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RAW: A Boston Marathon Recap

It was like running on a treadmill in a freezer, with someone throwing buckets of water at you with a high velocity fan to the face and another person is just fucking with the incline button for 26 miles.
-Cori Maley

Yep, that’s me describing the Boston marathon either on the ride home to the hotel or at dinner that evening. I honestly can’t remember, the entire day was such a cold, wet blur.

The day before marathon Monday the tv weather forecast read: “RAW” (where it usually says cold, warm, ice, snow etc.) I pointed at the tv and asked Steve if he knew what the hell that meant. Raw. 40 degrees, real feel 22 degrees, 15-20mph sustained E/SE wind (that means headwind for the duration of the marathon), gusts up to 50mph and oh yeah, watch for falling trees. Splendid.

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I woke up in Boston Monday, April 16th feeling excellent. Better than I thought i’d feel, even though I knew the weather was going to be a disaster. My head was screwed on right. I was going to face the hardest race conditions of my life head on for 3+ hours. Stephen reassured me that morning (and all the weeks leading up) that I was well trained for this, and a very strong runner. I’d finish the race and run the best I could. Like I always do.

I had good feelings until we got on the busses taking us to Hopkinton. All I heard for the hour drive were runners throwing their goals in the trash, talking about how hard this was going to be, how awful the weather was, they “can’t believe this is their Boston experience” etc. I stayed as positive as possible. I knew my goals were lofty and I would have to shift to effort based running depending on the wind, but my god people… rain isn’t a big deal and to throw your race, to throw 16-20 weeks of tough marathon training down the drain because the weather wasn’t ideal? In my head as I sat silently amongst some very negative runners, I knew I was mentally tougher than most.

I’m not delusional though. I do understand the affect of the elements. Temperature, weather, wind, cold, the sleet that started coming down while I waited the 40 minutes for a port-o-potty were going to slow my pace. While standing in line, a girl from Charlotte, NC caught my eyes under the mylar blanket i hooded myself in and went off like a cannon. “Can you believe this sh*t?? This is going to be *expletive* horrible! I can’t believe I flew in from NC!!!” …yada yada more expletives, you get it, she was NOT happy. I turned to her, red faced, purple lipped, shaking and said, it’s not going to be that bad once you get moving. Yeah this weather sucks, but you know what, we get to run a marathon today and when we’re done we get to say we ran Boston. It might not be that bad, try to stay positive.

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It might not be that bad. <—This was about as close to rainbows and butterflies as my morning went. Once I finally made it to the bathroom, my corral was already 15 minutes ahead, walking down to the start, which was a .7 mile walk away from the mud pit ahem i mean, Athlete’s Village.

I sat down on the mylar blanket. If you don’t know what this is, it’s the shiny space blanket runners get after marathons to keep their body temperature warm. It was a life saver and I just so happened to find it on the bus that morning. Alright, so, I’m on my blanket to try and stay out of the mud, to change socks, get my ipod ready, my fuel belt on. Last minute details which should have been easier had my fingers worked. It took longer than normal, I fumbled and cursed. I wish I had more clothes, I wish I had Hot Hands, I don’t want to run like this. I don’t want to run. It might not be that bad. Walking to the start corrals, it felt good to get moving, and was entertaining to see so many people trying their best to stay dry. Like walking to the corrals with grocery bags around their shoes. News flash: in rain like that, your shoes don’t stand a chance. In ankle deep puddles, which we hit in the first mile, your shoes don’t stand a chance. Just pray you wore the right socks to avoid blisters.

Am i boring you yet? I just think it’s important to set the stage as to what went on before the race started. This was the first and only time in my running career I wanted the race to end before I even stepped foot on the course. I can’t tell you how uncomfortably cold I was before the start. But once the gun fired, and our corral was off, I did get excited to start running and hoped to warm up, still optimistic things would get better.

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I embraced the rain. It honestly never bothered me too much. I kinda enjoyed running through the puddles, except when I got splashed from the runners at my sides: It felt like my crotch was getting water boarded. That was COLD rain. Cold. Icy cold. The rain was coming down. Off and on it would let up and drizzle, then in the next minute would downpour where I couldn’t pick my head up to look around. Notice I’m not describing the small iconic towns leading to Boston like most articles and recaps would normally detail. It’s because I didn’t see most of it. I wore a hat to shield the water from my eyes, which helped a ton, but looking up and around was mostly out of the question.

I remember seeing a train station in Framingham (i think) and thought it was pretty cool, then my head went back to looking ten feet in front of me. This is why I felt like I was running on a treadmill. I stared at asphalt for 3 hours. About 5-6 miles into the race my feet and fingers regained feeling. This isn’t so bad and my splits were looking alright. I kept reminding myself not to go too fast, stay conservative for the Newton Hills and the cold/wind which will zap energy. I needed to save all the energy I could to get to the finish.

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Around mile 8 I saw a Medical Tent and asked myself if I wanted to drop out. I started doing time/distance/Uber/How-mad-would-Stephen-be math in my head, then looked at my watch, hitting 7:30-7:40s pretty consistently and not actually feeling bad isn’t enough of a reason to drop out. But I wanted to. A lot. Also, I thought I might have to pee… but getting into a port-o-potty was completely out of the question. I knew if i sat in something out of the wind and cold I wouldn’t get back out, and didn’t want to worry anyone watching the app, getting mile splits and wondering what the heck happened if I just stopped.

I told myself to get to the halfway mark and assess. I tried high fiving kids, but my fingers hurt too much. I still gave my best smiles to volunteers, officers and to the crowds that lined the course. They were all so awesome, so needed, so necessary. 13 miles came and I hit the halfway mark at 1:40, which meant if I negative split somehow, I could squeak in a small PR today. I wasn’t running happy, I did NOT have a good time out on the course, but I was super pleased with my effort which reflected my training paces more than the clock would show that day. In hills, I slow about 25 seconds per mile, the same in winds above 15mph. The fact that i was going 22 seconds slower than my marathon goal pace in wind, cold, rain, etc says a lot. And I would have had a great PR if just one of those dang elements were absent that day.

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Alright back to the epic cold run. The Newton Hills. I saw the sign that said you were entering Newton (about mile 15-16) and i knew there would be some climbing until Heartbreak Hill at 21. My head went down and I went back to work. Watching the asphalt fly under my feet, feeling the gentle grade changes, up and down. Finally, I looked up again and saw a Nuun tent! Woo! Picked up my one and only cup from the race (I was holding a small 10 ounce bottle with Tailwind that took me 13 miles to drink) and shortly after I glanced up and saw a brown banner that said “Heartbreak is Over!” This was the only time on the course I laughed, I can’t believe i was holding back for this… Heartbreak hill was easy, the Newton Hills were just a few grade changes, knowing the last 5 miles were generally downhill, I hit it and tried to run faster. Tried.

My legs wouldn’t open up. I couldn’t finish as strong as I wanted, I couldn’t feel my quads at this point. The cold and wind were holding me back quite literally. I still pushed and maintained, fought and rallied. I was keeping an eye out at Mile 23, my friend Jordan and her husband Jake were going to be on course, and I desperately needed a pick me up. Somewhere around 22 (I think, it could have been earlier, this was all such a blur) I saw a woman holding a sign with a cartoon beer mug and what looked to be a dixie cup of glorious pilsner. I did a middle of the road 90 degree left turn and asked, “IS THAT BEER?!” She smiled and handed it me. I chugged the 6 ounces of liquid carbs and pain killer. Sorry mom, I take candy, booze and other things from strangers. Quite often now that I think about it.

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The 23 sign came and went and I was a little disheartened, but not more than a few moments later I heard Jordan and Jake screaming my name and holding a wet, white sign that read Cori Maley Whiting, IN! (my hometown and where I know Jordan from) I stopped to hug her and started crying/hyperventilating and she yelled at me to keep going. It took a few minutes to stop gasping for air (crying and running is not easy).

I needed that. I could run a 5K. I will finish. I tried to pick up the pace, I suppose I did here and there, but my legs were ice cold and still couldn’t open my stride. When I tried, the wind was quick to put me in my place. I saw my watch, did quick math and knew I was close to a PR, but I didn’t think it was smart to attempt to push 7:00 minute miles just for a few seconds off my current best time. I chose wisely and tucked my headphones away (my 10 year old ipod nano is now broken btw) and took in what I could of the last half mile of Boston. The iconic, “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston” repeated in my head.

And like that, it was over.

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I crossed the Boston Marathon finish line, profusely thanked the volunteer who slung a medal over my neck and to the women who wrapped me in the very fancy velcro hooded mylar coat and heard my group yell to me. Steve, Clint & Matt were right there behind the barrier. I left the food, drinks, free Sam Adams beer for the other runners, I just wanted to get out of the weather.

3:21:54 (1:05 slower than my PR)

Steve was so proud of me, my effort and impressed with my splits. I felt the same, I was pleased with my effort, even though I did not have one ounce of fun. I never gave up and I stayed positive. That in itself was worth starting and will make me an even stronger runner for future races.

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After marathons I usually cross the line with a new version of self worth, appreciation and knowing I can accomplish big things. But after that day in Boston, I feel unbreakable. I truly feel like I can get through anything. I have run in rain, heat, snow, sleet, hail, wind, ice, 9 degrees, up trails, down mountains, through mud and in the middle of the night. Stephen has pushed me so far out of my running comfort zone during the last year so I could become a better runner. He saw potential in me during our first trail runs together where I was SO uncomfortable and afraid and constantly rolling ankles and sobbing because it was just too plain hard. Why am I gushing so much over him? Because I wouldn’t be the runner I am today if it weren’t for him. I’ve never had someone believe more in me. I owe him. He just made me fall more in love with a sport i’m already obsessed with and gives me the courage to constantly do my best.

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My final thoughts on Boston: It was that bad. And totally not fun but I’m so glad I didn’t skip it or quit along the way and so happy with my effort and the time I crossed the line with. As much as I didn’t want to go back and repeat Boston, I may just have to…I would kinda like to see the course. haha.

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Tuesday morning I gazed out the hotel window at the Charles River one last time before we drove back to Maryland. It was dry, cloudy, 45 degrees and with my head cocked to the side like a dog, I noticed the waves on the river were moving the opposite direction. A western breeze. Absolute perfect marathon conditions with a tailwind. Funny how life works like that sometimes.

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Philadelphia, You Sexy Beast.

Sorry about the delay, I finally sat down to write the recap!  I usually have tons of immediate thoughts about what went right, what went wrong, what i could have done different. But it happened, I had the perfect race. I guess I can Tarantino this race recap since most of you already know the result. 3:20:59. I’m a 3:20 marathoner and qualified for Boston!

This smile sums it up: i’ve been extremely content and overwhelmingly happy with the outcome.

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First beer post race

The week of the race was littered with ups and downs. The weather wasn’t looking favorable and Cameron got sick, so i was afraid I was catching his cold. My diet the week of the race consisted of carbs, water, nuun, zicam, vitamin c, and a few nights of 9+ hrs of sleep.

I had a few pep talks from clients and friends when the forecasted wind started stressing me out. Basically, I was ready to trash my goals for a sub 3:30 marathon because of the wind, but was quickly reminded that I trained super hard for this race, i’ve ran in crappy conditions all year and I could do this if I raced smart. Saturday came and I was feeling confident and ready to run.

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My bib number was perfect: 2600. I know it’s a little superstitious, but the bib from the Parks Half Marathon I did in September was 2612 and i’ve had good vibes about 26 this entire training cycle. This was the first time running a marathon that the miles didn’t scare me. I was prepped and ready to run 26.2 miles, I was only nervous about the weather.

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relaxing in the Sonesta hotel

We went out for pasta and the rest of the night was spent finalizing my playlist, hydrating & eating, charging electronics, choosing what to wear for the windy morning, and coming up with a game plan for the windy race.

The plan was to go out slower than goal pace for the first 10 miles in order to conserve energy that might be wasted against headwind. I kept telling myself that the Hansons Brooks Method I used, trained me for the back half of the race, not the beginning. The book said the first 10-16 miles should feel good. And that was my plan. Make sure the first 16 feel good and comfortable while staying close to goal pace. Then i could reassess and start speeding up. According to the weather and the course map, the wind was blowing from the west, and the last 6 miles were heading back to Philly, eastward. At mile 20, cross your fingers, pray for a tailwind and if worse comes to worse, you made it to 20 miles you push as hard as you can and don’t stop.

Game plan in place.

The next morning came quickly, but i felt good. I was prepared to do my best, I trusted the training and my race plan. Our hotel (the Sonesta) had shuttle service to the start, which was pleasant. It was cold out, but not awful. I used the bathroom, got right back in line and used it again 20 minutes later–best advice for a marathon, don’t wait until you have to go to the bathroom, just get in line cause you will.

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I headed to the start corrals, focused on positive thoughts, my breathing, making sure shoelaces were double knotted and comfortable, Garmin was on, and the sunrise… it was pink and orange and beautiful.

Then we started. My playlist began and I settled easily into an 8:00ish/pace. As usual during a big race there was crowding in the early miles and i wasn’t about to fight it and waste energy. I settled right behind the 3:35 pace group and stayed there for 4 miles.

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I get asked often what I listen to while running, so here’s the start of playlist “26.2”

My ipod was playing super relaxing music, just what i wanted to keep my breathing normal and pace slow. This was probably the first time during a goal race I wasn’t feeling any pressure or anxiety while running. My inner dialogue was a lot of: “this feels too easy. Good, it’s supposed to feel easy, it’s only mile 5.” I kept holding myself back doing anything stupid so early on.

 

For the most part, I didn’t notice the wind, but was happy i was wearing gloves, a headband and sunglasses! We had one major gust here and there, but not enough to where I felt like it was affecting me. At one point there was a gust for a few seconds that caused me a guy running beside me to look away, shield our faces and cringe a little. When it stopped we both looked at each other and laughed. I feel like that dude was having a good day too.

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Laughing into the wind, I started thinking about when to run faster. I was approaching mile 10 and finally had some elbow room as the crowds thinned out. I could see my paces getting slightly faster and I was feeling better with each mile, stronger with each step. I bartered with myself a bit. Make it to the halfway mark, see how you feel and we can start slowly getting into a faster pace.

Mile 13 came quickly, I felt better than alright, it was the easiest 13 miles i’ve ever run in my life. Alright halfway time to work a little and see where we’re at come mile 16. I have the legs under me and the workouts behind that supports a hard 10 mile effort. Come on 16…

“I wonder if I can go to Crossfit on Tuesday…” <—Literally what was on my mind right before mile 16 beeped at me. “Okay, now this is too easy. I have a BQ as long as I don’t do anything stupid. I have 4 miles until the turn around point where the wind should be at my back. Four miles to speed up and deal with wind and hills and then I get pushed home. I’ll let my legs fly at 20. Just get there first.”

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Mile 20? 7:30? Alright it’s time for the legs to show off. And like that. I switched gears and started hauling forward. I was hyper alert and aware of my body and knew I had a 4th and 5th and 6th gear to shift into.  When 20 came I was actually excited to see how fast I could run after holding back, saving energy and being smart. I wasn’t going to hit a wall. I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Even knowing I had a Boston Qualifying time, my mentality shifted to, “let’s see how much time I can go under.”

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I flew. I did not have one person pass me the last 10k. I had a smile on here and there and was constantly reminding myself to be grateful of this body. I realized that all the hard workouts…all the tempos in humidity, the mile repeats on hills, all the Crossfit Wods where I thought my heart would surely explode, were exactly why I had the power and mental stamina to not just muddle my way through 26.2 miles, but to own them. This was my workout of the day and I killed it.

I was powering through the last mile and started getting a cramp in my left foot. At this point I was ready to be finished, but I didn’t see signs of how far left I had. I knew I was close and this is where the tunnel vision set in. One foot in front of the other, throw your arms forward and get across the line. In my left ear I heard Cameron shout my name, in my right ear I heard the loud speaker say “Cori Maley, Silver Spring” and I didn’t realize where I was. In an instant I saw a time clock, a banner and my foot go over the first timing mat.

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I took a huge breath in, and let it out in a cry. A tidal wave of relief, happiness and pride overcame me. I was proud of myself. Proud.

I found Cameron, hugged him over the metal barricade still sobbing. I was so happy it hurt. He told me my time of 3:20:59… 30 minutes faster than my last, and 15 minutes faster than the Boston Qualifying time I needed.

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I have a pretzel in my mouth which is why my cheeks are super big! haha

This won’t be the last I talk about Philly. I have a thousand more thoughts on this race. For now i’ve been happy and content and enjoying the moment. Hang tight, tips for running your best marathon are going to be up soon!

Last Week

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Crossfit, 5m easy 9:15/pace

Wednesday: 6m whatever I felt like 7:38/pace

Thursday: Crossfit, 5m easy 8:10/pace

Friday: 1.5hr barbell skill work 

Saturday: 10m easy 8:35/pace, 40 minutes lower body (PR’d deadlift 2 x 1 @ 195lbs)

Sunday: 5.5m trail running 9:41/pace

Total Miles: 31.5

Anyone running a December race?

How much time do you take off after a race?


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Your Biggest Running Goal

Tuesday: 6.6m easy progressive (9:00-8:00pace), 40 min full body cardio/strength workout

I don’t think anymore when I’m asked what my biggest running goal is. It’s a reaction. I say “Boston” as quickly as a dog’s head whips around when you say, “outside?” Qualifying for Boston was something I learned about while reading an issue of Runner’s World while training for my first marathon. It was something so out of reach and laughable in that moment, that i never thought i’d be actually attempting a BQ time.

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just silly happy to be running

The Boston marathon wasn’t a goal when I started running and I don’t particularly have any ties to the city, but somewhere along I felt the desire to want to run this marathon. The competitive nature in me wants to be able to get into a race based on time. The exclusive, fast, cool kids marathon, as my ego likes to call it. But the closer i’m getting to Chicago–the one marathon to rule them all (or at least deem worthy to possibly enter the gates of Boston) the closer i’m beginning to realize, the marathon might be something i’ll never be great at. And it might not even be my biggest running goal—>it’s just something I feel drawn to and something that will help me see a part of this country i’ve never been too.

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random sunset

Boston is the goal I gave myself for this year, if i don’t hit it in Chicago then i’m going to focus on other running goals which I think are a little more important to me. Here they are–I want to run a sub 6:00 mile, a sub-20:00 5k and I want to run a sub 1:30 half. Notice the trend, i want to run fast.

pretty much stoked to re-evaluate goals

pretty much stoked to re-evaluate goals

Now, let’s make something clear–my feelings, emotions and life in general have been all over the place. And this directly messes with my running life. My paces are jumping between 6:30-9:40s (emotions work just as hard for you as humidity works against you). I have no set training schedule and right now, i’m wearing half a sports bra so i don’t mess up the new tattoo and obviously i’m still feeling out/holding back because of the ankle. I keep asking myself what my goals are. Obviously–Boston, but then I’m asking why? I need something to light a fire behind me so I actually want to run Chicago fast. I’m hoping to have an epiphany out on a long run one of these days.

sunset at the gym

sunset at the gym

But I’m also realizing that Boston isn’t everything. A sub 3:35:00 does not define who I am as a runner or a person. It does not make me any better or worse of a runner. Wanting and obsessing over something is not healthy.  I figure as long as i’m running happy and training hard in the gym, good things will come. The times I want will post when my body is good and ready for them.

Until then, keep your hearts full and feet swift.

had to draw one out. colored pencil & cardboard.

had to draw one out. (colored pencil & cardboard)