For long distance runners, some days are magical. Those are days where everything comes together and it feels like you are flying, not running. You don’t feel the impact or the pain, you feel like you can just go forever. It’s one of the best feelings in the world! Monday, April 16, 2012 at the Boston Marathon was NOT one of those days!
I arrived in Boston with my partner, Scott, late on Friday night, and as we left the airport in our taxi, I caught the first road sign indicating we were truly in Boston. I started to cry! I couldn’t believe it – I was in Boston! We were up bright and early Saturday to go register for the race and pick up my bib number, but first a quick breakfast where I shared our story about how Sierra County came together, selling bracelets, rallying support to send me to THE BOSTON MARATHON – our waitresses stood there and cried! They couldn’t believe it, but they vowed to cheer for me, too! It seems there are caring good people everywhere, and we met so many of them as we toured Old Ironsides (the battleship off of which the cannonballs bounced!), the Old North Church (where the famous lanterns were hung to worn of the British coming to attack), and Paul Revere’s home. None of this was wasted on me! I couldn’t believe I was standing where our country’s founders stood and fought for our freedom! It was inspiring, and I felt it would motivate me through the race.
As race day drew near, race directors started warning that it was going to be a very hot day (one for the record books – the third hottest day in the running of the Boston Marathon in 116 years!) and perhaps unsafe to race. They offered a free transfer to next year’s race (unheard of at the Boston marathon, but more than 4,300 people did not show up to race Monday morning). I thought they were NUTS! I had raced an Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.25-mile run) in 97-degree heat. I had raced a half Ironman in 111-degree heat. I was not worried. I had trained in heat, and wind and on hills. However, I had not trained in HUMIDIDTY.
Race day arrived, and I was more excited than I think I have ever been. I arrived at athlete’s village (three, yes, three football fields) filled with the best long distances runners from around the U.S. and the world! To be with that many folks who shared a common interest and goal was exhilarating!
As the race started, I again found myself a little teary eyed – amazed to be at this spot – where so many others had run for their dreams!
Schoolchildren lined the early stages of the racecourse, and they counted as runners gave them high fives. I could just imagine that many of them would someday toe the line to run this great race!
Miles 1-6 were great! I was on a decent pace and saw Scott at the six-mile marker! That was probably the last time I felt good all day! From there on out, it seems the conditions worsened. I tried to push, tried to pick up the pace, but it was not to be, it was if some internal governor kicked in and prevented my body from doing what it was trained to do.
The race directors had told us “if you choose to race, please slow your pace, use this as an experience, not a record breaker.”
I think it was about mile 11 when I realized it was going to be an experience all right. At mile 13 on the course, the famous Wellesley girls (from Wellesley College) lined the road sides with signs that said “Kiss me, I’m Irish; Kiss me, I’m from Florida; Kiss me, I’m a math major!” One even said, “Kiss me, I won’t tell your wife!” The men flocked to them and once kissed, the girls would scream and cheer even louder! It was amazing to run through this section I had only read about. The energy carried me a few more miles, but then I felt myself slow even more as the heat and humidity of the day really set in (the race didn’t even start until 10:20 a.m., so it was a brutal sun beating down on us runners).
At mile 15, I was feeling particularly low when I topped off a hill and ran up on Rick and Dick Hoyt (a father/son duo who race marathons and triathlons around the country. The son has severe Cerebral Palsy and the father pushes him the entire way). They are legends in the running world, and to run alongside them, pat them on the back, and cheer for them brought new perspective on my day and the goals I had set.
A few miles later, I came across a wheelchair athlete (all challenged athletes started in the first wave, 20 minutes ahead of mine). He was so fatigued he had turned himself around backwards and was thrusting himself up hill backwards! So many offered him assistance. “No way,” he said, “I’m not getting disqualified, I’m finishing this thing!” Again, my perspective shifted, and I decided winning has many forms and getting to witness such amazing human spirit is a gift!
Spectators along the course were running into their homes and bringing out trays of ice cubes for us! I couldn’t believe it – all of this for complete strangers – their help saved me, and I couldn’t help but think that I was surrounded by the most amazing people – back home in Sierra County and while here in Boston.
I thought of my friends and neighbors – Juan Carlos Maez, Mike Bonner, Loretta Tooley, all of whom struggle to have the energy to get through the day, and I thought I can get through this – they have shown me how!
As I reached the streets of Boston, the roads narrowed, the buildings older, taller, and all red brick marked the way, and I couldn’t help but think, this is where Paul Revere rode through the streets, this is where the Minutemen and freedom fighters rallied to fight for our country! It inspired me to push forward at any pace I could muster and then I came upon a troop of Marines, in full combat gear, running together. The crowd chanted U-S-A! U-S-A! as these servicemen made their way along the streets! Again I started to cry, but made myself stop as I thought the medics might think I had lost my mind (they did treat more than 2,200 runners that day and 135 were hospitalized).
I finally crossed the finish line 40 minutes slower than my goal time (many were over an hour past their goal times that day). I have never been so weary, nauseated, wobbly and completely thrilled as I was at that moment. There had been so many times that my body wanted to stop. I knew every step of the way, though, that so many prayers and thoughts were pulling me steadily to the finish, and I’m so very thankful, as I needed it more than ever that day!
Now, as I think back about the race, part of me wishes I would have had a better showing, but a much bigger part of me is so extremely thankful that I got to do it! I got to run Boston on one of hottest/most humid/most memorable days ever, and I did so with the help of my community – if that’s not winning, I don’t know what is! Thank you, Sierra County!