"Regardless of the day's results, all of us who take on the unique journey of covering the 26.2 trying miles to Boylston Street can all say we partook in history." -- Ryan Hall
At the top of Heartbreak Hill, it sunk in that I would finish my first Boston Marathon. I remember doing my best to slide down the backside of that “hill of hills” and still look strong amidst the overwhelming smell of grilling burgers and cheap beer (a.k.a. the aroma of spring college days) emanating from the BC students lining the course. Looking at my watch, though, I knew my goal to go sub-three hours was out of reach.
I’d been humbled by the course I sacrificed a year of my life to run. All those miles in the Virginia humidity, over snow-covered trails and blizzard-beaten sidewalks, early mornings in darkness, and afternoons spent running for my life against thunderstorms. I tried to draw on my rolodex of “adversity runs,” but all I could do was, as the Running Times’ Scott Douglas said, “soldier on.”
As I fought to regain my stride down the backside of the hill that, for better or worse defines, this Marathon, I vowed to dig in over those last five. Instead of crumbling over the torturous miles between 21 and 26.2 and “just finishing,” I decided I needed to win that part of the course so that I could make it back on the bus to Hopkinton in 2011.
When I tell people that, they look at me funny. “It sounds awful,” they say. And then cue the witty original lines, “Huh, I only run when someone’s chasing me, he, he, he.” And so on.
But, no. I wanted to suffer again, man up and take the pain. Sometimes when we find ourselves in the darkest places, when you simply want to give up because you know it will get easier, we learn the most about ourselves and just what we can endure. And it makes us stronger.
This year’s Boston seems somewhat tainted given the rate at which it filled up. Even Boston has its controversy, I suppose. But it’s still Boston, and I still had to suffer through 26.2 miles to make it back here like everyone else, to take on the course that so many famous footsteps have clipped for more than 100 years. What I didn’t know was that those 26.2 miles were only the beginning.
Boston is classified as the measuring stick for us mortals, the non-elites as we try to attain that elusive “BQ.” I remember walking around the expo of my first marathon back in 2004 and seeing those Boston jackets and how out of reached they seemed. Back then, I could barely hold 10 minute/mile pace and covered the Philadelphia Marathon course in 4:22.
Having tasted Boston once, though, I wanted another crack at the course that nearly broke me. At so many points beginning last December, I could have quit, packed it in, signed up for another marathon...but to give up Boston? I held on to every glimmer of hope that my recovery gave me.
So instead of calling on moments from my training to pull me through a race, I reversed the process. I used my Boston race -- slapping hands with the four- year-old outside Hopkinton who yelled, “You’re all awesome,” hearing the Wellesley scream tunnel approaching, going to work on the Newton Hills -- to get me through my training runs.
Along the Boston course, the crowd never disappears, rather it thins in certain parts. But once you make the final turn onto Boylston street, the noise gathers like a wave before it comes crashing down over you. You squint to see the finish line and know you’re almost there. It’s a tunnel of noise amplified by the high buildings. It doesn’t oppress, though. Rather, it summons the last ounces of courage and adrenaline that reside somewhere in the recesses of your depleted body and drops in to produce one last charge to the finish.
When I crossed, the pain came over me all at once. We were the walking dead. A guy next to me looked over and said, “Man, I just missed qualifying for next year.” I knew I’d made it with a minute and change to spare. But I grabbed his shoulder and said, “Yeah, but...we just ran Boston.” He beamed from his tired eyes.
And so, here I am. On the eve of my second Boston marathon. It’s not how I intended to get here. I tempered expectations and time goals. But for all the dark days, the ragged nights, and the glimmers of hope, I’ve somehow managed to cobble this together and earn the chance to get back on the bus.