For the past few years my friends have been asking me when I’m ever going to slow down. My pat answer has been “I’m gonna peak when I’m 50″. My performances of late were pointing to continued success – either getting a little faster at the really long runs, and not slowing down in the shorter races (marathon and less). With that, I approached the Boston Marathon with enthusiasm and confidence. My workouts leading up to said race had gone very well. I felt ready to PR – anything faster than 2:45:46, and thought that with the downhill nature of the course, I could go below 2:45. My 50th birthday happened to fall 2 days before the race, putting me in a new age group. Anything faster than 2:47:50 would give me an American age group record.
I arrived in the Boston area a few days before, staying with Theresa in Marblehead. We had a nice, relaxing few days leading up to the race, including a birthday party with all of her running friends, and my first ever ice cream cake. I insisted we have 50 candles, even though there was some concern that the cake would melt before we had them all lit.
Monday morning was comfortably warm. The weather prediction was perfect for a PR. Mild temps, tail wind, no rain. I warmed up with Shireen Crumpton from New Zealand, whom I had met 10 years ago at the Boston Marathon. It was a fun scene, rubbing elbows with the super elite men and women behind the Korean church near the start line. Finally the 50 or so of us women in the elite field were escorted to the start line. The crowd was already amazing, the announcer giving some brief bios of the favorites. It was simply thrilling to be there.
At 9:32 the gun went off, and the we leapt into action, albeit some faster than others. Holy smokes, where’s the fire! was all I could think. I felt good, stayed relaxed and let them go. I wasn’t dead last, but the motorcycle trailing us was not far back. After a bit, I checked the garmin and my heart rate. I was running sub-6:00 minute pace on this steep downhill, and my HR was in the 160s. Nothing alarming, so I just relaxed. I was carrying a gel flask and one bottle to toss.
Mile one came – 6:10 and my HR was about 177 (it had gone up to 181!). That was a little disturbing – I had been running 6:15s in workouts at about 170-172 which is something I can maintain. I backed off a bit, trying to get it down. I accidentally dropped my gel flask, so quickly I turned around and scooped it up. I would need it to get through the 26 miles without relying on gel packs from aid stations. Mile 2 was slower – 6:23 and my HR was 176. This was not looking good. I knew I needed to get it down. I backed off a bit more. Slower and slower, mile after mile, the best I could do without completely giving up was 174, but it would always creep back up. Even with the higher rate, I couldn’t run below 6:30. Well, it was weird, and I don’t know still what was happening, but there is no “do-over” button, so as usual I adjusted my attitude and started playing with the crowd.
Being in the early women’s start meant that by now I was pretty much running on my own. The crowds lining the road to Boston were, as always, incredibly enthusiastic. The slightest wave of my hand and a big smile brought the roar up another level. This would inspire me to run faster which would backfire into the HR elevating once again, leaving me breathless, but it was fun playing “The Queen”. Nearing mile 13, I could hear the Wellesley girls screaming for a good while before I actually could see them. Being in a different mindset than “gotta stay on pace” and more celebratory of life in the moment, I obliged the many outstretched hands with some skin, smiling at the deafening roar. Signs were aplenty, and when I saw a “Kiss Me” sign, I stopped, touched the partially turned away coed who jumped in surprise. Her eyes wide open, I puckered up and planted one right on her lips. The paparazzi just missed it, but it was indeed a kodak moment. I started running again, more high fives to the end of the line.
Three miles separated me now from seeing my dad, cousins, and their kids on the other side of Wellesley. I was arriving a little later than anticipated, but I knew they would be there and not care how long it took. As I mucked along, an official on a bicycle rode up next to me to let me know the men would be coming soon through. After riding with me awhile he asked me to switch to the left side of the road and soon thereafter the official vehicles and press truck with the many cameras went by. One official gave me a nice encouraging smile – every little bit helps.
Gliding by effortlessly was the lead pack, with Ryan Hall one of the two men at the front. Tucked in behind were about 10 runners, tightly bunched, running smooth as silk. After they whizzed by, I moved back to the right side of the route to be on the same side as my family. I spotted them waving and came right through high-fiving them all. My spirits were good, but the pace was continuing to slow. By mile 17 I had averaged about 6:40, and now the hills were starting. I focused on running tall and at least LOOKING strong. Men were trickling by, and I was passing or being passed by the occasional woman.
At mile 24 my friend Tracy Lokken, masters runner from Michigan passed me and encouraged me to run with him – no dice, but the sentiment was nice. I stopped to offer an S!Cap to one of the women who was walking and having stomach problems, but she was pretty much cooked. The last 2 miles continued to be filled with screaming fans, many yelling “Go Sunsweet!”. Finally reaching Boylston St I put in a meager sprint to the finish, the announcer kindly remarking that “Meghan Arbogast from Corvallis Oregon. She hasn’t been with us for awhile, and we can safely bet she’s the first 50 year old female.” Final time was 2:57. Fine for a training run – I was glad to be done, and was hoping that Theresa, running in the mass start, would beat my time.
Joan Benoit Samuelson had taken the mass start and finished in 2:51, so she won the 50-54 age group win – my hat is always off to her.
Ok, so in hindsight, it appears that I was a bit fatigued. I ran 25 miles 9 days before the race, pacing Craig at American River, and he actually RAN (sorry LB, I couldn’t resist) and I wouldn’t trade that experience in for anything. I had an awesome birthday party 3 nights before, and it was my best birthday party ever (Thanks Theresa and all her awesome friends!) which I also would never trade in. Those experiences add richness to my life and thank the Goddess that there is more to me than my marathon time. I had an absolute blast and I am going to enjoy every day I have on this planet.
Or, maybe, just maybe, I DID peak when I was 50. Which was Saturday – 2 days before the race. We shall see. A special thanks to Theresa, my best friend, for her support and love over the years through all of the changes that I have been through.