I met Angie through United in Stride, a website for connecting visually impaired runners and sighted guides. I first heard about this site on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook page. I made an account in Jun 2019 but never really looked for a runner because the thought of guiding made me nervous and to be honest, I was busy chasing my ultra goals.
On 11/2/2020, four months after the Army moved me to Virginia, I received the following e-mail:
Subject: “From an awesome runner”
“Hi Karen, I am Angie. I like running anywhere from 4 to 7 10-11 minute miles in the mornings. Would you be interested in guiding me? It looks like you’re in the Arlington area like me. Have you ever guided before? Reach out if you’re interested. [phone number]”
I finally get over my fears and agree to link up. I watched the video on how to be a guide and then we met for our first run on 11/19/2020. I was so nervous! I told her I am an ultrarunner so I was down for however many miles she wanted. We ran 5.5 miles that day. Then we ran 1-2 times/month and ran our first race at the 2021 Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon in May. She got a PR 2:06:54!
After that, I don’t see Angie until 1/13/22 after she texted me saying she needed a guide because a guy flaked on her. We went for a 12-mile run in the freezing cold. Even though I had announced that I was taking a break from races, I offered to be that guide she could feel confident in completing 26.2 miles no matter what. From then on, we ran every long run together minus the weekend she ran the 2022 Myrtle Beach Half and the weekend I did Blackbeard 100 (for best results, don’t do a 100-mile race three weeks before Boston!)
On Saturday, we drove up to Boston. I made the mistake of leaving NoVA at 11 am on a holiday weekend. What should have been a 7.5-hour drive ended up being closer to 10 due to traffic and all our stops. Angie and her mom covered the cost of our stay at the Hilton Garden Inn located in East Boston. She wanted to stay closer to the finish, but hotels were more expensive there. When we heard other runners were experiencing flight delays/cancellations (Jet Blue), we appreciated making it to our destination. Plus we were able to pack more in my truck (we definitely over-packed).
Sunday morning, we walked about half a mile to the Orient Heights train station to catch a ride to the expo ($12.75 for a day pass, free for everyone on race day!) Taking public transportation makes me anxious because I’m afraid to get lost, but luckily Angie is a pro at it! It’s hard to get lost though because you’ll see all the other runners heading in the same direction and the people in Boston are helpful. It is recommended to get to the expo early so you can get the finisher shirt size you want. At the Hynes Convention Center, para-athletes and their guides checked in at a special room so we don’t have to wait in line with everyone else to get our bibs. We manage to make it out of the expo without spending a crazy amount of money. We did the touristy thing: drank Dunkin’ coffee (the first one started in Quincy, MA), ate Luke’s lobster roll and clam chowder, and cannolis at Mike’s Pastry (cash only!). Perhaps the cannolis should have been saved for after the race. We had dinner at Luna’s Italian/Latin Restaurant and went back to the hotel to foam roll and get some sleep.
Monday 4/18/2022 *RACE DAY!*
Woke up at 4 am to do my pre-race rituals. At 5:45, we caught an Uber to the Sheraton in downtown Boston where the other para and adaptive athletes would meet. Upon check-in, Angie’s bib was upgraded from the adaptive to para athletic division (T11-T12 visually impaired) so we started 10 minutes earlier than her original time. We waited in the hotel lobby until it was time to load the charter buses. There was a store that sold coffee and breakfast items. At 6:30 am, we were all on the bus and escorted by Massachusett State Troopers to Hopkington. I was able to take a nap during the 50-minute ride.
We arrived and were welcomed by the volunteers. Water, Gatorade, coffee, and bagels were offered as refreshments. It was so nice having a bathroom inside plus plenty of clean portapotties outside. My phone hadn’t charged overnight so I had the luxury of charging my phone as we waited.
I had no idea that we would get to start with so many famous runners. Olympic runner Shalane Flanagan was supporting Adrianne Haslet who lost her foot in the 2013 Boston bombing. I also saw Olympic runner Alexi Pappas who was guiding another visually impaired runner. I didn’t know who these runners were until after the race. Being an ultrarunner, I only knew the famous ultrarunners – Mike Wardian and Jacky Hunt-Broersma so I introduced Angie to them. Mike learned that his sister guided Angie at the California International Marathon. What a small world! Mike was getting ready for his transcontinental run from San Francisco, CA to Washington D.C. to Rehoboth, Delaware (starting May 1st). Jacky was setting a world record of running 104 marathons in 104 days. Boston was day 92 for her!!
We had been stressing out about what to wear starting off because we assumed we would be waiting outside in the cold in our corral. We also had the luxury of having our gear bag up until it was time to go. We stuffed all the extra layers that we had planned on discarding back into our gear bag. I was down to my rabbit mountain climber shorts, rabbit crop top, XOskin toe socks, Altra Escalante 2.5, and a Buff for when it gets windy.
Angie and I planned on running with the hydration vests we trained with, but 20 minutes before it was time to go, we found out from another guide that hydration vests were definitely not allowed so that also went into the gear bag. So now I had to find a way to hold everything. Luckily my rabbit shorts had all sorts of pockets for my Huma gels. I figured I will just have to grab our water cups like everyone else. I wish I had something else to carry my giant Note10+ phone but I didn’t so into the gear bag it went as well. Disappointed I wouldn’t be able to capture any other pictures on the course, but I had the comfort of knowing our belongings were going to be handled with care when transported to Copley Field.
The race kicks off at 9 with the wheelchair and hand cyclists, followed by the professional athletes. At 9:30 Angie uses the bathroom for the last time and then we do a little jog to our corral which isn’t too far from the church hall. I’m super thankful our corral wasn’t crowded either. The weather has warmed up now in the 50s. We started at 0950 after the professional females.
The course goes through the following towns:
Leaving Hopkington (1.9 miles)
Ashland (1.9-4.95 miles)
Framingham (4.95-7.52 miles)
Natick (7.52-11.72 mile)
Wellesley (11.72 miles – 15.93 miles)
Newton (15.93-21.35 miles)
Brookline (22.45 miles – 24.7miles)
Boston (21.35 miles – 26.2 mile)
We started off faster than I would’ve liked, but I am a guide, not a pacer. Guides are supposed to go off of the athlete’s pace. After 10 minutes, the faster runners zoomed by. I have to stay calm and believe our bright pink vests are helping us be seen and not get trampled over by the other 24000 runners. At the 10k timing mat, I failed to call it out so Angie trips but she shoots right back up saying, “LET’S GO! LET’S GO! LET’S GO! You’ve GOT to call out the obstacle!” I feel super awful and I make sure I don’t make that mistake throughout the rest of the course.
Thankfully the crowd in every town keeps us going! One of the loudest spots known on the course is around mile 12 at the Wellesley College (women’s private school) where students and faculty create a scream tunnel with cheers of encouragement. It can be heard from as much as a mile away! Some girls give out kisses to runners too!
We had been advised to go by effort, not by pace or to expect negative splits. The most challenging spot for runners is in Newton with its hills and the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Angie admitted that she wanted to walk on Heartbreak Hill, but she kept hearing people say, “GO ANGIE! GO 256!” so she made it up that hill without stopping!
Now that I have run Boston, I understand the references to the Citgo gas station sign (1 mile to finish) and “making that left turn on Boylston Street” where the crowd is cheering and roaring for the final half-mile. Right after we crossed the finish line, Angie hugs me saying “I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!!” Phew, I thought she hated me after that fall at the 10k mark. The volunteers see our vests and motion for us to come to the VIP tent where we received our finisher medal, heat sheet, and access to all the snacks, our gear, and clean portapotties.
Tips for Guiding
Water and Gatorade are provided at every mile along the course. Would have been a good idea to practice grabbing water cups and passing them (Angie and I didn’t do that) At the race, I usually grabbed a cup from the first volunteer in line to hand to Angie and then get mine from the last volunteer in line. Angie runs on my right so I would take cups from aid stations on the left side.
No issues with paper cups – tossed them on the ground and got stomped on by everyone else
Gels – Maurten was an official sponsor and their hydrogels were provided on the course at miles 12, 17, and 21. However, Angie learned that she did not like Maurten gels during one of our training runs so I got her hooked on Honeystinger gels. Personally, I tried one on the course (breaking the rule of “Don’t try anything new on race day”) it was okay, I had no issues with it.
The biggest trip hazards on the course are the timing mats, train tracks, and other runners.
Here is a link to the reflective vests that we use. I know, it’s not aesthetically pleasing but SAFETY FIRST!!! https://ruseen.com/collections/impaired-vests/products/reflective-running-vest-guide
Also, it helps to have a strong, sturdy tether!
By the way, as a guide, you’ll receive a medal but not an official finisher time. It’s about the runner and you must make it about them! For more information on guiding and connecting to a Visually Impaired Runner, check out United In Stride or Achilles International !!
THANK YOU BOSTON for such an amazing experience!! What a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inclusion of women’s division. I learned that the para-athletic division just started last year as well. I felt so inspired to be surrounded by those athletes!
Angie – To date, we have run about 251 miles/46 hours total together. Thank you for trusting me, the memories I’ll never forget, and being the awesome person that you truly are 🙂 I LOVE YOU!!