The Boston Marathon is quite an experience, and this week I’ve read quite a few reports that capture what it feels like to be part of it. I’ll be reprinting a few of them here, starting with Candice Chappell’s report of her first time running Boston. I met Candice through the Running Ahead forums, where she is a frequent commenter.

The day didn’t start out quite how I had pictured it. Deanna, Ben, Tony & I headed down to the shuttle from our hotel at 6:30 am. I couldn’t decide if I was happy to be up and moving around 4 hours before the race or not. I went with happy though… there was the usual pre-marathon tweakishness in the air, but somehow there was also an overpowering feeling of calm.

I was ready for this and I knew it. I believed in my training, and in how far I had come… there was no way I could wait any longer. This was the day I had to put it all out there. It was time to shine.

The shuttle took us from our hotel to the school buses that would take us to Athletes Village. This is when things started to fall into becoming exactly how I had pictured them… a bunch of runners, riding on a bus for 45 minutes so that they could turn around and run back the 26.2 miles they had just traversed. Seemed kinda silly.

When we arrived at Athletes Village we had roughly two hours to spare (correct me if I’m wrong) we spent the first half of this- it seemed- in line for the porta jon. Somehow we had gotten into the line with apparently the most non competitive runners in Athletes Village. (read: slowest moving line)

A porta jon would become available and they would just stand around with circus music playing in their head, apparently. Ben, Deanna and I did what we could to motivate them… telling them they could do it, that they were looking strong, as well as clapped when they finally decided to make their move toward a vacant one.

Eventually we all got a turn in the jon, regrouped, and navigated around what looked liked dead runners, sleeping runners, charity runners, tweaking runners, calm runners, fast runners, (really just a lot of damn runners) until we found a vacant spot on the grass to sit and wait. I decided that I actually liked this whole build up to the race…most races it’s a rush to get to the starting line and you just aren’t mentally prepared yet for what’s to come…even though you’ve trained for months- it’s not enough.

Sitting in a village full of runners in the grass, freezing your ass off, it just makes you want to get the run on already. If for no other reason than to get warm… so there we sat, waiting for them to call the 2nd wave. Throughout the morning I felt myself wanting to hide my yellow bib. It was silly, I know, but for some reason I was ashamed. Ashamed that I had just barely earned my spot to be there. Or maybe just ashamed that I had yet to prove that I was faster than 3:39, which is what I felt my yellow bib & corral 16 screamed. I decided all I could do was prove that I belonged by running the race I had trained for.

We got in line for the porta jon again when they called wave 2. This time it seemed to go a little faster, but somehow we lost track of time because by the time we had all finished relieving ourselves it was a mad rush to get to our corrals. Or at least, I felt that way. I was also freezing since on the way to the corrals we had dropped our bags at the bag drop, which means I had to say goodbye to my jacket and pants. Didn’t really matter, they weren’t keeping me that warm anyway.

I began to tweak, a little… not because I was about to run a marathon, but because I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to start in the right corral, or far enough up.

I already knew what a bitch it was going to be being in a corral where most of the people were going to be running 20 minutes slower than I planned to run. Ben and I lost Deanna in the madness as we ran through someones yard, behind some porta jons, over the hill and through the woods, past the big bad wolf and grandmas house… all the way to the back of corral 16… which I still wasn’t happy with.

So we did what we could to push our way closer to the front. We eventually found a spot and settled in. Ben decided he would take off his throw away shirt at this point and expose the fact that he was better than everyone around him. Those blue bibs in a sea of yellows pretty much have blinding rays just bouncing off of them. It took maybe half a second for the man next to me to look at Ben and say “Well SOMEONE is sandbagging today.” We laughed and Ben told him he was pacing me. The man then turned to me and asked me what I planned to run. “3:20…maybe 3:17. I dunno. 3:20.”

I immediately regretted it. That was the first time 3:17 had escaped my mouth to someone besides Ben. I looked over at him and asked if he had heard what I had just said. I think he just smiled.

It wasn’t long after my word vomit conversation with that man that they released wave 2. Nobody moved. I freaked out. Ben reminded me that it didn’t matter until I crossed the start line. Which I of course already knew… but there was something just irritating about this whole process. Would this be forever? Would I EVER get to start running? Finally. FINALLY I crossed the start line and it was game on.

My mind switched into race mode and I wanted to get around the sea of people in front of me more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. At the same time, I felt a huge goofy grin spread across my face…I was running the Boston marathon. I was here. I had made it. Little did I know, that same goofy grin would spread across my face at the most random times throughout the race. It would be there at times where I should have been crying (not that I cry, ever). It would later assure me that I in fact am the masochist I’ve always thought I was, or that maybe I was just enjoying being in Boston…running the Boston Marathon.

It took about 2 maybe 3 miles of running through grass and dirt and the middle of the road, and the sides of the road, weaving around people, and almost crashing into them, I think, for it to clear up. Ben kept reminding me to relax during those miles… because clearly I was frustrated. Every time he’d tell me a split, some sort of profanity would come out of my mouth. When I was finally able to relax and not navigate around slower people like it was my job… I thought back to the marathon course preview video we had watched at the expo. Bill Rodgers had said “Thank those people that made you go out too slow in the first couple of miles.” I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I didn’t thank them. Not even silently.

I rolled over the 5k mat in 23:34. Ben and I joked about what the people who were tracking us online might be saying. “Eesh, what’s wrong with Schneidr today? He better pick it up.” We hit Framingham and the 10k in 46:28. Somewhere around mile 8 we saw Tony and he told me what a great job I was doing and what a horrible job Ben was doing (or something like that) and Ben dropped his gloves with him… ruining the picture Tony was trying to take.

I remember thinking it was pretty loud in Framingham…the loudest crowd I’d heard in a marathon but nothing compared to when we reached Natick (or what I would experience during the rest of the race.15k in 1:09:43). Heh. Well, that even got to Ben. I think for a minute he tried to pace me to a sub 6 mile. I watched as the small gap between us grew larger and I felt my effort level increase. So I said “Ben” which would from then on be my signal for him to come back to me. He fell back to my pace and said “Sorry, Natick got to me a little bit.” Every other time he had to come back to me during the race, it was my fault. Or so it seemed anyway.

I could hear something in the distance, something loud… and as if reading my mind Ben asked “Do you hear that? It’s Wellesley.” I think all I said was, “Wow, its loud.” Which had me a little concerned for my ears… I couldn’t even see them, but I could hear them. What would it sound like when I got there? It didn’t take me long to find out. I couldn’t even hear. It was that loud. This was another spot on the course where I felt the big goofy grin spread across my face again. The infamous Wellesley girls with their “free kisses” signs and t-shirts. I ran alongside the barricade getting high fives as I made sure Ben didn’t accept the free kisses. (Kidding. Sort of.) I’m pretty sure Wellesley was my fastest mile.

I still felt great at this point and rolled through 20k in 1:33:11. I remember thinking it was funny how that was only a few seconds faster than my ½ PR. Funny, not scary. I hit the half in 1:38:11. Goofy grin take 3. I was exactly where I wanted to be. This is about the time when I decided I could allow myself to be amazed at how good I felt. I asked myself if I could run the second half the same, or faster, and I felt that I could. It had pretty much felt effortless thus far. Of course… still a lot of time for something to go wrong. So I stayed focused. I think I started getting a little quieter after the half. Later Ben told me he thought I was mad at him, heh.

I remember seeing the mile 15 marker off in the distance and Ben saying “I like mile 15. That’s when you know it’s possible.” I thought about it for a minute and decided I disagreed, mostly because I had already decided I wouldn’t let myself fully believe it was possible until I got through the Newton Hills. But I just said “Uh huh.” I hit 25k in (1:56:37). And so began the Newton Hills.

When we could see mile 16, Ben asked “Do you know what I like better than mile 15?” Goofy grin take 4. I replied “16. Me too.” Which was the truth… 16 is when I decided it was possible. 10 more miles, I got this, right? The dark patch began…

For some reason I was scared to death of the Newton Hills. I’m not afraid to admit it. Give me the Flying Monkey hills and I’m fearless…the Newton Hills, I was scared shitless. Why? Because I was afraid I hadn’t respected the course. What if I had made the classic mistake of going out too fast on the rolling downhill of the first 15 or so miles, the Newton Hills would chew me up and spit me out, right? Those were the horror stories I had heard anyway. So going up the first Newton hill…I looked down. I ran up it looking down. It worked. Got a high five from Ben…

Newton hill #2…Ben noticed my looking down strategy and told me to look up. He reminded me that I eat, sleep, and breathe this… I think I said “What?” but what I meant to say was “Damn right.” It was about this time when I started responding to everything he said with “What?” even if I heard him or understood. I wasn’t in pain, not yet, I was just focused, and it was a dark patch…or something like that. We’ll go with focused. High five after hill #2. (30k split 2:20:52- I remember thinking Ben would be done soon if he was racing.)

I was finally there, the hill I had been waiting for. I wasn’t even going to try to look down. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to see it. Heartbreak. Goofy grin take #5. This one hurt like a bitch. I was feeling it. Feeling the race, feeling the downhill miles, feeling the hill…this is when I questioned how it was possible to be so happy and in such pain at the same time. I realized I could hurt more. And that I’d have to. It was still a long way home from Heartbreak.

I’m not sure, but I think I was told at least 4 or 5 times that I had made it to the top of Heartbreak… but I only believed it when I got high five #3 from Ben.

There is absolutely no way to describe how I felt when I reached the top. I just know that my body broke free from the dark patch it had been in the past few miles… as I knew it would. I remember telling myself that I wouldn’t be in that place for the rest of the race, that at some point I would be able to break free. And I did. I broke free at the top of Heartbreak and found some sort of third gear. I could feel that it was all downhill from there. (35k split 2:45:27)

I turned every thought I had off and just ran. I had to. It hurt. One goal, one plan… finish… as fast as possible. Miles 21-24 flew by. I don’t remember much about them other than it felt as if I was taken back to the beginning of the race… it seemed I was having to navigate around tons of people again. What was going on?

Ben later suggested that we must have passed a million people in those last few miles. I don’t remember. I remember people walking, the Citgo sign, the sticky ground from all the spilled Gatorade, and Ben almost running into a guy with bunny ears on (why did he have bunny ears on?)… and some motivational words from Smoopie when conveniently they were needed the most…but that’s all. It was all a blur, and I was confused. I didn’t understand how my legs were still moving as fast as they were…but they were, so I went with it.

40k split- 3:09:29.

The most disorienting part of the end of the race for me was going underneath an overpass, or bridge, or whatever it was- everything went dark- literally as well. That’s when the worst pain I’ve ever experienced began. I thought we were turning onto Boylston St. at that point… but I looked up at the sign and realized it was still Beacon.

I had to start digging really deep, really really deep. And finally, finally we turned onto Boylston… and I could see it. The finish line of the Boston Marathon. That’s when it hit me, how important this was to me… how much crossing that line was going to mean. I wanted to cry. I didn’t. But I wanted to. I wanted to cry because it hurt so much, but also because running down that street felt so good. And then I crossed, 3:20:25. From Hopkinton to Boston. I had arrived.

And then I collapsed. Out of nowhere, I didn’t even see it coming. And that’s when I knew, I had left it all out there.

(Photo Credits: Running AheadMarathonFoto)