I was 11 years old the first time I thought about running the Boston Marathon.
My friend's mom, who was training for a marathon, said she was hoping to qualify for Boston. That piqued my interest because I was obsessed with U.S. History and had read many books about Boston during the Revolutionary War Era. I romanticized the city, and fantasized about dancing with officers at a ball in the 18th century. I dreamed of boarding an airplane bound for Boston and walking along its storied streets. Therefore, to my 7th grade cross country runner self, upgrading the walk to a 26.2-mile run seemed like a reasonable thing to do when I was "old."
I decided that someday, when I was a mom, I would run the Boston Marathon.
It wasn't really a goal but more a matter-of-fact item that would eventually be checked off the list. I had no concept of the qualifying process or what that would entail, although I was a fast kid so that knowledge wouldn't have phased me one bit. So yes, someday, I would grow up, graduate college, get a job, get married, make babies, and run the Boston Marathon. Sounds good. I took about two seconds to mentally acknowledge the new addition to my life plans, and then I went back to junior high.
Eight more years down the road, it was finally time to begin tackling another item on this list: Run the Boston Marathon. I'd had it in my mind that when I ran a second marathon someday, it had to be the St. George Marathon. I had unfinished business on that course. I needed to cross that finish line and know I'd given it my very best. Over the years, I'd grown to appreciate what a marathon meant and what different finishing times represented. I learned that in 2006, I would have needed a sub-3:40 to qualify for Boston. So during those years of pining and failing to get into the race again via lottery, I had a sub-3:40 in mind. I was no longer a fast kid, and my medical history of hip dysplasia and a fractured hip definitely worked against me. But finally -- finally -- in 2014, I drew out for the St. George Marathon. My little guy was two years old and my baby girl wasn't quite one when I started running for real again.
I did it right and worked with a knowledgeable physical therapist, but it was a bit too early to ramp up that kind of mileage on my ridiculously atrophied hips. My knees paid the price. It felt a little deja vu lining up for another marathon at less than 100%, and I remember saying I could finish in 3:30 or 4:30 and the odds were 50/50. I was terrified of repeating my past mistake and injuring myself even worse. (Especially since I'd just paid $$$ for my first Ironman registration fee. Yes, I was/am crazy.) So when my knees were really hurting around mile 18, I didn't push them. I let the 3:35 Boston Qualifying balloon pass me by and it didn't bother me; it wasn't my goal that day. I just wanted to finish without hurting myself. So when I crossed the line in 3:38, it was a pleasant bonus that I had achieved the sub-3:40 that I would have needed so long ago. But I knew that was certainly not my best possible race, and I still had not conquered that course. The unfinished business remained.
The following spring, I became an Ironman. Then in the summer of 2015, I began training for my third St. George Marathon. This was going to be it. I was going to get the monkey off my back, to erase my previous shortcomings among the red hills. I was going to conquer that course once and for all. I would run my best possible marathon.
Oh, and I'd qualify for Boston, too.
I ran a 3:21 that warm October day. It was a 17-minute PR and a 13-minute BQ. It was my best possible marathon, and I had conquered my own demons along the way. You couldn't have wiped the smile off my face if you tried.
I've felt some guilt over the past couple years as I've watched friends chase after and achieve Boston Marathon qualifying times. They dreamed of the letters "BQ" and they cried when those dreams came true. Those finish lines were crowning moments in their lives. I didn't share that journey in the same way. (I was busy crying over the swim for Ironman, haha.) I was injured for my first two marathons but would have qualified otherwise. My personal struggle with the St. George Marathon was about that race and my own history with it. When I ran a 3:21, I was so freaking thrilled that I hadn't fallen apart at mile 18 that the comfy BQ was an afterthought. Meanwhile, my friends had these magical experiences in achieving their BQ goals, and I worried that my lack of BQ magic meant that I was taking it for granted. And then I realized: the dream for me was never qualifying for Boston. It always lied in those storied streets themselves.
My dream has always been, simply and not-so-simply, to run the Boston Marathon.
To step off a plane in a place I've only read about since I was a little girl. To stand next to the harbor where my heroes dumped a shipment of tea. To walk along the Freedom Trail. To ride a bus to Hopkinton and have nothing but my own two feet to carry me back to the city. To turn right on Hereford and left on Boylston. To cross that finish line.
It's been more than 18 months since I punched my ticket to the Big Dance. It's been nearly 18 years since I first decided I wanted to dance at this ball.
Only 5 more days until that dream comes true.
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