On Monday April 20, 2015, the 119th running of the Boston Marathon took place, and I was honored to have participated. It was my third marathon ever.
The day started early: my pre-race anxiety and anticipation took form in a lack of sleep and being wide awake in the middle of the night for a couple of hours, only to fall back asleep to nightmares of missing the race. That happens to everyone the night before a big event, right? There was no need to worry in my case, if my alarm failed me, my sister would not. She too was running the marathon, and we were staying together with our kids and other family members in a house we rented in Newton – a charming suburban city about 7 miles outside of downtown Boston. A family reunion, mini-vacation, and sporting event all wrapped up into this one giant memorable experience, and there was no way I was sleeping in that day.
Getting to the start line was an event in itself. I suppose the logistics of getting 30,000 runners plus volunteers and security personnel to one area on time make it impossible to show up 15 minutes before the gun and hop in line, as I usually like to do on race morning. We were dropped off at one of the designated spots where we boarded a bus heading to Athlete’s Village, then spent 2.5 hours there waiting for our wave to get called down to the starting area. The weather was cold and rainy, but we came prepared with extra layers and garbage bags for the long wait.
And then the moment was upon me. Standing in front of a bank on Main Street in Hopkinton, MA in the 40 degree drizzling rain, the positive energy of thousands of runners was radiating and I felt excitement and relief with what lay before me. A few years ago, and certainly all of the years prior to that, I never would have thought that I would be standing at the starting line of the Boston Marathon – one of the most prestigious and well known running races in the world! I never thought I would try, let alone achieve, running a marathon fast enough to qualify for this race. I hadn’t even imagined it.
When I started running 10 years ago, my goals were primarily health related, but I soon found myself starting to rely on that “runner’s high” and just like that, I was hooked. Over time, running became easier, both mentally and physically; I was covering more distance in less time. I set some goals in regards to time and distance, but the Boston Marathon was decidedly something that did not belong on that list. I felt great satisfaction in becoming a faster and stronger runner. Like anything else in life, what I put in I got back and as I became more dedicated, I began to realize small personal victories. It was somewhat pivotal for me that I had found something for which I was so passionate and the fact that I could do it well, could call myself a runner was always rewarding enough in itself. Yet there I was, with a bib that was assigned to me, ready for take-off, and this was not a dream.
The first few miles were all about trying to find some room to execute my run strategy. I put in an honest amount of training to get me here, remained relatively injury free, and felt ready to accomplish my goal of running a steady and strong race and hopefully finding some reserves in the tank to kick in the finish. In those first few miles, I felt myself going with the flow; it seemed the only possibility, as it was incredibly crowded. I recognized right away that this race and this place was living up to the spirit of “Boston Strong”. For over 26 miles, the streets were lined with people of every age and origin, proving that the notion of following your dreams will not be dampened by fear, much less some rain. It was a continuous celebration, and I found myself distracted by the festivities and nearly unaware of the pain that was building as I jogged along, observing and smiling.
For several miles, I was anticipating my family cheer section, which would be somewhere around mile 16.8. It has been said that a marathon is not a race, but a state of mind, and I can definitely relate. Knowing that I would get to see my kids cheer me on gave me a reviving boost after the half way mark. I felt so lucky and grateful to have such a wonderful entourage along with me on this part of the journey. Having my two sons, four nieces and nephews, my mom, another sister, and a brother in law there was empowering, as was the thought of keeping them proud, along with my loved ones back home in Truckee.
For them, and for the million spectators who made me feel so honored to be there, I would not stop, I would give everything I had in me, because as one viewer’s poster read: “This is Bahston Bi***es, Run Fastah!!” and so I did until I got to the finish line. I managed to take a minute off my previous best marathon time, and hobbled away with intense pride and elation for getting there and getting the job done.
So, is it ironic or perfectly appropriate that the Unicorn is the symbol for the Boston Marathon? In all those years of running, this event was a unicorn to me – something that didn’t exist in real life, nothing I’d ever see in my lifetime. But when I look back, all those years when I would train for other events, focusing on my other goals, working hard and reaching them, one could argue that I was chasing the Unicorn all along. I had to get there, to prove that no matter how elusive your dream, if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Unicorns do exist, and it’s time to search for the next one.