The Boston Marathon that broke my heart

Yesterday, at my first-ever Boston Marathon, I withdrew from the race at mile 22. I was soaked to the bone, shaking from the cold, and dealing with shooting knee pain that left me barely able to walk, let alone run. The wound is fresh and I’m sure it won’t ever fully heal. While I’m disappointed, I don’t have any doubt that I made the right choice. I let my brain win out over my stubborn heart.

I had the typical weekend leading up to Boston–trying hard to rest up while being tempted by all of the running fun to be had around the city. I met up with the Oiselle gang to spectate the 5k, visited all the pop-up shops and spent too much money, and took a million photos at the finish line. As the weather reports got worse and worse, I spent hours going back and forth on outfit choices–not daring to believe that a trash bag would end up being the smartest way to go. Something felt off for me all weekend. It’s hard to say what it was, but it never felt like I was really about to run Boston. As it turns out, my gut was right.

Monday morning my running partner Denise and I woke up to frigid temps and whipping winds. Undeterred, we donned our throwaway layers and heavy-duty trash bags before getting a ride downtown to the busses that would take us to athlete’s village. The start area was chaotic and muddy–the huge tents were strewn with mylar sheets and heaps of discarded shoes and clothing. I had a wristband for my charity team that was supposed to get me into a heated indoor space, but no one knew where to tell us to go. Undeterred, we used the facilities and squatted on an old shower curtain while we pulled on our dry socks and shoes with shaking hands. My best-laid plans of warming up, carefully hydrating, and leisurely eating my last pre-race snacks quickly went by the wayside and we strained to listen for the announcement that it was our turn to join the parade of figures in ponchos trudging to the start.

At the start line in suburban Hopkinton, I had a decision to make–either stick with Denise, who had no time goals and wanted to run for fun, or to push for the 3:25 I had trained for. As the first gust of wind whipped the rain into our eyes, I told Denise I would stick with her and we would get through it together. The first few miles we kept our spirits up, dancing along with the music being blasted from inside homes and under tents along the way. The crowds were thin but enthusiastic, screaming encouragement from the sidelines. We made a few bathroom stops but kept up a fairly steady pace as the rain pounded down, soaking through every layer.

We stopped into a med tent in Wellesley when my mittens had gotten so heavy and cold that I couldn’t move my fingers, and a helpful doctor worked my numb fingers into a pair of rubber surgical gloves. At mile 13 I saw Jeremy and gratefully accepted the poncho he had ready and waiting. Just after that, we got a huge lift in Wellesley when we heard that Desi won! What a gutsy and well-deserved win from one of my favorite runners!

The happiness carried us down into Newton, where I handed my soaked gloves off to my dad and trucked up the first of the Newton hills. Then out of nowhere, I felt a sharp, stabbing pain under both kneecaps. I gritted my teeth and trailed behind Denise before finally admitting to her that I needed to stop and see what was going on. Being the amazing friend she is, she immediately hooked her arm under mine and we hobbled together to the med tent at mile 20. The tent was teeming with runners convulsing from cold, their heads bowed under heat sheets and blankets. After manipulating my legs and seeing my grimace, the doc in the tent quickly concluded that it was likely patellar tendonitis, and handed off what he said was his first ice pack of the day. Denise was insistent that she wanted to stay with me, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to make it and told her she needed to finish the race.

Alone in the tent, I put my head between my knees and sobbed–through the haze of tears, promising the volunteers that I wasn’t sobbing from the pain in my knees. It wasn’t the first round of tears and it won’t be the last. After 15 minutes of ice I was numb enough to give it one last shot, even though my gut was telling me it wasn’t smart. I knew my friend Bry would be volunteering at mile 21, and by the time I hobbled up to her, we both knew my day was over. She walked me to a church nearby that was open as a warming station for volunteers, and with wet and trembling fingers I called my dad to get a ride home.

I am still in the midst of processing everything that happened. I pride myself on being fairly in tune with my body, and as I sit here icing my tender, swollen knees I am 100% certain that I made the right choice to stop. In fact, 23 elite runners made the same choice. I have had a fairly charmed running journey up to this point, and there were always going to be bumps along the road. I’m not sure what exactly caused the knee issue, but I’m sure it has a lot to do with 2+ hours of running hunched over against the rain and wind on slippery and unstable surfaces. That was the single hardest run of my life and I’m proud to have made it as far as I did. I’m not yet a Boston Marathon finisher, but I will be. Congratulations to everyone who gutted it out to the finish yesterday–you all are beyond amazing!

The list of thank you’s is too long to include here, but it’s coming. Huge VIP shout outs to Denise, Bry, Jeremy, my parents, and everyone who reached out yesterday. I have the most fantastic support system.

Because I take my advice from the best, I will keep showing up. I will finish the race. Thanks for being here–the journey is far from over.

Leah

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Running Goals for 2018 (and beyond)

Does anyone else LOVE setting goals? I am a list-maker and goal-lover for sure. But sometimes, it can be scary to put goals down on paper. I also find that with running, it’s hard to put my finger on goals that don’t involve picking a distance and running it faster than last time. However, I have some big exciting things coming up so without further ado, here are the running goals that are on the horizon for me:

  1. Run a strong, smart Boston: I worked my butt off to BQ and my #1 goal for Boston is to enjoy the experience. I am going to train hard for a 3:25 marathon, but if I don’t get good weather (and given the past couple of years in Boston, I don’t expect to) or my training gets thrown off when I’m on my honeymoon, then I’m going to run for fun and just enjoy the experience. More here!
  2. Complete my first 50k: I’ve been toying around with the idea of a 50k for the past couple of years, and am signed up for my first in May. Similar to my “plan B” for Boston, my goal for this is to complete the race feeling strong and happy. I’m so excited to have a crew of buddies to run with for this one!
  3. Break 20 minutes in the 5k: After coming SO close to hitting a sub-20 a few weeks back, I know for sure I’m ready for this one. Pacer friends, please text me to apply.
  4. Set a big marathon PR: While I’m incredibly proud of my BQ at Sugarloaf this year, I think I’m capable of running a fair amount faster than 3:28 at the full marathon distance. When I put my half marathon PR (1:34:19) into a pace calculator (I like this one), my predicted marathon time is in the 3:16 range–and this nets out anecdotally as well in terms of what I’ve seen others run. I am by no means an experienced marathoner and I have yet to run 26.2 in the cooler weather my body loves, but I think I owe it to myself to really work for a big PR. As I mentioned, Boston isn’t going to be the right race for this, but I’m considering running CIM this coming December! My marathon buddy Denise is off to Cali, so it seems like the perfect reason to head out there for a visit. Plus, I’ve heard a million and one amazing things about the race.
  5. Break 1:32 in the half: I’ve mentioned this a bunch, but I freaking love the half marathon!! It’s just the best race distance. I brought my PR down from 1:36:55 to 1:34:19 this fall and while it was a fantastic race, I do think I have more in me. If I can run a sub-1:32, I can time qualify into the NYC marathon. I don’t for sure know if this will happen in 2018, but I think this is a realistic goal for me. Plus, I loved the NYC marathon, although since it was my first, it would be nice to run it again now that I know what the heck I’m doing.
  6. Run as a pacer: I would love to be a pace group leader for a half marathon–I think it would be such a cool experience and way to give back to the running community. I applied to be a pacer for the Old Port Half Marathon in June, and I’m crossing my fingers and toes I am chosen!

Some of these will definitely happen in 2018 and some may not, but they’re all super exciting! What big running goals do you have for 2018 and beyond?

NYE and 2017 running goals (part 1)

img_1251Happy 2017!! I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday. I started the day off with a killer workout with Alexa, who is already kicking major butt with her Boston Marathon training (she’s running for an amazing org working to end sexual violence–more here!) We did 11 miles total–3 to warm up, 4 interval miles with 3 minutes at 7:20ish pace and 2 minutes at 8:20ish pace, and 4 to cool down…. all of this on the infamous Newton hills. More details and splits are here, but suffice it to say that we earned our champagne!

J and I spent the evening with lots of friends (and FOUR adorable dogs) and partied way past our bedtimes. It was a great night/weekend/end to the holiday season. Leaving the larger world for just a sec, I can’t wait for 2017. It will be the year I turn 30, finish my MBA, and of course, marry my best friend. img_1275I’ve also been thinking a lot about my running goals for the year. Laura over at This Runner’s Recipes (highly recommend her blog) wrote a great post about goal setting, which inspired me to think about the year in chunks rather than as one long slog. I’m a really different runner than I was 6 months ago, so it really resonates with me to set goals more often than every 12 months.

One big piece of this year’s goal-setting is thinking about whether/when I want to run a full marathon. I am going to leave this one up in the air for now, although there is a real possibility I will not be running a full marathon this year. While the master plan is still to 1. get my BQ, 2. run Boston, 3. maybe retire from marathoning, I know this year is going to be really busy so we’ll see what form this takes.

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New year. Same swishy ponytail.

In the meantime, I will most definitely be running and chasing some BIG goals–here are my goals for the first four-ish months of 2017!

  1. PR the half: My 1:36:55 finish at the Cambridge Half Marathon this fall really cemented something I already knew–I LOVE the half distance and have real capacity to improve at it. I am running the New Bedford Half in March and I would love to set a new PR at that race with an A goal of breaking 1:35.
  2. Break 20 minutes in the 5K: This goal is a little bit murkier for me, but I do think that I have capacity to improve at shorter distances now that I have a stronger base of speedwork under my belt. Tentatively, I am looking at the BAA 5k which takes place during Boston Marathon weekend in April. I have absolutely no idea what a 5k training plan even looks like, though, which is why my next goal is to…
  3. Hire a coach: One thing I hear time and time again is that the best way to make real leaps is to hire a coach. My tentative thought is to use a service like Runner’s Connect, although I’ve thought about hiring an individual coach to map out a plan for me. I don’t think I’m ready to commit just yet to a full-on coaching program (like this one or this one) but any advice is very, very welcome!!

Also, somewhat related–I just joined Classpass for the next few months to have additional indoor workout options. Let me know if you have any particular recommendations for places to check out!

Happy 2017 and HAPPY RUNNING! Linking up with Tuesdays on the run!

Year of running 2016

img_1131Hey all! What a doozie of a year–as a human and am American, I’m pretty ready to forget about 2016, but as a runner it’s been a pretty cool year. I’m linking up with the lovely Courtney from Eat Pray Run DC to do a recap of my year of running. Read on below!

  • Best race experience: I absolutely loved this year’s Cambridge Half Marathon. I put so little pressure on myself for this race and I truly blew my own mind by finishing in 1:36:55, which is a 7:24 average pace. Everything just felt right, and after missing my BQ goal in Chicago, this race reminded me of just how far I’ve come this year.
  • Best run: This is incredibly broad, but I’ve had so much fun learning about speedwork at my Tuesday track workouts with Nike Boston. Plus, the (free!) incredible professional photos are pretty darn cool.
  • Best new piece of running gear: I finally upgraded my Garmin this year and am pretty much obsessed with all of the new features and the much more user-friendly display of the Forerunner 220. It’s a little big for my teeny tiny wrist, but other than that I give it two thumbs up. The one GPS wish I have on my wish list is figuring out how to get my watch to time indoor track workouts–does anyone know how to do this with a regular Garmin??
  • Best running advice you’ve received this year: You don’t have to run, you GET to run.
  • img_0070Most inspirational runner: I pick two! My buddies Danielle and Alexa were absolutely incredible training partners for Chicago. I’m constantly inspired by their tenacity and positivity. This has been a fantastic year of growth in terms of my running circles, and I’m so glad to have more running friends in my life to push me, inspire me, and open my eyes to all kinds of new things!
  • Favorite picture from a run or race this year: This is actually a really hard choice, since I finally figured out how not to look like I’m dying in race photos, but truly the pictures from track are the ones that make me feel fit, fierce, and powerful. img_9913
  • Race experience you would repeat in a heartbeat: I had so much fun at the Harpoon 5 miler–it was my first race ever hitting 6:xx splits and it’s such a nice race distance–long enough that you really get to feel warmed up but short enough to push the pace pretty hard the whole time. Plus, this was J’s first race beyond a 5k, so that was a cool experience to share together. And, all of the cider afterward 🙂 I definitely hope to sign up for this race again next year!
  • If you could sum up your year in a couple of words what would they be? Discovery, challenge, and strength! I set PRs at every race distance I tackled this year and found out I’m capable of way more than I ever dreamed:

5K: Previous PR 29:08 (9:22 pace), 2016 PR 21:59 (6:45 pace)

5M: Previous PR 42:39 (8:31 pace), 2016 PR 34:09 (6:49 pace)

Half Marathon: Previous PR 1:46:29 (8:07 pace), 2016 PR 1:36:55 (7:24 pace)

Marathon: Previous PR 4:05:54 (9:23 pace), 2016 PR 3:36:03 (8:14 pace)

new-bed-halfAnd a little future planning nugget–I signed up for my first race of 2017! I’m going to be running the New Bedford Half Marathon on March 19th. I really love the half marathon distance and I think with some targeted training I have the capacity to cut my time down even further. Back soon with some training updates, but in the meantime, let’s all be glad the shitstorm of 2016 is over and cross our fingers for a better new year.