It’s now almost four months since Boston Marathon, and I can’t quite believe that I’m only now getting round to writing about it! To be honest, I had kind of decided not to bother, and as time went by it seemed like less of a priority compared to the number of other things that still needed to be done…but then I realised that I’d still like to have something to look back on since it was such a special day even though I wasn’t chasing a PB.So here’s my Boston Marathon ‘race’ report with a difference! You can read more about my training in this post here.
Why did I decide to run Boston Marathon pregnant?
Boston Marathon holds a special place in history and is not like most other marathons. One of the six marathon majors, it’s also one of the most well established modern-day marathons and has strict entry criteria. In order to enter, runners must qualify within a specific time frame by running another marathon and meeting the qualifying standard, which is to run under a certain time that is dependent on age.
For me, this meant running a sub-3:40 marathon. I achieved this at Chicago Marathon in October 2016, running a 3:37:43. However, because Boston is always oversubscribed, runners must apply in order according to how much they are under the qualifying time. I was 2 minutes and 17 seconds under, but unfortunately, because there were so many people still faster than me, I didn’t make the ‘cut off’, which that year was 3 minutes 23 seconds under the qualifying time, meaning that I was over a minute too slow. So essentially, after almost a year of waiting (the application round was in September 2017), I was out.I carried on training and in February 2018 I ran Tokyo Marathon in 3:24, putting me 16 minutes under the qualifying time. September rolled around again, and this time I felt confident that I had enough of a buffer.
A couple of days later, I received my acceptance email; I was in for 2019! January 2019 saw me start to train with a focus on a 3:20 marathon in Boston. Things were looking good and I was getting PB’s in shorter distances. Then, on 16th January I discovered I was pregnant, and all of a sudden everything changed! At first, I decided against running Boston at all, but over the coming weeks, I began to change my mind. Here’s why:
☆ I would ‘only’ be 17 weeks when I ran the marathon, which was an ideal time, as I wouldn’t be too big, but I’d also be out of the pesky first trimester.
☆ I’d spent two and a half years trying to qualify for this event, and I had finally done it! It seemed a shame to drop out after all of my hard work. In addition, it was announced that the qualifying times had been made harder going forward, and I would now need a sub 3:35 for my age group. It would be a big ask to have a baby, get back into running, enter a marathon and run under 3:35 in order to qualify again. Indeed, it would most likely take a couple of years, meaning that I wouldn’t have another chance until about 2022. I felt that I had earned my place and that even if I ran/walked, I had a right to be there.
☆ Boston has long been associated with the challenges that women have faced in order to simply be allowed to run. Women were not officially allowed to participate until 1972, with the likes of Bobby Gibb and Katherine Switzer running ‘illegally’ in the 1960s, with Switzer being almost forcibly removed from the course by race official Jock Semple. It, therefore, seemed apt that I should run Boston, carrying a child, in order to show how far we have come since those days and to demonstrate that us women are capable of so much more than some of these old fashioned attitudes would suggest.
☆ The aim of my Boston Marathon was simply to finish safely, without worrying about time or pace. I knew it would be a challenge, but it was one I wanted to tell my child about in the future. Boston is well known for having amazing crowd support, so it was the perfect opportunity to take it all in and enjoy every moment.
Getting to the race
The whole week before, everyone was freaking out about the weather, after horrendously wet, cold and windy conditions in 2018. This year looked slightly better, but it was still raining sideways as I made my way to the nearby subway station early that morning. By the time I got there, I was soaked through, despite wearing a poncho and numerous layers. I immediately regretted not wearing a spare pair of shoes, as the ones I planned to run in were now heavy and squelching with every step I took.
Little did I realise that this was NOT as bad as it was going to get! I made it to Boylston Street where the bag drop off was (Boston is a point to point course so your bags stay at the finish line and then you get on a bus which takes you to the start line). The rain continued to pour down as I walked to the bus pick up, trying to avoid puddles and mud. Lightning illuminated the sky above as hundreds of us trudged towards the school buses that waited for us. The whole process was seamless and so well organised. What really struck me was how cheerful the volunteers were, even though they were stood out in the freezing rain, telling us where to go. There was such a fun, happy atmosphere despite the weather, and it wasn’t long before I found myself on a bus traveling to the start area.
On the bus, I chatted to the girl next to me. I told her I was pregnant, and she was really supportive. This was her first marathon since finishing breastfeeding her youngest child, but she had picked up an injury and like me, had debated whether to run or not. As she had not long since moved to the area, she had decided to run and just enjoy it, even though she wouldn’t get the time she was capable of. It was lovely to chat as the bus steamed up and we made our way down the highway to Hopkinton, which took about an hour.Once we arrived at the school which was the race village, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun began to make an appearance behind the clouds. We made our way into the school grounds and were horrified by the amount of churned up mud on the field. Both desperate for the toilet, the only way to the portaloos was to go straight through this mud; there was simply no alternative.
On several occasions, I nearly lost my trainers. It was hilariously funny but once again I was so annoyed with myself for not bringing a spare pair of shoes to wear before the race. Now I was faced with the prospect of running an entire marathon in wet, muddy shoes that felt like they weighed about 5kg each. This was certainly going to be interesting! I was so glad that I wasn’t looking for a PB.
I kept fueling up to ensure I was ready for the long road ahead until it was time to make our way to the starting pens. My new-found friend and I were both in wave two, but she was in a coral slightly further ahead as she had a faster qualifying time. We wished each other good luck and I paused for a moment to get rid of most of my layers and attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to scrape the excess mud off my trainers. The walk to the start area was longer than I had anticipated. In fact, I’d done over 6000 steps before I even got there! Thankfully, there was another opportunity to go to the toilet (this time the portaloos were in a car park, so no mud!), and I made the decision to make use of the facilities even though it was dangerously close to my start time.
Normally, something like this would stress me out, but as there was no pressure on me for this race, I felt quite relaxed. After all, I’d be starting in a pen full of people who would be running a lot faster than me, and I didn’t want to risk getting carried away with the crowds or pushed and shoved, as happens a lot at these events.As it turned out, my start line experience was bizarre. I left the car park and followed the marshalls’ directions, well aware that I had missed the start time for my wave. Still, my own running time wouldn’t start until I had crossed the line, so there was nothing to worry about. I had expected the start area to still be busy, but as I jogged there, there were not too many people. Before too much longer, I recognised the official start line thanks to the blue and yellow painting across the road. There was barely anyone else there, save for a few other people milling about. I stopped to do up my laces, took a deep breath and started my Garmin, and I was off! Thanks to my late arrival, there was no anthem (as is customary before marathons in America), no start gun, no crowds, and no cheering. Just me, my baby and my thoughts.
Running Boston Marathon Pregnant: The race
I was aware that Boston is very much a race of two halves, with the first half being mainly downhill and the second half being loaded with uphills, including the notorious Newton Hills. With this in mind, it was my aim to run comfortably for the first half, and then to run/walk the trickier sections in the second half. I knew I’d run the first half quicker than the second (something I usually try to avoid at all costs) and that it was important that I still had enough energy for the second half, especially considering the hills and being pregnant.I absolutely loved the first part of the race.
The course was much more rural than I expected and we ran through wooded villages and past lakes. I was very much on my own for the first 10km or so, with the exception of many blind runners and their guides. There were also people with prosthetic limbs or limbs missing entirely, and I couldn’t help but feel inspired and emotional. Before too long, the wave that had started behind me had caught up, and the roads became gradually busier. A highlight was passing these two beautiful dogs, who made me think of my own.
We passed through the town of Framingham, which was familiar to me as it’s where I got the bus to when I first arrived in Massachusetts and was picked up by the friend I stayed with for a few days in Connecticut. By now, the sun was out, and it was actually quite warm. I was glad I’d worn my usual shorts, vest, and arm warmers. Other runners had clearly dressed for cold weather and I could see that they were struggling.I reached halfway in under 2 hours, but I knew I needed to slow down as it was almost midday and there was still a long way to go. We ran through the Wellesley College ‘scream tunnel’ which is a highlight for many. There, college girls hold an array of signs begging to be kissed by passing marathoners. One such sign I saw read “Kiss me, I just got dumped!”, whilst another said “Don’t kiss me, I’m engaged, kiss her instead!” with an arrow pointing at a friend. I think because I was running with more social runners, I witnessed a lot more men stopping for kisses than I would have done if I’d been running with a faster group. And those girls were LOUD! It was really fun, but my ears were ringing, and I did wonder if Bubba would be ok with this piercing noise which stretched on for hundreds of meters.
Running Boston Marathon Pregnant: The hard part
It was then time for the Newton Hills, which were a lot more unforgiving than I had envisaged. I began walking through water stations (staying hydrated was a big concern of mine), and it wasn’t long before I started walking uphill sections as well. It’s so far removed from what I usually do, and I have to admit that I was not happy as I watched my average pace get slower and slower, but I had to remind myself that these were completely different circumstances and I couldn’t expect to just carry on as I usually would.
All throughout the course, the crowd support was fantastic. At 17 weeks pregnant, I didn’t have a visible bump, so to spectators, I just looked like I was taking it easy and having walk breaks. I was so glad that I could soak up the atmosphere, read all of the funny signs and acknowledge supporters. At one point, I asked a lady, “Is this Heartbreak Hill?” (probably the most notorious hill on the course); when she told me that it wasn’t, I really was heartbroken as by this stage I was finding things tough and couldn’t believe that this wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it still lay ahead!
After what felt like an age of run-walking up and down steep hills, I finally glimpsed the Citgo sign in the distance. This meant that I was almost there! I held back the tears as I knew that from here on in we would enter the city, the crowds would swell, and the finish line was not too far away.Glancing at my watch, I worked out that if I really put my foot down, I would be able to break four hours. This would mean running around 4:30/km for the last 5km or so, which usually would not be a problem. I debated what to do when the words of a friend, “don’t be a hero” entered my head. Although I thought it would be nice to finish in under four hours, I had to admit to myself that I was tired. My legs felt heavy after the hills and my quads were really sore. I’d also had foot pain from about 7km into the race. Ultimately, I decided to just enjoy myself.
We passed under bridges full of people and I waved and cheered along with them. I encouraged other runners and whooped for joy. Then the moment I’d been waiting for arrived: right on Hereford, left on Boylston. For a marathon with very few turns, these last two are significant and charged with emotion. Rounding the final corner, you can see the finish line up ahead, and the crowd carries you home. Passing the sites of the two bombings in 2013, it’s hard not to picture the devastation of that day. Yet somehow, there’s a feeling of defiance; here we are, still out running, reclaiming the finish line and witnessing the goodness that lies in the hearts of those who don’t know you but who want you to succeed.I crossed the line in four hours and two minutes, successfully completing my tenth marathon whilst carrying my unborn child. It’s a story I’ll tell them again and again as they grow up. One day, I hope we can run it together once more.
If you’re wanting to run a marathon one day, learn more about my coaching here.