stay warm and conserve energy. We are in this together: blisters, chafing, frozen fingers, chattering teeth, and — at times — collective misery. A beautiful misery, the kind that tests your strength and resilience, teaches you lessons, builds camaraderie, and makes you love and respect the marathon even more than you thought you could.
When I saw first the weather forecast for Monday (20–30 mph headwind, 35–40 degrees, and driving rain), I thought for sure it would change. When it didn’t, I felt a familiar heart-racing anxiety and a pit in my stomach. How could I possibly have to run Boston in extreme heat in 2012, and a headwind and freezing rain in 2018? I have spent the past few years training to run a sub-2:40 race, and in such extreme conditions, I knew I would have to let go of this elusive time goal, which has returned cycle after cycle to taunt me like the reflection of my muscular thighs when I look in the mirror.
On Sunday night, with my coach Terry Shea’s help, I adjusted my plan and realized that the weather could work to my advantage, just as it did in 2012 when I still ran a big PR. My husband, Sean, also told me that he thought I could place well, maybe even in the top 10. I didn’t believe him, of course, but I agreed to embrace the weather and view it as an opportunity. As Desi said in her post-race interview: “It’s all about perspective and mindset. You say horrible day, I say bring it on.” By the time I went to bed on Sunday, this was my mindset, and I told Terry that I was ready for anything. I called my close friend Stef Harvey, who was also running Boston, and I told her, “We don’t have to run, we get to run. And we get to do it together, with Vaseline smeared all over our bodies! How special is that?” I knew that even if we suffered in the elements for ~3 hours, eventually it would be over, and our memories of this day would last much longer than my remaining months in Boston. Everyone who was there on Monday will always remember it as a day of “blessed singularity/ a telescoping memory” (Darlingside, “Singularity”).
“Singularity” was a word used to describe the Boston Marathon at the awards ceremony on Monday evening; it also happens to be the name of my favorite song in Darlingside’s latest album, Extralife, which I listened to on repeat throughout this training cycle. In March, Sean and I saw Darlingside play live in San Francisco, where we reunited with the incredible Williams College alumni community and started to imagine our next chapter in a new city. When I returned to Andover with four weeks to go until Boston, I found myself listening to Extralife every time I drove into Boston, missed Sean (who has been living across the country in San Francisco since February), or sought strength in the midst of so many transitions. As the race neared, Darlingside’s lyrics became my marathon mantras, deeply embedded in my head and heart, where — in the later stages of the race — I would hear them with exaltation.
“And what will I become tomorrow?
Maybe everything will be alright
I don’t want to keep you up all night.”
- Darlingside, “Good for You”
We stayed up too late (as usual) on Sunday night, but I had fun trying on different iterations of my racing outfit. The fashion show started with Sean’s oversized, throwaway sweats and a beanie hat, and later progressed into racing shorts and a long-sleeve. I eventually settled on my form-fitting, dark purple Adidas windbreaker; racing briefs; arm warmers; a racing top; a white baseball hat; and a headband, beanie hat + mittens. I thought I would take off the hat after a few miles, but I ended up keeping it on until the Newton Hills. What a lifesaver! I’m convinced it kept me warm when other runners succumbed to hypothermic conditions.
“To the west now it begins
in the sound waves in the wind”
- Darlingside, “Singularity”
The alarm went off at 5:20am, and by 5:45am, we were in the car, which was covered with a thin layer of ice. After my experience bonking in Berlin, I made sure to eat even more than I thought I needed. At 6:30am, Sean dropped me off to pick up a coffee and walk to the bus in the pouring rain. Within minutes, my shoes were drenched and my toes were frozen. On the bus I sat near other friends who were also running, and it was calming to be amongst my teammates and other experienced Boston Marathon runners. As we drove westward in the pouring rain, it was mind-boggling to imagine running the entire way back into a headwind.
“Hide away, the storm’s about to break
all of the branches shake”
- Darlingside, “The Rabbit and the Pointed Gun”
When we arrived at the church in Hopkinton, I took the suggestion to duct tape the tops of my shoes to help keep out the water. I went for it, but it made me feel like I was wearing ski boots for the first few miles of the race.
START — 10K
“Hold your head up high
rise it up, its fine to rain
a time will come again”
- Darlingside, “Hold your Head up High”
With seven minutes to go, I ran over to the start with the elite women and did a few strides. The warm up ended up being the first mile, which truly felt like a jog. I made a point to never look at my watch, but I think I heard 6:30. I knew I could run faster up with the lead pack, which was also running slowly, but I stuck to my plan of staying in the back. The rain was really coming down, and every so often a strong gust would come out of nowhere and throw off my balance. The highlight of the first few miles, which otherwise seemed to drag on, was seeing my friends Casey, Grant, Karin, and Colin in Ashland. After the 10k, I felt some sense of relief that all I had to do was run 20 more miles: “No problem” (as Sean would say in a Kenyan accent — a relic of our trip to Lornahs training camp in Iten, Kenya, where we were blown away by the resilience of the Kenyan runners we trained with). At this point I had no idea just how much fun I would have in the second half of the race.
10K — 20K:
“And misery’s no rest for weary gentleman
See the humankind is you
Like all the rest down to”
- Darlingside, “Hold your Head up High”
At some point after the 10k, I pulled to the front of the pack with Joanna Thompson, who was the only person nearby that I recognized. She blocked some of the wind, but I also tried to lead a few miles so that she wasn’t doing all of the work. It seemed like everyone else was just trying to hang on to the back of the pack. From what I remember, there were some intense gusts of wind in this stretch. The rain also became quite heavy, to the point where a few times I felt disoriented and nauseated because I couldn’t see in a straight line and my hands were going numb. It was so strange to feel this way in a race, but I was able to easily distract myself from the discomfort by focusing on the volunteers and spectators. At one of the fluid stops, I think I even yelled, “Thank you!” They were so, so incredible to show up in such miserable, cold weather to treat us like queens. It gave me comfort to know that no matter what happened to the small pack around me, I would not be alone. Around mile 10, I ran by Sean and our friend Dave Chorney with a huge smile on my face. I also noticed a couple people coming back to us, including Deena Kastor. I told her she should join our pack and run with us, but she drifted back and I think had to drop out due to hypothermia. This is when I realized that I must be having a good day.
20K — NEWTON HILLS:
“Time, [don’t] look at the time and what we used to be
signs, what are the signs?”
- Darlingside, “Eschaton”
When I ran by Wellesley College, I actually read the signs, which I had completely missed in 2012. I made a deliberate choice not to look at the half time because I didn’t want to feel discouraged. I was very much looking forward to running on the part of the course that I know best, where I have great memories of running with my teammates Wayne, Ox, and Hilary during this cycle. I enjoyed seeing Quebrada Baking Co. on my right, and thinking about all the times I’ve run from there to Cleveland Circle. Around mile 17, I spotted a few rain jackets up ahead in the distance. In training, the first hill after the firehouse always feels the hardest, but for some reason I hardly noticed it. Getting up those hills was perhaps the most effortless part of the entire race. Thanks to Terry, I felt so strong and well-prepared after hard hill repeats and multiple long runs on the course. We also finally got a bit of a break from the wind! By mile 19 or 20 I caught up to Sarah Sellers, whose name I obviously did not know at the time (she finished in 2nd place). There were a few times that I tried to step to the side to see if she wanted to lead, but she was smart and hung back to conserve energy for her big move. The highlight of this stretch was seeing my teammates Sarah C., Cat, and Beth, who were going nuts cheering! It turns out a bunch of my students and the athletes that I coach also came out to cheer, and I know that all of this encouragement gave me so much momentum heading up Heartbreak.
“Oh, I was happiness and I was sorrow…
I stood above the Rocky Mountains
Where Colorado touches New Mexico
And I could see a hundred miles, but
I was many thousand miles from home.”
- Darlingside, “Good for You”
Getting to the top of heartbreak was by far my favorite part of the race. I felt so strong that I unzipped my windbreaker and sacrificed it to the Boston Marathon Gods. I might have even fist pumped, which made the crowds cheer like crazy. There were swarms of spectators screaming on both sides of the road, overwhelming me with positive emotion. I could not believe people how many people showed up on the course; I could hear their hearts beating, the sound reverberating through me, filling me with adrenaline. I felt myself getting choked up, and suddenly Heartbreak Hill began to take on a new meaning.
“Go, are we gonna go?
It’s looking like the start or the end
Either way ahead is around the bend”
- Darlingside, “It’s Over Now”
These downhill miles were just so much fun. My quads were aching, but I felt unstoppable. I think I had blocked out the weather entirely, and I couldn’t wait to see Sean. When I saw him, he was going absolutely nuts and he yelled, “Rach, you are in 8th place!” I think I was in complete shock, so I convinced myself that he had said “18th place.” Then, in the distance, I heard him yell, “Shalane is up ahead.” Was he joking? What was happening? Maybe he was right! The stretch from 23–24 is a bit of a blur because it was so surreal. Shalane was not far ahead, and when I passed her, I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn’t in some kind of marathon delirium. What the hell was happening?! I had no idea how fast I was running, but it did not feel like a pace that would put me anywhere near the top women. It didn’t even cross my mind that I could be in the top 5.
“It’s over now, the flag is sunk, the [course] has flattened out
under the underground, I’ve always found, a level further down
as I begin to lose hold of, the fiery [women] above
mushroom clouds reset the sky, extralife.”
- Darlingside, “Extralife”
This was a tough stretch. There are so few times that I have run on this part of the course, and I started losing the surge of energy & confidence that I had in the hills. My legs were aching, Sarah Sellers flew by me, and I tried to fight off the Canadian who finished 9 seconds in front of me. If I had only known that those 9 seconds really meant finishing in the top 3 at the Boston Marathon! I just had no idea. I tried to dig deep and find another level, but my legs were shutting down. The Japanese men’s champion sprinted past me, and I was utterly confused. Who the heck was this guy? Was he winning? Little did I know, that is exactly what everyone was thinking about me and the other “unknown” American women who would finish in the top 10 (and fellow “Team T-Bone” teammate Veronica Jackson in 13th!! So amazing!)
MILE 25.5 — FINISH
“When the world speaks
it rattles to me like an antique
or maybe it rings like an old bell
wishing me some kind of farewell”
- Darlingside, “Best of the Best of Times”
As I turned onto Hereford, I heard Sean’s voice saying, Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston. It’s that simple. After making those turns, everything started going fuzzy. My arms and legs felt numb, but I pumped them as hard as I could to the finish line. When I crossed the line, I didn’t even stop my watch; I simply didn’t care about the time, and if you asked me to guess, I might have said 2:50. I saw Lisa Svec (marathon volunteer, runner, and German teacher from Andover), and she was jumping with joy. She said, “You got fourth place!” I didn’t believe her, and I was in such complete shock that I called Terry to confirm. The conversation was a blur of confusion, questions, and happiness. A nice volunteer walked me to the VIP tent and told me that Desi had won. I was so, so happy to hear that news! I asked about the other top Americans, because I was sure that one of them had to be my friend Caitlin Phillips; she was SO FIT, so prepared, so ready for a breakthrough. About an hour later, I saw her walk into the tent defeated, dwearing an old firefighter’s sweatshirt; I learned that early on in the race she — like so many others — had suffered symptoms of hypothermia. We embraced and I shared her tears, remembering so well what it felt like to DNF (“did not finish”) in Chicago last year. Even though it wasn’t her day, I have so much respect for everything she put into this training cycle. It was so much fun to support each other during this build-up, and she’ll always be an integral part of this magical day for me.
The marathon is such a tough beast; it knocks you down and breaks you over and over again, until you ask yourself why you even bother fighting. And then you realize that lining up is a huge privilege, and that each time you show up to a race, you get stronger. So, like Desi, you “keep showing up,” knowing that one day all the work will pay off. And sometimes — like my friend Stef — you show up day after day, despite all the things that have made it more difficult (surgery, giving birth to a beautiful baby, getting a promotion, or all of those things and more), and then you surprise yourself by running a great race off only 6 weeks of training. When Stef walked in the tent, she was beaming with happiness, and we shared an unforgettable moment of solidarity.
“The paint is peeling off of a dream
Tomorrow is beginning to take,
an equal and an opposite shape”
- Darlingside, “Orion”
In the evening, Sean and I went to the most amazing awards ceremony at the host hotel. There were so many inspiring moments and stories: the older age-group winners; the Japanese “people’s marathoner” and school administrator; the handshake with Shalane on stage; winning the BAA team title; seeing Tim Ritchie and Wayne Levy, beaming with pride despite their own disappointment; and then watching Desi’s interview, which moved me to tears. It meant so much to me that Sean changed his flight and stayed for the awards ceremony and evening celebrations. We went out to a bar in Central and when we got home, there were cards and bottles of champagne in the doorway.
I had an overwhelming deluge of kind messages and texts from teammates, friends, family, colleagues, former students and athletes, reporters, and a whole bunch of random people and Williams alumni. The next day, CBS Boston came to campus to do an interview at the track, where the distance kids surprised me with cookies and a giant sign. When I walked into my senior-elective class, my students told me to wait outside while they signed a card in Spanish and presented me with a giant bouquet of flowers. I teared up in front of everyone! It’s not too often that a runner at my level gets this kind of validation for the work they put in, and I think that any one of my hard-working teammates also deserves the same recognition. Compared to all the priceless messages I received, the prize money seems insignificant and unreal — I can’t even wrap my mind around it.
Eschaton: “The final event in the divine plan; from Greek eskhaton, neuter of eskhatos “last.”
This wasn’t my last marathon, or my last Boston, or even my last race with the BAA, but it was the eschaton — or divine ending — of an epic era in Boston, a place where, seven years ago, I joined the BAA, found a wonderful running community, and, thanks to Terry, fell in love with the marathon. The end of this chapter in Boston also happened to coincide with my last race under his coaching, which has been an epic seven-year journey, during which I went from being a post-collegiate, Division-III runner who ran 3:10 in the NYC marathon, to an elite, two-time Olympic Trials-qualifier who finished fourth place in the Boston Marathon. I can’t imagine a sweeter ending. I owe most of this success to Terry, and I can’t find words to express how grateful I am, not just for this success and for connecting me with a support network of runners, but also for helping me learn to deal with failure.
My progress wasn’t linear, and along the way there were heartbreaks, DNFs, injuries, setbacks, and so many doubts. I didn’t break 2:40 on Monday, but I’m even more proud of myself for running even splits on the Boston course, unknowingly beating some of the best American female runners, and running with every bit of heart, grit, and strength that I had in me. On Monday I learned a lot about myself as a runner and gained even more respect for the marathon distance and the Boston course. To quote Desi again (because I really can’t help myself), “This isn’t just any marathon, it is THE marathon.”
5k splits, overall pace:
5k — 19:36 | 19:36 | 6:18
10k — 19:27 |39:03 | 6:15
15k — 19:17 | 58:20 |6:12
20k — 19:48 |1:17:58 |6:22
25k — 19:40 |1:37:38 | 6:20
30k — 19:36 |1:57:14 |6:18
35k — 19:34 | 2:16:48 | 6:18
40k — 18:58 |2:35:46 | 6:06
— 8:43 |2:44:29 | 6:23
last 12.2k — 47:15:00 | 6:14
last 7.2k — 27:41:00 | 6:11
1st half in 1:22:13
2nd half in 1:22:16. (yahoo!)