I crossed my 48th marathon finish line on Monday on Boylston Street in Boston, MA, but the actual finish line that day was still a few blocks away at 54 Berkeley Street, my home away from home all weekend, The Chandler Studios. I knew what it felt like to run the Boston marathon in frigid rain, I ran it in 2015, and even though the run itself was challenging that year, (pelting rain in low 40 degree temps), it was the walk from the finish back to my hotel after the race that was the toughest part of the day. I had to ask a house keeper to remove my room key from my shirt pocket because my hands were clamped shut, useless. Once it became crystal clear that we would be running in even more disastrous weather conditions this year, heavy winds, torrential rain, and temps hovering in the low forties, my pre-race strategy of running a 3:10 marathon changed to mere survival. However, I felt a heavy burden this year, because I wasn’t just thinking of my own race; I wasn’t alone, my younger sister/athlete, Sarah, was running in her first Boston marathon. Therefore, while standing under the tent at Hopkinton High School in sopping wet, muddy shoes moments before we separated, (we were in different waves), I announced to Sarah our revised race strategy in the most high-spirited tone I could manage, “The most important thing to do today is to warm up as soon as possible after we stop running. So, the real finish line is 54 Berkeley St. See you there. Good luck! I love you!”
The reason I signed up for Boston this year is because of Sarah. I had a fun tradition going of running it every ten years, 2005, 2015, and planned to stay on that pace, but when Sarah qualified at The Mountains to Beach marathon in May and proclaimed seconds after we tearfully reunited in the meet-up area, “You have to run it with me!” I have had it on my schedule. I safely ran a qualifying time at the LA marathon last March, so if she wanted me there, I would be there.
Sarah and I have many nuances to our relationship. We are sisters, friends, and since 2013, athlete/coach. We are similar, and very different. We have had our challenges. In fact, we barely spoke between 2006 and 2013. We did not see eye to eye on very much at all, in fact it was difficult to be around each other, but I refused to give up on our relationship. I just waited until she was ready to reach out. However, when she did, and how she did, completely blew me away.
“I want to run a marathon, and I want you to coach me.” Sarah proclaimed while I poured her a ginger beer at the adorable house we rented in the northern California wine country town of Monte Rio over Vineman weekend in late July, 2013. I wanted to have a party on the Sunday after the race to celebrate my stellar finish, (3rd overall female, what, what), and Sarah’s birthday. She and my brother Chris lived up north, (I live in Southern California), and so I figured it was a wonderful opportunity to see each other. Plus, I knew Sarah was newly sober, and I was hopeful for a chance to re-connect, but I had no idea she wanted to run a marathon.
“Of course! I’d love to coach you!” I replied, while miraculously not dropping a drip of her drink.
Thankfully, the transition to our athlete/coach relationship has only made it stronger overall. She is a natural athlete, so she took to the longer, more strenuous training runs very well, and clocked her first marathon, the California International Marathon, in 3:51. That is a FANTASTIC first marathon time. Next, she threw in a few trail races, (her true love, which she crushes), and then the flicker for Boston started to appear in late 2016. We cranked up the intensity of her workouts starting in early 2017, and she grabbed her first BQ that following May running Mountains To Beach in 3:35. Amazing.
It is a phenomenal feeling to witness someone you care about achieve their goals.
Cut to last Saturday as we were milling around the Seaport World Trade Center bumping shoulders with thousands of other accomplished runners who had qualified for Boston as well. The vibe was electric. I was overwhelmed with pride that Sarah both earned and appreciated her spot among this elite crowd of athletes. She fit right in.
We spent the remaining portion of our Saturday resting in our hotel room, and then geared up to meet one of my teammates, Jennifer Madeline, at a local coffee shop to catch up and get psyched up for the race. We also planned to visit with our brother Bo’s friend Brock Sainsbury, a Boston local, who asked if he could swing by to give us a hug before the race. Since we would be out and about, we told him to meet us at the coffee shop, too.
“What!!???” I heard Sarah shriek as I and turned my head to see two of my favorite people on the planet smiling back at me in the flesh. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just Brock standing on the stairway, but my brother Bo and his wife Carly were standing there, too.
This was not just a pop-in trip, Bo and Carly live in Gigante, Nicaragua. Yep, let that sink in for a minute. The fact that they decided to come to the race is astounding, but what really tipped the scales for me was the fact that they had been planning the trip since last summer. They knew how important this event was for Sarah, and that running is my oxygen, so they traveled halfway across the planet to share this special occasion with us.
Our family is huge, unconventional, imperfect, and always show up for each other.
On Sunday morning the temperature dropped, it snowed, and we got in our last run before the race. The cold air was jarring on my soft, SoCal lungs, but the ripping headwind is what really stung. Honestly, I was nervous. I don’t want to admit that I adjusted my expectations, but I did. It would be a big ask to hit my goal time in perfect conditions, but after finishing that run I finally accepted the harsh reality that awaited us on Monday morning.
It didn’t matter. I was just excited to run.
We spent most of Sunday shopping for extra layers of clothing to wear the morning before the race, (I packed three layers, I needed five), and strolled through the Boston garden with our sleep-deprived parents by our side. My dad and step-mom had a harrowing journey flying across the country the day before, (plane problems), and were devastated to miss the Bo and Carly reveal, so it was wonderful to spend some quality time with them before the onslaught of pre-race nerves really kicked in.
Then we met up with Bo, Carly, and Brock to discuss plans for Marathon Monday. We suggested spectating positions, the corner of Hereford and Boylston, the last turn before the finish, and confirmed our post-race rendezvous location, 54 Berkeley Street. That’s right; we all shared the same finish line on race day.
Next, it was time for Sarah and I to peel off from the pack, and head back to our abode to rest and prepare our prerace dinner: Pancakes for her, a large sweet potato, basil, and roasted almonds for me.
I think I slept for 127 minutes before Marathon Monday was upon us.
The weather forecast was correct!
As soon as I walked outside of our building I was blown back a step by the whipping wind, and was jabbed in my naked eyeballs, (first marathon with no sunglasses), with icy rain. Awesome. Next, I took a wrong turn, (or four), and nearly was struck by an annoyed city truck driver while finally crossing the correct street to line up for my ride on one of the endless stream of school busses parked on Charles St. Every one of them sat anxiously idling to whisk us out of the city, and off to Hopkinton.
The drive felt longer than I remembered.
I dozed off here and there because my seatmate was kind, but not chatty. She was Russian. She also lived in Dubai for seven years, and recently moved to Hollywood, so we bonded over our common unpreparedness for the weather. Runners make the best diplomats. Then we pulled into Hopkinton High School, our holding area before the start, and about eight steps after I walked off the bus, my feet were submerged in mud. Here we go…
My favorite piece of the production design at the high school was the snow-laced lawn bordering the Port-o-Potty’s. That was a nice touch. It felt like Mother Nature was shouting in her heavy Boston accent, “Hey all you crazy exercisers, there is still snow on the ground, raging winds are blowing off your dinky little hats, and if you think you are wet right now, you will be 200% more wet forty minutes into your run toward Boston! For Pete’s sake, just grab a cup of coffee, get back on the bus, and postpone this non-sense.”
Silly girl, didn’t she know what a large group of looney-tunes we all were? Real runners run in rain or shine, but Boston Marathon runners run in rain, wind, snow, sleet, mud, and even in blazing sunshine every other year.
There was only one way we were getting back to Boston.
I am pretty positive I may have mooned a few thousand runners during the first mile. My wardrobe malfunction was due an overload of gels stuffed in my short pockets. I usually evenly distribute them between my tri-top pockets, and the side-pockets on my shorts, but since my tri-top was buried underneath three other layers, I opted to hold all seven of my gels in my short pockets. Not a great decision. Unfortunately, I spent the first mile reconfiguring my jostling storage situation, and lost a little time. Oh, well. Lesson learned. Thankfully, I had my shorts locked down by mile two, and was back on my desired 7:10 min. mile pace. That was my adjusted goal of the race. I put away my overall 3:10 goal, and just aimed to run every mile on pace, which meant I only paid attention my mile splits, but never looked at the overall time on my watch. Actually, I did look at it one time, but we’ll get to that later.
I ran with all four layers through mile three, then ripped off the drenched, one day old DKNY top to help lighten the load. I was focused on doing everything in my power not to slow down, so every few miles another water-logged layer was pulled off my torso and donated to the universe. My searing lungs appreciated the reprieve, but I had no intention of stripping off my gloves. Until, their weight bent beyond annoying just before reaching the lovely screaming ladies of Wellesley. I was nervous that my bare hands would lock up and cool me down, but they were on board with my mission, and held it together the last fourteen miles.
I could not feel anything below my neck for the second half of the race. It wasn’t that I was numb, or freezing, I just didn’t allow my mind to wander at all from the task at hand, keep moving forward at this pace. I have never been more focused in any other race. There was too much at stake for this one, hypothermia was a legit concern, plus I knew that I was in the best running shape of my life, (thank you, coach), and if I wasn’t going to make the time I had been pining after for months because the relentless headwinds and incessant pouring rain were slowing me down, I was going to at least try as hard as I could to run as fast my body would carry me.
I kept repeating on an internal loop the last words I read before starting the race, You are mentally tough and ready for whatever today brings! – Mr. Miyagi, AKA, Hillary Biscay
Once we rounded the mile seventeen mile marker I accepted what was ahead of me, hills.
I still pushed as hard as I could, and only slowed to an 8:15 mile on the last big climb, the illustrious “Heartbreak Hill.” Then on top of mile twenty-one I took a slight left turn downhill, and trounced the final five miles as quickly as I could. Sadly, I slipped off pace, and was clocking 7:36 for miles twenty-two, twenty-three, and I think 7:40 for mile twenty-four, my legs straining to keep up, which was perfect. They should. I smiled and cranked up my effort. I was so close to the finish, it was time to unload everything I had left.
Steps after I passed mile twenty-five, I looked down at my watch and saw that it read 3:05:30. My stomach dropped. I had no idea I was running that well. My goal time was out of reach, true, but I was still going to PR. YES!!
When I rounded the right corner onto Hereford Street, tears welled up in my eyes because I knew that my family was somewhere among in the immense crowd that lined the street at least twenty people deep, and even though I might not see them, I had faith they would see me.
“GO, T!! YEAH!!” I heard Bo’s voice bellow behind me just as I turned left onto Boylston and I pumped my right arm in recognition of hearing their cheers. Then I saw it. The finish line. Full transparency, it was farther away than I would have liked, but I flipped on my “Vista Speed,” and tore down the street like the seventeen year old sprinter I used to be.
It was so fun.
Running fast is SO FUN!
Then I crossed the line, the race was over, but I wasn’t finished. I grabbed my medal and Mylar wrap as soon as the heavenly volunteers handed them to me, then quickly scurried across the four or five blocks down Berkeley St., punched in the code to the front door, rode the elevator up one level to our room, unscrambled the combination on our lock box, snatched the precious key waiting inside, unlocked the door, and finally reached the finish line, our room at 54 Berkeley St. I took a haphazard selfie to document my wet rat moment, ripped off my remaining outfit, and jumped into the hot shower asap.
I didn’t stop shivering for another twenty minutes after drying off, putting on dry clothes, blow-drying my hair, and gobbling two vegan cookies, but I knew I was out of the frigid woods, and could finally enjoy the adventure I went on that morning. I ran my 48th marathon in 3:14:55, my fastest time yet.
Just before snatching my third cookie, I heard a knock at the door, flung it open and found my favorite first-time Boston marathon finisher standing triumphantly in front of me and barked, “Get in the shower!”
Sarah ran a fantastic race, finishing in 3:46. An exceptional time on a tough course, in ridiculously hard conditions. I was so proud of her. I was a proud coach, proud sister, and proud best friend.
However, the real winners of the day were the soggiest bunch of phenomenal spectators I have ever seen, my family. They arrived at the finish line, (54 Berkeley St.), a few minutes after Sarah began to thaw out. We took a few minutes to share our battle stories of the morning, and then my parents went back to their hotel to warm up before reconvening for dinner. Sarah, Bo, Carly, and I decided to walk to the restaurant, which was the second dumbest idea of the day just after my heavy short situation at mile one. We were all drenched by the time we sat down. Nevertheless, we shared a very special dinner together; it was one of those moments when if you had a super-power you would choose the ability to stop time, because you wanted to savor the moment forever.
It was not my first marathon weekend, or even my first Boston marathon weekend, but sharing it with Sarah, my family, my teammates, fellow runners, and the thousands of steely Bostonians who welcomed and cheered us on along the entire 26.2 route from Hopkinton to Boston, made it by far my favorite.
Next up, Ironman Boulder in June.
Following is a short, yet awesome song and video by Bazzi. Enjoy.
Oh, I almost forgot, Marion recently started drinking green tea with Sushi.