Chicago Marathon Memories

I wrote this blog post over and over in my head yesterday. I had some great stuff going on, but I think I left it out there on the streets of Chicago, because now I’m finding it hard to gather my thoughts. But I don’t want to forget my experience yesterday so I am going to do my best to recount it.

There’s something about a marathon that is the ultimate test of body and mind resiliency. How much will your body give, and how much will your own mind try to sabotage you? It’s all a game with many moving parts. Mile by mile it changes.

I toed the starting line of the Chicago Marathon at 8 a.m. yesterday. I originally lined up with a 5:45 pace group which I was totally confident about at the time.

Of course I had a horrible time training for this race. I have severe plantar fasciitis in both feet, and after a cortisone shot in each foot and weeks of physical therapy, they were still screaming at me at the start line. I knew this was not going to a be a pretty 26.2.

I lost my pacing group a couple of miles in, mostly because I felt like running more than a 5:1 ratio of running/walking at the beginning. As time went on and my calves starting cramping at mile 7, I knew the day was going to be a long one. Luckily the cramping didn’t get too bad but it was enough to be annoying and slow me down.

Mile 11 really stuck out to me as a tough mile, because my injuries were killing me and I knew I had to slow down if I was going to give myself a chance to finish. As I passed the half marathon mark, I thought, wouldn’t it be so great to stop right here and now? A half marathon just seems like a walk in the park, such a great distance. But nope…I had to keep running. So I tried my best but eventually started walking around mile 14-15.

At mile 16 I finally felt like I could “count down” the last 10.2 miles instead of counting up. It’s a nice milestone to make it to and finally made it seem like I could finish, despite the fact that I wasn’t going to get anywhere near a finish time I had hoped for. Every fiber of my body from the knees down was in so much pain.

I’m not going to lie, a lot of negative thoughts entered my head during miles 16-19. Mostly – why do I keep doing this distance? I’m never going to have a great marathon. My first marathon was bombed, my second marathon was incredibly hot, and now I’m the most injured I have ever been. Why does this keep happening to me? Why won’t this ever work for me? WHEN will I get a good race and get a time I can be satisfied with? It is so frustrating.

I hit a point where I just felt like I had nothing left to give. My body was failing me. I kept pushing and pushing and it felt like I was going nowhere.

Mile 19 was a game changer. I took my iPod off because I was running through a very Spanish type of neighborhood, and everyone was out and about. The people were so amazing. They had everything a runner could ask for…tissues, water, food. They were all out in the streets dancing to music and it was such an uplifting thing just when I needed it. Randomly “Chelsea Dagger” came on their giant speakers and I took it as I sign; I silently told my injuries to F off, over and over and over again. I told them: we have 7 more miles to go, feet, so you better shut the F up because we are doing this. We are not giving up now.

I was able to push the pain out of my mind for the next few miles but my body would only allow me to move so fast. I kept feeling like I was moving faster than I actually was because of the amount of energy I was putting out; in reality I wasn’t going very fast at all. It was so weird. My body just would not listen to my mind when I told it to move. I pretty much felt this way for the rest of the race. I just did the best I could and kept moving forward. It was not a question that I would finish. I kept telling myself that.

Largely the race was as flat as advertised, of course the one exception was the .2 of the 26.2, which was up a bridge ramp, of course. But I made it.

As I walked through the finish line chute, I got some water and a sweet older man volunteer put a medal around my neck. I always get emotional at this part (not that I have a lot of experience with it, having only run 2ish marathons before this). It had just been a really, really long day, filled with unbearable physical pain. My body had failed me in the worst way and I still finished.

“I think you need a hug,” he said to me as I teared up, and he put my medal around my neck. I gladly accepted his hug and thanked him for it.

I learned a lot about myself yesterday. I learned that you can be given the worst of circumstances in any given situation and still find a way to survive, to fight your way through it. Everyone goes through struggles in life, and you will find a way. You will always find a way. The body is a resilient thing when it syncs up with your mind.

Now that it’s over, I know my body needs rest…a lot of rest. I need to respect that aspect of my recovery. I want to be able to run well into my 70s and 80s, and that means I need to take care of myself now. And that’s okay with me 🙂

Until next time, 26.2…much love, much respect.

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Running Bucket List

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged (shame on me) but I’m back in action. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I wanted to start writing more! I’ve seen some great stuff lately and it has really made me miss writing on a regular basis.

Anyway since I’ve never done this, I wanted to make a list of my racing bucket list. Since I’ve checked off Boston and (soon to be) Chicago in about two weeks, I have been thinking about what could be next for me. Even though getting it all done may take an entire lifetime, here are some of the races I’d really like to run.

1. Marine Corps Marathon. This one always falls near or even on my birthday, and what better way to ring in another year of life than running 26.2 miles in a city as great as Washington DC?

2. Big Sur International Marathon. I’m absolutely terrified of heights but the views in this marathon would make facing my fears totally worth it. The course also sounds kind of challenging and it has a time limit which kind of scares me.

3. New York City Marathon. I want to add another World Marathon Major to my list! Chances are I won’t get to Tokyo or Berlin (or maybe even London) so to get all three in the United States finished would be pretty cool.

4. Pell Bridge Run. Again with the absolutely terrifying but awesome views. This one is in my “kinda” home state of Rhode Island and unless things change on my end, I plan on being in Jamaica this year during the race, which also is the day before my birthday this year.

5. Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon.  Wine and running are two of my favorite things so I’m really not sure how I haven’t taken more of an initiative on this yet.

6. A Disney race. For someone who loves Disney as much as I do, I have never done a Disney race. Marathon, half marathon, the Goofy, the Dopey, I don’t care, I’d do it all! How can you be sad when you’re running with Mickey Mouse?

7. A sprint triathlon. Doesn’t matter when or where, but hopefully next season I’ll get to do one.

8. Hot Chocolate 5 / 15k. I mean really guys…come to Boston. This sounds amazing. What are you waiting for?

What’s on your running bucket list?

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Four months later….

I remember thinking on my run this morning that the marathon was on a day just like today. It’s been an unseasonably chilly August, but I’m not complaining. It was just like today – one of those days with a brisk morning, comfortable for running but otherwise might require a light jacket.

When “Thift Shop” by Macklemore came on my iPod as I was running by the Merrimack River, in my head I was suddenly back at Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton. I remember that song playing on the loudspeakers and thousands of runners laid out on their blankets and trash bags, reading, stretching out or standing in line for the porta potty. I remember looking around, feeling overwhelmed at the volume of people there. Where do I check my bag? Where do I find the church where Dana Farber runners gather? Should I get in line for the porta potty again?

I remember following some fellow runners to the church and checking my phone one last time. It was a text from my sister telling me she’d see me at Wellesley Public Library but she’d have to leave in the afternoon because she had a meeting at work. I didn’t think she’d see me running because I was in one of the very last waves in the race. I told her not to worry about it if I didn’t see her, and tried not to get my hopes up. I turned off my phone and put it in my bag, and then checked it. I wouldn’t see it again until I picked up my bag and medal three days later in a much different city of Boston.

As I kept running, I was trying to remember the happy moments from that day. When I saw my sister’s face at Wellesley Library I was so thrilled. My parents were on vacation in Florida and I knew I was going to have friends at the finish line, but seeing friends and family on the course is so special. You just see a familiar face and know that at least for that moment, everything is okay. It is something I will never forget. I will always feel touched that she stuck around to watch me run by her, despite it taking me what probably felt like forever for me to get to mile 13.

I remembered running through the Wellesley scream tunnel. I can’t put it into words except that it made me feel like a rockstar. It was so uplifting…the whole entire mile of girls just screaming your name at the top of their lungs. It pushed me through and after I remember thinking that I would run Boston over and over again just for that mile.

Unfortunately that’s really where the happy memories end for that day. I am reminded of the chaos after I got to mile 20. The tears in the days to follow.

I remember finally getting to my phone that I’d checked after my trip into Boston and listening to a frantic voicemail from my fiancee. He thought I was in an earlier wave that day, so he thought I would have been finishing around the time the bombs went off. I listened to the first few seconds and deleted it. He was talking on my voicemail thinking his future wife could be dead.

Then I remembered the Rolling Stone cover. I remembered the bomber’s recent arraignment. My stomach churned. I remembered the nightmare I had just two days prior to seeing that magazine cover…the Boston Marathon bomber, trying to kill me.

I am reminded that the bomber is being held about a mile from where my fiancee works at Ft. Devens.

My thoughts shift to the victims. I became thankful that I wasn’t killed, or hurt, and that I could still run. So thankful that I can run. I love it so much. I am reminded that my problems could be worse.

I thought about next year. Registration for those who didn’t finish is August 19. What will the 2014 Boston Marathon hold for me? My mind wanders visualizing what it will be like. I find myself running with a smile on my face.

I thought about the word I had written on my arm that day, meant to be my mantra to get me through the marathon: “believe.”

Next April I don’t have to write my new mantra on my arm. It’s already there.

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Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. Those six words have become music to a Boston Marathoner’s ears. With those last two turns of the course, it means you are home free. The finish line is near and 26.2 miles of hard work comes to an end. That last quarter mile to the finish line is supposed to be pure euphoria.

I didn’t get to experience that euphoria on April 15, 2013. As I’m sure you’ve known by now, I made it to about mile 20 of the race before it was closed due to the bombings.

On Saturday I headed out to finish what I started. At first I thought it would just be my cousin and I running it at the start line. I was so surprised to see two other women – Theresa and Patricia – who I didn’t even know, but who wanted to run with me. It humbled me and touched me that they cared enough to show up and just run with someone they didn’t even know.

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It was a long 6.2 (okay, 6.8 according to my Garmin) miles for me. The last of the Newton hills are unkind, especially Heartbreak Hill. But they stuck through it with me and even though we stopped more than a few times to question whether or not we were still on course (between the four of us we were pretty directionally challenged, haha…) we were, and we made it.

Through Kenmore Square and back bay, we finally saw Hereford Street in our view. Making it was a quiet victory on that day, knowing that on April 15 it would have been a much different story. Patricia and I paused to take a picture there (where is it?!) and then we started the final sacred steps of the marathon. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston.

As soon as we hit Boylston, Marissa and Patricia backed off a little.

“You realize you have to cross the finish line first,” Patricia told me.

“Yup. It’s your marathon. You have to finish,” Marissa said.

I gathered the last bit of energy I had left (I haven’t been running nearly as much as I did while I was training!) and sprinted toward the finish line. I crossed it, everyone clapping and yelling, and hugged the first person I saw, who happened to be my dad.

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I cried (promised you I would) and then I got around to hugging everyone else 🙂 

I wanna say a big thanks to everyone who showed up for me – my friends, my family, the random River Hawks fans who got the note I’d be finishing on Saturday, the random girl getting a frappuchino who decided to stop and watch me finish. It was amazing to have everyone out there. I want to say a very special amazing thank you to my friend Joanne Stanway, who was so passionate about helping me finish what I had started. And a huge thanks for Scott Donnelly at UMass Lowell for helping me spread the word about my redemption run. Without your support who knows if I would have ever finished!

Thanks to Boston Police Department, who upon seeing that I’d just finished my marathon, stopped traffic for me on Boylson Street so we could get a picture there:

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It’s been a long month of processing information about the events of April 15. From devastation to anger and back again, I’ve cried so much but I’ve received so much support. I’m really at a loss for words. But what I know is when I run the Boston Marathon again, and when I turn right on Hereford and left on Boylston on Patriots Day, it is going to be truly euphoric.

So maybe I didn’t finish a marathon on April 15, 2013. You know what? I live to run another day. And that’s all I can ask for.

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Post-Marathon Blues

I read an article the other day about what I think I’m experiencing: the post-marathon blues.

I would imagine I’d feel this way had my marathon not been bombed, but even if I’d finished, I think I would still be feeling this to some degree.

Where is my motivation? I have none. My body is technically rested, I guess. But I’m running slower and struggling through distances I used to think were a piece of cake a little over a month ago. A week before Boston I went out for an easy 3 miles, came back half an hour later and thought, “that’s it? shortest. run. ever.” It’s like I didn’t feel like I was even getting a work out in if I hadn’t been running for 45 minutes or an hour. It was so odd.

And now I’m struggling to find my groove, my legs feel heavy and I’m dragging through those same miles. I don’t know if it’s what I’m fueling my body with (could be better) or if it’s just as much a mental block as it is physical. Am I depressed because I took time off and now my level of fitness is not what it was a month ago? Or is it because my race – my 20 miler, which I never got to finish thanks to some unfortunate circumstances – is over?

The one day I had been training for, day-in and day-out for FOUR months, is over. What do I do?

For starters, I’m finishing my Boston Marathon run on Saturday. Rain or shine (looking like it’ll be rain) I’m going to finish the 6.2 I need to finish so I can move on with my life. Maybe that will break down the mental wall.

I signed up for another half marathon in July; it’s in about 9 weeks. I need to sit down and write a training plan. I know it’ll be something fun and something to work toward but right now I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

I’m like the runner version of this guy:

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One of the articles I read about beating the post-marathon blues suggested trying to re-connect with my “old life” before marathon training. I can’t really remember back that far but I think it may have involved playing hockey. 😉

Anyway – looking forward to a run on Saturday, even though it’s going to be a wet one. It’ll just make those dry clothes and pizza at the finish line that much better.

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The Last 10K

Now that a few weeks have passed since Boston, it’s become time to finish what I started.

I’ve let my body recover from running 20 miles and made a decision not to run another marathon in the near future. That is mostly because I forgot how much of a toll training takes on your body. The thought of doing a 10, 13, or 15 mile long run right now…I’m all set with that 🙂

Lately I’ve been running just for the joy of it. Feeling the sun beat on my arms as my feet pound the pavement…lost in my own world. Thinking through the issues that plague my life, or imagining I’m running from them, or just clearing my mind and thinking about nothing at all. There is no better feeling.

Sometimes I feel like I’m running to honor April 15, 2013, but mostly I feel like I’m running to move on from it. When tragic things happen in life, you have to let them become a part of who you are. Honor them, respect your feelings about them, and move forward in life with its memory in your heart. I am excited to do this but I feel like I have unfinished business – 6.2 miles of it, to be exact.

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This is my “finisher medal” from the Boston Marathon. I picked it up (along with my gear bag) the Thursday after the race in Boston. I knew it was going to be emotional because I didn’t finish. I didn’t feel I deserved it. I walked over the threshold of the conference room filled with medals and gear bags and just burst into tears. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for me.

One volunteer hugged me for what seemed like an eternity while another scoured the room for my bag. When we finally let go, one of the volunteers had a medal in her hands. “Are you ready?” she asked. I nodded and cried again. “I didn’t finish,” I managed to squeak out through my tears as she put the medal around my neck. “But you did, you did. You just did,” she told me. And we hugged and cried. I will never forget that moment.

On May 11 I am going to finish my run. I’m going to start at Heartbreak Hill Running Company in Newton at 11 a.m. and run to the finish line. You can run with me, bike with me, skateboard with me, I don’t care. I like company. If 6.2 miles seems like a lot, you can meet me on the corner of Hereford Street and Comm Avenue and help me finish the last half mile or so. Or you can cheer for me at the finish line – the most important job of all! Even if my cheering section is just my mom, that’s cool with me. I don’t need much more than that. It won’t be the same euphoria that I would have gotten from running the 26.2 on April 15 before crossing the finish line. But it will be a symbol of finishing and moving forward. And I’m ready for that.

And then we’re going to check out the memorial, because I haven’t seen it yet. And we’re going to eat a delicious lunch at Pizzeria Uno’s on Boylston Street.

See you there.

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My City, My Marathon

I thought this morning I’d wake up with a smile on my face instead of tears. It’s just now really hitting me that yesterday happened.

Yesterday was a day I’d been dreaming about since I started running. I’d trained since December for this race. You all knew that. I worked my ass off. The Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail for runners and I was so excited for have that experience of running toward that Citgo sign, a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston. I felt confident and trained enough to finish. I wanted it so, so, so bad. (I am trying to get through this without crying but it’s just going to be impossible.)

The first part of my race was going really well.  I saw a familiar face at mile 10 with my friend Dyan and I was just so happy to see her!! Thank you for coming to support me, Dyan. You have been such an inspiration to me!

I ran the first half about a minute slower than my personal best, on a tough course, so I was happy with that. My sister surprised me at mile 13 at Wellesley Library and I was SO HAPPY to see her face!

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I’d been having some stomach issues starting around mile 10, I will spare you the details but I was pretty uncomfortable, so I stopped to talk to my sister for a little bit, stole an orange from her and kept chugging along.

Then…Wellesley College. Wellesley College was the closest I will ever be to feeling like a rock star. Those girls just scream and scream and scream for you and it is the most amazing feeling ever. I’d do the race over and over and over again just for that!! It was so uplifting. It really helped me push through that mile and those girls were amazing.

As I was running through there, one of the girls pointed at me after seeing my Dana Farber singlet and goes, “YOU are amazing because Dana Farber saved my dad’s life.” It made me run a little faster, a little further, even though my stomach was killing me.

At mile 16, a woman in a red jacket saw that I was walking and came up to me with her hands full and and just said: “What do you need? I have vaseline, gummy bears, etc etc etc” And I thanked her but said none of those things could help my problems, haha, laughed a little and rubbed my stomach. She said, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there. You’re going to finish strong. Thank you for doing this.” It brought both of us to tears. I hugged her and thanked her and continued on. Thank you, lady in the red jacket. YOU are the spirit of the Boston Marathon and you will never know how much you meant to me at that moment.

Fast forward to mile 18. I start seeing cop cars, motor cycles and ambulances RUSH down Commonwealth Avenue. I just thought, wow, someone is having a bad race. It’s totally normal to have people injured or passing out at the finish line, especially Boston, so I continued and nobody said anything to me or the 25 or so people in my view at the time. I had heard reports there was an explosion at the finish line but didn’t know how bad it was. I thought, things explode sometimes, right? I was still going to finish! 

I got to about mile 20 – right in front of Heartbreak Hill Running Company in Newton – when a cop pulled up to a bunch of us and told us the race was over and to walk down a side street where they were gathering people. It was chaos and confusion. Nobody knew what was going on or how bad it was. We got cold fast and the BAA volunteers in the area brought over heat sheets and water. And we waited and waited and waited. I borrowed a phone to text my mom, because I wasn’t running with mine. They bussed us over to BC Law School, which is where I had my friend Teresa pick me up. 

This is just so unreal and upsetting. I get that my life is more important than a finisher medal. I don’t even have words to describe how I’m feeling really. Heartbroken. People died, people lost their limbs on what is supposed to be that happiest day in a runner’s life. It’s horrifying.

It’s an emotional thing for me. This is my hometown race. My marathon. I trained for this one day for four months and someone took it from me. Finish lines are supposed to be places of bliss, not violence. 

I was thinking…what am I going to do with my 2013 Boston Marathon jacket? Then I decided I am going to wear it proudly, because if I don’t, terrorists win.

You tried to take my marathon from me but I am going to take it back.

I have to finish. When my body has recovered from this 20-miler and when Copley Square is no longer a crime scene, I am going to run the last 6.2 miles. I have to. Until I finish, my dream is unfulfilled. It doesn’t have to come with a medal or the screaming crowds of people. I just need to cross that finish line. I came to that conclusion after crying this morning. It’s hitting me hard. I just want to finish. For everyone who couldn’t, for everyone who did but didn’t make it out of Copley, for those who were hurt. I need to finish.

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