Ever create a crazy story in your mind that race conditions will be so bad that it will work to your favour and you will get a podium finish at the Boston Marathon?
Moments from realizing I had a podium finish at the 2018 Boston Marathon. Credit: Getty Images.
The manager/agent. I woke up around 4:25 am, just 5 min before my alarm and headed down to the dining room of the Fairmount Copley to have my usual marathon breakfast of a toasted bagel with honey and coffee. Jonathan was a good sport to join me that early. His jokes about being my manager/agent kept me laughing all weekend and I really enjoyed his company. After all, he helped prepare my bottles, decide on appropriate apparel for the cold and rainy forecast, and pass the time watching a string of Ben Stiller movies. In the evening he headed out to watch sports with his new friend, Bernie Chisolm, Eric Gillis’ St. F. X. coach while I tucked into bed. One night was a trip to the stadium for a Red Sox game, thanks to the incredibly generous and caring elite coordinator, Mary Kate. He had it pretty rough.
The start. Around 7 am we waved goodbye, the amazing volunteers had accounted for each and every athletes’ race number and shoes, and we were warmly sent off with towels around our shoulders to board the bus to Hopkinton. After a very short walk to the bus, my feet were already cold and wet. I vowed to keep them warm and dry so put on a new pair of socks and used the heat vent on the bus to dry my first pair. I did this again after walking into the church upon arrival, and yet again after my warm up. It was one of those days where you definitely erred on the side of caution, not going for typical race fashion. I wore what I had planned to be a throw away shirt over my singlet and arm warmers, my longer shorts, and long compression socks. On my head I had a beanie hat because of the cold, which I wore under my cap because of the rain, which held my clear lens sunglasses I might use because of the wind. Lastly, I had two pairs of gloves on my hands, one which I threw away. We lined up for the 9:32 am elite women’s start and were greeted by what may possibly have been hail. I was ready for it.
The execution. After the gun we were in one massive group, jogging our first kilometre in over 4 minutes. I can’t remember exactly when but at some point I backed off from what became a decent-sized lead pack. I knew I didn’t want to get carried away in what can too easily and regrettably be the fastest part of the race due to the downhill. At 5 km I grabbed my Eload fluid and Endurance Tap gel, and at every one after that, aside from the gel at 30 km and both the gel and bottle at 40 km. Fuel and fluid plan complete.
The pace. My plan for the race was to stay controlled, consider the “real” start at 25 km with the hills, and begin picking off the competition in the later parts of the race if I could. I knew the conditions could be favourable to me, and not so to others. I trained in yet another snowy Canadian winter with a colder than normal spring, and was conditioned far more for strength than speed. On a good day I knew I couldn’t go under 2:30 but hoped to stay under 2:40. My text book training build of eight 35-40+ km long runs, nine training weeks of ~160 km, one complete rest day/week, countless hills, and zero illnesses/injuries had me feeling confident as I chipped away at the kilometres. Coach Dave had me prepared. Although I was likely running around the same pace as my 2:46 in Hamilton in 2009, the fuel stations seemed to be one right after the other. Today was not about time. It never was.
The possibility. I could see the lead pack a ways ahead and at one point I got fairly close but it didn’t last long. I kept running by feel, hoping the pack would disperse and I’d possibly make the top 15. My ultimate goal was top 3 in the masters and I wasn’t going to risk that. I can’t remember exactly but somewhere around 37 km, when I thought I was running solo, I was suddenly passed by two unfamiliar American women. I had recently passed a few other women and saw one drop out. I was still feeling good and it occurred to me that I had more to give and should keep up for a potential top 10 placing. The cheering got as intense as the weather and I just kept rolling. It was the first time I felt like it was some sort of an out of body experience in a 42.2 km race. It was odd. And that’s a lot to be said after already completing 14.
The crazy. Then that story began to enfold. The two women just ahead were throwing fist pumps and I wondered why they seemed to doing what looked like celebrating. Then I passed Molly. I heard someone say Shalane was ahead. I passed her and Edna and another African. I was so confused, like something had gone wrong in the race. The media trucks and motorcycles were approaching as the lead man was living what he later described to be a similar story; he only knew his place because of the way he was directed to cross the line – to break the tape! The sirens, the cheering, the horns. The wind, the rain, the nearly approaching Boylston. It was crazy. In the last few km I had no idea how many I passed. I lastly caught one of the two American women who had passed me, and didn’t see any other women around me so felt it was safe to celebrate by throwing a few fists pumps of my own into the air. I was immediately cared for and chaperoned by a male volunteer and female doping control escort. Then I asked the volunteer for the first of many times, about my placement. His phone wasn’t getting a signal but he thought 3rd or 4th. I had to rephrase the question, “No, not the masters, overall what did I place?”. Again, he said he thought 3rd or 4th but wasn’t sure. But then there wasn’t anyone else in the recovery area. And everyone I saw was congratulating me. Jonathan then appeared, who too didn’t know how I placed and I said, “They’re telling me I was third” like it was some sort of joke. He kinda shrugged his shoulders and began assisting the medical staff with getting me warm so I could stop shaking and shivering. Hard to believe I felt good running in that cold, wet and windy weather until I stopped, walked, and returned indoors. I was in shock and disbelief and all I could think about was when I was shaking during the birth of our third child whom I refused to believe was a girl, after having had two boys. Someone had pointed out my written name as third on the board but it wasn’t until I was cleared from recovery and saw it in writing on agent Dan Lilot’s phone that I in fact had placed third at the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Telling the (crazy) story. I proceeded to the press conference with 2nd place finisher Sarah Sellers and answered questions while alternating between shaking my head in disbelief, smiling with elation, and choking up with tears. Canada’s amazing Alan Brookes then conducted his own interview with me, as did several other media personnel both before and after my time with the USADA for anti-doping. Jonathan and I had some lunch then finally made our way back to the room where I then looked at the hundreds of message on my phone. A hot shower and chocolate brownie, which I had saved from dinner a few nights ago, was savoured before a few more interviews and making our way to the post race party at the Red Lantern, a few streets over. We joined our Canadian contingency of Eric Gillis, Coach Bernie, and 9th place finisher Reid Coolsaet with his wife Marie and son, Louis.
Jonathan and I continued to talk about the excitement of the day as we packed our luggage in preparation for our morning flight home to see our three children. There’s much more I could write and there are so many to thank but it’s now the middle of the night and I should at least try to get some sleep. Until then, I’ll sign off on this story, leaving you with the picture that captures the way it started