How I qualified and finished the Boston Marathon

By Paula Tuttle

Paula at CIM 2016

Paula at CIM 2016

Since I started running, about 20 years ago at age 40, it had been my dream to run the Boston Marathon. Like so many, I started running for therapy. During my husband’s six-year battle with cancer, running helped me cope. When I found myself a widow with a child, running helped me survive. I ran one marathon each year from 2000-2007. The 2007 Austin Marathon was my last marathon. I thought.

In 2007 I remarried and moved to a neighborhood in Southwest Austin, where neighbors are always walking, running or cycling. Gilbert lived in the same neighborhood. In 2015, he and the other neighbors started the Travis Country 5k, which I ran and placed first in my age group. The following year, I decided to run it again and learned that Gilbert was holding a free training for the 5k, so I went. That’s when I discovered Gilbert’s Gazelles marathon training. I asked Gilbert if there was a good chance that I could qualify for the Boston Marathon with his training program, and he said, Yes!

June 2016, Austin, TX—I started with Gilbert’s Gazelles. I ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 am with the Friendlies, and immediately felt welcomed by the group. I was training for the California International Marathon (CIM), a favorite Boston Marathon qualifier, so I followed Gilbert’s training calendar for this race. My Boston Marathon qualifying time needed to be 4 hours 25 minutes for females 60 to 64 years old.

December 4, 2016, Sacramento, CA—About 65 Gazelles ran CIM that year. The bus brought us from downtown Sacramento to the start near Folsom Dam. It was an out-and-back downhill course. I met Gazelles Megan, Ken and Murphy at the 4:30 pace sign. We all started together until about Mile 6. 

At about Mile 22, I thought I was seeing things, when Gilbert jumped in beside me, a huge smile, running with joy! He assured me I was doing great and said, “Don’t look at your watch now, just start passing runners.” I followed his advice.

I saw the big blue arch at Mile 26, we ran through it and across the finish line. The clock read 4:24:48, so I knew I had qualified for Boston! My actual time was 4:21:02 which was a 9:52 minute mile. That was close! Thankfully I didn’t stop for water the final five miles. Running a marathon, “they” say, is about 80% mental, and I believe it. I found myself breaking it all down into digestible pieces. The first half was wonderful! The crowd support was awesome! I felt miserable about the time Gilbert jumped alongside me. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that!

The Boston Marathon qualifier had to be completed before mid September, in order to run the Boston Marathon the following April. Mine wasn’t, so I had to wait over a year to run Boston. It’s easy to get out of the marathon training habit. I approached the 2018 Boston Marathon undertrained, with 15 miles being my longest run. I wasn’t terribly concerned because I just wanted to complete it, and enjoy the experience with friends and family. 

April 16, 2018, Boston, MA—It turned out that the weather was “wicked” bad, as we say in Massachusetts. Oh, yeah, I’m a born and raised Bostonian.

The night before the race, I looked out the window, and it was sleeting. When I woke up the next morning, there was a layer of snow on the ground. I dressed in a Smart wool top and socks. I wore running pants, rain jacket, stocking hat, and my brother’s ski gloves because mine weren’t waterproof! On top of the whole ensemble, I had a rain poncho.

After breakfast, we drove to the school in Hopkinton where I was dropped and immediately boarded a bus for the Athletes’ Village where I waited until Wave 4 was to start at 11:15. It was raining from the get-go. The temperature was in the low 40s. The wind blew at 20-40+ miles per hour. It was a mud bath to get to the portable toilets. I managed not to slip and fall like others I witnessed. It felt so good to finally start running.

The only thing I ate were oranges passed out by volunteers and I only drank water. At Mile 15 I heard my brother call my name! I stopped for a photo with him and my nieces. Since 15 miles was my longest mileage, training for this one, I wasn’t sure what would happen. I decided to play it safe and conserve energy by walking most of the hills, especially Heartbreak Hill!

At Mile 26 I encountered an obstacle course of discarded rain ponchos, hats and gloves. I shed mine too. My three girlfriends saw me and called out. I ran over to them, and we agreed to meet at the family & friends meeting area. I ran strong and with joy for the finish line! My time was 5:15:40, and it counted!

My girlfriends brought dry clothes and boots for me, and made a circle around me, so I could change. My brother and nieces were at the finish too, and he took us all back to the hotel, where I had a hot bath and a glass of Champagne!

My intentions were for Boston to be my last marathon. But I’m entertaining the idea of one more—for a total of 10—the original marathon course from Marathon to Athens, Greece in November 2019. And that will be my last marathon. Maybe!