Published on April 21st, 2015 | by karlyn1
Reflections on my second Boston, and lessons learned from running a marathon.
There aren’t many things that I get emotional about, but the Boston Marathon is certainly one of them. My attachment to it didn’t start with the bombings – it started many years before that when I was in college at Boston University. Mile 25 goes right through Kenmore Square, where I lived as a freshman. Every April, I would see thousands of runners in the famed marathon jackets walking the streets of Back Bay, and I was enamored of what they would do in the marathon. It was in college that I first thought about running the marathon some way….either qualifying or a charity. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Boston Marathon is why I started running.
Years went on and I always toyed with the idea of running a marathon. I toyed with the Philadelphia Marathon a few times, getting injured during training until I finally made it in 2010. As a casual runner (10-11 minute miles on an average day), completing the Philadelphia Marathon made the idea of qualifying for Boston seem impossible. As a point of comparison, for a woman my age to qualify for Boston, they have to run about 7.5 minute miles…for 26.2 miles. I felt like focusing on that would make me hate running – I’ve never been a fan of speed work. So I put the idea in the back of my mind.
Then 2013 happened. You all know the story – Victor and I were there and were about a block and a half away when the bombs went off. I really can’t describe the impact it had on me. I love running because it’s an individual, pure sport. Very few people are competing for a win at any given race. They are out there to finish, or have a personal best. Your friends and family come out to cheer for you, and you get a medal when you cross the finishing line. And the Boston Marathon is more than just a race – it’s a community event. What other sporting event literally shuts down an entire city for a day and brings the community out in droves for hours just to cheer people on? There are a ton of big city marathons in the world. There’s only one Boston.
It’s a humbling thing to be a part of, and I had the privilege of running what Runner’s World Editor at Large Amby Burfoot called “The greatest footrace in the history of the world” – the 2014 Boston Marathon. Last year was incredible on so many levels – every runner in the world wanted to be a part of it and I was one of the lucky 36,000 that got to run it. But I came back this year to support a cause I believe in by fundraising again for Dana Farber. Here’s how it went.
The 2015 Boston Marathon
Let’s get this out of the way – the weather sucked. As the days grew closer to the marathon, the forecast made it more and more clear that I was in for a wet, windy day. It was in the 40s, raining from the time I started until I finished, and there was a 25-30 MPH headwind to boot. I don’t particularly mind running the in the rain – I will take it over very hot weather any day of the week. But I’ve never run a marathon in the rain. And the wind really scared me. If it was a tailwind – at my back – it would have been ok. But blowing into my face was another thing.
One of the ongoing things I’ve been dealing with over the past few years is my calves cramping at the beginning of a run. It’s been on and off during training and after running the BAA 5K two days before the marathon, I was feeling ok. Unfortunately, my calves cramped up during the first mile of the race, making it near impossible for me to run up hills. Downhills I could still do, so I fell into a steady rhythm of walking uphill and running down. My calves finally loosened up around mile 5 but then I had a new problem – my achilles tendon on my right leg. I had achilles problems at the beginning of my training for the 2014 Boston Marathon, and I was told at the time that I better be careful or I was going to snap it…and that would have been really really bad. Every stride I took, especially down hills, I had a pain in my achilles. I worked through it for a while but, especially early on in the run, I was really worried that I was going to seriously injure myself and not be able to finish.
So I started walking. A lot. BUT, here’s the thing – I suspected something like this was going to happen. I had been having leg problems almost my entire training and I had a backup plan – I trained to speed walk. Now, speed walkers look ridiculous but they can walk fast. I was walking 12-13 minute miles…not significantly slower than my running pace but with much less impact on my legs. And my pace was ok. I was actually passing people that were running! I’m telling you, there is nothing more thrilling than pacing an athletic looking guy that’s running when you’re speed walking. There was one guy that was running right behind me for a mile or so and finally he was like “I just can’t pass you! You’re a great walker.”
I hit the half marathon point in about 3 hours….I was hoping for 2.5 but was happy with 3 since I knew it would probably take me 6 hours to finish. I was so wet and cold by the time that I got there, but I knew I had to finish when I got to the half way point. But that’s when it got so hard. The rain and wind was just getting worse the closer I got to Boston. I started counting down to seeing Victor, who was waiting at mile 17 at the Dana Farber tent. 4 miles to seeing Victor…3 miles to seeing Victor….2 miles….1 mile…almost there….and then I saw him! It was just the pick up I needed…and I knew I would finish.
Victor had really wanted to run with me last year for part of the race but with the security restrictions, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to make it work. But it was pretty clear that they were letting people walk on the course last year and so we made a plan for him to join me this year for a part of the race. The original plan was for him to join for mile 17-22 or so, and then jump on the T and meet me at the finish line. But I was so miserable and was reaching my point of being a bit delirious…and he stayed with me until mile 25 until he moved over to the sidewalk. I wouldn’t have been able to finish without him. He encouraged me, talked to me about dinner and beer after the race (I was soo hungry at this point!!!), talked to me about the dogs and about the cruise we were going to go on and how warm it was going to be. There were times we were walking together that I was tearing up and just wanted to quit so badly….and he would say “look, the miles are ticking by! you’ve only got 2 more until mile 25!”
And all along the way, these crazy spectators stood out on the course and cheered me on. “Thank you Dana Farber!” “You’ve got this Karlyn, almost there.” “You’re my hero!” I always get really emotional after mile 20 in a marathon, and the weather this year and how miserable I was just amplified it.
When I saw the Citgo sign (mile 25 in Kenmore Square), it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. I went under the bridge on Comm Ave and knew that Hereford was coming up…and literally started sobbing. And of course, since I was under a bridge, the sound of my sobs were amplified! After Hereford, there was just Boylston street left. As I turned the corner, I could see the finish line in the distance. I just stood there for a moment and took it all in. I made it. I really couldn’t believe it. Then I ran…very slowly…toward the finish line. Boylston seemed so much longer than it did just 2 days ago in the BAA 5K. But the crowds were still there and the noise was deafening. I crossed the finish line just over 6 hours from when I started. All things considered, I’ll take it.
If 2014 was a celebration of the Boston Marathon, than 2015 was a tribute to the fortitude that has made this marathon the greatest in the world for 119 years.
What I’ve Learned From The Marathon
I’ve run three marathons now, a fact that still doesn’t seem real. And truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll do another one…at least, not for a while. It’s an incredible time commitment and it just beats up your body. But more than that, it’s such a head game, especially in the last few weeks leading up to it. It’s all you think about, and even knowing that I’ve done it before (and recently!), there is so much self doubt. It’s enough to drive a sane person rather crazy.
That said, I firmly believe that everyone should attempt a marathon at some point in their life. The marathon is a great metaphor for life in that you will have ups and downs. There is nothing more exciting one moment, and then you will want to quit more than you can ever imagine the next. You go through so many emotions and you just need to work through all of them and keep pushing forward.
The marathon brings out the best in people – the best in the people running it and the best in the people watching it. It gives people hope and inspires them to do more than they ever thought they could. And, especially if you run in the back of the pack like me, you see more heart and determination than you would think possible. Yesterday, I saw people who have completed literally dozens of marathons beaten down by the weather. I saw an older many around mile 22 that was shivering and hunched over but just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I saw hundreds of volunteers who stood outside in the rain all day and still cheered us on with encouragements when we passed. I went by the runner with muscular dystrophy, who eventually completed the marathon at 5am after 20 hours.
So if you made it this far into this post, here’s your takeaway – do a marathon. It will suck up your time, beat up your body, and cause you to have more emotions than you ever thought possible….but it is a decision that you will never regret.