Putting this last blog about My Journey to Boston together has been extremely difficult. Subconsciously (and not so subconsciously) I honestly haven’t wanted to finalize it. I simply don’t want this journey to be over. I know, I know. On to the next one, right? However, the past seven months have been one of the greatest and craziest and scariest and most fulfilling rides ever! To sum up the play-by-play and correlating emotions in one blog would be impossible (although I did try). For that, you’ll have to go back and read the whole story. With this post, I hope to accomplish two things:
- First and foremost, I want to thank those that came alongside me, made the finish line possible, and generously gave to help fight cancer.
- Second, I want to share my entire Boston Marathon weekend experience with you. (This is entirely too long for a blog post, but I’m going with it anyway.)
First things first… How can I possibly say thank you enough?! I can’t. Plain and simple. But, I will give it my best effort.
- To my husband and kids, who not only put up with but encouraged me every step of the way through endless hours of Boston & LLS talk, training runs, everything else that goes into preparing for the marathon of your lifetime, the anticipation, the initial disappointment, the applying for Team in Training and then waiting for news, the emotional roller coaster, the fundraising… THANK YOU!
- To Kristin, who convinced me I should “go for it” and “I could do it” when I brought up possibly applying for LLS’s Boston Team in Training, who poured out her heart story in a blog, who spent countless hours brainstorming, talking her friend off a ledge, encouraging, training quietly alongside me, supporting, helping, surprising, traveling, party planning, communicating with Team Alyssa…THANK YOU!
- To my parents, sister, and whole extended family, who prayed for and with me, traveled to Boston to support me, donated to LLS, wore their t-shirts, threw encouragement and love at me, and were some of my biggest cheerleaders… THANK YOU!
- To my college roommates who helped pick me up when I initially “broke up with Boston”, traveled to the Team Alyssa party, came to Boston to cheer for me along the course, sent messages and called… THANK YOU!
- To all of my friends and those who so generously gave, regularly encouraged, checked-in with me, offered advice, and prayed for me… THANK YOU!
I have been utterly overwhelmed. This team of people not only rallied by my side, but made additional blood cancer research happen, helped to improve the quality of life of patients and their families, and helped ensure access to treatments for blood cancer patients. You guys did that!! YOU played a role in positively impacting and changing lives! So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!!
BOSTON MARATHON WEEKEND
My Boston Marathon weekend was absolutely incredible and life-changing! I get emotional each time I let my mind scroll through the film of memories or someone asks me to describe it. I’ll try to recap those 5 days in this all too long blog.
FRIDAY: I traveled to Boston on Friday April 15th to attend a VIP Reception that I was invited to by my LLS Team in Training for raising over $10,000. My initial plan had been to go up to Boston on Sunday and return on Tuesday. Two nights – up and back. But, I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to represent those who inspired that invitation with their generosity, that I changed my plans and headed up early. Kristin drove me. We had a beautiful Friday to make the trip. During the quiet, as I stared out the window, I kept coming back to the fact that it was the 3 year anniversary of the Boston marathon bombings. I had wanted to run Boston before that, but the urge to make it happen after that day grew stronger. I imagined how those affected by the loss of a loved one or limb must be feeling. I knew that some amputees would be making their marathon debut, running in Boston with their blade, and I wondered if I’d have the opportunity to run alongside them. As we crossed the GB Bridge and I looked at the NY City skyline and saw the Freedom Tower, honoring thousands of lives lost, soaring high into the bright blue sky, I got emotional. I felt angry. But, then I felt strong and empowered. And, I couldn’t wait to get to Boston.
Because we arrived early, we were able to walk the streets to the Hynes Convention Center, where the marathon expo was. The city was in full marathon mode. The street lights were lined with posters, banners were everywhere, storefronts were decorated, blue and gold flowers were planted. Everywhere you looked, Boston was alive for Marathon Monday. The entire city was consumed by it.
At the expo I was able to check-in with my Boston passport and get my race bib. I had to pinch myself. If you’ve never been to a race expo before, let me give you a quick description. Imagine a massive area set up with booths, items for sale, sneakers, running apparel, every GU, sport bean, gel block sample imaginable, seminars on specific topics, etc. You can get in and out with just your bib pick-up or you can literally browse for hours. Once I had my bib (which I guarded with my life), we headed directly to the celebratory jackets. I wanted to try some on and make sure I got “the one” before any sizes were sold out. Success!
We had time for nothing else at the expo, so we grabbed a cab back to The Warehouse for the VIP Reception. It was awesome seeing not one or two or three other people who had raised over $10,000 for the team, but a packed room full of team members! Nearly 40 people on my team raised over $10,000!! The average funds raised per participant this year was the highest it had ever been! The person who raised the most money on the team, raised $40,975, with many close behind in the $20s and $30s. Just amazing! The VIP Reception was a nice time to meet and talk to people on the team, hear their previous Boston stories, their honored hero stories, ask questions, and just relax in preparation for Monday.
Friday night we headed out to Essex, MA to stay at David and Nancy Mering’s house. David and Nancy are long-time friends of my college roommate Jacquie’s, from when she lived in the Boston area. Thank you to them for being such great hosts!! I actually even got a couple hours of sleep Friday night, which is better than my first night away from home often is.
SATURDAY: Saturday was a downtown Boston day from beginning to end. The day consisted of more time at the expo, including getting pictures of my name on the wall of 2016 participants, getting to see U.S. Olympic marathoners Shalane Flanagan and Amy (Hastings) Cragg, and even getting a selfie with Amy in the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel lobby :)! We attended the Team in Training celebratory luncheon with guest speaker Jacqueline Hansen, who was the Boston woman’s winner in 1973 and has coached many elite runners. And, we were also able to watch the official B.A.A. 1 mile race, with the winner coming in at 4:10. We wrapped up the day by checking out the corner of Hereford and Boylston streets, which would be my last turn toward the finish line on Monday (and one of the spots where my family and friends would be waiting to cheer for me), and then we had dinner outside on Boylston Street right next door to where the second bomb had exploded and where 8 year old Martin William Richard had lost his life. The entire day was extremely meaningful.
Saturday night we headed back out once again to David and Nancy’s in Essex (about a one hour drive). Later that night, my college roommate Jacquie and her kids joined us. After lots of talking about the day behind us and the days to come (plus many other random and intellectually stimulating topics thrown in), I went off to bed. I probably got 4-5 hours of sleep Saturday night, pretty impressive for me for a second night of being away from home.
SUNDAY: Sunday started out with attending a service at Christ’s Church, a traditional Episcopalian, beautiful, old church. Afterwards David and Nancy hosted a luncheon for many of Jacquie’s Boston crew. It was fun to see them all come together to catch up on their lives! Nancy gave a beautiful toast wishing me luck for the next morning.
While all this relaxing, church, luncheon, and toast were happening for us girls, my husband Ben, and Kristin’s husband Mike, along with our five combined children were driving the 6+ hours to join us in Boston. Brave daddies, huh?! My parents and my sister also made their trip up on Sunday to join us. And, my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew made their way to CT, where they would stay until they joined the group in Boston the following morning.
After lunch, Kristin and I headed to our hotel in Framingham, which would be my home for the next two nights. The hotel was chosen because it was a quick 10-15 min. drive to the starting line (and it wasn’t $500+/night like many Boston hotels with jacked up marathon prices). Most runners take buses from downtown Boston on Monday morning out to Athlete’s Village near the starting line. That is part of why Boston has such a late start – the logistics of getting 30,000 runners transported 26 miles outside the city where the race starts. But, I would be getting a ride to a parking lot in Hopkinton and then taking a shuttle bus just 1 mile to Athlete’s Village instead.
After arriving at the hotel and being reunited with our families, we headed out to find our way to the starting line, so that the next morning would be easy-breezy for Kristin to drop me off. We also wanted to get some pictures at the starting line with our families. It was an incredible experience to see yet another town in full marathon mode. Every inch of Hopkinton was decorated for the marathon. Houses, businesses, schools, and churches were all decked out in blue and gold. A police officer was happily stopping traffic so people could take their picture at the starting line. It was energizing (and a little nerve-wracking) to be there!
Dinner was up next. What do I eat the night before a marathon? Usually fish, veggie and a carb-side. So, I ordered salmon, roasted broccoli, and a baked potato. The entire area is so supportive of their runners that as soon as Kristin told our waiter that I was running the marathon the next day, he took my dinner off my check and wrote a ‘good luck’ note to me! How cool is that?!
Before bed Sunday night was the most stressful part of the weekend up to that point. I went back and forth about what to wear the next day. I have never struggled with that. I’ve always worn shorts for a marathon, but because of my recent hip pain (which extends down my leg), I felt like I needed the support of compression pants. But, because of the expected heat, I felt like I needed to wear shorts. I tried on both several times to see how my leg felt. For a 3 or 6 or 10 mile run… no big deal. But, for 26.2, the struggle was real. I ended up going with the compression pants because I felt like I could handle the heat as long as my hip/leg held up. I finally laid out my running clothes, sneakers, breakfast, all necessary items to take to the starting line, pinned on my bib, and of course painted my nails in blue and yellow :)! Thankfully, Ben took the boys to the hotel pool for part of this process so I could have some solitude in my anxiety. Once again, I actually got 4-5 hours of sleep, which is pretty remarkable for me for being in a hotel and for the night before a race.
MONDAY: Monday morning started earlier, but I didn’t get out of bed until 6:15 AM. I laid there for quite awhile living in my thoughts, because I didn’t want to stir and disturb Ben and the boys who were sleeping soundly. But, I became restless and was driving myself crazy with scenarios and questioning my choice of clothes. So, I got up. Normally for a marathon, we have to be up by 5:15 AM the latest because it starts by 7 or 8. Not Boston. It’s a late start marathon, BUT, you have to get to Athlete’s Village early enough before road closures.
The first thing I typically do on a marathon morning is drink my coffee and eat my protein bar and banana. And, while many things about this marathon were very different, that part remained exactly the same. You have to make sure to eat and drink early enough to time your bathroom needs properly before a race :). And then I got dressed, put my hair back in a ponytail and braid, and of course put on some make-up for good measure. The Boston Marathon is on TV after all :). I stretched more because of the hip pain, and took more medicine as well. Alleve, Motrin, and Turmeric Supreme had become fast friends the week before.
By 8:00 AM Kristin was driving me to a parking lot in Hopkinton, where I would pick up a shuttle to take me to Athlete’s Village. I got on a shuttle bus without any wait. Some runners were silent. Some were non-stop chatter. A very nice man joined me in my seat. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk at all, but he began an interesting conversation that prevented me from hearing all the other runner talk that could have messed with my head. He was originally from France, currently lives in Dallas, TX, and was running Boston for the first time as well. It was cool to exchange stories and marathon experiences.
Upon arriving in Athlete’s Village I immediately got in the porta-potty line. There were so many, but so many more people. The line was long and took quite awhile. It got to be 9:00 AM and the sun was bright and it was already hot. (Hopkinton and most of the course were a good 15+ degrees warmer than Boston itself, which has the water breeze). I still had nearly two hours until I would start. After I made it through the line, I joined my team and began the wait. I knew I probably had to eat and drink a little bit more before the race, given the late start, so I took a few bites of a mini-bagel with peanut butter I’d packed, a couple more bites of banana, and drank a small water. I also popped two more Motrin. It was then time to wait in the porta-potty line again to pee that water out before more waiting in the sun. Sounds like something you want to do, right? Wait to pee, wait to run, wait to pee, wait to run :).
During this time they were calling for waves 1 and 2, people with red and white bibs, faster times, to walk toward the corals. I continued to watch and wait. Soon it would be my turn, wave 3, people with blue bibs. I would leave my team, most of which had yellow bibs, which meant wave 4 and that they were running for a charity. Although I was registered via the charity team, I was able to use my qualifying time for a bib and wave placement. After waiting and thinking and waiting and questioning, I heard the call for people with blue bibs. I left behind my throw away sweatshirt, which I had brought, but of course never needed because it was already hot (they donate all items left to charity). I left behind a portable charger in case my phone needed a boost, my food items, and my throw away sunglasses. And, I began the 0.8 mile walk to the starting line with all the other blue bib runners. On that walk, I stopped for the 3rd and final time to pee before walking my way into the center of Hopkinton. People were already out on their front yards in lawn chairs cheering for us. Before we even started! The air was thick with excitement and anticipation.
The starting line corals for Boston were more organized than any I’d ever experienced. In other words, they actually enforced your starting wave and coral assignment and had fenced off, separated areas for each one. Once I arrived in my coral, it wasn’t long before we were moving forward and I was jogging across the rubber mats that stretched across the start line. These mats, along with many checkpoints along the course pick up the chip on your bib to ensure you are crossing each point (not cheating) and they chart your time at each point.
Boston Course. Here’s an awesome description of the course,
THE RACE: The crowds were already huge. There was literally packed bleacher seating even at the start and the streets were already lined with people cheering. The race begins downhill. You really have to watch your pace because it’d be easy to get ahead of yourself, which could lead to problems later. I did a really good job of keeping myself right in-line with where I thought a safe, comfortable pace would be, 8:48 min./mile for the first 3.1 miles. During those first few miles we passed a biker bar, which was wall-to-wall bikes and bikers all with drinks in hand at 11:00am, blasting their music and yelling. I smiled at their level of excitement. We passed many families and children outside on their front lawns, already grilling up a storm and looking like they were camped out for an all-day event.
It was hot. The sun was bright. I tried to stay to the side to catch a bit of shade here and there from the trees, but it didn’t come often. I started second guessing my decision to wear pants. But, knew I needed the support, given how my hip/leg already felt. By mile 6, I already knew it was going to be a rough run for me. Usually at mile 6 of a race I feel fantastic. It’s early, but I’ve gotten into my stride. The energy of the crowd is like an adrenaline IV. But, not that Monday. The energy of the crowd was certainly at an all time high, but somebody forgot to connect the adrenaline IV. My legs felt heavy and my skin was so dry. No sweat. None. I was so hot and yet I wasn’t sweating. I felt tired already. And, I was in pain. I told myself, “You can do this. You can do anything for a few hours. It’s going to be hard one, but enjoy this. You have waited so long for this day and it’s here. Don’t let anything get in the way.” I do a lot of positive self-talk, and praying, debating, and calculating in my head when I run. If only I could record the dialogue that goes on and share that :). April 18th required more positive self-talk and prayer than usual.
At mile 6-7, in Framingham, my college roommate was screaming my name. I ran to the side to see her and her kids and I remember telling her that I didn’t feel good. But, I went on my way. And, soon I was taking my first GU. Vanilla Bean is my flavor of choice because it’s not as thick as many others and it has caffeine. This coffee drinker would be a mess if I didn’t have that caffeine.
There was a water and Gatorade station at every single mile in Boston (which is more than a typical race), and I literally took both at most. I never drink Gatorade. Ever. I don’t like it at all. Water is all I’ve ever had in a race, but I knew based on how I was feeling that day that I had to have at least some Gatorade as well if I was going to finish. I was hoping the Gatorade and water would hydrate me and I’d start sweating more and feeling better, but that didn’t happen.
Let me pause to say that although I felt terrible in running terms, I was still making sure to enjoy every single thing along the route. I checked out the smiling faces of kids and made sure to high five as many as possible. I gazed at beautiful, historical buildings. I kept one earbud out almost the entire time to hear all the cheers and sounds. I have never experienced so many volunteers, police officers, spectators, and runners that were so friendly and helpful. I want to pause to say thank you to the runners I heard constantly thanking the police officers and volunteers, saluting and shaking hands with amputee and military runners, stopping to lift and carry so many who were dropping along the course. Thank you to the medics who I saw running to help to the injured. I’m telling you, I got choked up over and over. It gave me a renewed hope in the goodness of people. The whole thing was very surreal.
Around mile 13 and the half way point, runners pass Wellesley College. The tradition is for all the Wellesley girls to stand along the course with “Kiss Me…” posters. Reading them all as I ran by occupied my mind, helped me forget about the pain, and made me smile. My favorite was, “Kiss me or I’ll vote for Trump.” I laughed out loud and legitimately almost kissed her cheek.
Once the girls no longer littered the sidelines, I knew I was getting close to where my family would be waiting to see me and it helped me make it up a big hill. I climbed that hill looking every person in the eye, trying to find one of their faces in the crowd. And, then I saw them!! Ben and the kids, my parents, my sister, and my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and my adorable nephew. They were all waving and jumping and yelling my name. Tears. Excitement. Relief. I was on the wrong side of the road, thinking they’d be on the left, but, playing frogger, I made it as quickly as possible across to where they were. I gave them sweaty hugs, we took pictures, and I told them how great everything was so far! I think they could tell based on my slowing time and how I looked how I was feeling, but I’m not sure if they knew at that point, just how bad. After stealing a water bottle from them and a few more kisses from my boys, I continued on my way. Somehow my clouded mind had me convinced I just had 9 more miles to go after seeing them, but I soon recalculated and realized I was wrong. It was actually 11. As this realization set in, my family was off and headed to the finish line, where they would once again meet up with me.
At that point I knew I was headed into the toughest part of the course. Everyone talks about heartbreak hill, but they forget to mention that there are three other BIG hill climbs before you ever even get to heartbreak hill at mile 21. Around mile 17, which includes “Firehouse Hill”, I once again heard my name being screamed louder than the regular spectators were yelling it. (Boston race bibs don’t have names on them, unlike many other races. But, I had my name put on the TNT singlet and so people were yelling “Go Alyssa” all day long. Other runners even commented about wanting to run with me just so they could hear a name yelled. It was such an incredible encouragement!) When I heard my name, it was to the left and behind me. I turned just in time to realize I’d past my college roommate and her kids, who had caught up with me for a second time. I played frogger again, getting over to the left side of the road and ran back to them. I’m guessing most runners thought I was crazy for backtracking :). I told them a few things about the race so far, we took pictures and then I continued on once again, knowing I most likely wouldn’t see another familiar face for the next 9 miles.
By this point of the race I was grabbing any wet towel a spectator was offering. I was taking two waters every time they were available, one to drink and one to pour over my head and wipe my face with, to get the salt off. I could not for the life of me understand why I didn’t seem to be able to keep up my hydration and only in hindsight wonder if it had to do with all the anti-inflammatory meds I was taking to try to mask the hip pain. It was at that point of the race, although it sounds crazy, I literally found myself thinking, “this is actually more pain than 4 hours of pitocin contractions without an epidural was.” Looking back, that’s not actually true. Pitocin, with a fibroid tumor, with no epidural, kicked Boston’s butt even on my worst day. But, I promise you, in that moment, that was how I felt and it was the first time I’d ever dared compare pain to that part of my labor. I prayed that I would just be able to keep myself pulled together enough to enjoy as much as possible before the finish line. What sounds even crazier is that, while I was comparing my pain to non-epidural pitocin contractions and praying that I wouldn’t pass out, I was also thinking about how I didn’t want this experience to end. I’m literally emotional writing this. It was the most opposing feelings I could have felt in that moment and yet at the time, they made sense.
When I made it to the top of heartbreak hill, I just kept telling myself, “you have less than a ‘daily run’ left, less than 6 miles to go. You can do this.” Of course as soon as I would say that, I’d think, “oh no, then it will be over. I don’t want it to be over. But, I actually do. Yeah, I need to see that finish line. But, no….” Yeah, your mind can get that crazy. That’s also when you pass Boston College. If I thought the crowds were intense before, they were now on steroids at BC. The masses of people, the boys handing out roses, the people screaming my name, the college kids partying, the businesses blasting music. I’m telling you… you have not been to a party until you’ve run Boston, especially around Boston College. It was crazy and awesome and it’s part of what kept me going!
The other things I focused on in those miles that kept me going were my family and friends and wanting to make them proud after all the support they’d given. I thought about every single name and person represented on my TNT singlet and those who were left behind missing many of them. I thought about a saying I’d seen, “Running sucks, but cancer sucks more,” and how much cancer patients have to go through and that this was nothing, anything I was feeling was just temporary. And, I focused on all the good, the excitement, the joy, the millions raised by so many charity teams, and how lucky I was to be in that exact place in that very moment in time.
That’s when I saw the famous Citgo sign. It’s right in front of you at 40K (24.85 miles) and while it’s just a sign for a gas station, it literally breathed life back into me, released pain, and gave me just enough energy in my legs to muster up that final hill. At mile 24.8 I officially entered Boston and could picture Hereford and Boylston streets. I envisioned myself running up that little incline toward the final turn and seeing my family and Kristin and her family and I just kept picturing that over and over. I could finally feel cooler temperatures and the breeze that comes from being near the water. I pulled out the one earbud that I had in for most of the race so that in the final miles, even music wasn’t a distraction from every experience.
Just before I turned onto Hereford Street, a Team in Training volunteer took this picture of me. There was a group of TNT volunteers standing on Hereford and when they saw my purple shirt they yelled and cheered and tears filled my eyes. The purpose of my run felt so strong in that moment. I turned to look up the small incline of Hereford street I had recently envisioned myself running and couldn’t believe I was actually there. I stared straight ahead looking to lock eyes with a loved one’s face. I got closer and closer and then there they were, and there was the finish line. I can’t type this without flowing emotions. Even with pain and little energy left, I think I sprinted to them. I hugged Ben and Kristin simultaneously. It was the first time I’d seen her since she dropped me off at the start, because she had been near the finish all day. I couldn’t believe I’d made it to that point. We talked. We took pictures. And, then the drunk girls behind them yelled, “Go Alyssa, go finish your f***ing race!” I didn’t know whether to yell at them for saying that in front of my kids or laugh. I turned, took the full view of the finish line in, literally threw my arms up in the air, and went running down the road waving them like a little kid, screaming for joy on Christmas morning. The feeling in that moment will forever rank up there at the top of my list!!
I crossed the finish line with a smile, a sense of relief, the pride of accomplishment, and the pure joy that comes from the purpose behind that run!! The Boston Marathon was run like a well-oiled machine from start to finish. I couldn’t have been more impressed and proud to be part of it. I loved Boston before, but it now holds a very dear piece of my heart!
I let a volunteer put a medal over my head and congratulate me and I thanked them for volunteering. I happily wrapped myself in a foil wrap and took the food and drinks offered. The pain and dehydration, the headache and the flooding nausea were intense. I’m not going to lie, it was by far my hardest race and my longest recovery (I am still hardly running and nursing my hip back to health), but it was a once in a lifetime, top of the bucket list, unforgettable, beyond meaningful experience that I will always cherish and never forget!! Again, thank you!!
MONDAY NIGHT: After getting back to the hotel and working toward recovery, we headed out for dinner (finally my turkey burger!!) and then the Post Celebration Night at Fenway Park!!
TUESDAY MORNING: We took the boys to MIT for a campus tour (since they often talk of going to school there). Jake wants to find a cure for cancer or invent something helpful or be a weatherman. And Lukas wants to design cars or new technology or be an Olympic track star. The MIT tour was student led and it was funny and interesting and we loved it! When the tour was done, we met up with the friends and family that remained in the Boston area and ate lunch at an Irish pub before we made our way home. We spent those six hours talking about our incredible experience!
Thank you so much for reading this and following along on My Journey to Boston. That’s a Wrap!