Before the sore legs and sufferfest memories fade, I need to get this down on paper: the Boston Marathon is the hardest marathon I’ve ever run. Heartbreak is an Everest-sized mountain. No matter how slow you start down those plummeting first hills, you will feel it in your quads diving from Newton down into Boston. The weather is uncontrollable and usually will not give you what you want. Those college kids screaming at you to run as you struggle to put one foot in front of the other have no idea what you’re going through. I’ve run it five times now and have had just one good race.
Before the runner’s high and memories of glory fade, I need to get this down on paper: the Boston Marathon is the best marathon I’ve ever run. No matter how jaded you are in racing, it’s impossible not to feel the excitement and energy in the air. The crowds are second to none. Kids want nothing more than to give you a high five or an orange slice. And whether you ran a 3 hour race or a 6 hour one, you will feel the love from every single person in the salty city of Boston as you hobble back to your hotel.
The tough thing about racing is you don’t know how it will turn out until you try. The best laid plans and training blocks can be shattered very quickly by elements completely out of your control. But we still try anyway. It takes a certain amount of bravery to step up to the starting line, uncertain of what will happen over the next 26 miles. I chose to sign up for this race because I knew it would be a challenge. I often forget that I have the luxury of choosing how I suffer. So when that suffering is different than the expectation, the suffering you prepared for, the real test begins. Things will inevitably go south if you race often enough. And just like running fast, surviving a bad race is an art that gets refined over time. I’ve felt shitty during races often enough that I knew early on this would not be my glorious comeback race, proving that my NYC sub-3 wasn’t just a fluke.
My monkey brain was full of chatter and demoralizing thoughts early on. Do I keep pushing the pace even though my heart rate is near max? Do I stick with my pack even though I know this feels too hard? Do I let go of the ego and accept that I’ll run a slower time? Do I completely give up and walk it in? Do I stop at the next medical tent and pretend that my bum leg hurts too much to continue?
When Boston stopped being a physical challenge of holding a pace, it became a mental exercise in gratitude. I forced myself to flip my thinking, get out of the pity party I was wallowing in, and stay present. Could I be grateful and appreciative while my brain bombarded me with thoughts of quitting and giving up marathons forever? It was hard. Maybe one of the harder things I’ve done. I thought of the people in Boston who gave up their weekend to support me: Pon, my family, my teammates. I had to finish for them. I thought of all the work I had put in, all the time in the pool and the strength training and the physical therapy and massages. I couldn’t let that go to waste. I thought of my grandfather, who passed away last month. Whose last words to me were “run for me, Angie.” I had to make good on that promise. I thought of all the people who try their entire lives to qualify for this one race and never make it, sometimes missing their BQ by seconds. Some of those people would give anything to trade spots with me in that moment. And I thought of how disappointed I would be if I gave up. I did not want to waste this opportunity.
The race didn’t go as I had dreamed, but as always seems to be the case, I learn more from the crap races than I do from the ones that go well. The bad races toughen you up. I finished a marathon in 75+ degree heat, fighting back vomit half the time, with a stress reaction in my tibia, without running for two weeks leading up to the race. If I can do THAT, imagine what I can do next time when just one of those factors isn’t in play? It’s all about that mental game.
I may or may not come back to Boston next year, but I will be back eventually in search of my magic unicorn, that perfect race with good weather where everything comes together. Boston can be a dirty place filled with rude people who don’t make eye contact, but on this one day out of the year everyone comes together to celebrate an epic journey we take together. And that’s something you just don’t find anywhere else.