1980 training miles, 48 Saturday mornings, 8 pairs of running shoes, endless packets of gu, and countless loads of laundry later..

GetAttachmentI finally crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon!  My race did NOT go as planned.  But if I’ve learned anything along the way it’s that you cannot plan everything out.  You have to go with the flow.
I was feeling so great in the days leading up to the race. Even though I knew I’d under trained (a month long illness in March really set me back mile wise) I thought I’d have a good race. A strong one. I loved the anticipation of and preparation for it. Marc’s cousin, Marisa (who was soooo good with our kids last year when everything happened at the finish line) was running this year too, so she came up on Saturday. We had a great time with her that night, and even more fun at the expo on Sunday. I love the expo! The kids love the expo – well at least they love all the free samples!  We strolled down to the finish line like we had the previous two years for a photo op, but this year I refused to step on it. This time I figured I’d leave that for the next day.
On Monday Marc left early with Marisa so she could catch a Wave 2 bus. I followed later after I’d dropped the kids at our friends house. We met up on the Common and loaded ourselves into the bus, along with Marc’s Samaritans teammates. The bus ride out was fun, but the traffic was crazy. I was starting to worry that we wouldn’t arrive on time but of course we did. We had just enough time in Athletes Village to stretch, grab some last minute food and head to the start.
The weather was warm, the sun was strong. I decided right from the beginning to take it easy. I thought I’d go out slow, take in the sights and sounds and save my energy for when I’d really need it. So Marc and I ran together for a little while which was nice, but his long strides can’t keep him at my pace for long. We agreed to meet at the finish. Running slower was a good way to experience the race- at first. I high fived so many little kids, and I think I read every single sign held along the way, or posted on other runners backs. They were so inspirational! I followed one woman whose shirt was telling me “you can do this!!” for a while. I thought YES I can do this! I AM doing this! It was great.
I loved running though Ashland and Framingham. I loved the little kids and the bikers partying on the sidelines. I loved the energy from the crowd. I was feeling happy. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt GOOD. It felt great to see my friend Eric at Mile 11. I was thrilled to see other friends just before the scream tunnel at Wellesley College. I had fun in the scream tunnel… maybe a little too much fun. I think I high fived and woo-hoooed a bit too enthusiastically because right after that I started to think, wow I am tired. I can’t catch my breath. But my body still felt good. Legs were ok. I adjusted my breathing and my pace, and kept going. But it was starting to feel tough. I couldn’t tell if I was thirsty or if I’d had too much to drink. My stomach was woozy. When I saw my kids and Kathy and Kate at mile 16 I had to stop for a few minutes. It seemed like a good idea to hang out there for a while. In all honesty, right then all I really wanted to do was hop in the car with them and go home. But that pit stop rallied me a bit and I kept going. I was feeling good again when I saw Tina in Lower Falls and Justin at Newton Wellesley Hospital. Seeing them made me happy, and running happy always helps.
I’ve always hated that stretch in Newton before you make the turn. I think it’s the anticipation of what’s to come. The dread of the hills. This year I felt ok. I had a second wind. But then all of a sudden both my quads seized up. I have never felt such a sudden sharp pain like that. It literally dropped me to my knees for a few seconds and I thought- what the hell was that? But I got up and kind of jogged through it. But it kept happening. From mile 18 through mile 26 it would subside when I walked, then happen again when I started to run. It was really awful. The pain was breathtaking. I thought about going to a medical tent, but I didn’t want to waste the time. I only wanted to get to the finish. I knew I’d be walking most of it, but I wanted to keep moving. Get to the goal.
A few years ago (when I ran Providence instead of Boston) I never would have allowed myself to walk. Never would have considered it no matter what. Even last year I refused to walk. A few times last year I let myself walk through water stops but never out on the course. This year I didn’t have a choice. But it wasn’t so bad. I got to talk to other runners. I got a lot of encouragement from the crowd. Little kids offered me oranges (and they never tasted so good!). I stopped worrying about my time. I just wanted to make it.
Anyway, I made my slow progress up Heartbreak Hill and then limped, walked and sometimes ran my way through Brookline. When I hit the 40K mark I knew I was going to have to rally. My new goal was to run from the spot I’d been stopped at last year to the finish without any walking, no matter what my quads were doing. So that’s what I did. At the Mass Ave underpass I picked up my pace. My legs were screaming at me! My lungs were bursting from the effort, my eyes were tearing from the pain, but I was running. I made the turn onto Hereford and my heart just swelled! The crowds were insane!!! The noise was deafening!! I turned onto Boylston and forgot all about my legs. The cheering was incredible!! The spectators were joyous!! I thought about last year. I thought about my husband and how close he was to everything last year and how happy he must have been when he was on Boylston this year. I thought about Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard, Crystal Campbell and Sean Collier… I thought about all the people that were there last year and all the people that came back this year. The brave victims who are still struggling to heal because of what happened at the very spot I was passing. And then I saw my friend Mindy- my running partner, the person who sacrificed Saturdays and endured long, bitterly cold and snowy miles with me to help me get here. She was standing right where she had been last year, because she needed to do that. And I thought THIS is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter that my pace was way off, that my legs were on fire, that it wasn’t my best race. I was finishing something that needed to be finished. For me, but also for so many others. The yellow and blue line was getting closer and closer. And I thought- we are all still here. We have done this. We have taken back our race. And then I was done. I crossed. After three years of trying, after obstacles both small and large, after everything that had happened between when I first set the goal and that very moment, I did it. It was done. Finished.

#weruntogether: the end

iageYesterday I ran the slowest and most painful race I’ve ever run (recap here). But it was also the best, most fun, and most rewarding one I’ve ever experienced. It was Boston, and I ran all 26.2 miles of it. Finally.

Crossing the finish line never felt so sweet. When my feet hit that rubber strip yesterday I was overcome with the emotion of the moment. The relief of it. It wasn’t because my legs were screaming at me to stop, stop, stop. It wasn’t because my lungs didn’t seem capable of sucking in enough air to keep me breathing. It wasn’t because my toes ached and my shoulders throbbed. It wasn’t because my head buzzed and my eyes were watering. It wasn’t because I was so damned tired. No.

Why did I feel so relieved? Because all along the way to that end point the enormous and boisterous crowds were still there. The inspirational signs were still there. The runners were still there. The guys with the bullhorns were still there. The girls in Wellesley were still there. The kids hands held out for high-fives were still there. The mile markers were still there. The beer swilling BC kids were still there. The BAA volunteers were still there. The strangers calling my name, encouraging me to go on were still there. My husband was still there (somewhere up ahead running his own good race). My friends and my kids were still there to cheer me on in Natick, in Wellesley, in Newton, in Boston. The noise, the energy, the smells and the sounds of the race were ALL still there. It was exactly the same as last year’s race, and the race the year before that and the year before that. But there was something more this year. There was a renewed sense of community, a heighted sense of camaraderie, a strengthened sense of pride, and a certain new diligence for safety. It felt like everyone was looking out for everyone. And it felt like YES- we faced something terrible, but we’re back and we’re better for it because we are getting through it together. It was such a relief to me to be a part of that and to know that we really did take our race back. It felt the same. It felt like the Boston Marathon.

Crossing that finish line represented so much more than I ever thought it could or needed to. When I first set out to run Boston it was only to achieve a very personal goal. Something that I wanted to do for me. But over time it became clear that it could never be just about me. Because I am not a solitary planet. I am a small part of a much bigger universe. And nothing in that universe can be controlled. I realized that no amount of planning can really prepare you for the big race. During these past years so much has happened in my life, in my training, and in the world that I never could have imagined or wished for. Bad things happen every day to good people. But evil never wins. Because those good people fight back and they fight with their hearts. And they fight together. After all that we went through as a running community, a city, a country we aren’t broken. We came out, we took our day back and we finished the race. We truly are Boston Strong.

Closing In

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I haven’t written much about the Boston Marathon lately, but don’t be fooled.  It doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind.  In fact for the last four months it’s been at the top of my mind almost every day.  Because once again I’m training to go the distance, run 26.2 miles and cross that finish line on Boylston St.  Only this time it’s different.  I can no longer say with certainty that I am actually going to see that blue and yellow stripe under my tired, aching, blistering feet.  Way back in November of 2011 when I decided that running the marathon for Boston Children’s Hospital would be a good thing I had no doubt whatsoever that I would make it.  I’m not a fast runner, but I’m solid and the distance didn’t scare me.  I wasn’t out to set any records, just check off a bucket list item and help an organization dear to me.

Little did I know then that there would be so many obstacles in the way.  Freakishly hot weather, acts of terrorism, those thoughts did not cross my mind as I filled out the paperwork to apply for the BCH team that first year.  I thought, ok I’ll train, I’ll raise the money.  I’ll do this one step at a time.  And I did that.  The first year my training was great- mild weather, no injuries, no illness, just steady progress toward a goal.  I felt good, great, confident.  Right up until about 24 hours before the race when the BAA started sending out alarming emails about the dangers of first time runners participating in the marathon.  What? Not run?  Impossible.  I’d put in so much time.  But alas, my fear won out and I didn’t even cross the start that year, let alone the finish.  You can read about that here.

Ok, so there’s always NEXT YEAR right?  Right.  I had a number, I was in.  I signed up with BCH again, because I figured I might as well raise money for a good cause if I was going to put in all the effort again.  I trained.  I trained through a few minor injuries and a lot of snow, but I did it.  Logged all the miles I could and I was ready on April 15.  I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment I had as I lined up in my corral in Hopkinton.  I made it! It was really happening!  Me, running the Boston Marathon.  The marathon of all marathons.  And to boot it was a perfect running day- crisp, sunny, beautiful.  Until it wasn’t.  You can read about that here.

After the marathon bombings my husband and I were shaken to the core.  This wasn’t something we saw on the news or heard about second hand.  We were THERE.  It happened to us.  It is still incredible to me that this our reality.  I never in my life imagined being part of something so horrible.  There are still so many emotions tied to that day- grief for the victims and their loved ones, survivor guilt, fear of a repeat act (somewhere, anywhere) and the realization that bad things can happen. Do happen. Right in front of you.  We can no longer look at the world entirely through rose colored glasses. And anger.  Lots of anger that two cowardly, ridiculous, evil people could wreak so much havoc on so many lives.

That’s what drives me to finish the race.  I WILL finish the race this year. I will finish it because I am strong and healthy and able. I will finish it for Lingzi Lu, for Martin Richard and for Krystle Campbell. I will finish for all those whose lives were forever changed that day. I will finish because so many of them are still struggling, and will continue to struggle for a long time. I will finish because I love Boston and all that it represents to me (family, home, love, life). It might not be a pretty race for me.  Training this year has been a constant test of my dedication.  I’ve run through sub zero temps, a polar vortex, mountains of snow, ice, hail, driving rain, the flu, an upper respiratory virus that would not go away and a nagging, lingering ache in my foot from last years injury. But I am determined to make those last two turns- right on Hereford, left on Boylston. I could be crawling by the end. But- on April 21: I. Will. Finish. The. Race.