The Boston Marathon means many things to Matt McFall and Rae Ann Darling Reed, but they will remember the hills the most.
They are unforgiving, even for experienced distance runners like Darling, the Manatee High cross country coach who ran her fifth Boston Marathon on April 21.
For McFall, the 19-year-old graduate of Braden River, those hills provided a big lesson: Don't ever underestimate them.
"The first five miles are all downhill. At 13 miles, I was running a two-hour, 46-minute pace and thought it would be my best time," McCall said. "At mile 17, we got to the first hill, and it took me by surprise. I was really tired and when we got to the second hill I realized I should not be running for time, but just to finish."
Running his third marathon, McFall finished in 2:55, which is his second-fastest time. Last January, he ran a 2:45 at the Disney Marathon.
He conquered his own personal obstacles, undergoing multiple surgeries on his face after an accident during the year leading up to Boston.
McFall did everything right, except for those hills. When you meet them for the first time, they are not very hospitable, he learned.
"I am a little disappointed. A lot of people told me I should try to go slow for the first five miles and save my legs for the hills. I didn't go as slow as I should have," McFall said. "The hills are at the end of the race and take so much out of you. You have to be careful about your expectations running your first Boston Marathon."
McFall ran in the 18 to 34 age group. He was one of 28 19 year-olds and said he finished fifth in the group.
Running her fifth Boston Marathon, Darling Reed didn't encounter any surprises, but she ran her slowest time at the event (3:53), attributing that to not being able to put in the proper training.
"I don't think I prepared for hills. As the race went on, I knew the second half was not going to be too good," Darling Reed said. "I used to train a lot more on hills and bridges and didn't do much of that this time. When I got to that first hill I knew I was pretty much done. I knew I wouldn't be running too good of a time and then it was not about me. I wanted to finish, which I felt was important for the race."
A native of Massachusetts, Darling Reed grew up near Boston and, to her, running the marathon was about sending a message to terrorists that they cannot stop the event, despite last year's bombings.
"We wanted to show that a year after the bombings we are stronger than ever and prove you can't take this away from us," Darling Reed said.
The highlight of the race for both was making the final turn, where they could see the finish line, which is about 200 meters away.
"I got choked up more than ever. People are yelling for you to finish. It's almost deafening, and you can't see beyond the crowd. It means so much, especially this year," Darling Reed said.
McFall said he started high-fiving people in the crowd at the beginning of the race, but when he entered the final turn it was like something he had never seen in his life.
"It was the highlight of the weekend for me," McFall said. "It's emotional just to see the finish line of any marathon and doing it at Boston is one of biggest emotional feelings in the world. People are screaming and cheering you on. They were giving out scarves and that was big for me because growing up in Florida I never owned a scarf."
If McFall and Darling Reed had a chance to do things over, they both would've trained in hilly areas. Reed Darling expects to do better next year, but McFall will be running for FAU and doesn't expect to be participating in any marathons for four or five years.
"I don't think my college coaches would want to me to do that, but I will run again someday at Boston and train differently, maybe go up to central Florida where they have all those hills," McFall said.
Darling Reed has three marathons for the next 12 months on her calendar, ending with another Boston Marathon. Next year, she will be prepared, but has no regrets.
"This year, Boston was not about me. It was about the marathon," she said.