On April 18, 2022, I completed my seventh marathon; Boston. The Boston Marathon takes place on the ancestral homelands of the Massachusett, the Mashpee Wampanoag, and the Pawtucket people.
After qualifying with Blue Nose, I honestly felt like it took all of November to emotionally and mentally recover from the marathon (physically I was good after two weeks). I was feeling wonderful with a time on a course that I otherwise thought I couldn’t achieve. While informed on November 18 that all those would be accepted with qualifying times, I still needed that official acceptance that I was in, which I received on December 2.
For the first time ever, I was training in the winter, and this was tough. Before, I would just run in the winter. If I slowed down due to the cold, that was fine and I just accepted it. But now I had purpose; speed, intervals, times, pace, specific distances, etc… The cold slowed me, and it was discouraging at times. Due to storms, I reshuffled some days re types of runs that my coach Erin Poirier had me to. Later in January and into February, I resorted to wearing spikes on my shoes. It did slow me, but it made running safer and I was good re clear ice. With mid- to late-February, it felt as if things got worse. I was frustrated with snow-packed and ice-covered roads. My times were slower and it was just tough to try and go faster. I had a talk with Coach Erin on February 20 and she assured me that this was all normal. Early-March was still cruel weather-wise, but knew it wasn’t going to last forever, and by March 9, my Wednesday Workout was quite fun for the first time in weeks (maybe months). Coach also sent me articles on proper resting. Patti Dillon also reached out to me to say the same thing and to not overdo things. By late-March, I noticed that my uphill runs were very strong. I thought it was the improved weather but Erin said that it was the training that we were doing. But then I hit a snag. Due to scheduling, I did my long run on a Saturday night and then my recovery on Sunday morning. Normally, I long run Saturday mornings and recovery run on Sunday afternoons or evenings. The 12-hour turnaround time was a lot. My right knee was tender and sore, but from experience, I knew it was not injured. Thankfully it was taper week and the major training was done. Coach said to take April 4 and 5 off to rest/recovery, and we adjusted accordingly from then until Boston.
On April 13, I did an interview with CBC that morning re traveling costs of doing a marathon. I mentioned being grateful to several entities that offered to help sponsor my race. The next day, Kerri and I started the drive to Boston, splitting it over two days (I can’t stand driving over eight hours in a single day). That night we stayed at a lovely AirBNB in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick. Crossing the boarder into the United States Friday morning, I used my Indian Status card rather than my passport on principle via the Jay Treaty. I felt like a badass doing this. In Maine, Kerri drove the rest of the way to our Natick hotel. She found for me a beautiful trail behind our inn where I did an easy 6K Recovery Run. My knee felt good and was practically back to normal with no issues with running (which was my main concern along with COVID).
Wearing my We’koqma’q Proud shirt, Saturday morning we went to the expo to pick up my bib and check it out. Outside towards it, we bumped into Stacy Chesnutt, Sole Sisters race director, for a brief chat. Inside, the atmosphere reminded me of a LesMills quarterly, but on a much more massive scale. Some runners had their Boston Marathon jackets on from previous years, and while I did buy one, I only tried it on for size then took it off. I refused to wear it until I finished the marathon. I did the bib photo shot for back home. Then Kerri made me a thoughtful sign for my run, and we met two women from the United Kingdom, one who did the 5K that morning and the other who was also doing the full on Monday. As Kerri was drawing, I wrote “Ketkwi’m” (which means, “I run”) on a message board and signed my name in honour of the Mi’kmaw language. Afterwards, we left the expo and headed to the Fairmont Copley to drop off a bag of clean clothes for me for after the race. Fellow Love Training More runner Christina Bower and her husband Andy were staying there and kindly allowed me to use their shower and to change post-marathon. Then we drove to an outlet where I found another pair of Nike Zoom Vaporflys at a good price. That evening we returned to the hotel, where I finally had a chance to watch a pep rally video that my community put together for me a few day before. I was almost without words. It started off with a long shot of seeing and hearing children from home chant “Let’s go Jarvis,” holding signs of encouragement, followed by clips of many community members (from We’koqma’q and elsewhere) sharing thoughtful and wonderful words. It meant absolutely so much to me, especially as many in the video saw me grow up back home. I managed to get a file of it and shared it on YouTube.
Sunday morning I did a shakeout on the same trail behind the hotel and then went for breakfast. We returned and I started to carb load and rest up. Lots of Gatorade, Skittles (which I consumed along the drives), and breads. I spent most of the day laying on bed, texting and chatting with folks (including Jennie, Coach Erin, Patti, and several others from home), doing some video calls, and watching YouTube videos that was both emotional and funny. That evening, I went outside to smudge with some sweetgrass. I also tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with pineapple, bananas, and Skittles. Not as great or awful as it sounds; just a bit messy. Unfortunately, as with the last few days, I didn’t get the best sleep, although it was nice to smell the sweetgrass as I had on the nightside next to me.
On race day, I looked at my Body Battery on my Garmin; it was at about 50%. I was going into the Boston Marathon already half-drained and this added to the stress. On the plus side, my knee felt good and I had no COVID symptoms. I had breakfast, did a short interview with Global News, packed up, and headed to the lobby for the shuttle. I struck up conversation with several other runners, some of whom were doing Boston for the first time. One was a United States Marine, who’s first marathon was the Marine Corps Marathon (which he went into without really training for). I told him about Clint, that I was registered, and was going to run it in his honour and memory. He simply said that was a fine good reason to do it. The shuttle driver was a very happy guy, who shared stories and jokes to pass time while he took us to our first drop spot, and he also had one of the thickest Boston accents that I may have ever heard.
At the Athlete’s Village, I took a few photos and posted a Land Acknowledgement. I didn’t encounter anyone that I knew, which was okay. I placed out my poncho on the grass and tried to do a short snooze, but listening to the race wave announcements, I skipped the nap, went to a restroom lineup, and then the start area. On my way there, I reviewed Coach’s email notes one last time, and even got a bit emotional with her encouraging words. Along the way, an elderly woman was handing out ribbons in support of Ukraine and offered me one. I happily accepted and asked a security guard pin it to the star on the Mi’kmaw flag on my tank top. The Star-Spangled Banner played and two military airplanes flew low towards the end of it – it was quite the spectacle.
Soon the 10:00 a.m. first wave started (I was in the eighth corral). Unlike all my other marathons, I felt that I didn’t have that “singular start.” With other races, I heard a gun or horn go off, and that was my magical time to take off. Not here. It was absolutely packed and challenging in trying to get through. Coach’s instructions were to keep it at 4:14, and to not run fast down the early hills. Like my last two races, I listened to Coach on this. I also learned over time how running downhill is kind of overrated. I kept an eye out for the starting mat to hit my Garmin. Early into the race, I managed to grab a glimpse Spencer, the official dog of the Boston Marathon, which excited me. For five to six kilometres, I felt it was tough hitting the 4:14 pace due to the number of participants. Eventually at about the 7K mark, I had to stop for a restroom break, which probably cost me almost a minute (I should have timed my pre-race hydration better). While doing so bugged me in other races, it didn’t on this one, as I learned that when I go, I am more energetic afterwards. But as I didn’t keep a 4:14 for the start and struggled to get the rhythm of it, I figured that I wasn’t going to hit my sub 3:00:00 goal. This was okay, as numerous runners told me that the Boston Marathon was done for the experience; not personal bests. So I decided enjoy and embrace the big atmosphere feel of it all.
Once I got into Natick, I spotted fellow undergrad and law school alumnus and runner Marc LeClair (who told me that he was driving down to cheer on fellow Nova Scotians). He held up a large Nova Scotia flag with various runners’ names from the province on it, and had a message written for me in Mi’kmaw: “Muskajewej l’pa ki’l Jarvis. Kesalul,” which translates to, “You are excellent. I love you.” I absolutely appreciated it. At about three kilometres after that, I saw Kerri, holding up the sign that she made for me two days before at the expo. It was another piece of motivation that I was grateful for.
Then from about the half marathon point to the 26K mark, I was to pick up the pace to 4:10. However, I just didn’t have it in me to pick up the speed and pace. But on the plus side; I was still capable of maintaining 4:14. To me, this was still a win as I had the endurance to keep on going. It was also around this point that I started to embrace the experience of doing the world’s oldest annual marathon. Albeit not going to hit a personal best, Boston’s energy on the 42.2K journey was an excellent consolation prize. A new record will have to wait for another race.
Also a first for a marathon was taking salt tablets. As per Blue Nose, Jennie explained sodium’s importance. In total, I only took two; at the first and then second hour. I still took my gels every six or so kilometres, and eventually stopped as I was feeling a bit bloated. While sometimes I used to grab Gatorade, I learned a new trick in the midst of a marathon (which I will continue). I saw another runner take a Gatorade cup, and rather than quickly chug it down (which would’ve spilled a bit), he pinched the cup, and sipped from it till it was empty. This absolutely fascinated me (and I had no idea why I never thought of it before). I did this for the rest of the race. But when needed, I consumed my own Gatorade. This was also the first time I truly noticed how much my times slowed down when stopping for Gatorade or even drinking my own bottles. My pace lowered to almost 5:00. I’m wondering if I can develop a new/improved consumption practice for marathons that won’t affect my pace plans.
One well-known area of the Boston Marathon is the “Scream Tunnel,” which is at Wellesley College. You most certainly hear it before seeing it. While running through, I could barely distinguish what song I was listening to, and saw numerous signs of support, along with offers of kisses. While I was happy that we were having in-person outdoor events again, I was still mindful and cautious of the pandemic, and thought to myself, “aren’t kisses a way to transmit COVID?” I simply smiled and waved a bit as I continued running.
At about 30 kilometres, my left hamstring sort of had a “waking up” moment. In the past, sometimes it would pull on me usually at around the 37K mark. I wanted to pick up the speed again, but when I would try to lightly tease and test it to see if I could go faster, I felt as if my hamstring was going to adversely ask me, “what do you think you’re trying to do? Go faster? I’ll pull on you if you try it.” If I picked it up, it may have pulled on me. I dislike it when this happens. So to play it safe, I didn’t go for it. On the plus side, my hamstring didn’t pull on me at all during the marathon. Maybe I could’ve ran faster if I properly stretched it in the days leading to Boston to prevent any hamstring issues.
For another marathon first, I grabbed sticks of Vaseline about three-fourths of the way through. While I use an anti-chafing glide stick for other areas (which works), for some reason, it didn’t help with my underarms. I was feeling my skin burn, and I think my tank top may have been too open/exposed on the side, allowing skin-to-skin contact. I used the Vaseline accordingly, and while it still didn’t address the issue 100%, it did reduce the burning sensation a bit. I don’t think it affected my time, but it definitely affected me.
Then came the infamous Heartbreak Hill. While I’ve read how some dread it, it greatly differed from talking to folks I know who actually did it. Those whom I know who did it said that it really isn’t all that super tough. In fact, many simply told me that doing the Blue Nose (with the Halifax hills) was more challenging. During the winter and early-spring, Coach had me incorporate uphill sprints as part of my Wednesday Workouts, performed in all kinds of weather. In sum, Heartbreak Hill for me was demanding, but I’ve had other races (e.g., two Blue Nose Marathons) where the hills felt more difficult to do. I’m not belittling the hill at all. It was quite something, but maybe because I’ve already ran tough marathons and trained with hills, I was stronger in facing this.
However, one thing that I did see along Heartbreak Hill (which I experienced before) were folks stoping to stretch. I suspected their hamstrings pulled, and my heart went out to them. I saw others walking, and I too had to do this for some other marathons where I felt as if my energy tank was practically on empty (e.g., Maritime Race Weekend 2016, Blue Nose 2017, Nova Scotia Marathon 2021). I even saw one person sitting in a medical tent. I was grateful that the marathon was still going good for me (even with the non-personal best time), and it reminded me that sometimes things can go sideways at any time during the 42.2 kilometres (I learned that someone was injured and had to stop very early in the race). I admired an elderly man who was using a wheelchair to go up the hill, and I shouted some encouragement as I passed him. We all handle the hills in our own way.
The last two to three kilometres were happy ones. By then, my pace slowed even more, but I was still moving. I kept thinking to earlier, “maybe I could push it.” I most certainly did have the internal energy inside of me. I wasn’t feeling tired per se. I think that I could’ve picked my pace back up after being a bit slow (I even did this at Blue Nose 2021). But would my hamstring have been happy? Would it punish me for trying to go faster? I thought to myself, “I’ll be sure to stretch you properly before our next marathon. You’re not going to do this to me again.” I turned off my music. I should have done this at the start. I had no need for it on this marathon. Given the amount of spectators and supportive energy, that was the noise I could’ve used. I think for my next major massive marathon, I may do it without the tunes. Coming up to about 41 kilometres, as the people got louder, I played a complimentary chant in my head; the voices of We’koqma’q youth yelling and repeating, “Let’s go Jarvis.” I did replay this throughout the marathon here and there, but it was more consistent with the final kilometre – the final push. The crowds were great and wonderful, and so was the community that raised me. They wanted to see me finish this. I smiled running towards the 42.2K spot.
Stepping towards the finish line, I wanted to cross it with my arms up in victory. But given the chafing I developed and worried about what the photos may look like, the lowered my arms into a bit of a bicep pose, which turned out to look pretty cool. Unlike other races (e.g., Valley Harvest Half and Blue Nose, both 2021), I didn’t feel like I was going to get sick. I should have felt exhausted (e.g., Nova Scotia Marathon 2021), and yet I wasn’t. In fact, for the first time ever, I finished a marathon feeling fine (a word I really don’t like using). My post-marathon walking strength was impressive to me. Typical soreness did eventually set in later on, but after I stopped running, I was happily still moving. This was the best I ever physically felt (to date) right after a 42.2 kilometre race. I am certain that the training Erin had me do somehow helped with the post-marathon strength. I remained injury-free and my knee (which I was worried about for weeks) held up. Taken together, although I didn’t earn a new personal best, this translated into a successful marathon for me. I learned good lessons from Boston. I most certainly need to get great and proper rest/sleep in leading up to the race, to actually stretch (especially the hamstrings) days/weeks before the big event, to figure out how to consume Gatorade and gels in a manner that won’t slow me down, to have solid carb meals the days (and night) before (the sandwich was a fun idea, but I should be eating pasta or a good pizza), and to stay off my feet in leading up to the big race. I did rest on Sunday but Saturday I did walk a bit too much.
After I finished, one of the volunteers met up with me; Steve Moland. We spoke the night before about doing a potential media interview with a Boston station. While it didn’t work out, he offered to do a Facebook Live video, which was widely shared. I thanked him for it and then went to go get my Boston Marathon medal, and I was all smiles. While my iPhone had tons of iMessages, I didn’t have the time nor focus to respond. I was in the midst of working out a live interview with CTV. After that was done, I met up with Kerri, who was a bit cold as the wind picked up. I was also now feeling the post-race chill when one stops running. I got word from Christina to come on up. It was nice to finally meet her (and her husband) in-person (after months of inboxing). I didn’t shower right away, as we also used the time to simply chat and reflect upon doing our first Boston Marathon under the coaching and support of Love Training More. Kerri made reservations at PURO ceviche bar, which we would walk to. So I showered up – quite painful when you’re chaffed – and changed. I thanked Christina and Andy for their generosity, and said that we’d drop by next time we were in the area.
Kerri and I headed to the restaurant. Along the way, we somehow managed to briefly stop in front of a pub, where upon looking inside, we saw many Nova Scotian marathoners and runners. We recognized each other and I went in for a short social chat. We continued on to our restaurant, enjoyed the celebratory dinner, and walked around for a bit. It was recommend to me years ago that walking post-marathon was good for you, especially if you have an upcoming long drive. When I had a sufficient moment, I uploaded a post-race selfie and a short note about finishing the Boston Marathon. One of the nicest and coolest things that I loved about being in downtown Boston after the marathon were strangers simply congratulating each other for doing the race that day. Even those who didn’t do the marathon were congratulating the runners. I loved the atmosphere and gesture of appreciation and support we were all giving each other, just like during the race. We took our time downtown that evening so that things would lighten up a bit to catch an Uber back to the hotel.
The post-marathon morning – what would otherwise be a quiet time for me – was anything but. My two interviews that I did, as well as the We’koqma’q pep rally video, caught on quite quickly, and with that, more media inquires came in. It reminded me a lot of last year, but crammed into a few days. I did two interviews from our hotel room (with CBC Maritime Noon then APTN) before we left. On the road and headed towards Maine, the Cape Breton Post and Canadian Running Magazine also reached out. I was fortunate and grateful that Kerri, who was very patient with me, wanted to stop to shop along the way, as I was able to take the calls sitting in my car in parking lots. We spent the night at a relaxing Hampton Inn in Bangor, and on Wednesday at 8:00 a.m, I did another interview with CBC Indigenous. Then Kerri and I had Hampton Inn waffles for the first time since January 2020 in Houston, Texas. Later that morning, I did another interview with SaltWire from a Bangor parking lot. Heading home and just outside of Saint John on the Mi’kma’ki side, I started to feel a bit drowsy. I promptly stopped and asked Kerri to drive the rest of the way. Checking my inboxes as Kerri drove, I scheduled another interview with The Reporter, which I did Thursday morning. I also learned that earlier on Wednesday, the Nova Scotia Member of the Legislature for back home (Allan MacMaster) gave me and We’koqma’q a kind shout-out that morning in Province House. Then later on Thursday afternoon, I emailed Coach to share some early thoughts on the Boston Marathon and she responded. She asked for some detailed breakdowns of how I felt during the race, which I replied with late that night. Coach gave further thoughts and wonderful encouragement on Friday. Also that day, Patti Dillon said that she’d also like to speak to me about Boston (which meant a lot).
With all my interviews (which I enjoyed doing albeit how busy things got), there was a consistent message that I tried to share. Mainly, how thankful I was for my community’s encouragement and how I hope that me doing the Boston Marathon would inspire Mi’kmaw youth to chase their own dreams and goals, and that nothing is impossible. While proud to be the first person from We’koqma’q First Nation to do the Boston Marathon, I most certainly don’t want to be the last nor only one to do so.
Since September 2016, I’ve been running marathons. It’s interesting how I’ve felt after Boston. I’m still a little bitter that my Fredericton 2021 wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be, yet not only was that a Boston Qualifier, it was faster than my Boston Marathon time. Blue Nose 2021 is my personal best to date on a tough course, and I still find myself feeling great from it. With Boston, I’m oddly proud of my 3:15:07 even though it’s only my third best time to date. I think because I have two other marathons planned for 2022, not to mention several other races, my “post-marathon glow,” isn’t lasting that long. I’m grateful for the experience beyond words, but I think it’s because other races are coming up, my mind is already on them. With Blue Nose 2021, it was my last one going in into the winter, so I stretched out the post-race euphoria longer than usual. Boston is in the spring, and with more races in 2022, my focus is set. Coach Erin always encourages me to be proud of how I do, and she is right. One powerful lesson I learned about myself from Boston was that I still have potential for faster times. I’ve learned to accept that slower times (in fact, all marathons) still give valuable lessons for future races. As I already wrote, there’s so much I’m taking away from Boston, and am ready for the next marathons.
Finally, in addition to all those who gave me such encouragement, love, and guidance along the way (such as my wife Kerri, my amazing coach Erin Poirier of Love Training More, my home community of We’koqma’q First Nation, and the countless comments, inboxes, texts, etc… from everyone else), I received generous financial support to help me out for my trip to the Boston Marathon. I’m truly grateful for sponsorships from We’koqma’q First Nation, Ulnooweg, Eagle Island Lodge, the First Nations Regional Adult Education in Gesgapegiag, as well as several family members and friends. From the bottom of my heart, wel’ioq m’sit wen/thank you all.
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