Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

My Boston Marathon experience

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I’d like to begin by noting that Boston is a beautiful city full of friendly people! I absolutely loved my visit here. From the shop owner who offered me a free potted tulip on Easter to the amazing hosts we had at our Airbnb accommodation.

The morning of the marathon I was wished good luck by a stranger as we walked down the street to catch the subway. Love the feeling of support and excitement from everyone in the city!

The race itself was extremely well-organized. Hopped right on a bus to Hopkinton after getting off the subway. I was sitting next to a middle-aged runner from Italy on the ride out. He told me that he and his friends had decided to run Boston after the bombings last year as a show of support; sport should not be subject to political action. It was his tenth marathon but first outside Europe. He started running because he was overweight and had a sedentary job and wanted to be healthy. He asked my motivation for running. I told him it was my brother who’s super fast (and who should really run Boston next year – ahem). The drive out took about an hour which made me think “we have to run back all this way??!”. On the upside, it gave me time for my anxiety to subside and for me to eat the better part of a clif bar.

The athlete’s village was madness. It was a sea of people sitting on the grass. I wandered around a little bit. Got a foil cape because, despite the throw-away pants I had worn over my shorts on the recommendation of a runner from last year, I was so cold that my teeth were chattering. I had been concerned that I would be bored and anxious waiting to load into the corral at 9:50 after arriving at 8:30 but a 45 minute wait in line for the porta-potty managed to kill all of the time after my wandering.

I quickly learned why the corral loading takes place so much earlier than the start time. There’s a bit of a walk to the corrals. Met a couple of Canadian doctors from London who had gone to med school in Halifax while I was walking. Such a small world!

By the time the race started, things had warmed-up quite a bit and I pretty much immediately regretted wearing a long-sleeved shirt. My legs were hurting before I even started from all the walking we had done exploring Boston the previous day. Not a great start. I just ran and hoped for the best. I tried not to push too hard but I also wanted to make good time. Having only run one previous marathon (in 3:19) I kinda wanted to beat my time but I also knew that it was a harder course and might not be possible. I didn’t know how I was doing but apparently I was doing quite well: 44 minute 10k, 1:35 at the half, 3:11 at the 40k. I even stopped for water WAY more than I usually would because with the sun shining it was HOT! I even ducked in to use a porta potty (all that water!) around 19 miles. I really didn’t think I was pushing it too hard.

The number of spectators was amazing! There were people along the entire 42.2k route; cheering, proffering orange slices, water, beer (haha). For a while there was a man in a Canadian shirt running near me and there were continual cheers of “go Canada!!” from spectators; I kept thinking they were cheering for me and then remembering my coral shirt indicated nothing of my nationality. I wanted to revel in the moment; having all of those people cheering all of us on, running the freaking BOSTON MARATHON but I couldn’t. Every little hill was killing me and it took all of my focus to keep running.

I didn’t feel great for most of the race but things really fell apart after 20 miles. I kept considering walking but I just wanted to be done so I pushed myself to keep running. With every mile marker I figured I was that much closer and may as well just keep running for as long as I could. I could feel my face getting sunburnt and whenever I touched my face I could only feel a layer of gritty salt. Then my head felt a bit like it was separate from my body and I was having trouble seeing. I had been scanning the spectators for my boyfriend as I neared the finish but I had to stop because I couldn’t focus. I knew it wasn’t good but I couldn’t quit. I’d come so far! I was the running dead.

About a half mile (or maybe less because I have a vague recollection of seeing the 26 mile marker) from the finish line my legs gave out. I crumbled to the pavement. I kept trying to get up but I couldn’t. I was like a baby deer with zero control of my legs. I had a brief moment in which I wondered what I would do since I couldn’t use my legs. Suddenly another runner was helping me up. She let me cling to her as I slowly stumbled the rest of the way to the finish line, for a short period another woman joined me on the other side. This was an act of true altruism, sacrificing her race time to help a complete stranger. I wouldn’t have finished with out her and I will be eternally grateful. I was so out of it my head kept flopping around and I don’t even remember crossing the finish line. I just remember thanking her and apologizing while we shuffled along, her asking me if I could see the finish line. The next thing I remember was being put into a wheelchair and brought to a cot in the medical tent where I was helped onto my back on a cot with a box elevating my feet. I was asked a bunch of questions like who I was, emergency contact, my finish time (I had no clue what it was but I think I accurately answered the rest of the questions). Someone brought me a medal for finishing and then water and Gatorade. I tried to eat a couple of potato chips for the salt but they were like sawdust in my parched mouth.

The medical staff and volunteers were very kind and helpful. I knew they wanted to get me out of the tent so that they could get someone else into my cot but they let me take all the time I needed until I could walk again.

Looking around the tent, I felt better about the sad state I was in. I think I was “just” overheated and dehydrated. There were first wave (the fastest) runners hooked-up to IVs, unconscious, people with injuries. It could have been worse. And on the upside, I had a Boston Marathon experience that few other people did. I was still embarrassed. I thought that I was too smart to let myself get in such a state. I guess my one previous marathon wasn’t enough to predict this race experience. It was much hillier (heartbreak hill, what? Every hill broke my heart!) and warmer (I would have given just about anything for an overcast day). I finished that race excited to run another one. This one I finished swearing no more full marathons!

Once I was able to stand again, one of the medical staff walked out of the tent with me and then left me to slowly hobble my way down to the appropriate family meeting point to find my boyfriend. Why did the start of the alphabet have to be so far away?! Why couldn’t my last name begin with “Z”?

After finding my boyfriend we hobbled to the subway and then caught a cab back to the apartment we were staying at in Cambridge. I promptly lay down on the bed and stayed there for a couple of hours. I was alternately hot and cold, I had a headache, and my legs were killing me. It was like having a combined flu and hangover and extreme DOMS. My boyfriend was a great and patient nurse. Offering me water and going out to Whole Foods to buy me some fruit when I finally started to feel like I might be able to eat something again.

Lessons learned: unless running a hypothermic marathon, long sleeves are not a good idea on a sunny day. Run faster on the days the training schedule says “race pace”. Try a longer training run even if the schedule puts the longest at 20 miles. Try bringing salt tablets on sunny marathon days. Water, gu, and a little Gatorade were no competition for the sodium loss I experienced. Previous experience doesn’t necessarily predict future experience and every race will be different.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me. Back to your regularly scheduled nutrition rants next post!

Update:

I received an email with a link to my official race photos today. Based on the bib number I was able to find my saviour! Her name is Anne Zannoni. You can find her on twitter: @anne_zannoni and read her blog (although if you’re like me, you may need to translate it as it’s in Italian) at: http://artedicorrere.wordpress.com/. I cannot express my gratitude to her enough and I’m so glad that I was able to thank her!

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

5 thoughts on “My Boston Marathon experience

  1. So so impressed with you, Di! Not going to lie, I got a little choked up when I read about the other runners helping you cross! Congrats on such an amazing accomplishment!

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  2. Wow, I am so impressed with you and your determination, and the wonderful angels who helped you finish! What a fantastic experience (now that the worst is over).

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    • Thanks Mum! I’m interested to see the contrast in the photos of me at the athlete’s village and at the finish line after leaving the medical tent. Randall saw me collapse and he said I was completely drained of colour and looked awful just before the fall.

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  3. Pingback: Boston Marathon Recap |

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