On Monday I took part in what some are calling the greatest day in running history. It was a day of healing, celebration, and for me, a day to overcome. I ran the Boston Marathon!
Early that morning, there was an energetic and positive vibe in the athlete’s village in Hopkinton. Everyone, including myself, seemed really excited to be there. The security may have been heightened a little as expected, but it was still easy for my Dad to drop me off right in front of the village, and in order to enter, all I had to do was show my race number and get a quick check by a volunteer with a hand scanner.
I was assigned to Wave 2, Corral 1, which meant I got to start in the very front. The first time I ran Boston in 2011, I was assigned toward the back of the first wave, so by the time I actually crossed over the start line, the only thing I could see ahead of me was a sea of bobbing heads. This time, however, there was nothing blocking the view of the pavement leading steeply downhill. It gave me an idea of what it would have been like to start up front like one of the elite athletes earlier that day. It also allowed me to visualize what the scene would have looked like fifty years ago, when the number of entrants was only 400 and it was probably possible to start up front no matter who you were.
The first ten miles or so of the race had some major downhills, especially toward the very beginning. My plan was to run conservatively, with my goal pace being between 7:40 and 8:00 per mile. Even though I started toward the front, I was immediately swallowed up by hundreds of runners passing me on both sides. Despite my intentions, I was shocked when I looked down at my watch as I passed the first mile mark- it read 7:04. I did my best to slow down, but with the combination of having well rested legs, the swarms of people passing me and carrying me along, and the spectators lining the streets and cheering on the runners, it was difficult to rein in my pace. My next mile was in 7:14 and I felt like I was jogging, when in fact, I was well ahead of my goal pace. Eventually I settled in and hit a rhythm of 7:30-7:40 minute miles.
Leading up to marathon day, my left foot had been giving me quite a bit of trouble. Even as I was walking around the athlete village race morning, I had felt a few pangs. After about ten miles into the marathon, however, any worries I had about my foot began to disappear. It felt completely fine for the first time in weeks. I knew my husband and family and friends were tracking my progress online, and I so badly wanted to communicate with them, “Hey, I feel great! I’m going to be fine!” so they wouldn’t have to worry. I went into cruise control, gliding from town to town, smiling at all of the spectators and giving a wave or fist pump to anyone that saw my Portland Running Company singlet and yelled “Yeah, Portland! Go Oregon!”
Around mile 15, a fellow Portland runner from Team Red Lizard came up beside me and said, “Hey, I think I just heard that Meb won.” Wait… wha?? I had to make him repeat himself. Because this guy was telling me that Meb Keflezighi, an American runner whose personal best was more than four minutes slower than the top contenders in the field, had won the Boston Marathon. I needed more confirmation. As I ran through the next water station, I asked several volunteers who had won the marathon. They had no clue. I asked several spectators as I ran by, and one said, “An American!” Then finally, another runner out there with me shouted, “MEB!” The news was spreading like wildfire- Meb had won the Boston Marathon! He was the first American to do so in 31 years. I absolutely could not contain my excitement. I was grinning ear to ear. It was all the inspiration I needed. I could no longer hold myself back and I started to take off, passing runners left and right. Over the next few miles, the amount of spectators grew, and at soon enough I was dashing through the main street of Newton, its sidewalks filled to the brim with people. My energetic running was earning a LOT of cheering for Portland! It was an unforgettable moment. I kept telling myself that if Meb could win the marathon, I could stand to pick up the pace a bit. I finished that mile in under seven minutes, and threw in a few more 7:30s.
After that magical little moment, it was back to business. It was time to tackle the Newton Hills, and I was ready. I had held back so much earlier in the race, that once I started to ascend the hills, I felt that I could give myself permission to let it hurt a little more. I was able to maintain my sub-8:00 goal pace, but this time I had to earn it.
Once I made it past Heartbreak Hill and entered Brookline, my goal was to not fall apart. It’s always through those last several miles when it seems that time slows down. Despair starts to set in. You start to wonder when you’ll ever see the next mile mark, and when you do, all you can think of is how very far from the finish you still are. It was through those last few miles that I really drew from the support of the crowd. I tried to keep my chin up and be strong for everyone cheering. I wanted to be strong for Portland and strong for Boston. I thought of the the mantras that two of my running heroines had written for me on my bib number just days earlier. Lauren Fleshman wrote, “Be the lion.” Kara Goucher had written, “Always believe.”
I thought back to the time Kara had run Boston for the first time in 2009, and I was home watching on TV. At the same point in the course I was at, she was chasing down Salina Kosgei and Dire Tune with all of her might. It looked for a moment like Kara had been broken, but then just near the tunnel with 1K to go, I remember her throwing off her gloves and surging ahead once more, refusing to let the other women break away without a fight. I tried to be strong like Kara and strong like Meb had been on that very same day.
As I turned the final corner toward the finish, I did my absolute best to keep it together physically and emotionally. The sound of the crowds cheering was deafening. I heard my name in what can only be described as a ROAR coming from my Dad somewhere in the throng of spectators. My legs felt pulverized and I was getting passed by what seemed like multitudes of marathoners raising their arms and celebrating their soon-to-be finish. I definitely could not lift my arms. I definitely was not thinking about smiling for the cameras. But I definitely kept my eyes on that finish line and continued pumping my arms forward in seemingly slow motion until finally I had crossed.
I made it. With a finish time of 3:22:31, which is more than I could have asked for considering this crazy year. I was honestly a little stunned. After months and months of worrying about the outcome of the race (read about my training leading up to Boston), and whether or not I would even make it to the start, let alone the finish, there I was, just past the finish line with a volunteer congratulating me and hanging a medal around my neck.
As I slowly and painfully made my way through the finisher’s area, I was met by the friendly faces of volunteers congratulating me, handing me water, and wrapping a Mylar space blanket around my shoulders. I did my best to thank each and every one of them for being there. I eventually turned a corner to make my way toward the family greeting area, where I was met by another big group of volunteers. There were maybe twenty or thirty of them, and they all began clapping for me. I tried to hold in my emotions, but it was impossible. I felt so humbled. I thanked them for being there while trying to wipe the tears streaming down my face. I learned later that almost all of the volunteers in the finish area were returning volunteers from the previous year, when the bombing had occurred. I can’t imagine the emotions they were going through by returning to that very same place.
I continued hobbling along to the family meeting area, which getting to seemed like a mini-marathon in itself. I desperately scanned the crowds for my family, then finally, I saw my sister Katie who gave me the biggest smile. She, my Mom, and my Dad came rushing over and gave me huge hugs, and of course I lost it again. There’s nothing quite like the comfort of being embraced by your family after being in so much physical pain. There’s nothing quite like the Boston Marathon.