So I’m back in sunny Arizona and still feel like I’m processing this whole incredible experience while also readjusting to life without my extra “job” (i.e. training and fund-raising lol).
This experience was such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, where do I even begin?
Okay, from the top.
5 a.m. Wake Up Call (2 a.m. AZ time–yikes!)
The night before the “big day” I tossed and turned quite a bit. I dreamed that I was scanning the Boston Athletic Association’s Website for my official race time; completely skipped the race part altogether in the dream. I’m not sure why my dreams were focused on my time so much (maybe it was my deepest question mark that I couldn’t predict), who knows.
I had carefully spent a good 30 minutes laying out my running gear. There was my running jacket along with my visor, a full-coverage hat, tons of warm clothes options “just in case” the weather decided to defy all of the reports and turn rainy rather than sunny and a bag full of all of my necessities for supplementing and hydrating during the race.
As I got out of bed and started quietly getting ready, everything began to sink in. This was THE day.
My mind always goes back to a photo I have of myself right before the start of one of my State track meets from high school. I’m gathered with the other members of my 4x3200m relay team among dozens of other high school track runners receiving instructions on the rules of the race. When the gun will go off. How long our first runner needed to stay in their lane. Timing for passing off the baton.
My face is so serious you’d think I was absorbing life or death information.
Though I couldn’t see it at the time, I suspect my face was much like that as I slipped on my running capris and then a pair of old sweatpants for extra warmth. My faithful running jacket on along with my Childhelp/Isagenix shirt, I decided to chance it and wear my visor, opting for what I had trained in.
By 6 a.m., we were headed out the door to downtown Boston so I could catch a bus to Hopkinton, the start of the legendary race.
As we arrived and I jumped in line, I was grateful to get on a bus within about 30 minutes. Here’s my view from the bus of those who arrived a little later:
The line was hundreds of runners deep and snaked down the street, curving into downtown Boston. So glad I didn’t have to stress over getting a spot on the bus!
6:45 a.m. (4 hours ’til race time)
Once on the bus, I chatted with my seatmate and was relieved when he told me that he was running the race due to a “connection” he had and not because he’d smoked his qualifying time. He was from New Hampshire and this was only his second marathon. He was so excited to be running the marathon he’d seen from afar since boyhood.
(Here’s the Charleston River on our way out of Boston)
Honestly, going to the Boston Marathon as a charity runner, I wondered how I would feel when I arrived and was among the thousands of other runners. Would I feel worthy? Like an outsider?
On the day of, I was so excited to be able to share more about Childhelp with the people who asked me about my shirt and my charity. I received more “good for you’s” than judgmental glances.
As our bus approached Hopkinton, we came upon our first Boston Marathon welcoming sign that made my heart skip a beat:
(and yes, it’s being blown by a freezing cold wind)
The Athlete’s Village: our holding pen until it was time for us to approach the starting line according to our wave and corral (I was in the very last wave in the very last corral since I was A) a charity runner without a qualifying time and B) One of the last charity runners to be registered since we were picked up from the waiting list in February.
Athlete’s Village is a fenced-in area located behind Hopkinton High School. A large tent was set up along with hundreds of Port-o-Potties, tables covered in bottles of Gatorade, protein bars, bananas and oranges. The grass was soft, wet and muddy following the previous day’s rainy weather, so I had to grab a few items from my bag to sit on while I waited. I marveled at some of the ingenious ideas that more “experienced” runners had: Many brought tarps, garbage bags and even inflatable rafts (they would just blow up the pillow part) to lay on the ground. Tip for next time for sure!
Just an hour before the race, I lined up behind dozens of other runners at a bank of Port-o-Potties. I struck up a conversation with a California runner who had qualified for Boston during her second marathon, the LA Marathon. Since I couldn’t seem to connect with my fellow Childhelp runners and she didn’t have anyone to pal around with, we became friends for the time being and wandered around in search of where to drop our bags and head to the start.
Then we discovered the massage tent. (YES!)
This was it!
10:45 a.m. Start Time!
The sides of the start line were crowded with well-wishers. People hung out of store windows and cheered, held signs and offered snacks and encouragement. You knew they’d been doing this for over an hour already. The elite had gone. The really fast had gone. The just-made-it speedy runners had gone. And now, here we were, the few thousand left who were in the final wave in the very last corral. The person on the megaphone said “We’ve been waiting for you all. You’re our favorite! Thank you for all of the money you’ve raised for charities to get here. You did a good thing.”
My eyes began to well with tears and my chest began to feel heavy. I thought I was going to just lose it right then. There in that moment as I soaked in the energy and excitement, the anticipation and the true realization of what I had done, it was almost too much to handle.
I managed to keep myself from sobbing uncontrollably, pulled myself together and let my smile overtake my face, pure joy spread across it.
I was about to run the Boston Marathon!
With little additional fan fare, the crowd began to surge forward and I readied my Garmin running watch so I could follow my pace, my mileage, and if I was on track for my general time goals.
Miles 1 to 6
Though I’m a fan of running with my iPod while training, it’s never been my second-nature. I’ve always enjoyed running without additional distractions. In the first six miles, I also just wanted to focus on not going out too fast, taking in all of the beautiful views of New England and relishing the incredible spirit lined up along either side of the course. Children held out sliced oranges for energy, their hands for “high-five’s” of encouragement and cowbells to channel their energy into effective clangs. Locals waved flags and signs, clapped their hands and yelled out for those who had written their name on their shirt.
Unfortunately, during those first six miles, my stomach was not too happy with me. Perhaps it was nerves or traveling, but I’ll spare you the details and sum it up like this: three Port-o-Potty stops later I was pretty much fine.
Miles 7 -16
In the past three marathons I’d run, typically the first 13 miles are pretty easy and go back fairly quickly. It’s the final 13 where the mental and physical hurdles truly begin. For me, that was not the case in this race weirdly enough. As I ran along downward slopes and the easiest part of the course, I began to feel sad that my son and family weren’t able to be there to support me; I began to overthink the number of miles I still had left in the race; I began to battle self-defeating thoughts that I hadn’t encountered in a very long time.
I pushed through, reminding myself that my cousin Emma would be at mile 13 waiting.
As mile 13 came and went, frantic cell phone calls back and forth finally resulted in the realization that she was closer to mile 14. Where was mile 14?
Frustrated, I took my time and replenished fluids, said prayers and tried to kick myself into gear. Finally, just after mile 14, I saw her.
Here, I mustered up my courage and the biggest smile that I could, but outwardly as I spoke with her, I felt defeated. This was not how it was supposed to be going.
I pushed myself through mile 15, took a walk break with fluids and talked myself through what I was feeling. “There are only 11.2 miles left in this thing. You are over halfway there. You are doing great.”
But inside I had hit a mental hurdle.
In that moment, I grabbed my cell phone from the pocket of my water belt and text messaged my husband.
“Please pray. I’m really struggling right now,” I texted through a blur of fresh tears.
He quickly responded:
“Praying. You’re doing great. I’m following you now.”
Then another text message came through, but this time it was a photo message:
A picture of my son and two nephews that my mother-in-law had taken. I’m sure it was meant for me to see after the race, but in that moment it was exactly what I needed.
I broke down crying, and after a few minutes the wall seemed to be gone.
I was back and ready to conquer the next leg with a more cheerful demeanor.
“I’m learning to breathe, I’m learning to crawl, I’m finding that you and you alone can break my fall. I’m living again, awake and alive. I’m dying to breathe in these abundant skies.”
The journey to Boston had been filled with ups and downs. I was so grateful for all of the support from the hundreds of people who donated to my fund-raising efforts for Childhelp, who had shared encouraging words and asked me how my preparations had been going.
As I approached the area between mile 20 and 21 known as “Heartbreak Hill,” I honestly couldn’t distinguish where this landmark was. The whole way to the point felt like a large rolling hill that crested, fell a bit and then climbed up a little higher. When I reached a point with a large, blown up sign that read “You’ve conquered Heartbreak Hill,” I almost laughed because I still had no idea which one it was. Oh well.
Miles 21 – 26
Just when I thought my challenges for the race were over, they began again. At mile 23, literally as I stared at the sign and then glanced at my watch, the screen suddenly went blank and shut down. A Garmin trademark popped up on the watch face and then quickly disappeared into a thin line.
This couldn’t be happening.
My Garmin is a great tool if only for one reason: When you just need to know the answer to the nagging question in your head of “how much further,” it can answer it for you right away. When I see that the numbers are at 22.68 miles, I know I have less than .4 miles left before that number rounds out and somehow, that’s motivating.
I shoved the bleeping watch into the pouch of my water belt and ruefully set off toward the finish line. This sucks, is all I could think in that moment.
Two miles down the road, my training injury flared up with pain searing the side of my left foot. Still, I pressed on, determined to finished. I was so close!
As I rounded Copley Square and hobbled my way toward the legendary finish line street, Boylston Street, I passed a man pushing his disabled son in a souped up wheelchair, an entourage of other “Team Hoyt” emblazoned across the back of their jackets. This father-son duo had been through marathons and triathlons together and now, the father in his 60s, here they were finishing the Boston Marathon.
After realizing who they were, I got a little choked up and that much more inspired. What was a little foot injury compared to all of this.
Soon, there I was at the end of Boylston Street, the finish line only .2 miles away, yet still feeling so far. I focused my attention on the finish line and went for it, my foot burning with each step. I was about to accomplish my dream!
I crossed the blue and yellow, John Hancock Boston Athletic Association finish line, my arms held up. I was so grateful in that moment to God for blessing me with such an amazing opportunity; for making my dream a reality; for loving me in that way.
I was overjoyed that I had done it and relieved that it was over.
A volunteer greeted me several yards down with my Boston Marathon finisher medal. I started to cry as she placed it around my neck and I told her this was my biggest dream come true.
“Oh honey, you’re so young! I’m going to give you your medal and also give you a hug. Congratulations,” she said as she placed the medal around my neck and embraced me.
April 18, 2011 is a day I will not soon forget.
After taking this quick picture, it was time to do something I hadn’t done all day: eat. With the race starting so late, it was already 4 p.m. by the time it was over for me.
So my cousin and I went to a seafood restaurant a few blocks away called Turners and indulged:
Seafood risotto first….
So, to sum things up, Boston was a dream come true, even if things didn’t come together like a dream. I raised over $6,000 for Childhelp. I spent two days with my family whom I hardly ever see. I reconnected with my cousin in a deeply profound way. I ran the 115th Boston Marathon which will likely always be known in the history books as the race that recorded the fastest marathon time ever (Geoffrey Mutai 2:03:02).
I’m not sure what my next “#1 Bucket List” item will be, but it sure will be hard to top this one.
If you happened to make it through this incredibly long post, thank you ever so much again for all of your support through this whole journey. I know I could not have done this without the encouraging words, prayer and financial support from those that care so much about me.
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!