In January I was about 90% going to cancel the whole trip, a dodgy calf, the prospect of running strong at Boston was looking bleak. I never wanted to attempt a PB but I wanted to be ready to run strong while also enjoying the race as a celebration of my running journey so far. So started journey of leaving my pride on the sideline, letting all my expectations of what “should be” go, to growing just a little bit more as a person and a runner.
I’ve never run a marathon and not run a PB. I don’t run them often, and I certainly don’t run them without the necessary preparation. I qualified 18 months prior to Boston with a PB of 3hrs3mins, however since that run hadn’t run a marathon. In fact, although I was still running I had pretty much taken a mental break from “racing” running trail 50kms and enjoying a bit less stress, while I had some family issues to contend with, it was for the best.
Still I thought 4 months would get me in reasonable shape to run strong, not a PB, but with a long consistent period without injury I thought a good run could be on the cards.
The calf strain threw a spanner in the works, and in the end, even with all the water running, AlterG sessions, and strength work - I felt fit but not running fit, and only got the minimum in long runs (about 28km) and weekly mileage didn’t get anywhere near what I need to feel confident.
My mum was coming with me on the trip, a special journey she didn’t want me to pull out - and I had to remember my “why” for entering in the first place. It wasn’t a time, it was a celebration. I could make the distance so I had to let go of the voice in my head that was pride, what would people think, could I take the blow of breaking my marathon PB streak. Mum and I had a 30+hr flight and somewhere in that time my hip started bothering me, I tried to focus on just enjoying the experience with my mum, she loves to travel, and she planned all the non-running things for us to do, I was happy to just go along. The couple of runs I got in the week leading up were wonderful and cool, in Central Park, New York City - then I got a cold, and a cold sore… argh. I decided to not run at all in the last 3 days before the race, just to see if I could get on top of the cold and if the niggle would magically disappear. One thing about being overseas is you don’t have your usual support network, I couldn’t squeeze an appointment in with my physio or chiro, and I couldn’t really figure out what the actual issue was. I just had a “feeling” every time my foot hit the ground, making me favour it - oh well, it will go away if I rest it, I thought - see how we go!!
It was looking like similar conditions to last year with a thunderstorm predicted so I went and bought gloves, poncho etc etc in preparation, oh well, at least it won’t be hot, was my thinking!! Now in normal situations I wouldn’t dare wear the race singlet during the actual race being a bit of a jinx, but I had this funny feeling that, watching the humidity and the weather, it looked to be shaping up like the weather from home - rain then clearing to sunny, warm and humid. I decided to wear the singlet which was lighter than any that I had bought… arm sleeves and gloves… and see what happened. By the time it got to drop my bag I had my jumper off, arm sleeves away and only the poncho and light gear on… I took the gloves to the start line trying to believe that I may need them - but they went straight in the charity bin.
I loved the athletes village, bagels and bananas! I loved the atmosphere and the line up and being surrounded by athletes who had worked hard to qualify for this special event. I felt lucky, proud, but also doubted my body and felt a bit out of place knowing I wasn’t at my best physically, that was something strange for me, lining up for an event note really ready, not something I usually do, but there I was, doing it!!
I didn’t go out hard, I know how to race distance events and if there is any kind of struggle in the first half, it is going to come back at you like a steam roller later on… however, even in the first few kms I wasn’t running right, I was favouring my left hip and trying to ignore it, not that there was anything I could do. The first few kms were downhill and steeper than I thought - people flew, but not me, I was just trying to manage my way thought this and get to the end!! Things were pretty good, not running fast but not struggling either I thought I was in the right zone and my heart rate was just right too, all was well. I can’t recall too much actually except trying to keep an even, steady pace and trying to stay calm - for the first 15km… which I guess is a good thing…
Probably about 20km I started to feel hot internally, oh my, I knew it wouldn’t be easy but this was way earlier than I expected - I had to go to the toilet and now not only was I contending with the still hip, but my good calf felt like it might cramp - I already wanted it over. Oh no! I went to the toilet, I reevaluated. I needed to externally focus to get through this run because the humidity was real, I it was painfully obvious I couldn’t keep the pace I was running, even if it felt steady. So that was were I was at. It all hurt, my pride, my heavy legs, my hip - all the things that had worked against me in the lead up, it all hurt. However, right then I just had to focus on moving forward toward the finish. That was all. Get it done and try to take it all in…
So I looked around. And this is what I saw…
I saw children holding out lollies and paper towels, bananas, iceblocks, lollies... I saw signs saying “Tap here to power up!!” and I tapped them (who am I?), I saw a man with a bucket of ice which I gratefully took and shoved down my crop (yes I was that hot :/ ) and then another runners said to me “yeah it’s gonna be a cold day they said!!??” I agreed with a resigned smile...
I saw and felt the volume of hundreds of college students screaming, wondered how they could do that all day… I saw bands, people on a lounge in their pyjamas with a sign “thanks for giving us a reason to get out of bed!”, cowbells and assisted amputee runners, a pregnant runner with “baby on board” sign, wow! I saw a spirit that couldn’t be held down, runners cartwheeling, families cheering together competing who could get the most high-fives!!
It was sometimes overwhelming and I even had to move away from the screaming at one point, overall I would say it was like a rushing river of running, a tidal wave of humanity both running and cheering us on to the finish. If I came for a celebration this was certainly one, even if I wasn’t feeling great, I could appreciate the atmosphere.
I actually loved the course, the pounding downhills would suit me in a fitter state, the gentle long grinding up hills as well, the course was a-mazing, the best I’ve ever run...and coming in to the last few kms was just exhilarating, just when you thought there couldn’t be more supporters and cheering, there was!
Towards the end there were the runners cramping and the runners being assisted by the ambulance officers, and I empathised, I saw the runners helping runners and I asked a girl stopped in front of me if she wanted to get this done together… but she needed the toilet and couldn’t run anymore, poor thing.
I decided to give myself a strong finish as a gift to myself. It hadn’t been a good or even an ok marathon physically but I wanted to finish on a high so at the 40km mark I ran hard as I could… this wasn’t fast for me, but I wasn’t looking anyway, I was feeling.. And I gave it all that I had - and in those last kms I felt the exhilaration I crave - a there is nothing like a strong finish for me, and I will take the knowledge that no matter what I have it in me to come home strong, Boston strong.
This was a special trip with my mum, I really tried to make the most of it, she stood at the end, like she has stood for me in so many races, proud and in awe of what her daughter has the capability to do. She was so proud, all my family and friends were proud no matter the outcome, and that is enough for me. There will be other races where I will be more ready, where I will strive harder but there will be nothing like Boston marathon and I will always want to go back.
From congratulations by random people walking past, to tour guides, the security guards at the airport, and congratulatory free breakfast at the South Street diner - it was certainly very special to be part of, and finish the race. It doesn’t matter how I ran it, it matters that I ran it regardless of anything else that was going on, as a celebration, and the gift was to become a Boston marathoner. What an honour.