Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Boston Marathon Recap


Me at the race expo in my snazzy new finishers jacket. Photo taken by Randall Andrews

After a week away, I’m back! But… Not to rant about nutrition (althoughI will touch on some nutrition-related stuff). Last week at this time I was hanging out in the athletes’ village, anxiously waiting to run the Boston Marathon. Instead of my usual blog post, here’s my race recap.

I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2014, the year after the bombings. It was only my second full marathon and it did not go well. A couple of years later I decided that I needed to run Boston again so that I could soak up the experience and finish on my own. My brother qualified too so it was a family affair this year. It was good to have someone to sit with on the long bus ride to the athletes’ village. Even if we did mostly sit in anxiety tinged silence.

I figured that I had made five mistakes the last time I ran Boston: 1. we walked A LOT the day before the race, 2. I skipped breakfast, as I usually do before long runs but I usually finish running around the time that I started running, 3. I wore long-sleeves, 4. I ran too fast for sunny weather and long-sleeves, 5. I didn’t hydrate properly.  I did my best to learn from my mistakes.

This time around, we only walked as much as necessary the day before the race. Although my boyfriend and I walked around quite a bit, at a leisurely pace, the day before that.

I attempted to eat a small bowl of cocoa shredded wheat with half a sliced banana before leaving for the village. My nerves weren’t keen on it though so I ate the banana slices out of it, and had a few bites of the cereal. I downed a glass of coconut water because there was still plenty of time before the race started to go pee. Side note: I like coconut water but despite what some people believe it’s not a good sports recovery beverage. It’s high in potassium but low in sodium which is the electrolyte that really needs replacing after copious perspiration. I had one of the new peanut butter-filled Clif bars (no, this is not sponsored, I really like these bars because I love peanut butter and they’re not sickeningly sweet like the original Clif bars tend to be) as soon as I got to the athletes’ village and grabbed a bottle of water. Also got in line for the porta-potty as I knew that soon it would be as much as an hour-long wait. There was a girl in front of me in line wearing a Maritimes Race shirt so I asked if she was from Nova Scotia. She wasn’t, she was from PEI and showed no interest in befriending me. Oh well. I had my brother there (until he set out with his fellow speedsters in the first wave).


Selfie of my brother and me in the athletes’ village

It was a lot warmer in the village than I had remembered it being the last time I ran. It had been 30C the day before and hadn’t cooled off as much overnight as we would have liked. So, I ditched my extra layers early (this year I worse a tank top and shorts) and got some sunscreen from the medical tent. Unfortunately, I only put it on my face and the tops of my ears so I got nicely burnt on my chest and on my right side where the sun was beating down during the race. Ditching the layers early was a mistake I realised as I sat in the cool shade of a tent after my brother left for the corrals. I did make friends with a lovey woman from Florida who was running for the third time and had run the 5k with her daughter the day before. We were in the same corral (6) in the second wave so we headed to the parking lot together, queued for the porta-potties near the corrals, and hung-out together in our corral. I’m not sure how she did and I didn’t get her last name so I can’t look her up. On the off chance that you’re reading this Claudia, let me know how you did!


Queues for the porta-potties near the start corrals

When you’re setting out with so many other runners it’s pretty much impossible to pick-up the pace. I decided just to settle into the pace of the crowd and only move ahead into open space. Some people took the fact that it was a race a little more literally and were darting in in front of other runners and jostling a little. I saw one guy get tripped up by another runner and nearly fall over and there were a few times that I had to slam on the brakes to avoid running into people who cut in front of me. Kind of annoying but I guess that’s what happens when you have so many runners together. Most people were just trying to find their strides and soak up the experience, like I was.

It was in the low 20s (Celsius, that’s mid-70s for you chowdah heads) for the race but there were few clouds and the sun was deadly. Normally I don’t bring water on runs. Even during a race I would probably only grab water from a few stations. This time I skipped the first hydration station and then hit every subsequent one. I was so warm and thirsty. My race strategy became “make it to the next hydration station”. They were at every mile so it made the 26 miles pretty doable. Even though the sweetness of the Gatorade was not nearly as refreshing as the plain water I knew that I need the sodium that it was giving me so I alternated beverages at each station, taking a couple of sips every time. When I got water I would take my sips and dump the remainder over my head. It was a lifesaver. I was also hugely grateful to the people who had sprinklers and freezies. I had three gu energy gels for the race. Blackberry with caffeine at the start, salted watermelon with caffeine at 10 miles (my favourite), and lemon without caffeine at 19 miles. My mouth was so parched that I couldn’t finished either of the gels during the race, especially the lemon.

Once again, I nearly missed Heartbreak Hill thinking that it was later in the race. I was running up it thinking “I might have to walk up Heartbreak Hill” and then got to the top and was pleasantly surprised to realise that was Heartbreak Hill and there were just a couple of slight inclines to follow.

I always listen to podcasts while I run and music during races. However, I remembered how loud the crowds were last time, drowning out my music, so this time I didn’t listen to any tunes. People basting music and cheering nearly all the way along the route were so energizing. The best was near the start line where they had Sweet Caroline going and everyone sang along to the chorus as we ran past.

With the warmth of the sun after a cold winter of training, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to stick with my usual pace. I would have liked to have done better than last time but it was even more important not to collapse. I thought that maybe I would have some energy left in the tank for a push at the finish but there was nothing there. I kept going, slow and steady, through the last mile which was the longest frigging mile of my life until I crossed the finish line in 3:38:56. A personal worst that I’m totally happy with. As great a story and experience it was to have Anne help me across the finish in 2014, it was a much better feeling to be able to walk and talk and not feel like I had the flu and hangover all at once. One of the first things I said to anyone was “now I need a beer”. The volunteer was like “yes! My kind of runner.”

Of course, my brother didn’t back off the pace until he absolutely had to so I found him looking grey in the family meeting area. He had finished in 3:15:23 which was even further off his usual pace than my run was but still way faster than I’ve ever run a full marathon, and fantastic given the conditions.

So, that was how I spent my 39th birthday. I said that I was done with full marathons, I’d had enough. But I meant that I’m done for now. I’m sure I’ll run Boston again someday.


My Boston Marathon experience


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!


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!