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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Transcendental. The Boston Marathon: April 21st, 2014

Goals.  We all have them.  And if those goals mean enough, you invest everything into accomplishment: every day, every decision, every breath.  Every single breath.

I realize that this post is a few weeks overdue, but I struggled with how to translate my emotions from the Boston Marathon into written words.  I want you to all feel like you were right there with me, because trust me, your spirit and positive energy were by my side for every step.

When we boarded the plane to Boston from LAX the Saturday before the race, I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to feel.  It seemed as though nearly the entire plane was comprised of runners and their family members, and everyone had that same blank look upon their face.  Considering the tragic events of last April, how were we expected to feel?  Sad? Angry? Anxious? Scared? Excited?  I know we were all still mourning for those innocent spectators who were injured or worse.  I know we were all still fiercely angry over the attempt to maim our tight-knit running community.  I know we were all anxious and a bit frightened to see how this year's race would unfold, in spite of the added security.  And of course we were all excited; we worked extremely hard to qualify or raise the required funds for a charitable cause.  We deserved to feel excited!  But yet, I sensed that not one of us was certain how we were supposed to feel.

From the first step off the plane, we were greeted by signs like this.  Boston was ready.

We landed in Boston and easily made our way to the hotel, the Intercontinental on the harbor.  We had made our reservations months prior with Marathon Tours and Travel, and I highly recommend their easy to use and affordable services.  Our hotel was beautiful, well-staffed with friendly employees and conveniently located next to a "T" (light rail) station as well as an abundance of restaurants, shops and bars within walking distance. 

Iconic Boston.

The next morning (Sunday) we took the T to Copley Square then walked the quarter mile to the Expo at 9 AM, just as the doors opened.  The sun was shining, warming our bodies in the chilly Atlantic air.  Silently I absorbed all of the sights along the walk, places I recognized from the countless documentaries I had been watching about the bombing: Marathon Sports, the Forum Restaurant, the finish line.  Several homemade memorials had been placed precisely where the explosions occurred and hundreds of people were there taking pictures.  My skin felt icy and the hairs on my arms and neck tingled.  My eyes welled up.  I felt sadness.

No more hurting people.  Peace.

We took our time exploring the expo, wandering through all of the booths and chatting up vendors.  I met up with Rob, one of the owners of INK n BURN, caught a glimpse of Dean Karnazes, and spent a small fortune on official Adidas Boston Marathon 2014 paraphenalia (seriously, will it be this expensive every year or was it a "first time doing Boston" thing?).  The expo was so expansive, it was dispersed between three levels of the convention center, so we took the escalator up to the top floor, where packet pickup was staged.  I trembled as I accepted my bib number (15075) and official "Runner Passport".  A year had passed since I qualified for Boston at the Eugene Marathon.  I recalled the effort I put into taking over 40 minutes off of my PR to obtain that and again tears clung to the corners of my eyes.  I felt excited.

Exploring the expo, very clever Brooks!

Bib pickup.  Earned.

From there I took the T back to the hotel room to just relax.  Later that evening we met up with our entire group for dinner in Little Italy, followed by a Red Sox game.  Thirty minutes prior to the game, a memorial presentation took place in recognition of the heroes from the bombing incident to include physicians, nurses, police, firemen and women, the 415 injured spectators and runners, and family members of those who lost their lives.  Bagpipes provided the soundtrack to a moving tribute and for the third time since arriving in Boston I found myself moved to tears.

Speechless at this moment, as an entire stadium mourns together.

The family of Lingzi Lu, who came from China to celebrate the anniversary of her tragic passing, shouted the customary "Play Ball!" and I thought to myself how ironic yet fitting that act was.  Lingzi died that day in an act of terror that shook the iconic pinnacle of road running, the Boston Marathon, yet the overall force of human spirit and perseverance prevailed, not just through Boston but globally.  The family of Lingzi Lu came all the way from China to proclaim those opening words to the classic American game of baseball, and by doing so, they announced that the show must go on, for Lingzi, for all of the victims, for Boston, and for the world.

Though I no longer live in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, the group I toured Boston with included friends from our hometown in Washington state.  Twenty years ago, when I ran for the High School track team, my friend Franzine ran the same distances for the "rival" school.  We continued our virtual friendship through college, marriage, babies and career changes, bonded by our mutual love of running.  Last year we made a pact that we would qualify for Boston, and we did just that, a week apart, at different marathons, but with just seconds between our finishing times of 3:27.  Franzine and her husband put a lot of effort into organizing our weekend and we were so thankful to finally be there in person with them, laughing our way through the three days.  In addition to them, our group included her running partner Tiffany, and several friends from home that just wanted to be there for the magic that is the Boston Marathon.  Our friend Josh was so moved by the events of last year that he qualified on his very first attempt at running a marathon, however, due to the abundance of applicants for this year's race, he failed to obtain a bib by less than fifteen seconds.  He was heartbroken, yet was there for us anyways, cheering and laughing and crying.  I am so thankful for that; his selfless spirit motivated me to work even harder.  Josh, you WILL be there in 2015!

Franzine and I cannot get enough of Boston.

After inning four, those of us that were running returned to the hotel to relax and get some sleep before race day.  I answered an abundance of texts and facebook messages wishing me luck, however, it was strange that everyone included the phrase "be safe" interlaced with their well wishes.  Those words are never exchanged before running a race, they seemed out of place yet nevertheless welcome.  I fell asleep anxious for the events to come the next day yet comforted by the support from friends and family.

Traditionally, the Boston Marathon has a much later starting time than most marathons, as evidenced by my 6 AM alarm versus the usual 3 AM setting.  I nervously got dressed and felt a tinge of fear as I kissed my husband goodbye. I thought about couples murmuring those same words to each other on the morning of the 2013 marathon, never to have the opportunity to exchange them again, or having to wait hours before they were assured that each other was safe. I shook the dark thoughts from my head then met the girls to ride the T to Copley Square where we caught our bus that would take us an hour away to the starting line in Hopkinton.  Along the way we laughed about how we were about to run the long route back to Boston.  One of the most striking aspects of this race hit me like a punch to the stomach as we exited the bus at Athlete's Village and were met by a long line of the National Guard, clad in camouflage and each possessing a firearm.  This was a disturbing image at a typically harmless event.  Still their presence calmed us.

Entering Athlete's Village with 35,000 of my new best friends.

We went through security checkpoint number two upon entering Athlete's Village and came upon tent after tent after tent after porta potty after porta potty after porta potty, the "village" taking up what seemed like three football fields of grassy space.  A sea of runners were strewn about, stretching and quietly conversing and harnessing their nervous energy.  We were provided with bagels, banana, energy gel, water, coffee and tea, and entertainment came in the form of a DJ and jumbo tron.  Just prior to the announcement of the elite and wave one starting, a formation of four Army Helicopters provided a flyby of the entire course, acting both as a symbolic display of our country's strength, and a literal show of force.  Thirty minutes after the elites and wave one started the race, the DJ announced that is was wave two's turn to make the half mile trek to the starting line.  We removed our "throw away" sweats and discarded them onto the mountainous pile that was to be donated to the Boys' and Girls' Club of Boston.  

Never ending porta-potties highlighted by a four-helicopter Army flyby.

Throw-away sweats off, ready to race!  Franzine, me and Tiffany.

I was surprised that the starting line was basically in the middle of a neighborhood of quaint brick houses.  Generations of families were out for this yearly event, boasting gourmet BBQs, well-stocked coolers and endless encouraging signs.  One home even had a table set up with "Free hair-ties, Bandaids, Vaseline, Tampons, gummy bears...".  It was as if spectating the Boston Marathon was an event in itself.  We were six minutes late getting to the start so we just simply walked up to the designated starting area and began our journey back to Boylston Street.

Spectating IS a marathon in itself.

From Hopkinton we passed signs stating which town we were entering followed by the year the town was formed, the architecture matching the age designated on the sign.  I was mesmerized by the brick store fronts, decorative columns and town squares.  As expected, the spectators of the Boston Marathon were like nothing I've ever encountered at a race before.  With each mile they grew in number and in decibels.  These selfless fans were not just standing there clapping, they were truly there to encourage every last runner.  I was surrounded with the sounds of, "Run Texas, Run!" and "Go Baltimore Running Club", and "Looking great John!".  Since I was wearing my head-turning (as INKnBURN often is) flag-inspired INKnBURN Patriot tech tee, I was referred to as "America!" throughout the entire race.  The National Guard and hundreds of Police lined every kilometer of the race and the constant buzz of circling helicopters above our heads added an eerie yet consoling presence; despite the thousands of people, we felt safe.

One of the most memorable scenes along the course was the "Meg's Miles" memorial along mile one, a tribute to Meg Menzies, a Boston runner who was killed by a drunk driver while out doing what she loved.  I also recall feeling chills as we rounded a corner to be greeted by the sounds of "America the Beautiful" beckoning us through a rather patriotic neighborhood.  I broke down in tears (yet again) when at another mile a group was playing the Boston anthem "Sweet Caroline" and every single runner threw up their hands mid-stride to belt out the words in unison.

Exactly half way, we came upon Wellesley College and the famous "Wellesley Girls".  Even though mile 13 was entirely uphill, we hardly noticed the ascent as our heads were turned to the right to read each girls "Kiss me I'm..." sign.  Each sign said something unique about the student such as, "Kiss me I'm from Florida!" or "Kiss me I'm a Geology Major!" or "Kiss me I'm a redhead!".  It was amusing watching runners partake in these requests.  I am convinced that every single enrolled student at the college was out to celebrate the day as they stretched along the entire mile, each sign more hilarious than the next.

A few more miles passed and we found ourselves at the infamous Newton Hills, the home of the dreaded "Heartbreak Hill".  Men from nearby Boston College were out with their various Greek Letters, dressed in costumes, playing beer pong (seriously) and offering the runners a refreshing hoppy beverage to help clear our heads of the notorious mile 20 doubtful thoughts.  Never have I given so many high fives in my life.  Heartbreak Hill was a beast, but I expected it to be clearly designated and instead wasn't even sure I had cleared it once we crested its wrath.  The sun was shining and the heat was much more intense than anyone predicted.  I did my best to drink water and Gatorade at every mile's hydration stations but still I felt the woozy combination of exhausted legs and a numb mind. 

The crowds lining the course grew even more dense as we continued through the final 10K of the race, their passion providing an unbelievably loud roar that bellowed us through each rolling hill.  It seemed as if the hills never ended.  I took a deep breath to inhale the pride of Boston, willing us to keep going, to never stop proving that we were invincible.  And finally, we rounded the corner and I saw the finish line.  I left it all on the course and could not find the energy to sprint that last quarter mile stretch.  I was okay with that though, as I knew I would finish with a sub 3:30 time on one of the most emotional and exhausting days I have ever experienced.  The live video feed on the Boston Marathon website caught the high five I gave to the stranger on my right as we finished the most exhilarating race of our lives and my friends and family got to witness that special moment all the way back on the West Coast.  Due to security, we had to walk another quarter mile to obtain our medals and water and refreshments and that walk felt like an eternity.  I passed the time by talking with those who were herded along with me, discussing where we were from and our families, knowing that we would likely never see each other again, yet seamlessly connected by our congruous endorphin rush and by our communal experience on this surreal day. 

Unsure of why I gave the #1s.  Perhaps too tired to raise the remaining 8 fingers?

Emotions: Tired, Relieved, Pride.

After the race we returned to our hotel to shower then met our friends to celebrate the day, grateful for our safety and for our health.  My face was sore from the fixed smile I had worn all day, a welcome malady I'd never experienced after a race before.  We toasted to the magical day, to the spectators, the police, the National Guard and the entire city of Boston with our Sam Adams 26.2 Lager, because after all, that is what you do in Boston.

Can you feel the love here?

The Boston Marathon.  For years I doubted my ability to ever qualify, yet it remained on my bucket list as the apex of road-running accomplishments.  To me, the Boston Marathon represents precisely that: setting lofty goals then proving to yourself that you are indeed capable of exceeding any limitations. For a year I relentlessly worked, reminded of my ambition with every decision to run in the rain, to choose the healthy meal option, to push my limits and get further out of my comfort zone than I ever imagined possible.  I made no excuses.  Moreover, the Boston Marathon proved to the world that the running community is invincible.  We persevered, and across the world, together we celebrated not just the running of 26.2 miles, but the inextinguishable human spirit.  Cheers to that.

A toast to this beautiful life.

1 comment:

  1. This is so wonderful! Makes me feel like maybe even I can one day BQ. Maybe when I am 80 and the qualifying times are much higher. Ha ha! This is perfect! You and Boston are good together!