Julie ran the Boston Marathon in April. This is her story.
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The only thing I can think of that might have made for a better Boston Marathon experience would have been to run well. The disappointing run only slightly diminished the experience, however.
Most of the running I do is for the sheer pleasure of running itself. I dislike The Watch. When it's on my wrist, tracking time, it undermines my run. It creates an awareness that is the very thing I strive to escape by running.
So generally, I just run. But from time to time, I set a goal, don the watch, and train. This happened to me this spring, when I decided to run the Boston Marathon. Well, actually, Mark decided to run the Boston Marathon, and asked me to come. I have lots of friends and family in the area, I'd never run Boston, and I figured as long as I was going...
I’d run a 3:34 in California to qualify. I wanted a 3:30. And so I trained. Lots of road miles, track workouts, tempo runs, long runs. I enslaved myself to The Watch, and I ran.
One day, after a particularly grueling track workout, I noticed some discomfort in my left arch. I iced it, took some Advil, then disregarded it. Unfortunately, it continued to regard me, and the discomfort moved from arch to heel, and made its home there. Such was my introduction to the wretched world of Plantar Fasciitis.
Everyone had advice. I listened, followed most of it, hoped it would go away and leave me alone. But this injury, I learned, doesn’t subside quickly -especially when you’re actively training. All I could do was run through it, tough it out. In weak moments, when I questioned how tough I was, I reminded myself of the three natural childbirths I’ve endured.
So we went to Boston.
The city of Boston entirely embraces its marathon. It’s incredibly cool. Walking down Boylston from the Expo, street people wished us luck. Citizens of Boston riding the T seem enchanted rather than affronted by the sudden influx of fit-looking people in athletic gear crowding their trains. They struck up conversations, asked about goal times, wished us well. You gain hero status just by being part of it.
When race day finally arrived (just typing those words conjures stomach flutters), so began the slow progress toward the spectacle that is the Athlete’s Village. The requisite port-a-potty line, the nervous final moments spent waiting, stretching, and fiddling with shoelaces, preceded the moment when finally it was time to shed layers, deposit them with baggage buses, and head to the start.
This year the Olympic Torch graced the starting line, and Deena Kastor was one of the Grand Masters. The whole of the Boston Marathon is a well-run machine. The wave and corral systems run so smoothly you forget you are one in a herd of 25,000 runners. At the start, the nervous energy is palpable. From my distant corral, I heard the start, and the pack moved forward.
It felt good to finally start after all the waiting and build-up. Those first few strides were a relief. The course starts on the downhill, and with the vast supply of adrenaline to burn, I was barely cognizant of those first half dozen miles. I coasted through with little mental effort. It wasn’t until about mile 8 that my foot reminded me that I was going to have to work for this.
About that time, a pretty strong headwind kicked in, and the sun fired itself up. The mid-50s, overcast forecast was apparently a big lie. It got hot. I drank along the course, but was having trouble keeping my hydration out of a deficit. The heel zinged with every foot strike, and was building heat. I began to fret; there were still 18 miles to go.
I had a decent first half, then lost pace. Through Mile 15 I struggled and realized 3:30 was not going to happen for me. I fantasized about dropping, but bargained with myself that if I got through this, I’d never make myself do it again.
I had to turn it around. I figured if I didn't completely blow up, I could bank a 3:45. I could live with that. I let go of my goal, and tried to just soak up this experience. It really was amazing --bands playing, choirs singing, people lining the entire course, hands outstretched for a high-5, offering orange slices, wet sponges, shouting “great jawb”.
The nice thing about turning it around at 16 is that it's only 10 miles to go. Ten is doable, and that number keeps decreasing. The hard part is that Mile 16 at Boston is when the course gets tough. The Hills.
It was slow going, but there was forward movement. My Wicked Awesome Cheering Section, consisting of my cousin Meghan and her BC friends, gave me a rousing boost around Mile 22. I dug in and struggled to pull something out for that final push. My foot was a disaster, but I kept on.
Finally, we turned a corner and I saw the finish line. Sweet Jesus, it was over. My official time was 3:45.
The next morning we visited Faneuil Hall before heading home. We found ourselves amid a sea of fellow hobblers in official royal blue marathon garb, and greeted each other with knowing, sympathetic waves.
As we made our way to the airport that afternoon, I glanced down to check our time and beheld The Watch. It was at that moment that I realized this wasn’t over. I’ll get back to my Zen running soon, but maybe first I’ll take one more shot at that Boston 3:30.