I’ve been working on this post for nearly two weeks and have found the task of writing about my trip to Boston daunting. It was emotionally overwhelming, so much so that I can’t find the words to describe how I felt. The entire trip I fought tears. On the plane up there. Driving around Boston. All that work and I was finally getting my reward. I couldn’t believe I was actually there. I couldn’t believe I actually did it.
I don’t know of a word that can properly describe the overwhelming emotions of what it’s like to tackle a seemingly impossible goal and be successful.
It all started on October 29, 2013. Yes, I remember the exact day. That day, I ran the Houston Half, it was my fourth half marathon. In the three previous races I’d finished in 2:13 and 2:10…twice. For some reason, I decided during this race to actually race instead of just run, to give it everything I had and finish with nothing in the tank. It was an experiment of sorts, to see what I could do if I endured a little pain. So, I pushed myself. I ran as hard as I could for 13 miles. And it hurt. But for the first time, I broke two hours. 1:56.
I went home that day feeling like I’d won the Olympics.
That evening as we sat around talking about the race I wondered out loud, “If I can break 2 hours with no real training…what happens if I actually try? Do you think I could qualify for Boston?”
My husband, who has never been known to sugar coat things, responded with a very matter of fact, “Of course you can.”
And so it began.
You have to know, I wasn’t the person I am now. I was every ounce an average runner who hated the act of running but loved having run. I’m wasn’t one of those people. You know, the passionate, super talented, fast kind? Not me. My one and only marathon was a 4:36. To qualify I had to shave off an entire hour.
An hour, y’all.
Do you know how long that is?
In marathon time that’s practically centuries.
In the three years it took to qualify and then train for Boston I became a different person. I learned a lot about what it’s like to take risks and not let my life be dictated by fear. I learned other stuff too…
…that not trying yields the same result as failure.
…and you don’t have to be special to do something special.
I’ll be the first to tell you. I’m not special. I’m not especially talented. I’m a normal, average person who dedicated herself to achieving an almost impossible goal and was successful.
Which is how I found myself in Boston last weekend doing all the things Boston Marathoners do. Walking amongst all the people at the expo and waiting in line at the pre-race dinner, I felt almost like I was a trespasser, except I wasn’t.
I was there because I literally worked my ass off. I was there because I earned it.
I had to keep reminding myself of that as I stood at the starting line. I was in the first corral of my wave so I was right up front, a place I’ve been in many other races, except this time all the signage said, 121st Boston Marathon.
In the words of my husband, holy balls.
The race was incredible. It was HOT that day, so any dreams of a PR were pretty much gone before I started but I went in with the intention to do as well as I could while still soaking in the experience.
And I did.
I enjoyed every second of that race. The spectators in the first six miles of the race from Hopkinton to Framingham where awesome. They were having parties in their yards, blaring music, singing, showering athletes with water hoses.
Near mile 10 in Natick my dear friend, Jenn, with whom I was staying, had staged some of her friends along the route. As I was running through town I saw posters in Jenn’s handwriting, with my name on them, held by strangers who became ecstatic when they realized that I was the “Go Joni, Go” they were rooting for.
“Hey, that’s me!” <jumps up and down>
When I finally found Jenn and my hubby close to mile 11, I stopped to give them both sweaty, nasty, genuinely happy hugs.
It was amazing.
I was extra cautious managing my pace early on and properly fueled so I never hit the wall. By the time I made it to Heartbreak Hill at mile 20, my quads, though tired, were still functioning well. They didn’t start to complain about the hills until mile 23 and by that time I was cruising on adrenaline. The last few miles from Brookline into Boston were beyond memorable. Yes my quads had checked out and I was waddling more than running but the turn onto Boylston Street made it all worth it. As I ran that last quarter of a mile to the finish I couldn’t help but think about what it took to get there.
Three years. Three years of spending two hours a day at the gym. Three years of foam rolling. Strength training. Stretching. Speedwork. Long runs. Icing. Injuries. Three years of not knowing if I’d be successful. Three years of imagining what that day would be like when I achieved my goal. Three years of daydreaming.
When I turned onto Boylston and watched my dream turn into a reality it was surreal. That thing I’d thought about for so long, that I wasn’t sure I could do…it was actually happening right in front of me. Unbelievable.
Finishing time. 3:35.
No, I didn’t PR but I don’t think anyone did that day, the conditions just weren’t there. BUT I was only 6 minutes off my PR, which I ran in nearly perfect conditions on a flat course. AND I missed part of peak training due to a lapse in judgement which found me mountain biking in the rain and later in a doctor’s office barely able to walk with a grade 3 quad contusion only three weeks before the race. (Yes, I realize how stupid that was.)
I raced the Boston marathon, never hit the wall and I qualified for Boston next year. I can’t ask for anything more than that.
After the race a couple of people asked me how I did, relative to the rest of the runners. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought about it. I consistently win my age group or at least place when I run, but I knew running the Boston Freakin’ Marathon I wasn’t going place in my division so I never even bothered looking.
Much to my surprise, I finished in the top third, nearly the top quarter, of all females under 40…and I’m almost 38.
Best of all, I did it without injury.
Yesterday, only 10 days post Boston, I ran a casual 10 miles. Not because it was on a training plan or because it was a stepping stone to achieve some impossible goal…but because it was a nice day. Because I wanted to. Because I could.
From average to awesome, right?