I suppose you could say that I’ve been running since seventh grade. But I considered (still do, quite honestly) myself a soccer player and my primary reason for participating in track & field at that age was to get out of class and hang out with my friends.
A left knee injury in a high school soccer game left me with about as much leg strength as a baby chick—not ideal for a left striker. After reconstructive surgery and a short-lived attempt to play soccer collegiately, I wandered into the office of Albion College track and field coach Hayden Smith.
I was a sprinter at Albion but it was Coach Smith who made me aware of the Boston Marathon, one of the world’s most prestigious road races. Coach Smith has run more than 75 marathons—including a 2:30:37 in the 1979 Boston Marathon, and thanks to him I’ve always had the race in the back of my mind.
My first marathon was the 2002 Detroit Free Press Marathon and I only signed up for that race because my college roommate talked me into it. Lesson learned? You need to do marathon training runs longer than eight miles unless you want to walk like a cowboy who just got off a full day on a horse in the weeks following the race.
Over the course of the next 13 years, I completed nine marathons in eight different states (and the District of Columbia) including the 2015 Fargo Marathon, where I crossed the finish line at 3:30:45. Fargo was the reason why I found myself staring dumbly at a bellhop in a Boston hotel at 5 a.m. on April 18.
The bellhop was telling me for a third time in a Boston accent thicker than tomato paste what lines to take on the MBTA subway to get to the official Boston Marathon shuttle buses. My look of touristy bewilderment was both obvious and pathetic.
The bellhop was saved from my navigational ineptitude by Stephen, an older gentleman who happened to be walking past.
“Are you trying to get to the marathon bus?”
“That’s where I’m headed,” he said cheerfully. “Follow me.”
Stephen was a Boston Marathon veteran from St. Catharines, Ontario. I spent the next five hours with him and we chatted about running and NHL hockey as we made our way from bus-to-subway-to-shuttle and finally to the athletes’ village in Hopkinton. There, the two of us sat alongside thousands of other runners in the grassy staging area behind Hopkinton High School.
I ate a cinnamon raisin bagel and did my best to ignore the sharpshooters perched on top of the high school buildings, another consequence of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Stephen was applying sunscreen to his ears and neck.
“So, tell me what I should expect today,” I said.
He told me about the quad-shredding downhill portion at the start of the race and the iconic Heartbreak Hill
I’d been dealing with a nagging foot injury for the past couple of months—which is nothing new, as anyone who has known me for at least 15 minutes will tell you. I’ve been a regular on the disabled list since my junior year of high school in 1999, when I tore my left ACL in the varsity soccer district championship final against hated rival Roscommon high school.
My Canadian friend encouraged me to not worry about my race pace but rather to “experience Boston the first time, run it the second time and race it the third time.”
This made me feel better, as I had already given up on my original time goal thanks to a left foot that would file charges for abuse if it could talk. In the weeks leading up to the race, I’d even strongly consider not taking part.
We walked to starting area together but were assigned to different starting corrals, so Stephen and I exchanged a high-five and went our separate ways.
With an official temperature of 69 degrees for the start of the women’s elite race at 9:32 a.m., it was obviously going to be much hotter than anyone anticipated.
It was 72 degrees by the time the third wave (mine) hit the ground running at 11 a.m. I hadn’t run in those kinds of temperatures in at least six months and it only took a couple of miles to know that this was going to be even tougher than I imagined.
I usually only stop for water every fourth or fifth mile during a marathon, but for Boston I stopped every mile and even then it was hard to stay hydrated. It seemed like every other participant was doing the same thing, inhaling Gatorade while they dumped cups of water on their head.
I think that the heat, coupled with the infamous grind of the 26.2-mile course, made things difficult for a lot of runners.
I had to stop at a medical tent to have the wrap removed from my foot and by the midway point my goal had changed from crossing the finish line in under four hours to finishing the race.
I ran most of the race in quite a bit of pain, which was not the best decision according to my orthopedic surgeon, but I’d still say it was worth it. Who knows if I’ll qualify again and make it back to Boston?
I listened to my iPod at first, but took out my earbuds along the way because I really enjoyed the enthusiasm from the crowds that lined both sides of the course for the entire 26.2 miles. The path from Hopkinton to Boston weaves through several rural New England towns, where the residents cheered like they were watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Heartbreak Hill is the last of the four hills in the town of Newton and it’s called that for good reason, as the hill climbs 80 feet over the span of about half a mile. I’m happy to say that it didn’t break my heart and I was able to tackle the hill without stopping or needing to walk.
There were tons of spectators and amped up college students blasting music from speakers and shouting words of encouragement to let me and the other runners know that the rest was all downhill.
From the first mile to the last mile people were offering runners everything from orange slices to popsicles, pretzel sticks to licorice and coconut water to beer.
I enjoyed the last miles and crossed the finish line in 4:10. It wasn’t the time that I was initially hoping for, but given my sore foot and the heat, I was content with my effort and more than ready to STOP running.
I’m still sore more than a week later, but it is well worth it. The crowd support was unbelievable and being surrounded by so many talented and dedicated runners was a surreal experience.
It was also a lot of fun to wear my Boston Marathon souvenir jacket around the city the day after the race. I can’t tell you how many total strangers came up to me just to say congratulations.
The Boston Marathon is often referred to as the Olympics for the normal runner and I’m happy that I was one of the 26,639 marathoners who crossed the Boylston threshold last Monday. I hope I can re-qualify so I’ll have the opportunity to “run” Boston next time.