boston: a marathoner’s perspective

{Celebrating the finish of my first (second?) marathon – St. Louis 2009}

The events of Monday’s bombing at the finish line of the Boston marathon are still too huge and raw to be able to coherently write about. I was in class when it was unfolding and spent the evening catching up on all of the terrible news. I kept remembering the feelings I had when crossing the finish line of the St. Louis marathon in 2009.

The St. Louis marathon was my first completed marathon. I had also attempted to run the Louis and Clark Marathon in the fall of 2008 but that race was prematurely stopped at mile ten. Hurricane Ike swept through the area and left the course devastated with fallen trees over the trail still ahead. My running partner and I made it through ten miles of flooded road with rain battering down on us and crazy winds pushing against us at every step of the way. Yet we were making good time and I was so excited to be there – running my first marathon! I was crushed when, approaching mile ten,  we saw runners coming back on the side of the course and heading in the “wrong” direction. Some told us that the race was closed up ahead and that everyone was being forced to stop running due to the hurricane and the damage to the course. I wanted so badly to disbelieve them but there was no denying the many people coming back and moving in all directions other than ahead. I started crying, my tears mixing with the rain, feeling incredibly sorry for myself and the months of hard training that had gone into preparing for that day. There was nothing to do but stop, dry our faces, and accept defeat.

{Braving Hurricane Ike the morning of my first (stopped) marathon. A quick shot in the flooded and dark parking lot at a start line that was delayed by an hour.}

That following Spring, I trained once more and successfully completed the St. Louis marathon. My running partner and I ran the entire course together. Early on, I felt like I could have run faster but a recent knee injury was holding her back. She urged me to go on and leave her behind but we had always been in it together and I couldn’t imagine not running the race side by side with her. So I held back and encouraged her to keep going at whatever pace felt comfortable. We soon lost sight of our pace group and decided to just enjoy the race and not worry about our finishing time. Our only goal was to run the entire way and not stop to walk.

Once her legs warmed up and her knee loosened up, we were able to pick up our pace and run strong. Our partners and friends cheered us on at various mile markers on the course. They moved from one spot to another to be able to see us more than once, all the while putting up with pouring rain (I must have bad weather karma when it comes to racing) and grey, overcast skies. They held up signs and handed us orange slices. They were model spectators (an experience described beautifully by Jessica Luther in this post on being a spectator before and after Boston).

I continued to feel good until mile 22. At that point, I hit that “wall” that every runner talks about. My legs felt stiff and heavy. I wanted to stop running and stretch but worried that I wouldn’t be able to start again. When my reserves failed me, my running partner stepped in and took the reigns. She talked me through the pain, pulled us over for a few stretches, and kept me motivated to shuffle/run through those last brutal miles. The St. Louis marathon famously finishes on a one-mile uphill. It was by far the toughest mile of my life. It took all of the willpower I had to keep running and focus on the end goal: crossing that finish line. I remember making up a chant that I kept repeating in my head. Or maybe I was even saying it out loud; it’s hard to remember as those last miles seem like a blur. My hands felt numb and I could tell that I had worn through my rain-soaked socks inside my running shoes.

{Running the St. Louis marathon in crappy weather but good spirits.}

The moment we crossed that finish line and I heard my name announced, I felt like I had conquered the world. Nothing other than childbirth has ever given me that feeling of elation and accomplishment. I started tearing up even before crossing the finish line and couldn’t hold back the tears as I looked at my friend and shared that moment of trust, encouragement, and survival with her. We hugged and cried and gleefully claimed our medals and warming blankets.

Those moments of triumph and elation kept playing through my mind as I learned of the bombs in Boston. I also remembered how that feeling of empowerment was so tightly mixed with feelings of fatigue and vulnurability. I could barely walk after I finished the race and my friend’s partner had to pull off my shoes in which my toes were entirely exposed as they had indeed worn through the socks. I felt both invincible and destroyed.

That mix of triumpth and vulnurability is what makes marathon running such an amazing experience. It forces you to confront all of your self-imposed limits and fears. It allows you to feel – even if just for a moment – that you are better than you ever thought you could be. It forces you to feel pain and fear while telling you that you are bigger than that; you are strong and capable and will endure. That is what makes the marathon worth celebrating.

To turn that celebration of the human body into a mass destruction of human bodies is horrible beyond words. To replace triumph with fear and empowerment with terror is beyond heinous.

I don’t know how this will change the face of marathoning or the future of outdoor, public races. I hope that Kristin Armstrong is right and that we can come together as a family and overcome this tragedy like we keep having to overcome one tragedy after another. I truly wish that we can continue to do the things we love now and after such an event. I just feel heavy hearted writing these words and feel sadness for yet another tragic loss of human life and spirit.

And my heart is with all of the victims and their families. May they heal and overcome as well.

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{Bikes, a new baby, and the story of us.}
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12 Responses to boston: a marathoner’s perspective

  1. Laura says:

    Thank you for these beautiful words. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for reminding us about the comradeship and combination of strength an vulnerability that makes marathon running such a celebration of the human body. It is in moments like this one that we need to remember all the good of which humans are still capable of doing and to know that we still can have each other in the face of adversity. I wanted to share an article I read today and that resonates with yours because it also sheds a ray of the much needed hope and healing we need in the aftermath of this tragedy:

    • S. says:

      Thanks for the link, that was a great read! (I also like the idea of “squeakers” – hadn’t heard that term yet.)

      • Robson says:

        Lam is right- it can happen to annoye. I just listened to the podcast and can feel your pain. The marathon has so many unknowns and if something doesn’t go just right then it’s so hard to get back on track.Anyway, congratulations again on the finish. You have that behind you. I hear you about wanting to switch back to half-marathons. No harm in that. It took me two years before I was ready to train for my second marathon.Recover well. Peace.

  2. Katie K says:

    That’s beautifully written, thanks for sharing. I truly think that next year will have even more attendees and supporters – the spirit will endure

    • S. says:

      I hope so too, Katie!

    • Syuuichi says:

      I don’t think I wrote out my workout very clrealy! I ran a total of 6.5 miles and it probably took me 55 minutes or so. Within the 6.5 miles, I ran 25 minutes at tempo pace. I don’t take Max running. He doesn’t really like to go on runs. He will hike for a long time though! We only let him off his leash if there are not people around. He gets too excited and sometimes jumps on people, so he is usually on his leash.

  3. Anna says:

    Beautiful! I teared up reading this.

  4. Dottie says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this as a marathoner. I am usually a spectator at the Chicago marathon. I think – hope – that the number of supporters will increase, not decrease.

  5. Pingback: All About Boston | Life with Roozle

  6. Meg says:

    The post is wonderfully well-written, but what I reacted to first were the pictures with Anna — I miss the Academichic pictures.

    I had always intended to run a race someday — even though I was a sprinter, soccer had lengthened my endurance, and I figured I’d do it eventually, since I lived in DC with plenty of races. Then I broke my big toe & developed arthritis (from the impact to the joint, not from the break itself) at twenty-five years old. No more running for me — but what I miss the most is the anticipation of teaching my future children by example with sports. I’m glad you were able to run, and complete, your races.

    • simplybike says:

      Hi Meg,

      thanks for saying hi! Sorry to hear about your accident and the consequent arthritis. I was just wondering – are there low impact sports you can still do? I had a friend with joint problems who had to give up running but could still comfortably bike and has since done a number of week-long bike tours through Europe. I’m sure there are still lots of ways in which you can model a healthy/active lifestyle to your future children, I wish you the best as you figure out what works for you!

      • Meg says:

        I haven’t tried biking in a long time, because I have a dog who does not fit in a backpack :-) I’m concerned that I would still use my toe while biking — in trying to grip the pedal — because there are very few activities which don’t use toes. I would like to try swimming more but the hours & costs of the pools around here aren’t great. I “save up” my walking for walking the dog.

        I know I’ll be able to teach sports, at the least. And there will be a dog to chase and play with, of course, so that will be good.

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