As I may have mentioned once or twice, it’s been 3 long, hard training seasons leading up to one race.
Strap in, because I truly went into this weekend with one goal: to enjoy every last moment of the entire process, and treat this Boston like I would never be back to race it again. And you’re about to hear ALL about it.
Race weekend for me starts at the expo, and I kept this promise to myself from the moment I walked through the doors. I was surrounded by a flood of runners also donning their blue and yellow jackets from last year, smiling, nodding and giving each other pats on the back saying “We’re back!”. I won’t pretend the vibe was all sunshine and roses from the beginning- bags were searched TSA style the moment you walked into the building, bomb sniffing dogs were just about everywhere and way more police officers than I’ve ever seen at a race expo- but I expected just about all of it so I was OK with that.
If you haven’t seen it for yourself, the Boston Marathon Expo is about as big of a deal as the Marathon itself. The expo is M A S S I V E and it’s too easy to get lost and overwhelmed in it. With the extra 9,000 runners it was extra easy to feel overwhelmed. Though to give credit where credit is due- packet pick up was incredibly quick and painless. They broke down the numbers enough that no one had a line and I had my bib number and T shirt in hand by 9:10am. Not too bad for a major.
Heading into the expo I had one item on my to-do list (after picking up my packet- obviously). I wanted to meet Dick Hoyt.
For those who are unfamiliar, Team Hoyt was founded by a father and son who run Boston together every year. The kicker here- the son (Rick) has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, so dad Dick pushes him. Every. Single. Year. If that isn’t inspiring enough, Dick publicly stated many times last year would be their last Boston. They did all the typical press junkets, a bronze statue was erected in their honor, and they set off that morning to run their last Boston together. They, like 5700 other runners, were stopped a mile before the finish. Instead of saying “We had a great run and unfortunately a last finish wasn’t in the cards”, Dick quickly and openly confirmed that they would not be stopped and they would come back to finish the final race they had started.
A lot of us struggled with the option to come back and run again after everything that had happened, myself included. To hear the horror and disgust in Dick’s voice when he spoke of what was taken from so many that day, I was inspired to make sure I went back to. I felt I owed it to this man to know how much he inspires not just those dealing with disabilities, but everyday not-super-speedy runners as well. I beelined for his booth and thankfully caught him without a line. It was probably the most inspiring 90 seconds of my life.
From there, I walked around and took in some people watching and product demos. Then, as I was about the head to the finish line to take it in, I heard “Kara Gaucher and Lauren Flieshman will be at the Oiselle Booth at 11am”. Seriously? It was 10:10- no brainer. I was three rows over and have a major girl crush on Kara Gaucher. Done and done. The line was only 10 people long by the time I got there and I met some awesome runners from Michigan (yay Michiganders!) in line who were awesome to talk to. We patiently waited and before we knew it, I was getting a hug from probably the sweetest pro athlete in the world. Seriously, as if I didn’t already have a girl crush- she’s super sweet too.
Realizing life was not going to get much better at the expo, I packed up and left. Just in time too it seems, as people were starting to get that claustrophobic “Get me the hell out of here!” vibe about them. I walked down Boylston Street and took in the sights that were a little harder to bear.
There were many somber spots along the route, but also many signs of resilience and hope. The race continuing alone gave the city the atmosphere of hope and resurrection after last year. People eating lunch on patios and enjoying the sunshine, taking in the energy from the runners and the excitement of race day nearing. There was also this…
For the first time since last April, I truly felt invigorated and inspired to run this race again. Suddenly I realized that all of us who were stopped last year were returning not just for ourselves, but to prove to those outside out little world that we won’t be stopped. We will return and not be afraid. We are STRONG.
Feeling on top of the world, I met up with my lovely friend Ali and her boyfriend Jon for lunch. I changed into my new 2014 sweatshirt (nothing against the jackets, I just already have 2 and can’t justify $115 on another one) and soaked in the energy of all the runners around me getting to the city and meeting friends for drinks. A 26.2 brew and a Bloody Mary later, I felt ready to take on the rest of race weekend with every ounce of willpower I had.
Sunday was spent at brunch with the family for Easter, and then an afternoon full of worrying, planning and stretching. I ate a bowl of plain spaghetti, plain red sauce, a sprinkle of cheese and was in bed by 9:00pm. It was race eve, and I felt ready.
I drove to my brothers girlfriends house at 8am where we got a ride from a family friend to Hopkinton. We were both worried about the shuttle and chaos Boston Common would be, so we decided getting a lift was the best option for us. We were dropped off about 2 miles from Athlete’s Village, and to be honest it was a perfect distance to loosen up and feel ready for the race. We took in all the excitement of the town, and even got to use a REAL BATHROOM at a Cumberland Farms where some runners had gathered to kill time before the race. A real bathroom on race day is the greatest of luxuries. We were grateful.
We arrived at Athletes Village an hour before our start time and since neither of us had been there before (we had both run with charities who had separate pre-race areas in the years prior) so we made sure to take in as much of it as we could.
The increased security was everywhere we turned. Twice before getting to the village we had to stop and be waved with metal detectors, our bags searched and numbers flashed. Once inside the village there were military helicopters overhead and snipers on the roof of the school. I can’t say these haven’t been here in previous years, but I hadn’t heard of them.
The original plan was that I’d run the first two miles with a friend named Joe, who I know from the 5700 Strong group. He’s been a great source of positivity and optimism on the page and I was excited to finally meet him in person and run the first few miles together. We kept contacting each other and sadly, there were so many people we were never able to find each other. By the time our wave and corrals were called there were so many people near our meeting place we couldn’t even get close to eat. Chelsea and I couldn’t even start in our designated waves. There were so many people we couldn’t walk past, so even though we were supposed to start in corrals 4 and 6, we both started in 8. Strangely, this was the only place where the course felt crowded to me.
As Chel and I were standing and waiting to start I told her I had nerves, and I could feel them up in my chest. She reminded me that this is just a run, like the hundreds of others we’ve done, it was just keeping one foot in front of the other. Granted, she was going to do it at a WAY faster pace than I was, but she was right- just another run. The starting line came, we hugged, and we were off…
The first mile felt great. I was cruising the downhill and feeding off the energy of the crowd and knew my pace was slightly faster than I should have been (10:02/mi), so I made it a point to slow down for the second mile. My plan going into the race was run two miles, walk one for the whole race. My biggest fear was hitting the wall and running out of steam around Heartbreak Hill, so I wanted to keep it slow and steady- truly enjoy the experience.
I started running again at 3 and suddenly at mile 4 those “nerves” suddenly became much worse. I could feel my chest tightening and as much as I knew in my gut what was coming on, I wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening. “Just push through” I told myself. Right past the 5 mile mark a police officer working the sides waved me over and asked if I was ok- I said I was, that it was just a slight flare, that I’d walk it off and stop at the next medical tent. I knew I wasn’t completely OK, but I thought with a walk the feeling would pass.
It didn’t. I got to the medical tent at 7, they listened to my lungs and told me continuing was not a good idea. I won’t pretend I took it well. Of course, I cried. I had wanted to come back, to finish the race I had started back in 2011 and to feel the rush of running down those last few blocks of Boylston St; especially this year of all years. I finally had to admit to myself, it just wasn’t going to happen.
I was brought back to the finish line and have never felt so defeated in my life. My mom was waiting at the Fairmont Copley for me, handed me a margarita, gave me a hug and told me it would all be OK- maybe Boston just wasn’t my race. In my head I thought, “Maybe she’s right, and maybe a Boston finish just isn’t in the cards for me.” I disappointedly drank my margarita and took another puff or two off of the inhaler, then excused myself to use the restroom. I headed into the lobby gasped louder than I ever have in my life.
There he was. Meb.
I looked at him, and noticed the small entourage around him, with one of his people holding the golden wreathe. Suddenly his security/manager/friend/entourage member put his hand up at me and said “No pictures right now”. Before I could say anything Meb put the mans arm down and said “No, she ran the race, of course she can have a picture”. I was floored- Meb had literally called ME over for a photo- me, who didn’t make it to the halfway point of the race.
All I could think to get out of my mouth was “Thank you so much for winning today- it means so much to this city”. He hugged me and said “I did what I could for Boston and for my country. All things in God’s time, today worked out as it was supposed to. God bless and congratulations” and with that, was turned and went off with his entourage.
I could chalk it up to dumb, blind luck; or I could look at this chance meeting as a sign I’m not supposed to give up the Boston dream. Sure, it didn’t work out as I’d hoped yesterday, but lots of people have overcome much more than me to cross than line. Maybe I just haven’t earned it yet. I’ll be damned if I stop trying.
After freaking out and informing everyone I JUST MET MEB, my brother came to the hotel and we went for a couple drinks. I got back home around 8:00 to find Jim and Buster waiting for me with flowers and a steak bomb sub. God I love these two.
So, with Boston behind me, what’s next? I am registered for the Heartbreak Hill Half in June, so I’ll be back to visit Heartbreak before my next crack at Boston. Oh, and there’s one other little thing I have coming up…
But more on that tomorrow…