Late on the evening Friday, April 12th, my family and I boarded a plane for Boston, Massachusetts. It was a very late redeye flight, but the kids and I were excited to go.
For 1 year, 1 month and 19 days- after my qualifying race at the Phoenix marathon in Mesa, Arizona- I had anticipated this trip and flight with gratitude and joy; completely excited the time had finally come.
Our family time together in the days leading up to Monday’s race was wonderful.
Boston is a historic city with so much to do. If you’ve never been, put it on your list of places to visit.
Sunday evening, Coach Paul came over to cousin Linda’s house where we were staying for some last minute logistical planning and coordinating. As I went to bed that night around 11pm, I was completely ready to go.
I had 104 days of marathon training behind me, in one of the the wettest and dreariest Utah winters in memory. As an experienced marathoner and racer, I felt ready to take in everything offered at the worlds oldest and longest running marathon in history.
The race day weather forecast had been predicted to be wet and cold; similar to 2018. I had trained all winter outside in the slush and cold snow, so I was prepared.
I had trained my body to take in water/fuel while running. (A big progressive step forward for me. Previously I drank NOTHING during a marathon because it always gave me bad diarrhea. Gotta love Crohn’s Disease)
Our race plan was to have my family see me along the course at mile 17, and we would meet up at the family meeting area post race.
Thanks to the beauty of technology, my family and friends would track my exact time and location as I crossed timing mats at the 5k, 10k, half- marathon, 30k, and finish line course timing mats.
Sunday night the forecast had changed once again and showed the stormy weather was anticipated to break and be cloudy from 9am-2pm, offering a 5 hour grace period for athletes and spectators. The temps would be in the upper 50’s which would be cool, but perfect for running in shorts and a tank top.
Monday morning featured early powerful thunderstorms and howling wind. Rain came down in buckets and puddled in huge lakes in the streets of borough we were staying in. The puddles didn’t worry me at all; I knew I had my waterproof socks to help me have dry feet.
As coach Paul and I met up to ride the train in, we huddled in ponchos and under the umbrella I brought with me for the pouring rain as we made our way through Boston Common and waited for our turn to load the bus.
Everyone’s spirits were high during the long bus ride to Hopkinton and even in the athletes village where massive tents were set up at the local junior high school to provide some weather relief for the athletes. Large tarps were layed out inside on the wet grounds but not much could be done about the puddles and mud.
After a surprisingly quick bathroom stop and thirty-minute wait it was time to change shoes, and head out for the half-mile walk to the starting corrals. I was wave 3, corral 5. Security was a top priority as we passed though numerous checkpoints and saw several bomb sniffing dogs along the way.
Just after 10:50am, Coach Paul and I were on our way.
The Boston Marathon features one of the most narrow road marathon starting points in the world. The old English style roads and streets pack runners in together pretty tight. When your wave begins, you’re sandwiched closely with everyone around you. There’s barely any room to move (especially if you’re tall as we are) and you constantly have to be watching to avoid tripping or running into anyone.
Miles ticked by as the fans kept us highly entertained. We saw Santa Claus, Big Bird, guy’s dressed in morph suits, a guy wearing only an A-frame sign and plunger on his head, a T-Rex holding a sign saying, “kiss me if you feel like dying” along with lots of live music and anything a runner might want or need along the course.
The race crowds offered anything a runners heart might desire… water, ice, beer, hard liquor shots, chicken wings, Twizzlers (Coach Paul ate some of those) oranges, apples, pretzels, popsicles, vaseline on a stick, phone numbers for dates and other services.
Boston’s all girl Wesley college was the biggest runner hit because they feature a nearly mile long line scream tunnel of single girls holding signs seeking kisses.
“Kiss Me” their signs said because they were from France or Germany or built robots. I saw many guys stop along the barricade and plant one on these ladies. It was hilarious.
About mile 9, the sun broke through the clouds and outside temps started to feel warm. I had been drinking the entire race as I should, and about half-way through, the humidity began to feel stifling.
There was no wind at all, and Coach Paul began dumping water on me at every aid station. We slowed our pace and anticipated seeing my family at mile 17, right before the Wesley hills.
My feet were very hot, because I had worn my waterproof socks over my compression socks, as I anticipated very wet streets because of the puddles and mud I saw that morning. The streets actually had dried up and rarely did runners come upon a puddle.
As soon as I saw my family, I ran over and gave them a hug. Here they were, standing in the sun, smashed with the thousands of other fans into a metal barricade. I was hot, and seeing them and receiving their hugs was exactly what I needed as I approached the 4- Wesley Hills.
I also wanted to shed my waterproof socks that were giving me hot feet and blisters. At $35 a pair, I didn’t want to just discard them along the course as they had served me so well this winter. As quickly as I could, I took off my shoes, stripped off the extra pair of socks, and headed back out. I couldn’t wait to see my family again at the end.
The four infamous Wesley Hills are really not that bad. In my opinion, they’re more of the gradual rolling hills that are along the entire Boston Marathon course.
Their challenge comes more from the fact that they are a little steeper than the rest of the marathon hills but that they are also in the later half of the race when runners are tired.
Coach Paul and I hit the first hill and then rolled into the second and I felt my heart rate and fatigue really climbing. Half-way up the second hill, I started walking. I had been slowing my pace for a little while and really began mentally struggling when I started feeling hot.
All the negative self-talk showed up and screamed in my head. “I was crazy to to think I could come back and requailify on this course…” “Now I’m walking, and you NEVER walk during a race, get moving…” “Don’t you want to come back with Chelsie, you’re time is slipping away…”
To make things even more mentally taxing, the awesome fans kept cheering, “Run Amy Run…” which I had on the front of my tank. Most folks were great, but a couple fans said things like… “Come on Amy, this is a race, not a walk…” and “Just keep pushing- you’re almost done…”
Mentally I just kept focusing on reaching mile 21, the top of heartbreak hill so I could enjoy some downhill the last 5 miles of the race. I pulled out my AirPods and tried some music in an effort to lift my spirits as I was really struggling.
Coach Paul was simply amazing the entire race. Not only did he constantly pour water on me at every aide station, he took my water bottle and carried it. Early in the race when we were packed in tight because the streets are narrow, Coach Paul would see an opening and weave through, making space for both of us to try and stretch our legs.
As the race progressed and I became increasingly quiet and started dipping, Coach Paul told me story after story from his work and his personal life in a kind effort to give me something else to focus on other than the aches and pain in my mid-section that started growing after mile 21.
Physically, I was steaming hot and thirsty and could not get relief from anything I was drinking despite drinking. I wanted something cold and icy- not warm and tepid as my mouth felt parched.
Mentally, I was tired and frustrated and felt no relief from a “down hill” course that really didn’t exist. Out West where I live, a downhill run features a change in grade and elevation; back East it’s very different. I knew I had trained all winter on the rolling hills, but these felt much harder than the 1,500ft of elevation gain I had ran in American Fork Canyon or Emigration Canyon.
Around mile 23, I started to feel nauseous and dizzy. Afraid I was going to puke and fall over, I started walking again. This time, my legs felt like lead and ached. In my many years of running and mountain climbing, I’d never had my legs feel this sore and heavy. It was scary and very frustrating.
As I started walking, I couldn’t catch my breath. Coach Paul was right there at my side and I reached up and put my hand on his shoulder to steady myself. The “Run Amy Run” continued every step I walked.
I zoned out the sights and sounds and running the marathon was no longer fun or even what I wanted to do. For the first time in 11 years, I just wanted to stop running and be completely done. I didn’t care that I’d trained for 4 months, I didn’t care that it was a long shot that I even qualified, and I didn’t care that I was running the Boston Marathon, I simply wanted the pain in my gut and the dryness in my mouth to stop.
Every step hurt, walking, shuffling or running… it just hurt. If Coach Paul hadn’t been right next to me, keeping me moving, I would’ve fallen over or stopped, my race over.
We walked and walked, and as we did so, the wind finally picked up and the temperature dropped. Our pleasant weather window- perfect for marathon spectators and horrible for many athletes had passed. The wind gusted, the skies opened up and rain started to fall.
Coach Paul thought the rain was nice and I started to shiver. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the poncho I had tucked in there several hours later and slipped it on.
Around mile 25- with the weather and I rapidly deteriorating, I told Coach Paul my legs were heavy, my ears felt plugged (similar to the sensation on a plane when you need to pop them) and my head was dizzy. He mentioned that after running a long time, when you stop the blood can begin to pool in your feet and that was likely causing my blood pressure to drop. He told me I needed to start running again so we could finish the race.
I told him I felt like I couldn’t breathe, let alone run, and he very patiently told me, to shuffle and do what I can. Pinching my side as hard as I could, I moved my hand down to his forearm for a better grip and started moving again.
I wanted to puke, I wanted to stop shuffling, I wanted to catch my breath and above all sit down. Slowly we moved forward and made the sharp right turn onto Hereford Street and the immediate left turn on to Boylston and the dark blue finish line finally came into view.
Coach Paul told me to focus on the arch far ahead and work towards it. I didn’t hear the crowds, I didn’t see the numerous country flags that line the finish chute…I simply focused on squeezing hard and moving forward.
As we approached the finish line, Coach Paul took my hand and raised my arm in the air in a victory cheer…. After 4 hours 17 minutes and and 28 seconds, I was finally done.
It was raining and blowing and getting cold fast as we made our way further down Boylston and towards the family meeting area. We passed the medal table where Coach Paul asked me if he could put my medal around my neck. I agreed, and as he placed the medal over my neck, I started to cry, but no tears would come. My body felt like crying, but no tears would flow- I was simply too dry. Instead, I settled for a gratitude hug. I took Paul’s medal and placed it around his neck and he congratulated me on finishing the Boston Marathon.
The longer we stopped and stood, the more my body locked up and shivered. We continued walking down Boylston and I wondered why the family meeting area was so far away….We passed a long corral where wonderful volunteers were passing out heat wraps. All you had to do was stand there and they’d wrap you up in one blanket and secure it with some tape. I had a poncho on and I told Coach Paul he needed one. This time, I had the volunteers wrap him first and then me. It was the first thing I’d done for him all morning long since we left the athletes village.
We walked some more, grateful we didn’t check gear bags so we wouldn’t have to wait in a long line and deal with gear and bags to carry. I was anxious to see my family, get out of the weather and send Coach Paul on his way to see his family.
After what felt like another 2 miles of walking, we finally found my family and my son Conner ran up to me and gave me a hug. Again, I held onto my son and felt like crying but no tears would come. When he tried to let go and I kept holding on, Conner understood and squeezed me a little tighter and held me longer.
One by one, I hugged my kind husband Chris, each of my children, my father and beautiful cousin Linda who had been so gracious and supportive to let my family and I crash at her house and be the home based navigator for all our crazy adventures the past 4 days.
Somewhere in all the hugs and pictures, Coach Paul went and flagged a medic and had them bring a wheelchair over. We all gathered round and smiled for the obligatory finishers picture and the medic offered a ride in a wheelchair to the medical tent.
My family needed to head out to catch a flight, and Coach Paul needed to finally go meet his family. One last hug of gratitude for Coach Paul with tears that were felt but simply wouldn’t flow, and off he went.
As I was wheeled to the medical tent, I started fiercely shivering. I was so cold and THIRSTY. The volunteers took me in, got me settled and sent for a doctor to examine me. We briefly talked about my medical history and he did an abdominal examination which confirmed that my small intestines were dehydrated, swollen and locked up. Any abdominal pushing and pressure caused dry heaving, so it was decided to give me both IV and oral hydration immediately in an effort rehydrate me as quickly as possible.
The doctor ordered some blood work to check my sodium and other blood levels as I asked for something drink. I tried some Gatorade and up it came. The kind nurses asked me if I’d like to try a sucker instead and I agreed. I tried to lick the tootsie pop, but my mouth was so dry, I couldn’t produce any saliva to suck on it, so I opted to hang on to it and try again later.
The nurses were so kind and brought me 3 additional blankets in an effort to get me to warm up and stop shivering. I was completely soaked to the bone, covered in a poncho, heat shield and 3 blankets.
Slowly my nausea subsided and after 1 liter of IV fluids, I tried some more Gatorade and finally started to feel better. I sat up and the nurses helped me drink and walk around the medical tent several times to restore better circulation and blood pressure. They were so kind and helpful.
While hydrating, I also had the unique opportunity to talk to a sports psychologist. He was a very kind man that asked me how I felt my race went. I explained some of my feelings and he offered some great advice. “Races like life can have both good and bad days. What matters most is what you choose to do with the experience you’ve had.”
Finally, an hour and a half after finishing the race, I called my father, Bethany and Debbie Orellana, (the mother of one of Chelsie’s missionary companions in Malaysia who had joined us for the race) and made my way to the restaurant where they were eating.
Still weak and feeling cold and tired, a photographer snapped my finishers photo for posterity.
I finally found my family, changed into dry clothes and happened to run into my sweet friend Libby Dykes who was eating at the same restaurant too. We chatted for a few minutes and went back to our families. I’ve known Libby for over 15-years, I’m so glad I ran into her.
I opted for a Sprite at the restaurant but didn’t feel well enough to actually eat, so we headed out towards our vehicle; only making a quick stop at the famous George Town cupcakes for a gluten and dairy free cupcake; my personal treat for finishing the race. I opted to wait to eat it Tuesday after my gut would have some more time to recover.
The Boston Marathon is known for being a tough course. I trained with the expectation that I’d not only do well, but potentially set a new PR. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be.
I can not remember a harder race or course I’ve ever run. I went into the race completely hydrated and also drank at least 3 cups of fluid throughout the race. While I didn’t have 1 bathroom stop, I still managed to loose fluid faster than I could replace it and I ended up severely dehydrated.
Coach Paul Hafen who has worked with me and guided me for over 11 years is the reason I finished the Boston Marathon and didn’t not have a DNF.
Words can not adequately express my gratitude for his knowledge, experience and empathy while I struggled. I hope he’ll choose to come back another year and run Boston again, this time 100% for himself.
In 2018 Coach Paul and I ran the Phoenix Marathon together, where he also earned his BQ time and trip to Boston; placing in the top 20 over-all and completing the race with a time of 2:40, a full hour ahead of me.
How truly fitting that in Boston, we crossed the finish line together, as I would’ve never been able to do even one marathon without his guidance.
For now, I’m learning to be satisfied with a race that was amazing and completely awful at the same time. Not finishing the race had not even entered my mind or was a possibility at the time I started.
Once again, I was reminded that despite my best efforts, Crohn’s disease is one unpredictable beast.
Winning can make me prideful, and the Boston Marathon demands to be respected; reminding me loud and clear that victors can be made and broken… just ask Pheidippes, the Ancient Greek who lost his life running a marathon.
Monday I certainly gained a whole new appreciation for the term, “Boston Strong.” That marathon is hard, and I look forward to the day when I can come back and do it again. 💙💛🦄