Running a sub 3:20 marathon in Boston: My experience at the 2023 Boston Marathon

Last week, I ran my 3rd Boston Marathon on a rainy, chilly Patriots Day. It ended up being my 2nd fastest marathon ever, and I broke 3:20 for the 2nd time. I couldn’t be happier, and am already looking forward to next year.

Here is my recap of one of the most magical days of the year!

I had probably the best night of sleep I’ve ever had before a marathon. My alarm woke me up at 5 (well, alarms — I’m paranoid and I set an alarm on my phone, made my husband set an alarm, and I got a wake up call from the hotel.) I felt so rested and made my coffee and had a Cliff bar, then packed up my bagel with peanut butter to eat on the bus. Left the hotel at 6 with another runner, Diane, whom I had met the night before, and we hopped on the T. I was at Boston Common an hour before I was supposed to board the bus at 7:30, and killed time in the same McDonald’s I’ve hung out at in previous years.

I made the mistake of looking at my Whoop and it told me my recovery was in the red and that I should consider taking a rest day 😬 That worried me a bit, but I tried not to get too in my head about it. I didn’t feel tired or sluggish!

The bus ride to Hopkinton seemed to fly by and I chatted with another runner who was doing her first Boston. She qualified in Pittsburgh during her first marathon ever — amazing!! That was my first marathon too and it’s a tough course.

It was chilly and misty in Athlete’s Village, but the rain mostly held off until it was time for wave 2 to walk to the start corrals. Then it started to come down — not an all out downpour, but I was definitely getting wet. I kept my throwaway jacket on as long as I could. I got to see one of my Instagram friends, Katy, while waiting in line for the porta potties right before the start, and then I walked over to my corral and finally ditched the jacket. The rain was coming down and I was shivering in my singlet and shorts, but I knew it was going to be in the 50s and I’d be fine once I started running.

I was nervous, but excited and ready to run.

Miles 1-13

Before I knew it, we were off and I quickly started to warm up! I had forgotten how crowded the first few miles are. The spectators were already out in full force despite the less-than-ideal weather! The first few miles felt easy enough— splits were 7:52, 7:49, 7:39, 7:35, which seemed fast but sustainable.

Once I hit mile 4, though, I reached into my flip belt to pull out my first Maurten gel. And!! All my gels were GONE! Somehow they’d fallen out and I have no idea where or how. My phone was in there, but no gels. I used the belt to hold my phone and gels in Philly with zero problem, and I have used the belt plenty of times since then as well. WTF!!

I panicked at the thought of running a marathon without gels, then remembered volunteers would be handing out Maurten gels on the course. I just couldn’t remember when. I tried to stay calm even though my fueling plan had just gone to hell.

I ran mile 5 in 7:42, then started to speed up, running 7:26 for the next 2 miles. That did seem a little *too* fast early in the race, so I tried to dial it back and ran mile 8 in 7:34, mile 9 in 7:33 and mile 10 in 7:31. I was feeling strong, even though by that point in the race, I should have already had 2 gels in me.

I zipped through mile 11 in 7:25, then saw a sign that Maurten gels were at the next aid station. I asked for 3 gels, explaining I’d lost all mine, and they gave them to me. Thank you volunteers!! You are the best!

Miles 12 and 13 were speedy — 7:21 and 7:15. This is when the race goes through the Wellesley Scream Tunnel and the energy is like none other. You can hear the screams a mile away. I high-fived so many Wellesley women and saw some men kiss a few of them, too.

Giving out high fives in Wellseley!

Miles 14-25

I took my first gel at mile 13 (should have been my third gel!) and was still feeling good. There was a mild headwind, but certainly nothing like the Philly Marathon or anything I faced in training, for that matter. My next few miles were spicy. I ran 14 and 15 in 7:13 and 7:18 and then mile 16 in 7 flat. Whoa. But that did give me a nice cushion leading into the toughest part of the race, the Newton Hills. Which seemed much bigger than I remembered 😅 I hung on pretty well, though, running 7:24 for mile 17, 7:29 for mile 18, 7:25 for mile 19, and 7:36 for mile 20. I took my second gel at mile 18.

As I approached Heartbreak Hill (around mile 20.5), the rain started to come down. I knew another IG friend, Jude, was going to be on my left side cheering on the runners, and I was excited to see her! Mile 21 was my slowest so far at 7:56, but the B.A.A. tracker clocked me at over 8 minutes for that split, so I obviously did a crap job of running the tangents.

After summiting Heartbreak, it was onward to Brookline and Boston. My quads were starting to yell at me at this point and I knew I was coming up on the point in the race where I fell last year. The road was slippery and uneven and I was determined not to bite it AGAIN. I took my third and final gel at mile 22, which I ran in 7:22. I knew then I only had 30ish minutes left to go and reminded myself to soak it all in.

I got through mile 23 in 7:33 and then I could feel myself hitting a wall. It’s actually been a while since that happened to me in a marathon. Was I too aggressive with my pacing? Feeling the effects of not having enough gels? Maybe both?

My husband was right there before the mile 24 mark, and I ran over to the side and kissed him. My watch clocked me at 8:03 for mile 24. I was hurting, but I knew I was almost there!

I knew a photographer would be at mile 25 waiting to snap runners’ photos with the iconic Citgo sign in the background. Even though I was feeling like hot garbage, I hammed it up for the camera! I still don’t see any pictures with the sign, though! Mile 25: 8:09

The finish

At this point in the race, the crowds were absolutely deafening. I was both so ready for the race to be over and not wanting it to end! Usually making the right on Hereford and left on Boylston makes me tear up, but I was too zapped at this point to cry. You can see the finish line when you turn onto Boylston and as I was running toward it all I could think was, “Jesus, it is so much further away than I remember!” 😂

Mile 26: 8:25 (B.A.A. app has me slower because tangents).

Finally I crossed the finish and stopped my watch. I didn’t have it set to elapsed time and figured I’d be around 3:2x when all was said and done (forget trying to do math in a marathon.) When I saw 3:19, I was shocked. Two years ago, I was struggling to break 3:30. Now I’d run my 2nd fastest marathon time ever in Boston, on a tough AF course.

A bunch of people asked me ahead of time what my goal was and I kept saying around 3:25ish. I promise I wasn’t sandbagging. I truly didn’t see myself going under 3:20 and being that close to my PR from Chicago 2022.

One of the wonderful volunteers put a medal around my neck, another wrapped me in a heat blanket, and I hobbled toward the warming buses to wait for my husband to meet me at the family meeting area. The T was an absolute shit show, but that’s another story.

I was so cold and tired and happy. I can’t wait for 2024.

Shippin’ up to Boston for the 3rd time: Getting ready for the 2023 Boston Marathon

I’m less than a week out from running my 3rd Boston Marathon! 

How am I feeling? Excited. Like I’m surprised how excited I am. It’s my third time, after all. I figured the novelty would have worn off by now – but it hasn’t. I just feel so lucky that I get to do this! 

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I had a busy March in terms of racing. Here’s a brief recap of what I’ve been up to! 

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup “4 Miler” 

3rd overall female, 24:20/6:40 pace

Why the quotes? Because a bunch of us at the front of the pack missed a turnoff after the wind blew over a directional sign and accidentally cut the course. 

This race in PA was more than 2 hours from my house, but it sounded fun – grilled cheese and tomato soup after, hello! – and the race director Pat is great. He’s the one who organized the Chasing the Unicorn marathon in 2020 and did everything in his power to make that a safe and fun event at the height of the pandemic. So I signed up, hoping to be able to run 4 miles in 26 minutes or so to test my speed.

The race was held in a municipal park and it was windy AF, a common theme of pretty much all of my runs this training cycle. In fact, it was windy enough that one of the directional signs after the mile 3 mark blew over, and so a bunch of us missed a turn and accidentally ran 3.65 miles! Pat didn’t DQ us, I guess because so many people effed it up, and I was awarded the 3rd overall female prize – a nice blanket! I had fun and pushed hard.

Annapolis Running Festival 10K

3rd overall female, 42:44/6:53 pace

I said to friends a few times I wasn’t planning on the Annapolis Running Festival – I’ve done so many races on that course over the last decade that I just wasn’t excited about it. But then I saw I had 10Kish worth of speedwork on my plan the week of the race and I’d rather do that in a race than on my own! Plus, my friend Shannon was running it, too. 

The weather pretty much sucked – it was once again super windy and I tried my best to draft off other, taller runners! My shoelace also came untied right before mile 3, costing me precious time. I didn’t really have a time goal, but I thought 41-42 miles was doable. I also had no expectations of placing and it was really hard to gauge where I was in the race since there was also a 5K and a half marathon and we were all mixed together at various parts of the race. So I was pleasantly surprised when I crossed the finish line and the volunteer handed me a card that said I was 3rd female. 

I’m glad I ended up doing it – just wish we’d had better weather! The after party was a lot of fun, and the band playing was awesome, but it was just so cold and windy. That’s March in Maryland for you – you could get 20 degrees or 80 degrees. 

Barlowe Bolt 5K

1st overall female, 21:28/6:42 pace  

Well, this one was a cluster. 

A little background about me and the Bolt – I am not new to this race. In fact, this was the fifth time I’d run it – I ran in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022. I even won it in 2020 and 2022 and was hoping to win it again this year. (It’s a pretty small race.)

But!! Even though I had run it multiple times in the past, I couldn’t remember the course, so I made a wrong turn about three-tenths of a mile into the race. I was running up at the front with two teenage boys, so I led them astray – sorry! When I realized my mistake after we literally ran into a dead end, I was so annoyed with myself. 

We turned around and I hauled ass to get back in first place, which I paid for dearly with a huge positive split in the end. I did manage to still win and in the end I added about a tenth of a mile onto my race, so it could have been worse. I mean, I ….could have cut the course again.

My mileage hasn’t been as high as it was last fall when training for Chicago, but I’ve averaged between 55-60 miles per week, peaking at 62 miles. Basically, I took Pfitzinger’s 12/55 plan from Advanced Marathoning and modified it to add a few more miles each week. Thinking about doing 12/70 this fall again for Richmond, but that is a heavy training load and I don’t think I can mentally (or physically) handle it every marathon training cycle.

The plan included two 20-milers, the second of which I ran during the B&A Marathon last month. I didn’t register for the race, but the trail was open to the public and I knew so many people running either the half or the full that I thought it would be fun to run alongside them. I ended up running mostly with a fast friend of mine and averaged 7:29 pace for 20 miles. That is obviously WAY faster than I would normally ever do a 20 miler, but I also ran the Charm City Run 20 Miler three weeks before Chicago last fall at a 7:25 pace and it didn’t hurt me in the marathon.

When your training run coincides with a race, you show up in the pictures!

Goals/plans for Boston

I don’t know! LOL. Enjoy myself and get another BQ.

My Garmin thinks I’m running a 3:03, but it’s clearly full of crap. That would be a 15-minute PR and I do not think I am in PR shape – that 3:18 I ran last fall is really solid, plus I ran it on a flat course in damn near perfect weather. The Boston Marathon is a tough course and the weather is looking warm and wet. Not the worst, but not the best either. I do think a 3:2x is doable and I should be able to BQ (3:40:00 or faster) unless things really go to hell. 

Other than that, no major goals. Sometimes it’s more fun that way anyway!