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An Inspirational Marathon Race Report

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The following marathon race report was posted by MarathonMoon (Monica) on Runner’s World and Running Times forums. Monica was seeking to qualify for the Boston Marathon for the first time. Her extraordinary report of her journey to her goal is inspirational. I have included it here on my Running Page with her permission.

 

Redemption

12/09/06

 

I can’t help but ask myself “How can I be here?”  It is an early December day in Charlotte, NC, the temperature is hovering in the low 20’s, and I’m minutes away from the start of the Thunder Road Marathon.  I’m a couple of hundred miles from home.  I’ve stayed with my brother-in-law and his family, but at race start I am alone, and I expect no familial support during this endeavor.   I’m wearing shorts, a long-sleeve shirt layered over a short-sleeved shirt.  And I’m freezing.  What a difference a few weeks make.  I rewind my mind.  It’s a day a month earlier in Richmond, VA.

 

“How can I be here?”  This is all I can think to myself.  “This isn’t happening.  This can’t be real… this is a bad dream.”  I’m lying prone on the sidewalk in downtown Richmond.  Minutes earlier I have staggered off the course of the Richmond Marathon steps before mile 18 on a day that has become “unseasonably warm”.  I learn a hard lesson that day: a forecast of weather over 68 degrees is all-too-often a death knell for runners unwilling to throttle back on dreams of speed.  It’s nearly 80.  I’m severely overheated and my legs and arms are shaking uncontrollably.  A man appears seemingly from nowhere.  He is dressed in a black short sleeve shirt with 3 white stripes on the sleeves and a Boston Marathon Logo on the breast, and matching shorts.  He is probably in his late 40’s, maybe 5’9’’ with a full head of black hair, near black eyes, and a cheerful smile.  This is important.  In my delirium, I remember him: I have seen him cheering at Mile 7.  Why do I remember him, of the throng that was there?  He has an ice pack, and he puts it under my neck.  I remember asking him if he was a volunteer, and he answers in an accent – was it Australian?  British?  South African? I can’t place it – that no, he is cheering on ‘a friend’.  I look at him and weakly say “You were at the River Road Shopping Center, right before the bridge.  I remember you…I saw you…”  He smiles and says, yes, he was there, cheering for his friend.  How did I manage to remember him, out of the hundreds who were at that point in the race?  I remember this later in the E.R., on my second bag of fluids, and I also him saying “Don’t worry, love.  This happens to all of us.  There’ll be other races.  You’ll qualify for Boston.  Don’t worry, love.”  Did I tell him - in my hydration-compromised state - that I was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon?  I don’t remember that.  And I never asked him his name.  Somehow, he was there when I went down and knew what I was trying to achieve.  He provided comfort and care, and disappeared equally as fast.  Who was this man?  I tell my friends later about it, and we dub him my guardian angel.  Within a day, I have found another marathon 4 weeks away, in Charlotte.

 

What a difference a few short weeks make.  My biggest hurdle today is not the weather: Charlotte has, overnight, broken the 80-year old temperature for the record low. No, my hurdle is in my own head, the demons of self-doubt lurking in the shadows.  My last two marathons have not been good: A supreme struggle at MCM 2005, and a colossal flame-out at Richmond.  The demons wake me up in the middle of the night, days before the race.  I’m in full panic and it is a struggle to control the ‘what ifs’.  Like, what if I don’t finish?  What if these last 2 races are the start of a horrible pattern, and my best marathon I ever have is my first?  What if, despite all the training and indications that I should easily qualify for the Boston Marathon, I never – EVER – get there?  I put my race plan in place, designed to bury these demons:

 

1)      Explicit time goals are set aside except for one: Qualify for Boston.  That’s 4:00:59 or better.  My PR is 4:05.  My goal at Richmond was 3:45 and I’ve trained for it, so I feel comfortable about this number. 

2)      I am only allowed to look at my watch twice during the race: at mile 1 (to make sure I am deliberately slow) and at mile 20.  In between, I will click my split times to be able to “tell the race story” and keep the pressure of running specific splits out of the equation.  I’m going to ‘run on feel’, focus on my breathing and ‘effort’ and keep it consistent up to mile 20. 

3)      Take 3 big gulps of sports drink at every hydration station (every 2 miles) up to mile 20.  Take a gel every 50 minutes with a full cup of water.

4)       Have a good race.  I need a good race experience, one where I run smart and finish strong.

 

I’m waiting at the start, and I see the 3:45 pace leader with his pack of devotees.  I notice a woman wearing red “Race Ready” shorts exactly like those I wore at MCM.  I make a quick decision that running with the pace group is counter-intuitive to my plan.  I need to run my race, not someone else’s.  I move behind the group and think that maybe I’ll keep them in my sights and then see what happens.   I strike up a conversation with a man standing next to me – his name is John - and ask him if he’s running with the pace group.  He says he’s coming back from an injury and unsure of his plan.  He asks me mine, I tell him, and he says he’d like to run with me for a while.  Fine with me. I had planned on running with my iPod, but I’m happy for the company.

 

I say a quick prayer at the start, asking for strength and courage.  I pat my back pocket.  In it is a hand-written list of names of people – friends and family – who are my inspiration and support.  I’m running my race for them, and, stealing a page from Kristin Armstrong, will dedicate a mile to each of them.  They will keep me strong, and provide me courage if I start to fail: I’m literally carrying them with me as I run.  If I start to panic or feel bad during the race, I will pull the list out and look at it to remind myself of why I’m running.

 

The gun goes off, and roughly a minute later I start my watch as I cross the timing mat. John is next to me and I fight the urge to dart in and out of people to get a clear path.  We cross the first mile; I click my watch and see 8:58.  Perfect.  I have gone out nearly 20 seconds off my goal pace, and that’s fine.  It is very cold, I’m wearing shorts, and my muscles need to warm up.  My hands are numb as are my thighs.  It is difficult to take big breaths of air because of the chill.  I need to warm up.  I tuck my watch under my sleeve.  As it turns out, there are clocks at every mile, so I make an effort not to focus on the time passing.  I’ll catch a number here and there, and I know I’m running a good race, but I fight the urge to “do the math.”  I just click the split timer on my watch and keep going.

 

John is chatty and the miles are going by quickly.  I relax but am wary: the marathon is like a trained wild animal that can reach up and bite at any given moment. One of the most stunning visuals this morning is about 2 miles into the run:  hundreds of runners in front of me, their steaming breath lit by the rising sun.  It is beautiful, this mass of humanity expressing effort and hope in the form of frozen breath.  I hope there is a photographer out there, somewhere, capturing this moment.

 

I have an instant of irrational panic around mile 4.  My head says “Holy cow, can I do this?”  I think of GB, a member of a running forum on which I post who has counseled me on these negative thoughts: Bury them quick and hard.  That’s exactly what I do: We are DONE with that kind of thinking today.  I hear a man loudly joking and revving up the crowd.  He runs quickly by, wearing a white tank top, black running tights, and a fuel belt.  He is clearly happy to be here and caught up in the spirit of the moment.  He is weaving and running and waving his arms.  I shake my head and laugh, saying to John I’d like to see some of that enthusiasm around mile 21.  The ‘runnin’ fool’ keeps going and is soon out of sight.  I’m smiling and I think of Michelle Lilly whose advice was Smile!  I swear it works!  Michelle is as real and laid-back as they come.  And yet she managed to run a 7-minute PR in Richmond on that hellish day.  I’d be a fool to ignore any advice from her.

 

The marathon course is significantly hillier than Richmond’s, and the hilliest I have ever run and I have prepared my race strategy accordingly.  I tell John that when I get to an uphill, I’m focusing on my breathing, and my pace will be whatever I need to keep my breathing the same.  I am aiming for consistency of effort.  In this way, whatever I lose on the uphills I’ll recoup on the downhills.  It’s all physics: What goes up must come down. When we hit the first hill he speeds up.  He looks over his shoulder and I smile at him: I am running my race.   I channel my friend and training partner, Robin Jones on these hills.  Robin runs smart and I hear her say Be patient.  On every uphill, she is there, her quiet counsel and strength urging patience.  Bob Ericson, a member of the “Thursday Morning Lunatic Fringe” training group has also provided me with sound advice for the hills: Imagine them flowing past you like a river.  It’s a strong visual and it works.

 

At the 6th mile water stop, I grab my first gel and down it with an entire cup of water.  I have kept to my plan quickly walking through the stations to get the necessary fluids.  And there are dicey moments: the leftover water has frozen into a slick patch of ice in the morning cold, and I beat a big path around this black ice.  I think a lot of my mother during this part of the race.  Her illness is robbing her of her memory, but I know she would be so proud of me at this moment. I know of her own limitations of physical strength, but I also know that whatever internal mettle I possess has come, in part, from her.

 

The front half of the course if full of people: both the marathon and half marathon races have started together.  The neighborhoods are beautiful and I think of this as a nice “tour” of the area.  We hit mile 10 and I see the clock: 1:25 and change.  I remark to John that the mile marker must be wrong: we are around a 3:45 pace, and the pace leader is nowhere in sight.  I give myself a mental pat on the back for running my own race – they are somewhere in front of me and this first part of the course has been nearly non-stop up and down hills.  At mile 11, I break from John for a pit stop. I tell him not to wait, I will catch up in due time.  I jump back out on the course maybe 20 seconds later, and I see him up ahead turning around looking for me.  I make my way to him and scold, run your race John.  He smiles again and says he’d rather have the company at this point.  At mile 12, I slam another gel, a cup of water and make my way patiently up a long, significant hill.  I feel sorry for the half-marathoners, knowing how tough it is to have a hill like this so late in a race when you are red-lining the effort and in maximum discomfort.  They make a left turn for their finish, and we head straight on, toward our own 13.1 mile mark.  As I pass over the timing mat for this half, I hit my watch and allow myself a look: 1:53 and change.  I smile and think Perfect.  I’m halfway.  Now, stay steady and get to mile 20.

 

We are back in the city and make a turn into an area that is urban and bleak.  Spectator support is sparse, and for stretches the only people around are the police directing race traffic.  As often as I can, I give a quick Thanks Officer or a Stay warm and they almost always respond with Thanks.  Lookin’ good.  Keep it up.  John is getting quiet.  I ask him if he’s ok, and he says he’s just trying to focus on the race.  I agree and say My race right now is the next 6 and a half miles.  I just have to get to mile 20.  He nods and that’s the last I hear from him for the next 2 miles.  I turn on my music.

 

I’m listening to mix of tunes that are run-tested, and right now Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ is playing:  Life is a mystery…Everyone must stand alone, I hear you call my name and it feels like home… I do a quick inventory of my body: legs feel good, breathing is solid, arms feel good (I’ve remembered to shake them out every couple of miles or so), feet are good.  I think about my dearest friends, those I work with, those I know.  I think of Gail Willard who used to live in Charlotte.  We started running together from scratch just over 3 years ago.  And she warned me of these hills.  I think of BJ and Dan – I’ve worked with them for years – and they are as steady and even in my days as the tides.  I think of my oldest and dearest friends: Dawn, Molly, Glenn.   I think of my Uncle Dick, who married Michel and me.  He died nearly 11 years ago.  He was a diminutive man but his faith and devotion were unequal to any I have ever met. Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there… just like a muse to me, you are a mystery… Just like a dream, you are not what you seem…

 

Just before mile 16 John says something and I switch off my music.  He repeats what he has said If we split up on the course, I’d really like you to contact me and tell me how you did.  I’d really like to know if you qualify for Boston.  If we don’t see each other at the finish, will you send me an email?  He starts rattling off his email address.  I shake my head, I’ll never remember it.  I ask his full name and I’ve remember the company where he works.  I’ll call you at your plant – deal?  At this point I wonder Is he going to speed up?  We are still running together.  I take another pit stop and peel off my long-sleeve layer, tying it around my waist.  I know this has cost me time – maybe 30 seconds - but I want to be comfortable.  I laugh thinking It’s probably 37 degrees right now and I’m wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt.  I wonder what my kids would think! As I start to run, I see the girl from the start in the red “Race Ready” shorts.  She had been with the 3:45 group and she is walking.  I can’t help but smile.  Run your own race.

 

I catch up to John and we run together for another quarter mile.  He says There’s the cheerleader.  The ‘runnin fool’ is up ahead.  He is quiet, head down, his feet are shuffling.  All that earlier enthusiasm has ruined him.  We pass him in silence.  Shortly after, John turns to me and says Run your own race, Monica.  Don’t slow down for me.  Run your own race.  I ask him if he’s ok, and he replies that he’s fine.  Just go for it.  And he slows down and is gone.  Just like that.

 

I focus on keeping my stride efficient, minimize the bounce, and keep my feet low to the ground; my thighs will thank me for my care in the miles after 20.  A few minutes later I see the 18th mile marker.  I don’t even notice the clock time.  I just hit my watch and realize I have now gone further than I had at the Richmond Marathon.  I say a quiet YES.  I’ve buried that demon.  I have a very strong visual: I’m standing with a shovel, bashing something shapeless into the ground.  I like it.  Take that!  WHAP!  And while I’m at it, where are you MCM?  Get over here.  NOW!  WHAP! SMACK!  Another demon buried.  I bite the top off my last gel and down it with water at the next hydration station.  I turn up the volume on my music.  It’s Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”.  It’s so perfect.  I hear I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned…Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window, let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find, reaching for something in the distance, so close you can almost taste it…Off to mile 20.  I’m getting closer.  Bring it.

 

I’m focusing on my breathing and effort and ticking off the miles.  I think of my in-laws, YiaYia and Papou.  I think of Papou’s recent heart attack, and thank God for his quick and complete recovery.  I think of YiaYia’s unfailing strength and energy.  I dedicate this mile to both of them.  I feel them with me.  My heart is strong for you.  Up ahead I see mile 20 just after an intersection.  I nod to the cop, Thanks Officer.  He is enthusiastic in his response Just a 10k to go and you’re looking great!  I look at my watch: 1:54 flat.  I realize I have over an hour to get to the finish and still qualify for Boston.  But that kind of comfort doesn’t sit well with me, I wasn’t raised that way.  It’s not about squeaking in under the wire.  I know I’m can run the race of my life if I have the courage to do it.  That list of names is in my back pocket.  I make a deal with myself, Run the next 10k in 54 minutes or better.  Do it.  Bring it. 10k to Boston.

 

There is a funny quote about the last 10k of a marathon.  Someone said– a world class marathoner, maybe Frank Shorter – that more than one marathoner has wished that the original marathoner, Phidippedes, had dropped dead at mile 20.  The physical agony of the last 10k of a marathon is not myth.  Muscles rebel, energy stores are done, the body is not meant for this.  The physical effort to run the same pace is greatly increased, and it is internal strength – call it head or gut – that gets the runner to the finish.  It is wiles and patience that get you to 20 in one piece: go out too fast and the last miles are a death march.  You have to temper the desire to get caught up in the moment with the pragmatism to have something left to survive the last 10k.  It’s about patience, something that has always been, for me, a struggle.  I am not a patient person.

 

I’m running uphill and it is just plain hard.  I see the hydration and power gel stop.  I wave off the man with the gel, but grab a cup of water.  My gut is cramping a bit and I need to cut back on the carbs.  I need help, and I start with my husband, Michel.  He has so wanted to be with me on this course, but family obligations have kept him at home.  So I conjure him up on the course.  He is with me, riding on a bike.  Understand: Michel thinks running is sheer lunacy.  It is he who has dubbed my Thursday morning group “The Lunatic Fringe” for our 5:45 am start and insane training pace.  But he is there, in spirit, encouraging me on. C’mon Moonie, you’re doing great.   My children are there too: Madeleine, who does not get the ‘running thing’ at all, but who is my best, true self.  My son Luc is there, his nose-guard intensity throwing body blocks at the mental demons in my path.  And my sweet Jean-Marc who inherited his mother’s stubbornness is there too, cheering “Go Mommy” with a hand-made sign, decorated with care, my artist-child’s latest creation.  I have conjured them all.  In Richmond my dear friend Franny Babashak - “Miss Daisy”- waited for me at mile 20.  In vain.  Run with my now, Miss Daisy.  She is there.  Franny is all quiet heart.  I tease her lovingly for her habit of tearing up while watching “Extreme Home Makeover” or recounting a moving event.  She is not tearing up now, but is doing her best Mr. T imitation, calling me by her nickname for me, giving me courage.  C’mon Hoke.  I pity the fool.  I can’t help but smile.  Robin joins us.  She’s been with me on the hills, but the three of us are a natural on weekend long runs.  She cracks wise in her full New Jersey glory, You’re exhausting me Monica.  Qualify for Boston or I’m meeting you at the finish with a baseball bat.  I’m on a roll.

 

I’m headed for mile 21, and Chicago’s “Feelin’ Stronger Everyday Comes on”.  Thank you God.  My sisters and I have always loved Chicago, and the spirits of Erin, Reenie, and Nicole are instantly there.  They are on the sidelines, screaming like maniacs, like complete fools, and I love it.  When we are together, we are in our own world: we speak our own language, use made-up words that only we understand, complete each other’s sentences.  We can say one word – a single word – that will summon a memory of such hilarity that that single word will send us into giddy apoplexy.  Nicole, the youngest, is there.  She is all sass, strength, and deadly wit.  Do not verbally tangle with the woman, Grasshopper.  Reenie is there. She is a sweet, kind, gentle soul with the patience of Job. Right now, I see her at her goofiest, and she has her arm around Nicole, and they are bouncing like a couple of Adam Ant devotees.  Erin, Mme. NYS Supreme Court Justice, is next to them.  Her humility is at times both stunning and irritating.  She had a resume at 38 that most people don’t have a death.  Now, at 46, she gushes at what I accomplish and I think “You – YOU – are kidding me, RIGHT?  Cuz I run a couple dozen miles – this is a big thing?”  She defends her decision – ME – to the end.  She is a rock and the one you want in your corner.  The robes are gone for now. She was a cheerleader in high school, and she is a maniac now screaming There’s MORE WINE at the finish!!!!  Move your ASS!!!  before clutching her stomach from the pain of laughing so hard. After what you’ve meant to me, oh baby now, I can make it easily, yeah, yeah, yeah...  I want to sprint.  I really do.  I’m so pumped.  Later I will discover that this mile is the 2nd fastest of the last 10k.

 

I’m smiling ear to ear, the list is working its magic, but there is work to be done.  I turn a corner just after mile 21 into a stiff headwind.  Oh man, this is hard.  Wind and hills.   I make another deal with myself: Not one marathoner will pass me this last 10k.  It will not happen.  No more taking it easy on the hills, it’s a gut from here on out.  I start to hunt down those in front of me.  I pay special attention to the women, They could be in my age group.  And if they’re younger, than that much better.  I race father time every single day.  And the men.  I know many may look at me as small and weak, but I promise myself I will own them at race end.  I get angry and run like a woman possessed. That man in the Santa hat – he better be in a relay, cuz no bastard in a costume is beating me today.  Second later, I’m on Santa’s ‘Naughty’ list.  That ponytail, she’s going down…Those three buddies running together? Today I’m the anti-Christ of strength in numbers…oh, I’ve been tailing this woman for miles.  She’s paying the price for that bouncing stride, tell me Sistah, how do those thighs feel now?  It’s a funny thing, I have no mercy for these runners I pass, and I am picking them off in numbers I never thought possible.  I have never, ever done this.  And yet, for some unexplainable irony, the walkers fill me with pity.  When I pass one, I always say the same thing You can do it buddy.  You are so close.  I see them cramping at the side of the road, and I feel my own right calf and hamstring griping.  This will not happen to me.  It will… not... happen.  I speak it to myself as fact.

 

I’m at mile 22 and the enthusiasm I had 2 short miles ago is fading.  My body is tired.  Then I see him out of the corner of my eye: I’m being passed, and fast.  This man is running so fast, and I try and stay with him for a couple of steps.  He’s running sub-8’s, no doubt, probably close to 7:30’s.  I didn’t want to be passed, I swore I wouldn’t, but to stay with him is suicide.  He must be part of a relay team.  He’s too relaxed, too fluid.  This man is no Kenyan.  I let him go and just concentrate on the next person ahead but I’m starting to feel the miles. 

 

I think again of the list.  A name remains and I make another promise, Get to mile 23.  Dad is there.  He’s going to run you in.  It is no secret how much I love and admire my father.  He is all that is decent and brilliant and strong and resilient and tough… There are more adjectives than space.  He loves his daughters more than anything in this world and we know it and feel it.  He ran his first marathon when I was in the 7th grade and shattered the 3-hour mark days after his 50th birthday.   He planted the seed in my head so many years ago.  Only he can run me in, only he truly knows what I’m feeling.  He was physically there in Richmond and saw the wreckage of that race.  He’s not here physically to see this but I know he is here with me; he has been there all day. 

 

My legs are starting to feel heavy and the hills are still there.  I’m in a residential neighborhood now, the urban feeling is gone.  I focus on my music, Mary J. Blige and U2 singing “ONE”.  My legs are tired; I’m pumping my arms more to get over the hills.  I turn a corner and see the 23rd mile marker and clock.  And there has been this question nagging me all day: Why do I do this?  I don’t have the answer, but for this particular race, Mary J. Blige is happy to supply one for me Have you come here for forgiveness? Have you come to raise the dead? Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head? Well did I ask too much, more than a lot… I’m overcome.  I feel my heart in my throat and I’m near tears.  I don’t know what I’m feeling but this list in my back pocket is my own miracle.  I think of all these people and know there was a reason to run this race alone: the perfect clarity of how blessed I am, how full my heart is.  This last year has been so hard, the hardest of my life.  Part genetics, part circumstance, I’d often felt like I was existing in this world but not truly living it. Love can not be coerced and there is no map of reason in the human heart.  The spring was the worst, the depression at times so crippling I felt nothing more than a sleepwalker.  I was shattered, a psyche in pieces.   Running was my solace.  The collapse at Richmond was just another lesson, and maybe my angel on that course was giving me a gentle reminder that to succeed surrounded by my family and friends was not what I needed at that moment.  That would have been too perfect and too easy and I needed the harder lesson.  I needed my small slice of purgatory, to be aware of the blessings in my life with the same awareness of the mile markers in my race.  For a block I choke back tears of gratitude and pass mile 23.  I shake my head, roll my eyes Get it together girl.  You still have 3.2 miles, this race ain’t over.   My watch reads 3:20:08.

 

He falls into step next to me.  We ran together from time to time when I was in high school and college.  He never talked much but he ran so fast I wouldn’t have had the breath to talk back.  He has the same efficient gait, and his right shoulder is sloping a bit lower than the left.  I look over, our eyes meet.  Ok? Looking good. Let’s go.  I want to smile, but my thighs are on fire and I feel a blister starting on my left foot.  I pay it no mind.  I just want to get to the finish.  We run stride for stride, quietly, and a funny memory pops in my headI say quietly Dad, when do we turn next, and is it a left or a right?  I used to quiz him mercilessly about the routes we ran, and he used to laugh and answer Why does it matter? We’re running 6 miles and we turn when we turn.  It’s still 6 miles.  It was impatience on my part, nothing more.  He laughs now, I don’t know, this is your race, not mine.  I’m feeling impatient now.  I just want to get to the end. I’m at mile 24, and I know I’m going to finish, it is just literally a matter of time.  I’m all focus and I’m pumping my arms as hard as I can on the hills.  I pass a spectator who shouts some encouragement Looking good, at the bridge, you’ve got a mile and a half.  I see the skyscrapers of the city peeking through the trees.  I’m close.  I can see the overpass and the road curves as I pass under it.  Ahead of me is a hill.  A vicious motherfucker of a hill.  I turn to my dad and whisper It’s ‘Big Mother.’ 

 

‘Big Mother” is legendary, a hill on a loop in Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, NY.  A curving hill so steep I swear the first time I ran it I crawled parts.  As I write this now, I know that the hill I was facing was no ‘Big Mother’, but at mile 24 and a half, it was as horrible as it can get.  Maybe 150 yards long and the steepest incline of the day.  A man has caught up to me and edged ahead of me before the hill, but I pump my arms and pull even.  I accelerate at the top, You will not pass me, not today.  I think of what I used to tell myself during my training runs on hills: I own these hills.  I eat these hills for breakfast.  Embrace the pain, and smile when you do.  My effort is audible as I groan at the top.  There are people at the corner but I don’t hear anything they say.  I see the next water stop.  I’m at mile 25 but I see no mile marker or clock.  I just grab a mouthful of water and spit it out.  Time to move.  Dad looks at me.  You’ve got just over a mile.  Run this last one for yourself. And he’s gone.  I’ve got roughly 5 laps of a track left.

 

I keep running, my breathing is labored.  I take off my earphones and turn off the music.  I’m done with this now.  And then there is a moment of confusion: It has been over a minute since the last water stop and up ahead there is the mile 25 mile marker.  I think What?!  This can’t be right!  You’re kidding me – I thought the mile marker was at the water table!  I hit the split on my watch and think Fine.  I did all 10 Yasso’s 800’s.  I can handle this.  Note to self: Maim race director at finish.  I try and put my legs in another gear, and they are slow to respond.  I see a woman ahead with a guy on a bike next to her.  I own this woman.  She is so going down.   I turn another corner and pass her and I know I have to be close.  A man says You’re almost there, it’s just past the Hampton Inn.  I want to kiss this man. He’s given me a landmark that ends my agony, and I can see it.  It’s just…up…that...hill…

 

The finish is uphill.  It’s not a horrible incline, but most every marathoner wants to sprint to the finish.  My head says GO!  I pump my arms, but my legs are done.  They try, but they are fighting lactic acid, the incline, and fatigue.  The road curves as I near the hotel and I can see the checkered FINISH sign.  I can’t see the clock clearly because the cold wind is in my eyes causing them to tear.  20 yards from the finish, I’m there.  I know I’m so there.  I’m so full of joy I can’t contain myself.  I know I’ve done it.  I turn to the crowd and scream a full-throttled shout I’M GOING TO BOSTON!, cross the finish line and throw the hat off my head in what I later describe to my sister as my “Mary Tyler Moore” moment.  I let out another YES YES YES!!!!.  I bend over and cover my face with my hands.  I’ve done it.  I’ve done it I’ve done it I’ve done it. 

 

* * *

 

A day later and I’m going through my stats and the results page on the marathon website.  I’m shocked at my splits – without looking at my watch and fretting over splits, they are incredibly even.  My first half marathon was 1:53:45.  My second half was 1:54:16.  And what of those promises?  John, my running companion for so much of the race has finished in 4:07.   I heard them announce his name as he finished and I searched him out to let him know I had done it.  I find that the man who passed me was in fact in the marathon.  He ran his last 10k in a little over 50 minutes.  I can live with that.  Besides him, I find no one in the results who was behind me at mile 20 and finished ahead of me in the race.  I was passed by just one person those last 6.2 miles.  I did, however, pass 50 people.  The number still stuns me.  And that final 10k I wanted to run in 54 minutes?  54 minutes flat.

 

3:48:01. A 17-minute Personal Record.  A Boston Qualifying time by 12 minutes. 

 

I have run my way to redemption.

 

Monica Cassier