Race Recap: Boston Marathon Virtual 2021: my first marathon

You might have been expecting the last of the training updates today but there’s not much to say, I went running once, it was fine. Instead I’m here to tell you all about my very first marathon! This race recap is going to be a little different, maybe not all that useful to others and all about me! It doesn’t seem right to lead you all along with training updates for 5 months and then not dish on the race right? So this is how my first marathon went.

A bit about the race: This year and maybe this year only the powers that be in the Boston Athletic Association decided that since this was officially the 125th marathon they would open up the dream to 70 000 runners around the world with no qualifying time just a credit card. It was a controversial decision and some argued it was just a covid era money grab. Some argued that if you did this you were not at all ‘running Boston.’ And to a certain extent I agree but wait there’s more.

This past two years SUCKED HARD for all the runners out there. Many were left marathon ready with a canceled race and with the fourth wave raging some still are. There were no races, no running clubs and it was even hard to go pick out a new pair of sneakers in person. In some places how far and how often we could run was even limited. It sucked for endurance runners, racing runners and plain old regular runners. But all hope was not lost this time was an amazing time for new runners and maybe even returning runners. People everywhere finally had the time AND the motivation to get out there and get running. Gym rats everywhere were cycling through from 5k’s all the way up to half marathons.

Last year quashed my first attempt at a marathon before I even started official training with our climate. Then running fell away in my life and that fact made it a hard year for me. You can read all about it here. I’ve come to the conclusion that this time was for all the ‘other runners’ out there. The newbies, the lapsed and the fitness freaks who never really got into running. I’d like to think that opening up Boston was just a bigger extension of that. This year Boston was for all those marathoners and would be marathoners that just weren’t going to get there any other way. It’s not the same as the magic of qualifying for Boston and the experience of being there but it’s something, and that something means a lot to a lot of us.

Parking and weather: You might not think that there would be a parking section to this but you would be wrong. We’ll get into more of that on the logistics section but for now my support crew did have to park in a few spots along the way. I got them to meet me before the half way point to charge my earbuds and give me water and fuel and then again at the 32k point. It turns out my youngest stepson’s apartment is at exactly the 10k point from my house and that’s been great in training. So we used his house as a meet up point too. Dropping off so many water bottles in training all of his housemates have been cheering for me and waving to me as well so I knew that wouldn’t be a problem. I picked the other point as it is an as of yet undeveloped piece of corporate land so that worked out well.

The weather was a bit of a different story though I could do it friday, saturday or sunday which coincided with our thanksgiving weekend. I wanted to pick the best day but I also wanted to get it over and done with. While the temperature was perfect 14c – 16c while I was out there the wind was brutal on the way out. It was 40 km/hr with gusts of 50 km/hr probably more along the coast where I ran. It really beat me up on the way out, running mostly into a north wind. The gusts even blew one of my earbuds clean out of my ear in an open straight away. Upon reflection I should have switched to the more protected trail but I didn’t want to go off the plan before the halfway point. Once I turned around though it was better at my back. I think it also died down a bit too on the way home because there were fewer white caps in the ocean as I went along. I wore my tee shirt the whole time and fully covering me most of the time.

Course: Without getting into many details I ran an out and back from my house along the road from my house. I get some comfort from thinking of this week’s long run as ‘just a bit further’ than last weeks run on the same course. Ever since I started doing halfs I’ve known how far that is from my house along my long run route. I really wanted to figure out if I was right all these years. (I was pretty close). One trail running god around here suggested just running 5k’s back and forth from my house to avoid the need for helpers which was a great idea but I think my choice just made it ‘feel’ more real. The last 4k before the turn around point was all some degree of up hill. It wasn’t terrible hilly but I had a 700 m elevation gain along the way for the whole thing.

I liked the idea of Friday because I felt that there would be fewer cars on the road which wasn’t as dramatic a difference as I had hoped. I also wanted to just get it over with. Along the way in training I had covered all of the road that I would run which I think was a really great idea. Honestly I would say this is a have to for virtual races because it can feel a lot different to run a section of road than to drive it. Our road is pretty rural and has some really sketchy turns on it. In a few places one side of the turn is passable on foot and the other is not as much. There’s one section we call the snake turns where I decided to head up on the trail and a side road to avoid entirely. All in all I had to cross or leave the road at 6 points to stay safe along the way. Each time I completed one I immediately started thinking about the next one. In case you’re wondering our road is also rural enough that there were lots of good loo spots along the way. I’d scoped that out in training too!

Cheer squad: I’m going to keep this one simple so that I can be expansive in the next section. My mom, my stepdad and my husband were my only and much needed cheerers on race day. They took pictures both times I passed their house and at each stop along the way. Honey got roped (somewhat unfairly) into a job last minute in the morning. To be fair I figured it would be a gong show without him and I pushed him to go. But… I did miss him at the first stop which my mom did on her own. She was super team serious about it which was cool. 

I had made a really specific plan for everyone before, more on that later but I did say honey had to come to that last stop. While I was running I thought there might be a chance he wouldn’t make it to the 32k hand-off and seeing him there honestly probably made the last 10k as good as it was. These three are always here for me and before I ever even signed up for this I called my mom to ask for her help. That also meant basically giving up their whole thanksgiving long weekend for me because our weather can be so sketchy. That could have meant I was running at turkey time so no supper for anyone. Though the energy was not the same as a big in person race these kids did a pretty great job!

Logistics and support: Alright so here we go! The logistics on this were not for the faint of heart. Could I have made easier choices or stashed my stuff along the way myself? For sure! But this was a pretty big deal for me and I wanted to do it the way that felt right for me and this was it. If they said no then I would have made other plans. Honestly I really do think they were happy to do it for me too. I hope that doesn’t sound too narcissistic… 

Before the race I shared my location with everyone and had sent a very specific plan and direct email about how it should all unfold. It included things like don’t text me, or track me constantly, ‘I’ll text you if I need something’ and the like. It included pictures of where to park the car and a list of contents for the bum bag. So I do mean like really direct. If you’re undertaking a similar feat I would recommend the same. I just wanted ALL of my expectations to be very clear because in my mind at least there could be nothing worse than helping someone accomplish a dream and being unclear on how to do that.

So here’s how it all went down. I obviously needed water and fuel (I use rasins) along the way. I also wanted to top up my earphones so they wouldn’t die at some point. But since we were already taking care of that I had a huge bag of other stuff that we might as well have there just in case. I took the truck out and stashed the first ice filled water bottle at my stepson’s house before I left at the 10k mark. I handed off my sweater at 6k when I passed their house and she picked up my bottle on her way to meet me for the turn around point. I did have $10 with me just incase but there was only really once place to buy water at the turn around point. I have to say seeing her car go by  made me feel really reassured and re-motivated to get there.

I bought my earbuds with this race in mind. They claimed a 7 hour time but my 32k said they might not last. In the end I got I low battery warning from one that didn’t charge along the way in the last 2k. I didn’t expect my apple watch to last the whole time but it did in the end with 35% leftover. My phone battery was well in the clear and I do have a Morphie charging case just in case. Since I hadn’t had the chance to use the BAA app for my 32k run I didn’t know how it would drain my battery so I opted to stick with my Nike app for the race since I knew how it would perform. 

 My mom met me at the 20k mark and I dropped off my earphones until I met her again around km 22. At that point I got a fresh water bottle and a new sack of rasins too. I wanted to do the most of the stuff at that low stress point since I run that every single weekend. I also stopped to tell her how it was going at that point a little longer too. That morning I had a very new twinge in my right hip and glute and it had popped up off and on in that 10k. At that meeting I asked her to have the ibuprofen and voltaren ready at the next stop which I think helped with the  last 10k.

At the 32k mark It was another fuel and water swap but I decided to keep the bag of raisins I had on the go at the time as there would be enough. I also slathered on some muscle gel and took those two NSAIDs. Honey actually made it there by taxi because his concrete project went long. It was amazing to see them all at that point coming down the hill. I was most worried about the last 10k having never gone further than that before. I had run that stretch of road about 20 times this summer so it felt like a comfortable pair of pants at this point. They decided to regroup at mom’s house again just to cheer and take pictures and were waiting at the end of my driveway when I got there. And all that is pretty much it. 

Nail polish: I did navy blue polish and a yellow accent nail on each hand because duh, those are the Boston Marathon colors! Now I just have to wait for my medal in the mail and repaint for an eventual medal Monday post! BTW I’m taking it personally that the USPS has decided to stop using planes for standard mail delivery right about now.

Race goals: Since this was my first marathon and I was doing it self supported I really did just want to live to the end. Before this year I’ve always put the idea of doing a marathon off until I felt like it would take me less than 5 hours. I never really had that on the radar this year because literally no one cares how long it takes me, not even me! Was I going to let some insecurity about something that hadn’t even happened yet hold me back from a once in a lifetime opportunity? Hell no! In my mind if I had to walk the last 10k that was totally fine with me. In the interest of full disclosure since I did have helpers I had to give them an idea of times. I figured each 10k would take about 1 hour and 15 minuets maybe a bit more. I figured I would finish with a time of about 5:17:00 but probably a bit more.

Swag: All for the low, low price of about $200 Canadian I will revive a long sleeved participant shirt and that coveted unicorn finishers medal mailed to me after inputting my finishing time. Expect me to be wearing that to bed for at least a week when I get it!

Results: Two notes on the results this time one housekeeping and one that’s a little self congratulatory. First if you want to look me up this time you’ll have to search for Allison Broussell because I was unable to register as Allison King, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. I suspect that another Allison king with my exact birthday had already done it. Next we don’t know exactly how many registered to do the Boston Virtual but it was a lot. The 70 000 celebration packages sold out fast but there was also a start line package that just included a medal. Let’s be conservative and say that at least 80 000 people signed up to do this. Well about 21 000 actually did. So I guess what I’m saying is 25% or fewer actually followed through so for anyone that actually followed through that’s pretty much an accomplishment in an of itself.

Time: 5:11:16

Overall: 9054/20790

Gender: 3824/11313

Category (F 18 -39): 1341/3400

Shoes: Asics Gel Cumulus 23

Which means… I failed to meat the time standard for 80+ I’m still proud though!

Kilometers 1-10: I didn’t mean to break it down into 10k chuncks but with handoffs that’s pretty much how it happened. I would say if there was one word for this section it would be anxious. Anxious about the wind, was it too cold, was that hip thing going to be an issue, what if no one showed up to give me water and you know that this was going to be an all day thing. The wind was the most brutal for this section and on one straight away it actually blew an ear bud out of my ear as it was pretty much head on. After this section the terrain was more protected and I was just hoping I would get a break. While it was better it wasn’t by much. I kept slowing myself down in this section because the nerves!

Kilometers 11-22: I took a bathroom break in some bushes around km 13 and that did cause me some pain from that hip issue for about 3k. I always feel worse than I should from km 12-16 so I was able to put that out of my mind for today. This section of road had a 2k sketchy bit and you just have to walk a lot of that section with no real shoulder. I also got to go on the trail for about 2k and the break from the wind was amazing. The last 3k before turning around was all uphill. I also had to navigate through the only two intersections twice. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal but there are literally NO pedestrians around here so one has to be super careful because drivers aren’t looking for them. Two drivers in 4 crossings for example did fail to yield me the right of way in marked crosswalks. Through this section I did keep telling myself “you’ve run 20k every single weekend since July so stop being dramatic.” That was mostly true and it did mostly work. It was never really a concern but I was happy to see my mom’s car go by in this section to meet me. It was the first moment where I was like, this is all going to work!

Kilometers 23- 32: I was pumped that this section started with a long gradual downhill which I kept telling myself pretty much gaurenteed I’d make it to 32k, plus I did that before… once. This wasn’t too bad and I was relieved when the bathroom break this time didn’t make my hip angry. Overall this section was easier than I expected it to be and that made me start to feel confident. Even though I told my mom I might hit the trail to deal with the wind I didn’t and it was a lot nicer after I turned around. 

Kilometers 33-42: I probably had such an easy time in the last section because I was so focused on this one. This was what I’d never done before, where the wall was supposed to be and where this marathon thing gets real hard. I was tiered and sore at this point but feeling a whole lot better than I expected. Seeing honey was a big part of that as silly as is sounds. I would have been a little heart broken if he didn’t get to at least share the end with me. Plus he put up with and supported my training all summer so it wouldn’t fair to him either. I let myself walk the hills, which there weren’t many of in this section already and I had already said if I had to walk it all that was fine too.

But you know what there wasn’t a wall. It was hard and the hardest part but I just kept plodding along. I did have my two slowest kms in this section but I also had my fastest 3 at the very end, each exactly a minute per km faster than my overall pace. About 3 km from home one of those songs on my long run playlist that can also be a race day jam came on and I decided this was going to be over in about 20 minutes either way so I might as well push. So I switched over to my race day playlist and decided to go for it!

I planned it perfectly and I covered the distance about 50 m from my driveway but I did an extra 100m just in case. I ironically didn’t feel like I’d emptied the tank completely like I have after the odd half. I’m sure if I did it like this again I could go faster and in a ‘real’ race faster still. That doesn’t really matter to me and I might never know if it’s true. I literally don’t care about any of that. I did something that less that 1% of the population ever does and something I truly doubted I could ever do. Probably the best part of doing it this way was to really share it with the people I love.

post race pj’s

Looking back: Normally this is about how it went and what I would have done differently. This time the answer is not much but I wanted to use this space little differently this time. Just in case this somehow magically reaches the BAA or more likely someone who thinks this event should never have happened at least the way it did. That is that I hope this continues in some way. This year made a dream come true for so many and we get that it is through a COVID era loophole. We know that while our accomplishment is huge for us it’s not the same as qualifying and running in person. I even think that in the future this opportunity could be restricted more than it was. In some way this should be offered forever to people who are a lot more deserving than me. I don’t know how that should look and smarter minds than me can figure it out better than I can. Does it mean someone has to read thousands of personal essays I don’t know but what about extending this option to people who:

  • Qualify but can’t travel do to circumstances including finances
  • Qualify in the gap where you actually get to run in Boston
  • Boost the running community every other day of the year
  • Raise money for charity
  • Have some other super compelling reason
  • Are nominated by someone else

Running Boston virtually isn’t the same as running in Boston but it’s still special none the less. Boston is a dream for many because of how hard it is to actually do. If they carried over that exclusivity in some other way to the virtual run I could get behind that too. I do think that making this a one time event might be letting something go that’s worth saving!

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