“It was one of the best experiences of my life.” What the Boston Marathon felt like for Rachel Hannah
Rachel Hannah, 30, is an elite Canadian marathon runner and her training up until Monday’s Boston Marathon was something we’d been closely watching, with this piece, and right here. She had big goals for her race, even something like 2:35, and, despite coming back from a foot injury, set out in search of a personal best marathon race time. In the end, she finished in 2:41:22, fast enough to be the 23rd place female finisher at the Boston Marathon. We caught up with her after her race.
iRun: You finished the Boston Marathon. How do you feel?
Crossing the line I felt a strong sense of accomplishment, relief and gratitude for the tremendous crowd and volunteer support all along the course. I did not achieve my goals in terms of time or placing, but was happy I was able to leave it all out there on the course. That is always the number one goal in any race.
iRun: What’s a Dietitian eat for her post-race binge meal?
The day consisted of fluids right after and two post-race massages, plus ice since my quads were in extreme pain and my back was going into spasms. I was dealing with a lot of nausea during the race so it took me a while before I was able to eat solid food after. Once my stomach calmed down, I was able to enjoy a very nice meal in the evening at the John Hancock post race party at the Red Lantern Restaurant in Boston. It consisted of delicious Asian foods and for this meal I did not think twice about calories!
iRun: Where does this rank in terms of your overall life running experiences?
Boston is Boston, it’s the “marathoner’s marathon” as they say. It is an unmatched experience in a city with such heart and courage. I now understand why every Marathoner wants to run it. It was one of the best experiences of my life and left me wanting to come back again to enjoy the experience all over again and conquer those hills! Standing on the start line I felt grateful to be there among the best and rather calm despite such a large race since everyone is so supportive of one another. After all, racing is a time to celebrate the hard work we put in during training!
iRun: What’s it like running up Boylston?
Making the left turn on Boylston is a feeling like no other. I got a tingling sensation running down Boylston. You know that you have made it since there is only about 600 m to go from here and the electric energy from the crowd pulls you right along to the finish. It was really helpful to be able to follow the three painted blue lines to the finish and by this point that really helped so I could focus on running in a straight line! I tried to enjoy it as much as possible and felt happy crossing the line even though my body was in quite a lot of pain.
iRun: And Heartbreak Hill we’ve come to understand isn’t tricky just getting up, but also hard coming back down. Can you talk about that part of your race?
When I ran Heartbreak Hill during my training run on Thursday before the race, I did not think it was that bad in terms of the steepness. But I knew that it would feel much different during the race. Dave [Korell, Hannah’s coach] and I tried to be optimistic about it and wanted to refer to it as “Heartmake” Hill. That was not the case during the race though! It felt challenging, but the crowd really helped make it go by faster. I remember seeing a spectator holding up a fancy sign saying that we made it to the top and I felt relieved after that since that is the last major hill. I thought that I would be able to get back to my goal pace again after this but my quads were not responding and were in a lot of pain. I learned that it is important to try and maintain a consistent effort throughout since I found it hard to make up for my slower pace on the downhills after Heartbreak. I kept trying to focus on my form when I felt the pace slowing and cadence to try to get back to my goal pace.
iRun: Were you able to execute your race plan despite the heat? Happy with your result?
For more than half of the race I did execute my race plan. I went through half way just over where I wanted to be in terms of pace. I was able to work with Liz Costello, a fellow New Balance athlete so that was very helpful. After about 25 km I started to hurt a lot and had to slow down since I knew I still had a while to go and Liz pulled away. Normally I can make it to about 32-33 km before it starts to really hurt but it was different on this course given the challenge of it and the heat. I wanted to place higher and run a faster time that was closer to my PB so I did not achieve my overall goal for the race. The positives that came out of it though was that I was able to run pain free from my foot injuries from the past few months and I felt I was able to think more about form and efficiency. I look forward to running it again when I have a more consistent winter build that is hopefully injury free. I will also include more downhills at the start of my runs during training to get my quads stronger to handle this course better.
iRun: How about your foot and the assorted nagging injuries, did your body hold together OK?
Luckily I had no issues at all with my foot. The immense quad pain took over for sure! I felt really nausea from about 25 km onwards but this was likely due to the heat since I had a similar experience at Pan Am Games.
iRun: Where are you most sore? And what’s the plan? Ice bath? Heat?
Quads for sure! I did two massages after and ice on my quads. Dave and I also went for a 20 minute walk/jog after to help with recovery. I didn’t time it and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I made sure to take in adequate fluids and protein/carbs after for recovery.
iRun: What was it like for crowd support? Could you make out the people in the crowd, like could you feel the million-plus people on the street?
The crowd support was incredible and actually pretty hard to describe just how amazing it was. Some places were probably 8-10 rows deep of people and after running through certain parts I had trouble hearing after. It took a while after the race before I felt my hearing was normal again, but this was a good problem to have. Running through Wellesley College lived up to its reputation and I remember my right ear buzzing afterwards! The energy was electric and extremely motivating. There were only a few parts of the course where there weren’t rows of spectators just due to the location. A few places made me smile from the crowds, unique signs and cheering. Smiling helps one stay relaxed so this is important during a hard race.
iRun: Where does this place you now for your upcoming season? Does it make you hungry to take on the marathon again?
We are taking it two months at a time right now. Next up will be the Canadian Half Marathon Championships at the end of May in Calgary and the Canadian 10,000 m Championships in Guelph in the middle of June. We have not decided on my next Marathon, but I will certainly be taking on the 42.2 km challenge again.
iRun: What advice would you give fellow runners who are racing this spring?
Do everything you can to try and stay injury free so you can train consistently since this is the key to improvement. If injuries arise, be sure to treat them right away and cross train right away if you are in pain. Remember to enjoy the process and find joy in all the positives you gain from your training and racing experiences. Race days are my favourite days and are truly a time to celebrate all the hard work put in during training. So smile and soak it all in! Lastly, take time to quietly reflect after races on what you were happy with so you can recognize your success and learn areas to improve upon next time if there were certain goals you did not reach or something you were not happy about from the race. It is best to do this right after while it is fresh in your mind.
iRun: Did you feel anything being a Canadian in Boston? See other Canadians running there, or getting extra special Canadian love from the crowd?
I felt very special and honoured being a Canadian in Boston and representing our country among the elite field. This 121st running of the Boston Marathon had the most Canadian participants and that is something we should all be proud of! Every person earned there position on the start line and worked hard to get there. I did hear some special shout outs like “Go Canada” and that made me happy. I also had a lot of people cheering for New Balance since a lot of staff would have been out there cheering on the course.
iRun: Last thing. It looked like you were, well, if not smiling at the finish line, then at least sort of halfway smiling or something—you almost seemed like you were having a moment. How did you feel crossing the Boston marathon finish line? What was that look on your face?
Yes, I was smiling briefly at the finish since I felt a strong sense of accomplishment and honour crossing the finish line. When I stopped running and had to walk again it was actually more painful for my quads, but my smile quickly returned once I entered the recovery tent and all of the volunteers were standing and clapping for all those finishing. Amazing support was felt from before the start and well after the finish. It was a racing experience truly unique and unlike any other in the World.
April 19th, 2017