“Sometimes it’s hard to see – or accept – the runner that you’ve become,” my coach said last week. It was our weekly touch base and I opened up that, well, the race was getting awfully close, and therefore very real, and some self-doubt had begun to creep in. For the past 16 weeks, we’d been fashioning the sword, holding it to the fire, shaping it with a hammer, and finally putting the finishing edge on it. “Even though your body can and has hit the times, it’s difficult to wrap your head around the fact that you can indeed run that fast. For that long,” he encouraged, and I nodded along. “Go look at your log for this Boston cycle and then look at last year’s.”
And so, I returned to my neat rows of boxes, meticulously filled with miles and times. Each cell told a small part of the larger story of this year’s Boston buildup. The casual observer would see a steady increase in mileage with an equally steady drop in pace.
They would read four weeks that ended with 90 and that those 75 mile “down” weeks were, just one year ago, nearly peak mileage.
They would see six weeks that ended with a 20+ mile run. And that when strung together, the month of March totaled 384.2 miles.
But they wouldn’t know that for most of those runs, I would slip into the still early morning darkness and slice through the cold or flow with (or against) a bitter wind. That some mornings I would return to the warm embrace of our house, unzip my jacket, and find that my sweat had frozen and fallen to the floor.
That when I needed it most, I found encouragement in the rarest of places, like when I was the only asshole out in a snowstorm, the sleet stabbing at my cheeks 4.5 miles into a 9 miler and a cab pulled up next to me, the driver rolled down the window and shouted, “You’re killin’ it, man!”
That instead of running an easy five the day after a 22-miler, I would get to pace my dad through an 8K and cross the finish line with him. Or that my mom would simply ask each week, "How's the running going?"
That my running partner, Rohan, and I would forge a deeper connection clicking off long run miles together, often times saying not a word to one another but finding motivation and comfort by just having another person to suffer with, as we discovered the darkest shades of exhaustion.
That my wife would be my biggest supporter, and that her simple words of, “I’m proud of you,” would carry me through my blackest moments.
And in the background of all this, the ghosts of last year’s Boston still haunted my subconscious and peeked out when I least expected them to, but were there all the same, a reminder of the people we were back then and how we chose to soldier on.
I reached the top row of my calendar, brimming with these memories, and I started to believe again.
Because the promise that “we will run again…[and]…finish the race” is nearly upon us. The memories I swore I would hold onto after last year’s race inevitably drifted off in the current that carries our life. But with just days to go and the world’s focus turning rightly back to Boston again, those memories, and even those tears, have come flowing back. Seeing the TV specials, the articles, the videos, the social media posts, my emotions stir and I just want to hop on the plane and get to Boston to soak it all in and be part of it again.
Rohan and I texted one another this past week, and he correctly summed up Monday’s race: “We’re about to learn something new about ourselves. I can’t wait.”
Each race is a new opportunity to reach into the depths of ourselves and discover what we can endure. Running’s philosopher George Sheehan wrote, “[The runner] accepts his body, perfects it and then seeks out suffering, and finds beyond suffering the whole man.”
After Boston last year, we had to find out what we could endure beyond the finish line. And it turns out, quite a lot.
And so, I will run to honor those who lost their lives and limbs. And the selfish runner in me runs to honor the many hours and miles that have gone into prying myself open to prepare for this special event.
I may not recognize the runner I’ve become yet, but am I ready to discover him?
I can’t wait.