I was not successful in qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
I had no idea whether I was even healthy enough to give it a go. Treating my soleus injury led me to rest, stretch, ice, and rub multiple lotions on my right leg. Even though it didn’t feel normal in the days before the race, I wasn’t going to conclude my strongest training season without at least trying to run. Additionally, the conditions for 2017's Flying Pig Marathon were likely the best there will ever be, so I sold myself that it was meant to be.
At the starting line, I worked my way to the front of my corral, beginning just seconds behind the leaders. I felt fine and quickly found my pace group. I’ve never stuck with a pace group for entire race but I decided this would be the best strategy to keep on track. A couple of miles in and the pace felt comfortable. My leg was tight, but not really painful. I was even handling the early hills with ease.
Then right at mile three I felt a stabbing pain. I quickly realized I wasn’t BQ’ing in this race.
Since I was still near the front of a 20,000 person pack, I pulled off onto the sidewalk and slowed down to a crawl. I didn’t walk, but there was shooting pain in nearly every step; I couldn’t imagine another 23 miles of this. I figured I could limp my way another five miles to my house and call it a day.
After leaving downtown, I started up the infamous Gilbert Hill. At this point, the pain was less stabbing and more a consistent discomfort. “Maybe you can do the half marathon,” I told myself. "At least then you’d have something to show for it.” As I worked through my inner dialogue, something happened. I’m not sure what it was—if it was the hill stretching out my leg or my pure stubbornness—but at the top of Eden Park, I felt like I could finish this race. Even though the leg was still painful, and I couldn’t run at optimal speed, I knew I could finish. My brother-in-law was at our house with Kaelyn and my niece (my sister and her twins ran the half). I told them that I was hobbled but to look for me to finish around 4:30. Just up the street, as the half and the full routes split, I turned right to run my 26.2.
I continued to tolerate the pain and even picked up speed over the next few miles. Again, I wasn’t running well, evidenced by the unusual blisters on my feet; I was striking the ground differently to compensate for the injury and my feet paid a toll. But I was still running it out. Just surviving helped me deal with the BQ depression. My adjusted goal was to finish well. And without noticing, I was making decent time.
Side note: There are always marathon moments that people don’t discuss—incidents that are not at all glamorous and quite disgusting. About sixteen miles in, my innards rebelled against me. I found a porto-potty and thought I was good until five minutes later. Not sure if it was a reaction to my pain or not. Regardless, despite bathing in hand wash, I always feel guilty when the kids want a high five.
After mile twenty, my coping left me with tired legs, but I still had my fitness. I never walked during the race, partly because it’s my but mantra but mostly because it wouldn’t have solved the pain in my leg. And I know the course so well that I was able to maintain a solid mental state. I wasn’t even looking at my time. At mile 25, I finally realized that I would finish just under four hours. It was a nice little bonus, knowing that the pain was worth it. Without my intense training, I doubt I could’ve finished under five hours.
At the finish line I just stopped without emotion. I took my medal. I found my family.
It’s a day later and I’m in terrible shape. Thankfully I didn’t have to leave the house today (working at home has it’s privileges) because I’m not sure I could have walked more than ten yards at a time; I haven’t felt this bad after a marathon in years. I won’t be able to even think about running for a few weeks and recovery could take up to a month.
You see, I didn’t know how I’d react to not qualifying. Because I was able to persevere yesterday, I’m OK with it because I know it still hasn’t gotten my best shot. At the very least, the past few months of training helped my discover what it will take for me to get there. And there are countless ways where I can improve: I can better monitor my fitness, work on my diet, and maybe even integrate some stretching to prevent injury. Even though I didn’t fail because of lack of preparation, I’m not going to become complacent.
Failure provides opportunities for reflection. And even though I’m tough on myself, I don’t regret anything I did. I could chalk this defeat up to the fact that I’m not athletic enough to BQ, but I just can’t admit that. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to try again.
This morning I signed up for my next marathon.