As someone who ran competitively throughout junior high, high school and a year in college, I’m definitely a bit of a running nerd. I’ve known about the Boston Marathon, the prestigious legacy that it carries, and have always dreamt of being able to run it, so this experience really was a dream come true for me.
When I signed up to run my very first marathon, I had no idea what to expect or what I could run. I didn’t tell that many people I was doing it because I didn’t want any extra pressure. When the people that did know asked what my goal was, I just told them it was to break four hours. However, what I kept to myself was that I wanted to qualify for Boston, which meant I had to run the marathon in 3 hours and 35 minutes or faster, which is the qualifying standard for my division (in 2016), females 18-39. I ended up surprising myself along with everyone else who knew about it, and ran the marathon in 3:30:31.
I knew I had qualified for Boston after that first marathon in October of 2016 but, because registration for The 2017 Boston Marathon closed in September, I had to wait to register for the 2018 marathon nearly a year later (qualifying times are good for 18 months). I remember setting a reminder on my phone to register as soon as the 2018 registration dates were released, months in advance.
The registration is super competitive because there aren’t enough spots in the marathon for everyone who qualifies; they take the fastest qualifiers in each age division until the race is full. So when I got the email in the early weeks of the next October that I had made it into The 2018 Boston Marathon, I literally jumped around for a few minutes because I was so happy. At the time, I was just a few weeks away from running my second marathon in Grand Rapids, where I ran a new personal record and a faster Boston qualifying time of 3:27:16 that I was able to use to get my starting position moved up a bit.
Boston was my third marathon but it was the first that I had to train for over the winter – which was a whole new ballgame and definitely a test to my dedication, especially on those frigid, Iowa, winter days. However, I’d say training in not-ideal weather conditions all winter was great preparation for when the extremely wet, cold, and windy race day rolled around. I ran one of my previous marathons in the rain, so the forecast didn’t make me too nervous, I was more concerned about getting to the right place at the right time for the start. I had been thinking about this race for so long that I was super ready to get across the starting line and finally press go on my watch.
I knew this was a big race but I didn’t understand just how big until I actually got into it and was surrounded by runners for as far as I could see on the road ahead of me. Between the thousands of runners, the iconic course lined with dedicated, cheering spectators, and the absolute pouring rain, the environment was electric – to be honest it felt a bit like a movie!
It was very different from the small Grand Rapids Marathons I had run before, where runners eventually spread out along the way. Compared to Grand Rapids, I felt like I was always very close to other runners, constantly weaving in, out and around other people, trying not to break my stride. I had just crossed the halfway point when someone actually ran into the back of me, causing me to fall flat out on the ground and into a puddle. I only ended up with skinned knees and since it was raining, I was already soaked to the bone anyway, so thankfully getting a little extra wet didn’t phase me much and was able to get right back up and into the race!
While running with that many people wasn’t what I was used to, and made it a little difficult to run freely like I do during my solo training runs on the rural Iowa highways, I actually really enjoyed it. It was fun, exciting, distracting, and even though I didn’t run my fastest time, this marathon felt like it went by quicker than the other two.
Everyone was so kind and encouraging before, after, and during the marathon, I have a whole new love and appreciation for the running community. Pre-race pep talks and advice from strangers, talking race goals and making new friends from around the world in my starting corral, and numerous people using some of their energy to say “you go girl” as I got back up after my fall, it really made me feel like I was part of something bigger and more important than myself.
I knew I had a time from my second marathon that had already qualified me to register for Boston 2019, which would have been my primary goal going into this race had it not, so I wasn’t as as focused on my time as much as I usually am. However, the major competitive spirit in me did still want to run or beat my personal record.
I played it a little safe the first half of the race, not being familiar with the course and not knowing exactly how the weather would affect my body this time. However, I felt really strong and fresh the second half of the race, so I probably should have pushed it a bit harder early on. Although I didn’t beat my personal record, I literally had the time of my life, so I definitely couldn’t have asked for more.
I’m incredibly grateful to have had the unique opportunity to run in Boston. The all around experience surpassed my expectations and is something I will always cherish.
Here are the details regarding my Boston Marathon 2018 results:
Alexa Vander Leest
Net Time: 3:34:23
In Gender: 2420/11604 (Female)
In Division: 1964/5783 (F18-39 Age Group)