In early 2009 my easy runs magically started becoming very fast (relative to me at least). Then I ran the 2009 Grand Island Half Marathon and blew away my expectations by breaking the 90 minute barrier. The combination of those two things led me to start thinking of the impossible – to qualify for the Boston Marathon. For the most part, 2009 was defined by my drive to achieve that goal. My mantra all through that year was “Boston isn’t going to qualify for itself.” I worked hard and proved to myself, once again, that I can do just about anything if I’m willing to work for it. I ran my qualifying race at Las Vegas in December of that year. Boston 2010 had sold out before I had even qualified to run it so 2011 was to be my year.
I have been told, and I now believe, that there is no other marathon like Boston in the world. Excluding the charity runners everyone there has put in their dues — there are no first time runners. Many have worked very hard to earn their entry into the race. And those that earned their place feel a great pride in that. They dutifully bought and proudly wore their Boston Marathon jackets, myself included. The entire city was filled with a nearly endless stream of skinny people wearing black and green jackets!
When the race started I followed my tradition of playing music that has something to do with the place that I’m running. This time it was “Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys. On the advice of numerous very experienced runners I tried my best to go very slowly, almost uncomfortably slowly, for the first 8 miles of the race. I had to have faith here. I wanted to run faster because the weather was ideal: mid 50s, sunshine, and a strong tailwind.
Though I held faith and went slowly through the beginning the downhill pounding took its toll later in the race. By about mile 14 I could feel fatigue in my quads. By the time I reached the infamous Newton Hills my legs had no strength left. I struggled up the hills with a slowing pace. I had plenty of energy but my legs were not willing to move quickly.
In the late miles of the race, those following Heartbreak Hill, I was very deep in thought. In a twisted way I was enjoying the pain. Though I wanted to achieve a PR and run somewhere between 3 hours and 3:09 I reflected on the fact that I simply didn’t have the drive to do it. It was different from when I made my attempt to qualify. I thought about death. I thought about people in my life. I thought about a lot of things.
I thought happily about the time that I live in. A large group of family and friends came to the race. I knew they were there but I didn’t expect to see them among the 500,000 other spectators. At the same time I knew many more people were watching my progress via the internet. Knowing that people were thinking of me mattered a lot. It truly is a wonderful time to live as the internet brings people very close together. I even had the opportunity to meet some people that I had “known” only through the internet. Though this still feels strange to me it is becoming the norm. “Strangers” meet constantly these days.
I finished in 3:13:17, exactly 4 minutes slower than my PR. Perhaps if I wasn’t checking out Molly (see above) I could have saved a few seconds!
Though I missed my time goal I still believe that I am currently in good enough shape to earn a new PR. I missed my goal in Boston for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t train for the course. I ran easily enough to not blow up at the end of the race but my legs simply were too weak to handle the hills. I didn’t “hit the wall.” I had plenty of energy but my legs were not willing to move quickly. I also tried an experiment — I tried to run by feel and ignore the mile splits on my watch. That tends to work well for me but in a race as long as a marathon that technique falls apart. Most importantly I didn’t have the drive and determination to succeed.
With the race over I find myself in the strange land of post-marathon limbo. What I had worked towards for so very long is over. All that is left is memories. Having no goal feels strange and depressing. Should I run an ultra? Should I go for a marathon PR? Should I persue something completely different? Will my circumstances in life change and running will become a low priority?
I don’t know exactly what the next chapter has in store for me. I am not the author in the book of my life but more of a reader in a “choose your own adventure” novel. I know what some of my choices are and I think I know where they will take me but for the most part my future is clouded in mystery. All I can do is keep reading and running.