Passing the “One Mile To Go” was a relief, but making the left onto Boylston and finally seeing the finish line was like an adrenaline shot to my heart. Chills of exhaustion and cramping muscles were forgotten, and I started to reel in other spent runners one and two at a time. For the casual observer mine was no finish line sprint. I was more than four hours into the hardest race I had ever run, but this was the Boston Marathon and finishing strong, or as strong as I had left, was the only way to go.
To me, Boston truly represents the ideal of a citizen’s Olympics, and it was a goal I would only let myself dream about on occasion, about as often as I considered what life would be like if I won the Powerball. I’ve been a runner for as long as I can remember, and I love to race, but I usually participate in them for the personal satisfaction and camaraderie found in the middle and back of the pack, not for turning in performances worthy of a spot on the starting line in Hopkinton.
Because I write for Competitor and Women’s Running, adidas, one of the race sponsors, offered me a bib for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. After saying yes, I had my doubts because I hadn’t ‘earned’ it. In the end, I realized this could be my only chance to run Boston and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity.
My coach just sighed when I said we needed to add an early season marathon to my race schedule. “As long as you aren’t trying to do something crazy, like go run Boston and set a PR, you’ll be good.” Actually, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Training for a spring marathon when you live in the mountains of Colorado and are treadmill averse presents logistical challenges, but I battled them with long cross-country ski days, endless water running sessions and hours on a spin bike and elliptical trainer. A stubborn case of Achilles tendonitis added to my training complications.
When taper time came along, I knew I was the most fit I’ve ever been, and had some long miles, killer hill repeats and tempo runs in the bank. More miles would have been good, but my coach and physical therapist had managed to keep me just at the tipping point of making progress without risking further injury.
The pre-race energy buzz in Boston was incredible to the point of leaving me in awe. All the stories and images of races past came to life as thousands of people gathered to celebrate an unadulterated joy of running. Seeing friends, meeting legends, hearing inspirational talks and testing new gear made me love the purity and accessibility of the sport all the more.
Race day Monday was perfect and we lined up at the starting line under partly cloudy skies and chilly temperatures with the promise of sun and mid-50’s as the day progressed. At go time, we made our way to the start coral by coral. The five minutes it took to get to the starting line were filled with shaking out legs and arms, friendly banter and sheer giddiness. My time goal for the day was to make it to Copley Square in less than four hours.
A downhill start, zealously supportive crowds and sheer excitement made the miles fly by, and I clocked a 1:56 for the first half. Right on target! Then I fell apart. Sore quads kicked in by mile 17 and cramping calves at mile 20. I had also taken on too much water and made a quick bathroom break at the top of Heartbreak Hill. I didn’t know how important those ten seconds would prove to be.