My first experience with a marathon was Boston. I was a college freshman in the city, and mostly what I remember is being excited that we had Monday off.
As I write this, the Boston Marathon race organizers just announced runners had to run almost 2-and-a-half minutes under their qualifying time to make the cut. So first, congrats to all those who made it and my sympathies to those who did it. I’ve been on a marathon hiatus since 2013, but Boston has been on my mind.
In 2004, the race still started at noon and it was a beautiful day that year. Tank tops and flip-flops, getting sunburned standing near the 1 mile to go marker, cheering for runners and the Red Sox.
While I had a good time, I did not walk away thinking, “Wow, I want to do that some day.” I wasn’t even a runner. In fact, during my first two years of college exercise wasn’t something I really thought about. I walked a lot — I think one weekend we walked 10 miles around the city — and I took a ballet class one semester and a pilates class another. I did not attend either with regularity.
I started running in 2006 because I was embarrassed I couldn’t get up to the third floor of Strickler Hall without being out of breath. That’s where the University of Louisville houses the Department of Communications, and I thought as a girl who was 5’2” and 100-ish pounds, I ought to be in more respectable shape. Cue couch-to-5k and my first 5k a little less than three months later. I stuck with it and ran more 5ks that fall, and decided to sign up for the Triple Crown race series (5k, 10k, 10 mile) and Derby miniMarathon the next spring. Those go well, I make running friends, have a great time.
About a year after I started running, a girl I trained with decided to run her first marathon. I said, what the heck, I’ll train with you just for fun. I figured I would keep her company on long runs as much as I could — I was training for another half marathon that fall, anyway. When she qualified for Boston that September, the proverbial light came on.
“I could do that,” I thought. I had been training with her all along, plus she is 14 years my senior. If she could do it, surely I could. I missed the city, I loved the city, and I had read enough issues of Runner’s World to know the Boston Marathon was a big deal.
Remember, this is September and I was training for a half in October. So I added a marathon in December — Memphis. My first marathon, about 19 months after I started a walk/jog program.
I was very proud of myself and my running accomplishments thus far. One day, I remarked to a professor at UofL that I was training for my first marathon and hoping to qualify for Boston.
“You know that’s not very easy to do,” Professor Charlie Zimmerman, a long-time runner, said. “Most people don’t qualify on the first try.”
This is sound advice, of course, and certainly true. However, it’s also exactly the opposite of my “go big or go home” life philosophy.
I ran Memphis. I qualified. I never let Professor Zimmerman forget it, either. (Sorry, Charlie!)
So the Boston Marathon was my second marathon and it humbled the daylights out of me. Memphis had seemed like a fairly easy thing to do and I thought I could train a little harder and run faster at Boston. If you just chuckled, you’ve probably run Boston before yourself. I trashed my quads, I got sunburned but only down the back of my right side and I could barely walk down the steps to the train the next day.
At lunch after the race, I cried. My expectations were so high — and I missed my goal. I hurt every where, mentally and physically. The marathon had won, as it often does. But I wasn’t crying because I had failed — it was because I had all those emotions about failing but had still PR’d by almost a minute.
The next year, I went back. I had learned a lot, and had run Memphis again. I was much more prepared for my fourth marathon, and quite a bit faster. I felt at peace with the Boston Marathon, like I had evened the score. My second time was about 16 minutes faster than my first — I know, because the finishers certificates still hang on my wall. From then on, I explored other races. I posted BQs at the other five marathons I’ve run, but opted not to go back.
Until now. I’m ready to go back. I had hoped to qualify in the spring, but ended up dropping out of my marathon even though I probably would have qualified anyway. Now, I’ve got my eyes set on 2017 and qualifying at Monumental Marathon this November. And, I just learned that Kathrine Switzer is planning to run the race to celebrate the anniversary of her historic run in 1967.
And I’ll tell you what … seeing that cutoff keep moving back from the qualifying times led to a very solid tempo run this week. When I finish my long runs, I like to envision the finish of my marathon. Here’s to envisioning the blue and yellow on Boylston.