The symbol of the Boston Athletic Association and the Boston Marathon is a “unicorn.” It represents an ideal and the pursuit to push oneself.
My husband (now ex) and I started running as a way to spend time together. I suggested ballroom dancing, but he adamantly refused.
We set a goal to qualify to run in Boston after we ran our 1st half marathon. He easily qualified during his 1st marathon in Austin, Texas. I chose the road less travelled (perpetually injured). I ran my 1st race with 2 knee braces; it was a tough learning experience. I felt strong during my 2nd marathon in Victoria, BC, but missed qualifying by 43 seconds. I was heartbroken. I experienced nightmares awakening with the sweats, constantly wondering why I went to the washroom, tied my shoelace, stopped to hydrate, why could I have not run 1 second faster per km (a marathon is 42 km/26.2 miles).
Two weeks before I ran my 3rd, I cheered on my husband as he raced the Boston Marathon. As a long distance runner unable to participate made my burning desire to qualify even stronger.
I finally qualified by running in Vancouver, BC, a few weeks later. My husband dictated that we would return to Boston in 2 years instead of the upcoming. There’s a reason why we are divorced, but that’s a different story.
He registered me for the Kelowna, BC, marathon in hopes that I would re-qualify for the race 2 years out. Depending on the month one qualifies determines how long your qualification lasts for, either 1 or 2 years.
Again, I did not meet the time standards. Although it was advertised as a flat fast course, I struggled. My husband was annoyed that I did not meet the time qualification.
Off to the Boston…
On race day, I woke-up fatigued. I thought to myself, after all the anticipation this is not how I should feel. My vigorous training consisted of high mileage & strength training followed by a 3-week taper. 4 to 5 days prior to the race, my carbo-loaded diet consisted of bananas, bagels, pasta, sports drinks, and throat lozenges to relieve a sore throat. I felt pudgy, and not very athletic.
My husband tired of me fussing in the hotel room tried to push me out the door, “Aren’t you going to be late for your bus?” He was anxious to get back to bed. He wished me good luck. We made plans to meet after the race, but I really had no idea how long it would take me to finish. I had heard many stories about the treacherous course. I planned to wearing a 3hr 50min pace band, but would see how it went.
I slowly walked to the bus-loading zone. It was unbelievable how many runners and yellow buses were lined up one after another. Organized chaos. I sat beside a college student from California. For the next hour, we shared stories about the races we ran, & the ones we aspired to conquer. She told me about walking from Sacramento to Oakville over the course of 3 days to see her boyfriend….just because. Only a fellow long-distance runner would understand. We wished each other good luck after departing the bus in the small town of Hopkington.
Thousands of racers had already made a temporary home for themselves in the outdoor athletes village. I laid out my blanket on the grass, and ate my 2nd bagel of the morning basking in the sun. I did my best not to regurgitate – sick of carbs! Then I curled up, & relaxed for the next few hours. I was in the 2nd wave of runners, and there was plenty of time to loiter and waste away. That soon changed. Suddenly, there was a frantic rush to get to the start line in time. I, along with many athletes, was running to enter the proper corrals as the race had started. Thankfully, I’m petite, and was able to squeeze myself into the moving herd.
I reminded myself about 2 goals as I crossed the Start Line:
- simply to enjoy every moment of the race. One woman exclaimed, “the 4-hour party is starting!” I wanted to maintain that attitude throughout the race
- mind over matter. I could not control the events that could occur throughout the course, only how I dealt with them.
Residents lined the streets to cheer on runners. Many families were hosting BBQs, offering beer, and children high-fiving runners. During the first few miles, I tried to slap as many hands as I could until my hand became sore. Already runners including women, were running into the bushes to relieve their heavy bladders as a result of over-hydration. The course started with a long descent, and I had to remind myself not to go out too hard & fast. I needed to save myself for the hills ahead. I tried to use my pace band, but the small white font on orange was too blurry to read.
It was very evident Boston has passion for their beloved Red Sox & the marathoners. The race is held annually on Patriots Day (a long weekend), and approximately 500,000 spectators & 6,000 volunteers offer support. Throughout the race I passed many home-made banners indicating the score of each inning of the Red Sox game. There were many enthusiastic cheers when they won. Anything I could have possibly desired to make myself more comfortable during the race, it was there. People were handing out drinks, freezies, wet-naps, oranges, sponges, vaseline, etc. I took advantage of the majority. In hindsight, I wish I had accepted the vaseline. I experienced bad chafing scars from my fuel belt digging into my waist. One child was exceptionally gleeful when I took his water bottle. I laughed when another kid scolded a runner for slapping him with sticky hands.
My name was written on the side of my arm with black permanent marker. Spectators yelling, “Go Brenda!” Naturally, my initial reaction was to glance backwards each and every time I heard my name.
I felt relaxed, and most miles passed quickly. I am not saying it was easy though. Throughout the course, I experienced various aches & other minor issues. My stomach felt unsettled from the Gatorade & gels early in the race, my Canada cap made my head very sweaty, both my fuel belt and quads increasingly became heavier as I progressed into Boston, soreness in right knee/shin followed by aches in left knee, etc. I pulled in all my strength, & used my mind to help me through the adversities.
Near the halfway mark, I passed through Wellesley College. It’s appropriately dubbed the scream-tunnel. The girls’ cheers were deafening! It definitely was motivation for the upcoming hills in the town of Newton. They begin with a small ascent appropriately named, “Hells Alley.” That is just a taste for what lies ahead. After a decline, it’s followed by a bigger elevation climb.
The legendary Heartbreak Hill begins (or should I say “ends” for some depleted runners) after Mile 20.
Many runners may disagree, but for me on this spectacular day, I did not find the steep hills that difficult. Determined, I climbed slowly & steadily. The crowds motivated me. People screaming, “you can do it, it’s all downhill after you reach the top” in between Red Sox cheers, and closer to the end, “you’ve SURVIVED HEARTBREAK HILL!”
Earlier in the race I passed a man in a wheelchair pushing himself backwards with his feet at a snail’s pace. I thought of this man often as I was becoming increasing more fatigued making my way to the heart of Boston. I concentrated on pace calculations during the last 5 miles to detract my mind from how exhausted I felt. Like a textbook, I asked myself if I ran at “x” pace per mile, what time “y” would I arrive in Boston?
I searched through the massive crowds for my husband. When I finally saw him, it gave me another burst of energy.
I found the last 1/2 mile the most taxing. When I finally could see the finish line, naturally I was very excited, but it also was exasperating to reach. It was CLOSE, but I still had a few more blocks to go. It seemed like forever to complete. When I finally reached the finish line, I was overwhelmed with emotions. The experience is similar to childbirth, PAIN & ELATION simultaneously. It was the most incredible feeling to have the medal placed over my head.
When I finally found my husband, he offered the kindest & most appreciated gesture…a cab ride back to our hotel. Although it would have been quicker to limp the few blocks back, I was thankful to sit in the vehicle. I knew he would ask, but it was a matter of how soon, “How is it possible that it took you so long to qualify, & you couldn’t a few months back? Yet, you managed to re-qualify in Boston, a very strenuous course?”
The best way to summarize the race, is to ask, “Have you ever experienced excitement and preparation for a special event?” The occasion finally arrives, but disappointingly the day is anti-climatic. The Boston Marathon was better than I could have ever possibly imagined, and I am happy that I did not qualify easily. The side effects of an athlete (lost toe nails, sore back, various injuries resulting in physiotherapy, blisters, bruises, early mornings running high mileage in the brutal rain) were worth it!!! When I become demotivated and despondent with the obstacles of life, I think back at my tenacity, commitment, and determination at that time. I did not achieve my goal easily, but the journey was even more fulfilling.
The Boston Marathon is milestone in my life, and I am honored that I set a goal. Through sheer unwavering determination, and a hard work ethic, I earned the prestigious “unicorn medal.”