I couldn’t believe it. I was standing at the start line of the Boston Marathon. I had envisioned this moment for the past 5 years, and now it was finally here, but contrary to my vision, I wasn’t as excited as I had always thought I’d be.
Three weeks before the race, on my last long training run, I unknowingly overworked my stabilizer muscles. In the days that followed I tried to do some routine runs but to no avail. I decided to play it smart and take a couple days off to give my legs a break. A couple days later, I tried to go on a run and couldn’t even make it 3 steps. Something was wrong. So, I did what any sane runner does when they can’t run. I called every single friend imaginable for tips, advice, and consolation. Lucky for me, as a long-time runner, that list of friends includes a chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, physical therapist, and numerous other marathoners and ultramarathoners. My circle of friends is quite amazing, and I leaned on each of them in my time of need. I ended up having to take 3 weeks off from running in hopes that all the resting would calm those muscles down in time for the big day. In that time, I also got massages, got adjustments, got acupuncture, strength trained, aqua jogged, swam, and did the ARC trainer at the gym. Would it be enough though?
After a mind-torturing 3 weeks, I showed up to the start line of the Boston Marathon filled with dismay and self-doubt. Would I even be able to run? Would I cross the finish line? Was all of my hard work and effort a waste?
I decided in that moment, whatever the outcome was, I was in, ALL in! I mean, who knows when I would get this opportunity again? I am a full time working mother of two small children, life happens. Everything had lead up to that moment, the moment that I had only hoped for and dreamed of and worked so hard to achieve. I had two choices, mope and quit or take it mile by mile and go after it.
I felt pretty good after the first 5k. The temperature was already warmer than I’d like it to be, so I passed through a water station. My legs had warmed up by then and the pain I felt 3 weeks ago was surprisingly absent. I kept my pace easy and steady knowing that the first 6 miles could make or break your Boston experience if you take all of that downhill too fast.
I was still feeling good, but very very thirsty. “It must be the heat,” I thought to myself. I got into my groove and held my pace steady with a huge smile plastered on my face. I seriously didn’t think I was going to be able to run at all, let alone the first 10k of the race. I was elated.
I was singing, “Sweet Caroline” with hundreds of other runners and spectators thanks to a unknown spectator blasting music from his front lawn. I have to say, it is a pretty phenomenal experience to witness a sea of runners simultaneously throwing their hands in the air to the rhythm of the lyrics, “BA, BA, BA” … priceless. I made a stop at another aid station. This time I took Gatorade and water. Boy, it was hot.
After the adrenaline rush of harmonizing with Neil Diamond I noticed my pace was slowing, but, with effort, I was able to hang on and maintain a light jogging pace. I had made it 13 miles. I had made it halfway through the Boston Marathon when I wasn’t even certain if I would make it one step, but my old nemesis was beginning to assert its reign over my body and was trying to conquer my efforts. I definitely needed the upcoming energy jolt of Wellesley College to get me through the next set of miles. I stopped again at the aid station. This time I completely stopped and drank 3 full glasses of water. I just could not satiate my thirst.
Oh, the Wellesley girls and the “Scream Tunnel.” It was just what I needed. I was fading fast at this point of the race. A combination of the heat, my thirst, and my aching hips and glutes from my injury were all moving me towards my breaking point. Passing through the scream tunnel allowed me to forget about all of that and to just embrace the moment. A wise friend advised me to savor Boston and enjoy each part of the experience, to high five spectators until my hands hurt. I knew I wasn’t going to set any personal records this time, so I followed her advice and moved out of the center of the pack to the sideline where I could give high fives. I must have slapped 20 hands when I thought to myself, “Why the heck not live in the moment?” So, I stopped and kissed a Wellesley girl. I was officially a Boston Marathoner. My fate was sealed with a kiss, so I had better close the deal and cross that finish line no matter what.
I had to make a long aid station stop. I took in a lot of water and Gatorade and gave myself a pep talk. It pretty much went like this, “Ok, you only have eight more miles to go. You can walk eight miles, easy! But how embarrassing, walking the Boston Marathon. Friends at home are following you right now. Forget about all of that. You made it here! You deserve to be here! Today is your first run in 3 weeks and up until now you couldn’t even run a step without wincing in pain. If you have to walk, then you walk. No shame. Own it and get that hard earned medal!” So that’s what I did. I “wogged” the last eight miles of the Boston Marathon.
I played mental games just to get me to the finish. At this point my hips were throbbing in pain and IF I attempted a run, it turned out to look more like a waddle. Imagine a penguin trying to run at full speed. Yeah, I think you get the picture. I would pick out a landmark and will myself to waddle along until I reached that point and then I’d let myself walk. Right at mile 20 a kind local was offering runners ice cubes to combat the heat. I declined but joked that I could actually use the whole bag for my aching hip. “Well then, here you go,” said the man as he twisted the bag up tight and handed it to me. With my mouth agape, I gratefully accepted the bag and secured it within my compression running shorts with a rejuvenated pep in my waddle.
Let’s just say that it was very hard for me to have to swallow my pride. I wanted Boston. I wanted to run well at Boston. For some reason though, that just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had thousands of cheering fans shouting at me to not give up, to just keep going. I wanted to tell them, “I’m not giving up, don’t you see? I want to run, I just can’t.” But that would be pointless. Instead, I politely smiled and said, “thank you” to all of those well-wishers and encouragers. I was even more determined than ever to prove to all of them that I was not a quitter, that I could uphold their motto and be “Boston Strong.”
I wish I could say that I crossed that finish line brimming with pride and joy. That was not my experience though. I crossed that sought after line feeling only relief that it was over and disappointment in myself. In that precise moment, I felt I had failed.
It’s funny how one’s perspective can change after overcoming a huge obstacle. Now that I am home and recovered from the race, I no longer see myself as a failure. I look back on that day and I can honestly say that I am brimming with pride and joy. I could have easily stopped at mile 18 and walked off the course. Instead I chose to embrace the moment for what it was and to use the energy from the crowd to propel me ahead. That crowd believed in Boston. That crowd believed in its marathon runners. That crowd believed in me. Thank you, Boston, for an incredible experience that taught me how to believe in unicorns.
Jenny is a marathon mom in every sense of the word. Not only does she run marathons, but she is constantly running around with her two kids, helping to teach them the value of an active lifestyle.