I am still a little afraid of stairs heading down into a subway station when it is raining. This might seem like a weird thing to be afraid of, but I have a good reason and it has to do with the Boston Marathon. I’ll come back to that a little later.
I am preparing to start training for my 4th total, 3rd consecutive Boston marathon. Its a tough race, with some gnarly hills towards the end. It’s far away from where I live now. It’s a really expensive weekend. So Why am I going back? In a word: Unicorns. I am seeking that perfect Boston experience that includes the perfect 16 weeks of training. Of course, we all know this doesn’t actually exist, and even if I do somehow pull off the “perfect” training program, odds are it will be 85 degrees on race day. And yet, much like the search for the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot, a lot of us runners still hold onto the fantasy of the perfect race. I totally rationalize my continued entry into the Boston marathon by explaining the set of unfortunate circumstances that have surrounded Marathon Monday during my prior 3 attempts. This year I was diagnosed with a ganglion cyst 8 weeks into training and only ran 20 miles a week or less for the remaining 8 weeks of training. Definitely not the regimen for the perfect race. Ironically enough, maybe because I had no expectations for myself, I ran the best paced race of my life and managed to PR. However, I didn’t feel confident going into the race and I hurt like hell from about mile 16 on.
I ran in 2013 and also managed to PR that year but obviously the entire experience was marred by the bombings at the finish line. I wasn’t particularly injured going into that race but I definitively hadn’t trained enough due to a really hectic work schedule at the time.
And that brings us back to the rainy subway steps and my first Boston in 2008. I had decided to run that year because I was moving to London and wanted to run Boston before I left. I hadn’t qualified so I ran through a charity and was pretty regimented about training because I had no idea what a marathon would feel like and was pretty terrified. 4 weeks before the race I went to see an old professor of mine at his office near Harvard Square. It was raining. I slipped on the concrete stairs in Harvard Square that lead down into the T station and fell almost 2 stories. I landed on my sternum on the corner of the stair 3rd or 4th from the bottom. Immediately I was in shock and just really freaking embarrassed and got on the next train home. As I collected myself on the train I realized I had extremely sharp pain in my chest to the point where I was having trouble breathing. Luckily I lived at Brigham Circle at the time which is basically medical campus central so i took my sorry ass to the ER. Long story short, they trying to give me an alarming cocktail of drugs including Valium even though I wasn’t even crying and I had fractured the outer layers of my sternum. Ouch. I was unable to run for 2 weeks and when I did start running I actually ran holding my boobs in place with my hands because any movement at all was still causing discomfort to my sternum. I missed out on the last 2 long runs and basically started my taper way early. Without the benefit of muscle memory and marathon experience, it was a painful final 6 or 7 miles for me and I lost 3 toenails, but I crossed the finish line in 3:22 which I felt really good about.
So you see, I have had my share of shit getting in the way of my perfect Boston experience and am totally justified in wanting to go back one more time. Although its funny, as I am writing all the things that went wrong around these races, of course I am reminded of all the wonderful things as well. Last year was special for many reasons: I actually ran with someone, and not just anyone but my former team mate and Kara Goucher to my Shalane Flanagan: Someone who who was going through all the same physical and emotional roller coasters as I was. Also, I got to experience the magic of a November Project cheer station which is pretty much indescribable but if you have run past one, you will know what I am talking about. My husband who wasn’t supposed to be able to come out and cheer, flew across the county to surprise me and showed up at dinner on Saturday night. Finally, there was also the huge significance of running the year after the bombings. In 2013, my dad came up from NJ and hung out with me before and after the race. He got to see me run which he had never seen before and even put up with my terrible mood the hours after the bombings. even though his very German pragmatic attitude towards it all irritated me at the time, it actually made me feel safe and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to be there with me during that time of hurt and confusion.
So maybe the perfect race experience doesn’t exist. Maybe the act of overcoming whatever hurdles the race or training throws at you is what makes it all worthwhile. All I know is as this new month starts on the first day of this new week, I can’t wait to dive in.