(Or how this Turtle managed to finagle her way into one of the greatest marathons in the country)
Six years ago, as a naïve freshman at Tufts, I learned about the President’s Marathon Challenge. This program would allow two hundred individuals to enter the Boston Marathon without qualifying. I was excited about the opportunity, eager for the challenge, yet horribly out of shape with little running experience. Each year I considered the challenge and each year I couldn’t bring myself to attempt it. It was daunting. 26.2 miles? Not for me. My years at Tufts passed and I had resigned to the fact that distance running was not for me. Leaving university, the farthest I’d run was five miles—an out and back to Harvard from my sophomore year dorm.
Moving to Columbus, I decided to run again but limited myself to 5k races and short jaunts around the block. Until one day I was running a local 5k and I met a wonderful woman who convinced me to join the Columbus Running Company on their Saturday morning runs. Anyone who knew me in my younger years would tell you not to contact me before eleven on a Saturday morning; they’d never believe that I could wake up at seven to run. But I did, over and over again. Somehow I found motivation and before I knew it, I was preparing for a half marathon. I even tricked my father into attempting one with me. He kicked my butt. The first two weren’t pretty, but I crossed the finish line each time knowing that I’d get another chance. After those first I learned the tricks of the trade, how to prepare, how to nourish myself, and how to pace myself along the course. I improved. Before I knew it I was considering tackling the whole shebang.
Knowing I had the opportunity to run Boston, I sent the coach a nagging e-mail asking when I could sign up for the challenge. After learning about the stipulations, I went all in. There was no guarantee that I would earn a bib number, but I continued my running regiment and hoped for the chance. In January I heard the news, I was in. Shit. Now I really had to do this…
January came and went. The weather dipped into the bitter cold. Never in my life did I have the desire to go outside in four degree weather, now I had no choice. Following Hal Higdon’s marathon training, I found myself increasing my mileage into the teens. I was up to sixteen miles two months away from the marathon, it was miraculous but I was doing it. And then I fell. Not a graceful fall. Not a cute, small slip onto my bum. But an ankle twisting, pain inducing tumble on a patch of ice. It wasn’t pretty. The size of my ankle shocked and disturbed me; I wasn’t sure what the consequences would be but I was nervous about my prospects of running.
After a few weeks of coddling my left ankle I began to run regularly. A bit slower and worse for wear, but I returned to the longer distances and managed a twenty mile run three weeks out from race day. I could do this. I was one week away from the big day when I did it again. In a freak trampoline accident I torqued the right ankle. The urgent care doctor lowered her eyes as she told me that it was unlikely I’d be up and running in a week, I wept. How could I be so foolish? What would I do, I have never wanted something so badly.
Sitting in the orthopedist’s the next day I expected the worst with little hope for the best. The doc looked me in the eye and told me his prognosis, return Friday he requested and then we’ll determine the chances of running. I’ve never treated my ankles so nicely. Serious elevation, frequent icing, stretching, compression, every trick I could find. My legs shook as I waited to see the orthopedist again, I stretched relentlessly in hope that it would help my cause. I nearly leapt out of the chair and hugged him when he told me I would get my chance on Monday. And they the nerves kicked in.
In Boston on Sunday I picked up my bib, perused the expo, and prepared my marathon necessities. Jordan accompanied me to the pre-race dinner held at Tufts where I was too anxious to eat and sat paralyzed in my fear. As President Bacow and Coach Megerle gave their final pep talks, I found my eyes welling up, secretly wishing that the doctor had said I wouldn’t be able to run. I can’t do this, what if I fail?
Jordan did his best to comfort me as he dropped me at my hotel. “You’ll do great,” he assured me before he left. Icing my ankle for the final time I tried to convince myself he was right. I set three alarms, spoke to my parents, and went to bed at nine in preparation for my five o’clock wake up call. Waking up three times before the alarm, I sprung out of bed when the final alarm rang and began my preparations. Somehow my nerves had calmed throughout the night and I knew I had no choice but to face my fears. I suited up, prepared my soupy oatmeal for breakfast, and was shuttled down to the official marathon buses at Boston Common.
It was a madhouse. There was little organization and the crowd pushed to get any available seats. Although it seemed we’d never make it in time, our bus pulled up to Athlete’s Village with two hours to spare. The time flew by and the crowd thinned as the first two waves began their journey. Before I knew it, my little band of Tufts runners was weaving our way to the start line. Ten minutes after the third wave began, I finally crossed the start line. Waving to the faster ladies in my group, I settled in next to Alex, a mechanical engineering grad student. How fortunate was I to find her, we had too much in common and found plenty to discuss during the first few miles.
We passed hundreds of spectators, each cheering us on as we passed. I’ll never forget the biker bar at the second mile; I’ve never seen so many leather jackets in one place. Since my name was tacked on to my chest, arm, and leg, I constantly heard my name as I trotted along. It was motivating and exactly what I needed to remind me why I started this adventure. It became tougher when we wove through smaller sections of road without spectators, but the desire for that shiny medal kept me pushing.
We were keeping a steady pace until mile twelve where Alex stopped into a portapotty. After walking a short ways to wait for her, I decided that this was my day and I needed to persevere. On my own, I entered the scream tunnel. I had been warned about this phenomenon, but I didn’t understand until I was going through it. The girls of Wellesley lined up to shout accolades. “Kiss me!” their signs proclaimed. I didn’t have the nerve, but I smiled widely as they all cheered for me.
On I went, passing the halfway mark and the many runners who were fading. I began to speak to several runners, trying to coax them into joining me. But many spirits were wavering and I traveled alone into Newton to face the famed Newton hills. I couldn’t recognize the first hill, I crested it without difficulty and continued on waiting for the hills to bombard me. Firehouse hill was more than I could expect, and at 17.5 miles I was slowed to a shuffle. It was short, but hills were never my specialty. I carried on, passing several other Tufts participants. For a short period of time I joined them and we discussed our affiliation to the university and how we were feeling. Inevitably I pushed on, leaving them to their battle and facing mine head on.
And then there it was, the infamous Heartbreak Hill. I looked it up and down before deciding to take it slowly. I knew if I pushed too hard on the hill, I’d run out of steam for the rest of the race. At the top of the hill I felt exhilarated. Many runners warn you that you should consider mile 21 the half-way point of Boston and I was finally there. I’d passed the rolling hills and finally found myself on the outskirts of a town I’ve known and fallen in love with. Coming around the bend into Boston College I could smell the beer on the students’ breath. Due to the beer overload, the students were loud and each one happy to scream motivating remarks while handing out high fives. I got a second wind. Only five more miles, how many times have I run five miles?
I crossed through Cleveland Circle, over the T tracks and entered Brookline. The spectators remained eager to point out my accomplishment and I was happy to hear be reminded. Strolling down Beacon Street, I passed many familiar landmarks. At some point I passed an old friend. Somehow I was able to locate him among the throngs of people on the streets and he came out to join me. Only one and a half miles to go as we jogged together and caught up on life. As I neared the Citco sign, and one mile marker, I waved him off and regained my focus. So close, yet that Citco sign seemed so far.
As I neared the finish line, I felt energy from the crowd and I pushed myself to finish this thing the right way. I came upon two Tufts ladies and I ran with them towards the finish line. “You gonna let me beat you?” I asked a girl I had stood with at the Commons. She smiled as she broke ahead. I followed close behind, it was the extra spirit I needed to speed up. Raising my hands triumphantly in the air, I crossed that line. That damn line that I had trained months to get to; that I had spent the past several hours looking forward to. The line that instantly changed me from just any other ordinary person into something special. I’d finally become a marathoner and boy was it exhausting.
It’s been a week since the marathon and I’m finally coming off of my high. My ankle is still swollen several inches, but it will survive. I’ll have to nurse it over again and return to the dreaded elliptical, yet it has all been worth it. I did it. I conquered my fears and completed my first marathon. Now it is time to rest and repair before returning to speed training to improve for the next. It is only six months until Columbus or Portland or Long Beach, now I just have to choose one…
You know what they say, you’ll never forget your first.
There are a few too many individuals to thank for getting me across that finish line:
- First and foremost my parents. My father was the first person I could ever truly call my running partner and my mother has always eagerly applauded my running accomplishments.
- My brother, the first person I ever ran from. You have to start somewhere, right?
- All the individuals that donated to my fundraising efforts. I couldn’t have entered the race without your funds and your words of encouragement ran through my mind every training run. And to you I must apologize for my mother’s kvelling, but what would you expect from a Jewish mother?
- Coach Don, even though I didn’t have the opportunity to meet you during training, your e-mails made me feel like an active member of the team. Thanks for the constant words of encouragement.
- Mandy, you truly are the individual responsible for introducing me to CRC. You ran with me on too many Saturday mornings and I can’t wait to watch you cross your first marathon finish line.
- Kathy, I will never be able to thank you enough for your constant motivation. Without you there to chat my ear off, I’d never have been able to push through those longer, tougher runs. I look forward to many Saturday morning chats in the future.
- Angela, Kim, Annette, Michele and all the other Turtle Thursday goers, you lovely ladies (and a few gents) have been awesome running mates. I’m excited for many more runs with you this summer! Now let’s stop getting injured, okay?
- All of the CBus Pacers that have joined me on a Saturday morning run. Thanks for waking up ridiculously early on the weekends to join me, it’s been fun.
- To all the Tufts runners who joined me for any portion of the marathon, long or short, it was great talking to you and sharing this momentous accomplishment with you.
- All the spectators who yelled my name or screamed “Go Jumbos!” It was the greatest feeling in the world being cheered on by you.
- And of course my wonderful friends who only mocked me slightly when I left social outings at 10pm on a Friday so I could wake up early for a run. I’m not sure if I have it in me to stay out all that late anymore, but I’ll try! Thanks for your constant encouragement, can’t wait to force some of you into 5ks this summer.
Awww Michelle, this is a great race report! You are truly an inspiration, and I’m so glad to have met you that rainy morning :) You have come so far, and I can’t wait for you to see me finish my first marathon. You are encouraging me to want to do one when I had completely given up on the idea.
Wow! How inspiring! I’m still on 5Ks, but hopefully I’ll be bumping up to 10Ks soon! 2014 will be the year of the half-marathon for me, which means that maybe by 2015 I’ll be ready to try something like this. But the Boston marathon for your first? That’s epic!
An accomplishment that stands out. Well done!
your first marathon was Boston? what an amazing experience! And I laughed when I read your last bullet – I do the same thing (leaving early on Fridays to run Sat morning)!