My first Boston Marathon!…that a Volcano in Russia almost foiled (VERY long post)

I still can’t believe this has even occurred (for many reasons, LOL). For real, it feels like yesterday I quit drinking, started training for the BMO Vancouver Marathon in December of 2015, and completed it on May 1, 2016 in 4:40:51. At the time, I couldn’t run even one kilometre at the pace needed for a BQ (not that it was a goal, yet), which was 3:35:00 or under.* But I knew what the Boston Marathon was at this point, and I was very intrigued. *Since then, the standard across all divisions tightened up by 5 minutes, but I also aged up into the 35-39 category

My journey to a BQ was a long, undulating process, but I made it happen exactly six years after that first marathon, in Eugene, with a 3:33:22. On September 21st, 2022, I found out I was IN for Boston 2023. The planning began! I am a huge planner, which makes the first part of this recap HILARIOUS (now). Training went great, and my coach, Jim, had me feeling very prepared. I finished work on Thursday, April 13th before noon, and headed to my own massage, feeling ecstatic to head out that same afternoon to fly to Vancouver out of Terrace, which is the next town over from where we live, about 1.5 hours drive. We would arrive in Boston on Friday evening via Toronto, with the race being on Monday, Patriot’s Day. Everything was perfectly planned!

So I get out of my massage to find a voicemail. It’s WestJet. Our 7pm flight from Terrace to Vancouver (and a luxurious over-night at the Fairmont) was cancelled, and rescheduled to the same time on SUNDAY. Cue, tachycardia. I frantically called back, and was told by the agent, who was as confused as me, that it was apparently due to weather. It was nice out! I was fighting against hyperventilation. My husband assured me that we would figure it out, and that we could even drive to Prince George (8 hours away) to fly out, if needed.

After a very long time on hold, the amazing WJ agent rebooked us in the last seats on a flight out of PG to Vancouver the next morning at 6am. Perfect! The flight tomorrow to Toronto (then Boston) wasn’t until noon!

We drove to Terrace, had a fantastic-as-always dinner at Don Diego’s, taking our sweet-ass time since we had like eleven hours to get to PG, and then continued driving east. Meanwhile, my friend texted me, A VOLCANO?? WHAT ARE THE CHANCES??? I found this confusing but also funny, since you know, we had sorted out our travel. I didn’t actually know what she was talking about so I Googled and found this on CBC, and at the time, the article only mentioned Rupert and Terrace, and nothing about ME.

As we’re driving towards PG, I get another email from WestJet. Hello, Jamie. Your itinerary may have been impacted… Pardon my language, but are you fucking KIDDING ME????? The Prince George flight was cancelled as well!!!! My eyes probably bulged out of my head and I asked my husband in a high-pitched voice “are we driving to Vancouver??” For anyone who isn’t familiar with Northern BC, we live right on the west coast, and to get to Vancouver by vehicle one must first drive 8 hours east to Prince George, and then another at least 8 hours south/SW. We were in for an all-nighter. Just what a runner needs four days out from the marathon. At this point, my buddy from CBC had called, and that article was updated…

We arrived at YVR long-term parking by 9am the following morning, two exhausted dirtbags with bloodshot eyes, severe headaches and definitely bad breath. My husband, the saint, did most of the driving and I’m so thankful, but we did take turns a few times. We successfully boarded the flight to Toronto, complete with other Boston marathon runners – you can tell because runners are total dweebs (I mean that in the best way) and usually wear their oldest Boston Marathon jacket over race weekend, or in this year’s case, anything from 2013, which was the year of the bombings and so it was the ten year anniversary of that tragedy. The flight landed a little late, a bit after 8pm, and the connecting flight was to depart at 9pm. Tight!

BUT GUESS WHAT?? Customs at Toronto Pearson Airport apparently closes at 8:30pm, so there was a text waiting for me when I switched off airplane mode. We were automatically rebooked to Boston for tomorrow (Saturday) at 9pm. Along with every other person on that massive plane who was connecting to the US. Oh yeah, I also started to feel extremely ill on the plane, complete with a giant dry heave that terrified all nearby passengers…

We f’d around getting information, complementary hotel, meal vouchers, hotel shuttle, etc, and were finally at least sitting down and eating at 10:30pm in the restaurant at the Sheraton. Uh-oh. I bolted for the restroom. Power-barfing, and apologizing in between heaves to the woman in the stall next to me. What is happening to me!?!?!?! I have no clue, but I did feel a lot better after that, minus an agonizing headache that didn’t resolve until Monday…

We finally made it to Boston on Saturday night. Though we both felt like ass, we MADE IT. The Uber to the Holiday Inn Bunker Hill was so fast and inexpensive, and my spirits were lifting by the minute. WE’RE HERE! I kept reminding my husband, LOL! He thinks I’m nuts. We walked to a nearby Brazilian steakhouse that was open late and seemed easiest, and then gratefully went to bed.

So, originally, the plan was to go to the Brooks shakeout run with DES LINDEN on Saturday morning (wahh), then check out the B.A.A. 5k festivities and cheer for our friend Adam (who got 7th in his AG!). Then we’d go to the expo to get my package and be tourists the rest of that day, saving Sunday for doing jack shit, my usual marathon-eve routine. Instead, it was now Sunday…we met Adam and Karmen for breakfast at Stephanie’s on Newberry St, attempted to go to Marathon Sports to check out the swag (way too busy, not surprisingly) and then hit the expo. Since it was my first Boston, I have no clue if that was a slow process or not, but the line to go in was very long and it wound through all sorts of areas and stairsways and hallways to get to the actual spot inside the convention centre. When I got my bib, I got emotional and teared up a little. Blue wave!!!! I was so tired and also overwhelmed by the absolutely massive crowds that we did not stay in the expo to visit any of the vendors, aside from Maurten, because I’d signed up for one of the special marathon packages and needed to pick it up. I’m a bit mad that after looking forward to this for so many years, I was too tired and irritable, and in pain, to fully experience the expo… but I’ll be back.

The rest of Sunday feels like a blur. My headache was so bad, but I did manage to get out for a 20 minute run and strides, and despite how exhausted I was and the pain I was in, I was getting fkn PUMPED. The weather on Patriot’s Day varies so much from year to year, and aside from wind from the east, it was looking pretty great for a northern BC runner! Some rain and about 11 degrees celsius. I was thanking the gods for anything but heat.

I settled on a crop top, the trusty leopard-print pocket shorts, my half-tinted Goodrs that have served me well as both rain and snow goggles, and I decided on no hat because I HATE being hot. I’m the runner who is generally warm unless it’s close to zero. Downpours weren’t forecasted….turns out I shoulda worn a visor, but it wasn’t a huge deal.

Our hotel had a buffet dinner for the marathon, which to be honest was far from impressive, but since all I wanted to eat was pasta and red sauce, it worked out perfectly. I didn’t sleep very well, but it was about as good as one can hope for on the eve of any marathon. I got up at 5:30 and went downstairs to get one of the grab-and-go paper bag breakfasts that the hotel provided. Although our stay at that hotel was pretty great, they need to work on their marathon weekend game. The bag breakfast didn’t even have a banana or bagel in it, the most stereotypical runner foods! Anyways. I ate a bagel and had coffee in the actual restaurant when it opened at 6, with a runner named David from Ireland who was so wonderful. The blue wave bus loading time was 8:15 for going to the start in Hopkinton, so I had decided to walk to the T station at 6:45 to get to the Common where the busses are, but realized I could easily get an Uber. This resulted in a much quicker commute, and after an extremely fast and easy gear-check, I was able to meet up with Karmen and Adam at the corner of Boylston and Charles! She still had her phone at that point, and I had mine on me all day, so that’s how we found one another. I was about to ride the bus to Hopkinton for the first time with one of my best friends!! As we walked to the bus, I hear, JAMIE!? and turn to see my Instagram friend, Michelle, waving! So great to see her in the flesh, and also hilarious because Karmen always says “Jamie knows EVERYONE” hahaha.

They give “strongly suggested” bus loading times for the different wave colours, but we knew that the only thing you actually CANNOT do it move up a corral in the actual starting area. So, I got on a bus with Karmen and other white wave bibs. The bus ride went by really fast and our driver seemed to be on a mission. I’ve heard multiple stories of busses getting lost on the way to Athletes’ Village, but this driver knew what was up. After exiting the freeway and rolling into Hopkinton, I started to really understand this town’s pride in being the start of the oldest and most prestigious marathon on earth. I saw Marathon Elementary School. I saw StartLine Brewing. And then I saw a cheer station in a front yard and asked Karmen if we were driving on the course. No, she said, these people are literally just so pumped that they are cheering for the busses. Wow!

We arrived at Athletes’ Village, which was what I had envisioned – a big high-school field with lots of big event tents and about 1000 porto-potties. We’d just walked through the arched entrance gate thingy when who do I see? David from Ireland, hahaha. Karmen jokingly rolls her eyes as I see another person I know amongst 30,000 runners, across the continent from where we live. LOL.

We got in line for a bathroom, which took a while but not outrageously long, and then laid out our garbage bags under a tent to sit down and wait.

I now know that I should have put on my race shoes prior to the 1km-ish walk to the start line (I was wearing an old, retired pair in case it was muddy and/or pissing rain), and also applied my “body glide” i.e. silicone-based sex lube, everywhere before the walk. But now I know! I changed my shoes on the walk by stepping to the side of the sea of people making their way to the corrals and it was really awkward, and I forgot to apply the glide before but had it in my throw-away hoodie pocket so I did that right before my corral was released. It felt rushed and frantic, but it all worked out. I also accidentally got rid of my throw-away gloves in the hoodie pocket when I tossed the sweatshirt! But it wasn’t even close to cold enough for me to need gloves, thankfully. Last note, silicone-based sexy lube is the best thing ever for a rainy race! I legit didn’t even have a speck of chafe anywhere on my entire body after this race, and it PISSED at times, and it was muggy at other times and I was sweaty and salty AF.

We were off! Holy shit. I am running the Boston fkn Marathon!!!! I knew it would be crowded, but not THIS squishy! The road at the start in Hopkinton is NARROW. The first kilometre was one of my slowest of the day and it was a bit frustrating. I planned and vowed to obey speed limits, but not to this degree. Oh well. After everything that happened to even get here, my grip was pretty loose on the whole situation.

It took me at least 5k to finally get a bit of a rhythm, but I wouldn’t say I felt great, even considering all the significant downhill in the first 7km. Again, oh well! I was running just under 5:00/km at this point, which was the goal, and letting myself speed up naturally on the steeper declines without upping the effort. I also was very distracted in a good way, because THIS RACE IS SERIOUSLY INSANE. I wish I could accurately remember everything I took note of while running. Some stuff that I do remember from early in the race were so many people in their front yards, freaking out with noise makers and BLASTING music! They all had massive signs and banners right from the get-go, and certain clubs, teams and groups had wild cheer stations set up. I even saw a big cheering crew at the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. Some spectators had their own aid-stations set up for us in their yards or businesses, and there are already official aid stations at every mile (after mile 2)! People were wearing costumes to cheer and I saw a little kid dressed up like a car dealership wacky-waving-inflatable-tube-man just going buck wild in his front yard ahahah!! The course was completely lined with supporters. I’m sure there were some, but I remember no gaps in spectators.

In Framingham, the crowds seemed to get VERY thick, and it was absolutely overwhelming! My throat kept closing and I would get choked up, feeling so grateful as spectators would make eye contact and scream “YOU GOT THIS” and “GO CHEETAH SHORTS” and “YOU’RE AWESOME!!!!!” etc, etc. I couldn’t wrap my head around the volume of spectators nor the volume of their cheering, especially still so far out from Boston. The commuter train went by at one point, in the same direction we were running, and the passengers were like sardines, literally pressed up against the windows freaking out and cheering as they blasted by, banging on the windows from inside. It made all the hairs on my body stand up!! The aid stations were so long and it was very easy to get a cup of water and then a cup of Gatorade within the same station because they were so long, and all those volunteers were incredible and so enthusiastic and supportive! This event has close to ten THOUSAND official volunteers, FYI!

Every town had the most incredible crowd support (so far, Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick) and every step was amazing! I saw Santa, Big Bird, Thing 1 and Thing 2, a giant bumble bee, kids sports teams, groups of senior citizens, people offering Kleenex or paper towel for spills, sweat, etc, others offering popsicle sticks with vaseline for anti-chafe, and handing out snacks like orange slices. There was live music, drum stations, cowbells, confetti, bubbles…

Then, around 20k in, as we were approaching half-way, you could hear and feel a sort of shrill, electric rumble in the distance and in the air. I heard someone actually say, What is that? Is that the Wellesly students?? and we all realized that yes, that’s what is coming up! The Wellesly scream tunnel is iconic. Yeah, it was my first Boston, but I’ve been researching this race and its history for eight years. Until 1972, the Boston Marathon was a mens-only event, and Wellesly is an all-girls college (pretty sure it still is today, too). The scream tunnel at this college is a staple in the marathon, and it was bananas for real. Must have been, at the very least, a half km long. Runners stopped for kisses, got a million high-fives, and those students had some of the best signs, though I can’t remember any specifically. Every one of those hundreds and hundreds of cheering students must be voiceless! It literally hurt my ears!

Around km 24, my gut spoke up in the unfortunately familiar fashion. I have to say, I am getting extremely frustrated with the fact that in probably 12 of the 15 marathons I’ve now run, I’ve had a sudden and urgent need to go #2 at some point in the race. It’s so inconvenient and I can never feel normal after the pit-stop. I won’t get into it, but I have some new ideas on what to adjust next in my ongoing quest to avoid the poo-mergency in the marathon. So, I started silently telling my GI tract to STFU as we were approaching Newton Lower Falls, where I wanted to enjoy cruising down the 26th kilometre (huge downhill) before it was time to get through the four Newton Hills that I trained so hard to manage. I followed my plan of running the hills 100% based on a moderate-level of effort and ignoring my Garmin, and that went really well, but I just could not get back on pace in the segments between the hills. I was feeling far from how I wanted to at this point, despite my fuelling being on point. I was definitely feeling some resentment towards the cluster-fuck of a travel journey it took to get to this race and how it sabotaged my week of the race lead-up. That, plus my left calf bordering on spasm at every step, and now really needing the bathroom, I was feeling a tad beat down. BUT, I’d set a multitude of process goals for this race, on top of some time goals, and I decided that no matter what, feeling okay in the last 8k was top priority, as well as enjoying the BOSTON FKN MARATHON!!!!

I whipped into a porto-potty in the 33rd kilometre, after the 3rd Newton Hill but before Heartbreak Hill. It made me laugh thinking, there is no way in hell I’m stopping ON Heartbreak Hill for anything, especially not a deuce. Sense of humour still intact – great sign, haha. Running up Heartbreak Hill was just as I imagined it to be! At this point a few total downpours had happened, and everyone was completely soaked. It was kind of steamy, a little windy, and I could hear Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush just blasting from somewhere to my left up the hill! Like for real, not just in my head. The spectators lined both sides of the road, and were so encouraging!! At the top. there was an actual banner that said something like “you have conquered Heartbreak Hill!”

My calf was not letting up, and I was feeling a bit weak, but I knew I could absolutely sustain my ultimate goal for this race, which was to enjoy that last 8km! Someone handed me a pickle from the sidelines at one point, and I was soooo thankful for the salty goodness! Again, I thought about the fact that I was running the Boston fucking Marathon!!!! The signs started getting really good, and weird. SMILE IF YOU AREN’T WEARING UNDIES! (I was, so I made a sad face and the crew just lost their fkn minds ahahah), TOENAILS ARE FOR LOSERS (classic favourite), WICKED RUNNAHS (lots of Boston accent signs), and a new one that I saw TWICE and it made me laugh… WE HAVE BEEN TRYING TO CONTACT YOU ABOUT YOUR EXTENDED WARRANTY…wow even while running Boston they’re trying to get ahold of you. LOL.

The students at Boston College were just out of control crazy cheering, and it seemed as we ran into Brookline that the crowds had not a single gap whatsoever. Totally nuts!!!! Next up, BOSTON! Because it was pissing rain off and on, and a bit windy and almost misty at times, I didn’t even notice the Citgo sign until I was almost at it! This is probably a good thing, since everyone says it sucks seeing it from like a mile away, and knowing it’s a mile to go but not until you’re actually right underneath it! By now I was really pushing my body to keep working, running with a slightly altered (and awkward) gait to avoid the calf spasm, but otherwise still enjoying every step!

I thought to myself, soon I’ll be running under Mass Ave, swooping up from the underpass, and taking the two most famous turns in all of this sport. The shrieks for “CHEETAH SHORTS” and “CANADA!!!” (I had a temporary maple leaf tattoo on my leg) seemed endless and Boston as a whole was like actual electricity. The crowd from Fenway park (post-traditional-Patriot’s-Day RedSox game) was wild. Everything was amazing, but also a blur of intense volume and energy. I have never experienced anything like it. I was pretty sure I could finish under 3:40 at the rate I was going, and made that the final mission. A totally respectable time, within 6 minutes of my PR, and a time I never would have dreamed of running back in 2016 when I first became a marathoner.

Then, it was real, and I was running under Mass Ave. Next up, RIGHT ON HEREFORD. I’m fucking turning right on Hereford!!! Hold back ugly cry. Next, left on Boylston. I’M TURNING LEFT ON BOYLSTON!!!!! My face as this is happening…

Running down Boylston street was my dream come true. It reminded me of being at our local parade as a small child, where it felt like there were hundreds of thousands of people lining both sides of the street, 5 or 6 deep. Except now it was really that way. It’s a long stretch running down Boylston and my experience went into slow motion. I choked up as I finished the race, pushing as hard as my dumb calf would permit, and crossed the line in 3:39:21! After the travel stress, sleep deprivation, violent stomach illness, headache from hell and the challenges within the race itself, I honestly couldn’t be happier with this performance, especially mentally!

My highlight of the entire day was in the finish chute, after making my way, in total bliss and awe, towards the space blankets, medals, snack bags, water, and hundreds more wonderful volunteers. An older lady, proudly sporting her official Boston Marathon Volunteer jacket, asked me loudly and enthusiastically with a huge smile, “Was it hahd ?!” and I nearly cried as I told her, yes, it was hard (fighting back the urge to practice my Boston accent back to her). Yeah, it was HAHD! Pahk the cah at Hahvahd Yahd!

Though hectic, loud and overwhelming, it wasn’t hard to retrieve my gear back from the school busses (more unreal volunteers, thank you!), and then to reunite with my husband, who had actually been spectating on Hereford but I didn’t see him. I was so happy to see him!!!!! He’s the real MVP for enduring the trip and spectating for hours, watching the elites go by with Karmen’s husband Adam, and watching all day until I went by! This guy isn’t even a runner, but he’s wicked smaht 😉 and knows better than to not come with me to my first Boston!

We went to Shake Shack for an easy and low-key dinner with Karmen (now exclusively pronounced Kahmen) and Adam. Everyone was exhausted and we didn’t have a reservation anywhere fancy or trendy anyways. This was a great choice, and smashing cheeseburgers and vanilla milkshakes brought me to happy tears!

We stayed in Boston for two more full days, moving to an AirBnB near State House. We explored Newberry Street, walked the Freedom Trail, checked out the Boston Public Library, and I got to meet Des Linden after all, at her book signing on the Tuesday! We ate lobster rolls and clam chowder, took pics with the bronze duck and ducklings sculptures in Boston Common, went to Fenway Park for a RedSox game and strolled the Public Garden more than once. There were some amazing meals, a lot of walking, and even a live CBC interview over the phone on Daybreak North! Check it out here. It was completely astounding how many strangers congratulated me on the marathon, just from seeing me in my celebration jacket. I’ve wanted one of these jackets for so many years, and wearing it around the city for the days after the race was a true testament to what it means.

Nothing could have sabotaged this experience from me! Not even an ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Russia, missed flight connections, illness or sleep deprivation! Although I didn’t have the race I envisioned, my experience at the 127th Boston Marathon was, without a doubt, extraordinary. I’ll be back!

Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of this goal of mine. Your enthusiasm and encouragement really means the world to me. xo


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