Training for a marathon is hard work. Even if you’ve never trained for one, you know it’s hard. Someone has regaled you with stories of banal minutiae about how hard it is. Some people lament the taper period. Not me. EVER. I might be one of the few that don’t dread it. This particular time, on the final few days before I hit the start at Hopkinton, MA, I enjoyed these shorter, more relaxed runs and reminisced about the past 5 years it’s taken me to get here.
You see, it was exactly five years ago that I even considered doing a marathon for the first time and my first training run was along the Charles River in Boston, while visiting family. I signed up for the NYC marathon lottery that month. My lottery number didn’t come up, so I ran for charity, happily. I remember, as a neophyte runner (I didn’t start until after my 2nd daughter’s birth at age 33), my friend, Allyson, spoke longingly of doing Boston in the near future. She was encouraging me to run a marathon after a good time in my first half marathon, the Naples Daily News Half that January 2008. I acquiesced politely and said, “okay, I’ll join you, let’s do Boston”. I’m from New England. It would be going home for me. Allyson ever more politely, without shaming my ignorance, informed me of the hallowed path to Boston. It was at this point that running a marathon wasn’t going to be just a nice challenge…dun dun dun, it was a MISSION. Qualify? Really? Not anyone can just sign up and DO IT.
Okay, I’m in.
I was warned not to try to qualify for Boston for my first marathon. I was advised to just go, have fun, experience it and not focus on a time goal. Do it for fun? Are you kidding? I wasn’t going to train for months and not go for time. I was admonished that “ a lot can happen in 26.2 miles”, so I didn’t tell everyone I planned to qualify, but my secret weapon –intention. I intended to run a 3:45 or below. I ran a decent race and qualified with a 3:38, seven minutes faster than the time required. However, I never made it to Boston that spring, I had trained through injury and it prevented me from running the Boston race, after all. I ran NYC Marathon before the current qualifying time changes for Boston, so I actually had 18 months to register for Boston (now you only qualify for the next Boston, not two). I decided to go for it again with my same NYC qualifying time for 2010, but it sold out in record time within two weeks. There went my qualifying time. If I wanted to run Boston, I’d have to run another marathon. I still really didn’t consider myself a runner and after my injury for Boston 2009 and shut out for 2010 Boston registration, I just called it good. I was a one and done marathoner.
Until…I ran into another friend, Pam Tanner, a great local running talent, at a park one spring day in 2011. I hadn’t run in three years. We reminisced about the training she helped me with for NYC Marathon 2008 and all the training runs we did together. She told me I was a good runner and she encouraged me to consider another qualifying race to run Boston 2013 for my 40th birthday. My birthday was ten days before the race, I had dreaded turning 40 (for about forty years), so I thought this would be a good way to empower myself, forget the age and celebrate life and achievement!
I chose to run the Chicago Marathon for Girls on the Run in October 2011. It was a fun, fast race and I qualified with a 3:21 time (this time 24 minutes less than my qualifying time), but although I was well-trained by local Leapfrog Running and uninjured, I ran with a bad case of bronchitis, which left me fatigued and ill for months. For Boston, I made a commitment to be well after this race. I wanted to enjoy the experience and celebrate. I considered it a victory lap, having earned my place in the race.
I took a completely different approach to running Boston than any other running race I had ever done. I didn’t run with a watch for my training runs or for the marathon. I had always run with a Garmin watch, a GPS device that tracks my pace every step of the way. I found that by constant checking in with my pace I would push myself harder. I was not always listening to my body and often found myself depleted or injured. With the deepening of my yoga practice over the past couple years, including pranayama (focused breath work), I was committed to putting this mind-body practice to the test at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.
A couple days before the race, feelings of that familiar tummy upset, part-insomnia, eager nervousness began to set in…feelings I recognized from 20 years of exciting endeavors: standing on the edge of the river scouting class IV rapids, craning my neck up a big wall about to embark on the vertical or paddling my surf board out in big water.
Anticipation. Eagerness. Desire. Passion. (some fear)
It’s all the same to an athlete; balancing grit and grace with a practiced body and a focused mind. The body intuitively knowing it’s going to feel the pain and the mind knowing it will be all worth it in the end.
I was grateful I had taken three hours at the Boston Marathon expo the day before the race on Sunday to listen to the seminars, something I hadn’t done at New York and Chicago. I became deeply inspired by the legends of this race. I have never partaken in a public event with so much tradition and pride. It was inspiring to listen to and meet the first woman to have run the Boston Marathon, Katherine Switzer. I was enamored by Dave MacGillivray’s (race director) humor and humility; every year, when the race is over he actually runs the course by himself. This would have been his 41st running. My thoughts went to him repeatedly after the tragic turn of events. This man’s passion and love for this race is woven into the fabric of his entire life.
Five years after my first qualifying race, for my 40th birthday, I proudly stood at the start line with tears of joy and accomplishment. I thought about one legend’s words of wisdom that what’s on your mind and in your tummy can make or break you. I had been sick for a couple weeks before the race, having eaten some adventurous food while staying in the Dominican Republic, and I awoke that morning with a disadvantageous feeling in my belly, but a drive and spirit throughout that I knew would carry me along: tenacity (see previous Fit Nation article about tenacity and achievement here). Winning is just as much attitude as it is outcome. Just being here in that moment, I was winning. I endured miles of tummy upset, cramps and discomfort, knowing there is strength in being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Tenacity is winning.
There is a love affair between runners and spectators at Boston Marathon that is celebrated in loud, passionate public displays of affection (PDA’s): signs, gummy bears, Swedish fish, orange wedges, beer, music, bells, whistles…infinite “high fives”. Some of my favorite race motivators were: the little girls loving my tutu (I dressed for the celebration, after all), a sign that said Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever and one spectator telling me I was running “tutu fast”. I was hurting the last half-mile and at least 50-100 people started chanting “tutu, tutu, tutu, tutu, tutu”. This lifted me. I picked up my pace, ran with pride, soaked those final moments in and was incredibly grateful to finish strong with a 3:35 and get through the gear busses before the blasts went off. I was there. My young children were there, but we were unharmed, at least, physically. Humor, love, connection and 26.2 miles of celebration quickly turned dark, somber and tragic.
My heart and love go out to all the families directly affected. Being one block away, our hotel turned into incident command center, we were on lock down and surrounded by military, ATF, medics, police, FBI and Fire and working canines. My daughters and other children have concerns and questions we must face, but the marathoners are tough and Bostonians are resilient and I know we will all continue to love and passionately nurture this long time relationship between the city of Boston and it’s world community of runners that unite every April for Patriots Day.
Please check in with my blog for my perspective of this tragedy coming at: