Musings People like me don't run Boston

Published on April 10th, 2014 | by karlyn


People like me don’t run Boston

Hi, I’m Karlyn. I’m 33 years old, 5’6”, and weigh about 180 pounds. Even though I’m fairly athletic when I want to be, I’ve never been the thin girl. People like me don’t do things like run the Boston Marathon, but in less than two weeks, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

The last time I ran a marathon, I was as fit as I’d ever been, hovering around 153 pounds. I felt great. I was working out an average of 3-4 hours a day (ok, maybe a bit excessive) and my endurance was at an all-time high. I was also single and working from home. But changing jobs, going to work in an office, commuting an hour each way, starting a PhD program, and getting married three years ago took its toll, and I found it much easier to come home, crash on the couch in front of the TV and open up a beer than to throw on my workout gear and hit the gym. Life happens, and 30 pounds later, it certainly caught up with me.

Do, I miss those days? Sometimes. And I had been trying (with limited success) to get myself back into running shape. My husband (who, of course, is naturally skinny, athletic, and can run 10 miles without training and hardly break a sweat) and I enter about a dozen 5Ks a year, with a few 10Ks and half marathons mixed in. It’s a fun thing to do on a Saturday morning and usually results in us rewarding ourselves with a few beers afterwards at the post-race party.

But I love running distances and that was the true goal.

And then April 15th happened. I was so excited to take my husband to his first Boston Marathon. Growing up in New England, and going to school at Boston University, it was one of my favorite days of the year. We got there early, staked out a great spot right near the mile 26 marker, and patiently waited for the elite athletes to make their way to Boylston street. An hour or so later, they arrived and I totally geeked out for a moment as some of the greatest marathon runners in the world passed us. We then went to get some lunch and doubled back hours later to see a friend of mine who was nearing the finishing line. Thank goodness we left our original spot – instead of being across the street when the bombs went off, we were about a block and a half away.

The running community is a strong and supportive one, and though not to say it was better or worse for us, I’m sure that every runner out there who regularly enters races processed what happened a little bit differently than people who don’t. You go to these events and they’re fun and laid back and anyone can participate and you get to see a community in a way that you just don’t get to on every other day. Races bring out the best in people, participants and spectators alike. To see this happen took away the purity and majesty of the event. Worst of all, it happened later in the day, when the people running to raise money for charities were finishing.

But the real victory for the running community was that it didn’t scare people away. My husband and I ran a 5K that very weekend, with a blue and yellow ribbon pinned to our bibs, and signed up for the BAA 10K as soon as registration opened. After the 10K, we watched 2013 Boston Marathon Champion Lelisa Desisa gift his championship medal back to the city, which brought a certain amount of closure.

Always one to push things further than are probably reasonable, I thought to myself “maybe this is the year you run the marathon for charity.” It was always something I had considered doing, but I also had mixed feelings about it. To get a Boston Marathon bib, you typically have to qualify by running a previous marathon really absurdly fast. People train for YEARS to get that qualification. The other option is that you apply to run for a charity and, if you get picked, you commit to raising several thousands of dollars for them. As a runner that takes more pleasure in just being outside and active than pushing myself to run fast, even in my best shape I wouldn’t have come close to qualifying, so I thought there would be this feeling of “if I’m running for a charity, I haven’t really EARNED it.”

Still, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least apply. As soon as I could, I submitted an application to one charity team – the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. If I was going to raise money for charity, it had to be something that was meaningful to me. All of the donations to Dana-Farber go to funding innovative basic cancer research. My uncle died of brain cancer, and I had countless friends that are either in remission, or actively battling.

I never thought I would be selected. Competition this year was fierce, with charities typically receiving double the amount of applications as in normal years. So the morning when I received the email telling me that I had made the team, it was a mixture of elation and sheer terror. I was going to run the 2014 Boston Marathon….but people like me don’t run the Boston Marathon. Saying yes would mean I would have to get myself back in shape, train for the marathon all through winter, raise money, and keep all of my current commitments on top of it. My husband didn’t help matters any – I woke him up at 5am to tell him that I had made the team and he promptly rolled back over and said to himself “I’m so glad I didn’t sign up for that. Good decision, Vic.”

But as the day wore on, and I processed the situation, it became clear that the only answer I could possibly give was to accept the spot on the team.  My friend Robin emphasized the point when she said to me “You would even consider backing out? That’s not the Karlyn I know. The Karlyn I know would kick its ass twice – once because she can and once to show it who’s boss.” That was it. Decision made, there was no turning back. Six months later, and almost $5,000 raised for charity, I’m almost there. Just 26.2 miles left to go.

People like me don’t run the Boston Marathon. You look at me and you don’t see a runner. In fact, for the dozens of races I’ve participated in, I still don’t think of myself as a real runner. I haven’t magically transformed into a new person during the process. Today, I’m in OK shape (certainly better than I was six months ago), am a slow runner at around 11:30 min/mile on shorter runs but closer to 12:30 min/mile on longer runs, and for all the training I’ve done, I haven’t lost that much weight, even though my body has certainly toned up. But I feel ready, and know I will cross that finish line and get my medal.

People like me don’t run the Boston Marathon. But in less than two weeks, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

About the Author

I'm a non-runner (i.e. a proudly slow runner) training to run the world's most famous marathon. This will be my third marathon, and second Boston Marathon in a row. I will be running as a part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Team and will be raising money for the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Cancer Research. Follow my journey by joining my mailing list, following me on Twitter or on Facebook.

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