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Friday, April 19, 2019

Boston marathon, continued: the race

Starting from the back of wave 2, corral 1, I was instantly enveloped in crowds. It was packed at the start. I refused to weave about, but it was tough not to. Lots of people poured past me for the first few miles. Without getting caught in the surge, I managed to work my way up to Jeff. Together we covered the first 5k in 21:36, which was perfect. It was great to have Jeff nearby, and we chatted a little. The weird thing about this race is that I almost didn’t talk to anyone besides Jeff. Last time I ran Boston, I talked to other runners a lot, and also interacted with the crowd. For some reason, this race I felt very isolated from everyone else. Maybe I was too preoccupied with my race, but I do think I missed out on the energy the crowd has to give you. Of course, part of this was because I didn't want to ruin David's photos. See, David is taking a photography class, and this week's assignment was "Narrative photography". He was supposed to tell a story via pictures, and of course the Boston Marathon was a great opportunity for that; however, one of the required photos was an action shot, and he was nervous about getting a good picture. He wanted me running the race, not clowning for the camera. So I resolutely ignored anyone I heard cheering my name, in case it was him wielding a camera (results below; do you think he passed the class?!)!
 I could feel myself braking hard on the hills and wished I had a better method for downhills. I forgot to take my watch off auto lap, but for the first few miles, it stayed pretty accurate, despite the crowds (tangents were hard). We passed 10k in 42:42 and Jeff and I agreed: “Perfect”.

 At that point, something crazy happened: we started catching the slowing runners who had passed us earlier, and then we started catching wave 1. From that point on, I was running with a mix of wave 2 and wave 1, and the whole rest of the race felt like I was struggling through seas of people running at a slower pace. This was probably because my wave and corral position was based on a 3:09, when my goal was now ten minutes faster, and in a race the size of Boston, that could put thousands of people with a slower goal pace in front of you. The race never opened up for me and remained congested the entire time. This was by far the hardest component of the race for me (I realize that all my photos show an overcast, totally empty course, when I'm claiming it was a crowded, sunny course. My husband is a magic photographer I guess, ha ha. My official photos more reflect my perceptions, but I can't post them here because I'm not about to pay for them!).

Slowly, Jeff drifted ahead. The weather still felt ok to me: by no means cool, but not hot. It was 64 at the start, with an expected high of 69 during the race. But I knew that the humidity would take a toll on me, so from the very first station, I was grabbing Gatorade. I took a sip of Gatorade at every single station on Monday! By about mile 10 or 11, I realized that I might have lost touch with Jeff for good, and I was also working too hard on both uphills AND downhills. My lack of hill experience was obvious. I hunched over to crawl up the hills, and slammed my feet down to brake on the other side. The profile of Boston really is a nice net downhill, but I’ll be darned if that doesn’t somehow make it more challenging. I definitely need practice on handling both ups and downs efficiently.

I hit the half in 1:29:34, right on pace. My plan was to start easy and pick it up in the easiest spots in the second half, but to do so measured by feel rather than by pace. I figured that, with the harder second half, that would result in an almost even split.

Around me, I thought I was hearing my name. Maybe there was another Grace near me - or maybe people on course actually knew me! I was definitely hearing “Power Miller” - hah. It must be hard to read our jerseys when we’re running! I definitely got a lot of "Miller"s but - I'll take any cheering, right?! The crowds were huge and loud like always, but for some reason I just wasn’t zeroing in like I did when I ran in 2012. I think part of the reason for that was the congestion. I was usually in the center of the course, working my way past people. I didn’t actually recognize any spectators on the course, not even David or the other Powermiler spouses.

I had taken two gels in the first half, and kept up the sips of Gatorade, and I was glad to have the electrolytes when all of a sudden - the sun popped out. Bam, just like that, it was blindingly bright out. I was so thankful I’d brought my sunglasses! We were heading into the hills now, and to my dismay I saw Van on the side, walking a water stop: a terrible place to be at mile 15, poor guy. Up the next hill I realized that I was closing back in on Jeff. I took advantage of the downhill to catch up to him. “Alright Grace, go girl,” he said - and that was the last time we spoke during the race! I thought he was right behind me, and he was for a little bit (I could hear other “Power Miller” cheers just a few seconds behind me!), but around mile 17 I realized when he didn’t answer me that I’d dropped him somewhere behind.

I had to really work now. This race was getting hard. It was warm and sunny and the hills were feeling more difficult than before. Despite the forecast, we had bright sun for almost half the race. I told myself to take my gels and Gatorade, focus on my form, and try to engage my glutes (sadly, my race photos clearly demonstrate just exactly how bad my form was at this point!). By now, there were not many people around me who weren’t struggling. I climbed heartbreak hill slowly, thighs burning, but at the top another runner tapped my shoulder. “Thanks for being my rabbit and getting us to the top”. I checked my time at mile 20 and realized that breaking three would be extremely close and would require a huge amount of late-race effort. I had about thirty seconds to make up. I hoped the downhills would get me there, but my legs were feeling totally shot. I realized that I’d underestimated the course : the early downhills really do chew up your legs for later miles. The last few miles were very tough: I was practically dodging walkers or slowing runners every step, and my legs were on fire. At every mile, I saw my pace fall short of the speed I needed to break three. I was able to use the long downhill to squeeze out a 6:37 for mile 22, but after that the 6:51's and even 7's kept popping up. I knew exactly what I needed to run, but my legs couldn’t respond to what my brain commanded them to do. I made the final turns and gave every single bit of effort I had left, crossing the line in 3:00:21. I had made up nine seconds. It wasn’t enough.

I almost collapsed just after the finish. My legs were toast and I was terribly disappointed. I definitely thought I had a shot at 2:59:59 and I came up short. It was close enough to regret it! But still: a big PR, and I was pleased with my effort. I ran a 47-second positive split, and if I had only been able to overcome that, I would have broken three. I tried to take the first half easy, but I just didn’t leave enough in the tank. I miscalculated - not the pace I needed for the last few miles, but the effort distribution needed to hit my goal. My splits show how totally spent I was: the best I could come up with for my 0.2 sprint at the finish was 6:22! Bemusedly, I realized that I had almost exactly hit my V-dot predicted marathon time of 3:00:43.
If you look closely you can see me at the bottom left, being helped by a volunteer in orange. That's my almost-collapse, preserved for posterity by my neighbor, who took a photo of her TV and texted me! Ha! 

Right after the race, I met another runner, Melissa, who had just missed 3 much like me. She and I chatted - she was running only her second marathon, having run a 3:09 to qualify! Amazing progress! I wished we’d run together and maybe tried to work for that sub-3:00. What a tough cookie! And then I headed straight to the family meeting area. David met me in about 30 minutes, having somehow found a short security line. The sky had suddenly become overcast again, and the wind whipped up, so I was glad he’d brought my jacket. He’d seen me twice on course, but apparently I was way too into my race to notice him or anyone else who told me later they’d cheered me on! But still - I feel like I subliminally absorbed the cheers and they powered me to a PR! I definitely regretted not being more into the crowds, atmosphere, and other runners - that’s the whole point of Boston. If I could do anything over from Monday, that would be it. Just kidding, it would be running 22 seconds faster, ha ha. But if I could do TWO things over...
This is a runner who is disappointed in her time.

We headed to our hotel where David - who had skipped lunch - helped me eat my race food (you know, a protein bar...bananas... Hawaiian bread). I realized I was nice and burned since I'd neglected sunblock, but I didn't chafe and my toes/nails felt fine. As for my hamstring injury - I could barely walk the moment I stopped running. It's amazing how your brain can override pain during a race, but the minute you stop? It takes over! I definitely need the time off post-race to heal up!

The Powermilers Slack group was chattering, and we decided to meet up at a brewery.
The race reports were mixed. Wayne had PR’d, breaking a years-old record by 40 seconds; Tarak had a breakout race with a 2:48 and negative split (prior best over 3); Daniella and I had big PRs. Our men’s open team was fifth overall with 2:31/2:32/2:37. But others had struggled in the heat, and we had several who experienced muscle cramping. I was hoping for better team results, but I couldn’t hope for a better team.
Alcohol may have been involved. Also, I LOVE Michele's (Paul's wife) sign! 
No doubt about it, the Powermilers got me that PR. Sure, iron helped (hugely). But running with this group of fast guys and girls is what motivates me and makes me try harder. Want to get fast? Go run with people faster than you. I’m excitedly looking forward to future PRs and finally breaking three with this group.


  1. Great recap! I am so excited for your PR, but understand the disappointment of being so close to breaking 3 hours. You'll get there at your next race, especially since you'll be back to full health by then! :)

    I totally agree about the importance of running with faster people. Joining my run club was the best decision for me. I miss running with them but it's just not possible with a young kid. Some day I will run with them again, though!

  2. You ran a truly amazing race. Few people PR in Boston. Even fewer people PR in Boston when it's hot and sunny! Those downhills really do mess up your legs and it's crazy how you don't even realize it's happening until later in the game. Sounds like you fought and gave it your all. Definitely can't ask anything else of yourself. Congratulations!

  3. It's hard not to feel disappointed when you barely miss a big goal but I'm glad you can still enjoy the big PR. That course is tough! Are the security lines for family new this year? Last year there wasn't any, you could just walk right up to the family meeting areas.