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Boston Marathon Finish was a Great Test, Great Experience

By Laurie Goudreault, YWCA of Minneapolis Personal Trainer
June 21, 2012
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Laurie, the newby, and Clara, the veteran

Registering for the Boston Marathon has become an endurance event all on its own, but shortly after my 50th birthday, I was celebrating the fact that I was going to run “The Boston Marathon” on April 16, 2012.

I ran my qualifying time in February 2011 at The Livestrong Marathon in Austin, Texas. My sister Jennifer and I ran this race in memory of our sister, Caralee, who died of brain cancer in April 2010. We raised about $5,000 combined for cancer research. I was thrilled to have run a qualifying time in Austin, Texas. It was 67 degrees, 85% humidity, and we faced some strong head winds on this course known for its hills.

Training for Boston started after Christmas. The time went by quickly, and soon we were ready to depart on the Saturday before the Monday race.

Laurie and her sons, before the race

Emails came in heavily in days before the race from the Boston Athletic Association, warning that it would be a “hot” one. The BAA warned “not to run” unless you had a truly qualifying time, were a seasoned runner and had some experience running in the heat, as there are many charity runners who raised money in order to get a bib number, and who did not have to run a qualifying race time. The BAA offered deferments to runners who chose not to run due to the heat predicted at race time. These runners would not have to re-qualify for the 2013 race.

Hmmmmm. Food for thought. But my dad, husband and two college-aged sons had figured a way to accompany me on this monumental trip. I was going for it!

Copley Square in Boston

Here’s a chronological description of the day:

5:00 am: Wake-up call, April 16, pre-race meal, “gu,” sunscreen, sunglasses, bib number with chip attached, clothes, running shoes and bag check stuff (And most important — my post-race flip-flops.)

6:00 am: Leave Marblehead, Massachusetts (where my sister-in-law lives), for downtown Boston.

7:00 am: Arrive at Copley Square to the sight of thousands of runners lined up to get on the school buses that take all the runners to Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and the starting line.

7:30 am: Buses leave for Hopkinton. I sit with a woman who has done Boston four times before, and about to run her fifth race. She will show the “newby” the ropes.

8:30 am: Arrive in Hopkinton at the local high school. Once again, thousands of runners getting off school buses, heading to the “port-o-johns” after liberally hydrating on the hour-long bus ride!

8:45-10:30 am: Waiting, waiting, waiting. My wave starts at 10:45 am. There was one huge tent in which runners could stay out of the searing sun. There were bagels, coffee, Gatorade, water and lots and lots of people! We found a group of women with a black Sharpie. My new friend, Clara, insisted I should write my name down each of my arms. She said it would help during the tough parts of the run, assuring me that spectators would yell out my name. I did as I was told.

The finish line, just ahead!

10:30 am: We left the cool of the tents to head out for one last bathroom break and then to the start line! The announcer who starts our wave won the 1976 race. He told us the race used to start at noon and it was 96 degrees at the start in 1976!

10:45 am: Our wave starts. Uh oh, my body almost immediately rebels — it is hot! Trying to get in the groove is harder than normal.

11:30 am: Mile 4. I carried a camera along the route, bound and determined to take pictures.

1:15 pm: The BAA beefed up the marathon course with Gatorade and water every mile. Unfortunately, at this point in the race, the drinks had been sitting in the sun for hours. These almost-hot beverages were very difficult to swallow.

I began to rely on the spectators for my hydration. The seasoned spectators knew exactly what the runners needed: ice in ziplocked bags. I began to grab these bags like they were gold!  Some went down my tank top, both front and back, and some went in my mouth. I saved these bags as long as I could to keep cool. When I hit a water stop, the ice went in the water so I could keep myself hydrated.

There were also four yellow blow-up tents set up by the BAA, spraying water on you as you ran through them. The initial shock of the freezing cold water hitting your boiling-hot skin made your body convulse for a few seconds. There were also kids with squirt guns and families with hoses, asking you if you needed a spray.

2:15 pm: Mile 17, where I saw my family for the first time. I saw my oldest son, Joe first. I grabbed him to hug him and the tears starting flowing. I just wasn’t confident I could finish this race. My husband, dad and second son, Charlie, had been waiting there for more than four hours to see me run by, but running was not what I was doing. In other marathons, I would have already crossed the finish line. They all ran and walked with me a bit. My husband said confidently, “Laurie, this is a good pace!” I thought, in my grandmother’s words, “bless his heart.”

I continued on. By Mile 20, I was running a quarter-mile for every three-quarter mile I was walking. As I looked around at the masses of runners, I felt some unity. We were all in this together and, somehow, we were all going to cross this finish line.

At Mile 25, I saw my family again. I knew at that point I had it — I was going to finish my first Boston Marathon!

Up ahead was the finish line. I had just passed Mile 26 walking, but I knew I had the last two-tenths in me, and I ran across.

Laurie and her father

The text message on my cell phone read:

At 4:04pm: Athlete Alert

Laurie Goudreault @ Finish

Time  5:22:49, Pace 12:18