I hate the marathon. Hate may be a strong word. As a competitive person and one not naturally inclined to see the bigger picture, marathon running is something that has brought me much anxiety and frustration because of the inconsistency of my performances and not ever feeling like I live up to my potential. The marathon has also brought me a level of pure joy that I can’t quite put into words which is why I keep returning to the race even though, to the amusement of my friends, I tell myself after each marathon, “I’m retiring.”
Five years and 5 marathons later I arrived on April 17 to the start line of the Boston Marathon. Boston is something I chased for a long time and always fell short of due to poor race strate
gies or injury, but finally caught after a marathon hiatus and revamped training plan. Leading up to Boston was a bit of a roller coaster. The high from qualifying never quite faded away as I continued to have injury-free training seasons. I felt faster than I’d ever felt. I was hitting my target paces for each speed workout and long run. I was ready. I was going to set a personal best. 3 weeks before the race a nagging injury from 3 years ago came back causing me to reevaluate my plan. My attitude shifted from apathy, to anger, to uncertainty. I found myself at the start line unclear of my plan and uncertain if I could complete the run.
Being at the start line of Boston is surreal. I don’t remember much before the gun shot other than a feeling of nerves and excitement as I gathered around other runners anxiously awaiting our corral to be called. I secured a spot at the very front of my corral, my toes touching the start line, as I waited with bated breath. “Thirty seconds,” the announcer would say. Silence. “Ten seconds.” Then the gun shot. I was off. I couldn’t contain my energy and excitement. I had agreed on a certain pace to hold until the half way point, but couldn’t. I felt too good to go any slower as I eased into my pace and soaked in the thrill of seeing hundreds of people cheer runners on and offer high fives.
The first 13.1 miles flew by. I was on a high from the cheers and the high fives and the confidence boost of feeling great and holding a consistent pace. I saw my best friend from college cheering in Framingham and my mom and stepdad in Natick. The excitement was really settling in and I felt like I really would have a successful race in spite of the weeks leading up to this day.
I was warned not to get too trigger happy in Boston. “The downhill will catch up to you,” everybody said. They weren’t wrong. Around mile 13.2 my legs felt shaky, stomach cramps set it, and my back, left hip, and left IT band were in pain. “Just keep running I told myself. Breathe through the pain.” My breath could only carry me but so far and around mile 14 I found myself walking. “It would only be for 5 minutes,” I told myself, not yet disheartened by my saturation. The five minutes turned into 16 minutes as I walked the next mile and brainstormed my next move. Now normally I would get frustrated at this point and probably cry or curse, but I had resolved to have a better attitude this marathon.
The next 12 miles were slower, more physically painful, more mentally exhausting. My legs did not move quickly no matter how much I willed them to. I walked. A lot. The next 12 miles were also fun! The crowd support in Boston is surreal. Never truly alone on the course, I took comfort in seeing thousands of spectators surrounding me. I high-fived a sea of BU students, hugged strangers (they had “Free hugs” signs), I got to eat free candy and oranges provided by generous neighbors. I laughed as drunk spectators playfully told me I shouldn’t bother wearing leopard print if I was going to go so slow.
Perhaps most importantly, I got perspective. It wasn’t the day I hoped or trained for, but the last half of the Boston Marathon was a much needed reminder of the reasons I run. As I walked, as I willed myself to run up the hills, I noticed many other runners running their own races. Runners without legs or their sight being guided by friends. Runners getting ready to have a knee replacement surgery out for one last rodeo.
Runners who felt great. Runners proudly displaying their country’s flag. Runners running for charity. Whoever said we see the best of humanity during marathons was correct.
Running the last mile to the finish I was overcome with what felt like a panic attack. It was hard to breath as I held back tears from seeing my sister cheering me as I turned the corner and heard nothing but the roar of the crowd leading up to the finish line. I did not PR, but I finished and it was awesome. I got to do something so few others get to do, something so few people believe they could ever do. I love the marathon.