Mile by Mile- A Battle to the Finish.
DOUBT. That was the single most nagging emotion of my week leading up to the marathon.
For one thing, I’d been aggressively treating a debilitating foot injury that had me confined to crutches up to even Sunday, the night before the marathon.
For another, no matter how many times I clicked refresh on my weather browser with my eyes closed, there was no stopping the inevitable- a whopping 88 degrees predicted for Marathon Monday with no sign of any miracle cold front in sight.
To top it off, the BAA, in an extremely rare act of runner protection (aka covering their own behinds), offered a deferment for all runners registered this year that would allow them to carry their numbers over to 2013. This was an effort to keep runners off the course and out of the hospital, no doubt, on what would be some of the hottest and most difficult weather conditions the 116 year-old marathon had ever seen.
So there I was with heat, an injury, and a tempting deferment option staring me in the eye screaming for me to drop out. I could postpone and have a number next year and save myself from sun burn to boot.
But why would I ever do that? Why drop out now? Because it would be hot? Because my foot would hurt? Because my hopes of a sub 5-hour marathon would go down the drain? The answers to all those questions are SELFISH, SELFISH, SELFISH and SELFISH.
After all, despite the inevitable pain I would feel, I was cleared to run and told I would do no permanent damage to my foot in doing so. I really had no excuse other than not getting my way.
If I opted to defer, I knew there were a lot of people who would be hurt by the decision.
How about the charity for whom I raised $11,405 this year to earn my number? By carrying my number to next year, I would basically be denying them another fundraiser for 2013 should I have decided to run again (and who am I kidding? Of course I am running again next year.)
How about all the friends and family who donated to the cause on my behalf to see me succeed not only in my running but in my lofty fundraising goal? How anticlimactic would it have been for them if I quit just because it would be a little more difficult?
How about my coach, who selflessly supported me for 5 months to get me to the starting line? Could I make all his efforts in vain?
And how about myself? I worked so hard for this moment. Was I going to let the fact that I would likely not achieve my time goal get in the way of finishing?
So the decision was to run. And I did. I got taped before the race by my amazing physical therapist, Jake Kennedy, who took time out of his own marathon morning to tape each of his patients. My dad and sister saw me off at the starting line. And I was off. No turning back now.
AT THE START, my injury didn’t bother me one bit. Even though it had already reached 80 degrees by 10AM, I managed to stay relatively cool as spectators generously squirted their water hoses and offered handfuls of ice to us. The more miles I knocked off without pain, the more I thought: Wow, this might not be so bad after all…
… but that did not last.
MILE 7. 91 degrees. My injury crept up and bit me clear in the butt. It was at that point I realized that this was going to be incredibly tough. I wanted to bow out, but I thought to myself…
“If I can just make it TWO more miles to dad and Krystle [my sister], we’ll see how I feel then.”
And so I kept on. I would stuff ice cubes anywhere they would stay- in my bra, down my pants- any way I could keep cool.
MILE 9. I found my dad and sister where they fed me fresh Gatorade, oranges and a necessary reminder that Coach Rick would be waiting for me in just 6 miles. So I thought…
“6 miles. If I can make it just 6 miles to coach Rick at mile 15, we’ll see how I feel then.”
Unfortunately, the throbbing in my foot grew much worse. I reached down to get the ibuprofen in my pouch but they had all melted from the heat. And although the marathon spectators were well-instructed (see picture)…
…the hose water had soaked my feet to the core, making them heavy to lift and unbelievably blistered (Though I did get lots of laughs from runners passing by!). I stopped on the side of the road, took off my shoes, gave my socks a good wring and kept on. There was one particular moment I felt I could not go on, until I saw a gentleman in a wheelchair being helped by guides as he pushed himself backwards little by little with his feet. He had a number on his leg and I could tell by the look on his face how incredibly exhausted and in pain he was. In that moment, tears fell from eyes and I thought, “Sheree. If he can do that. You can do this.” And I pushed my way to the 15-mile marker.
MILE 15. Coach Rick was waiting at the side of the road for me. I was still crying, but this time from the pain. The tendonitis was unbearably painful and I couldn’t put weight on my right foot. He reassured me, “If you can make it just TWO more miles to MILE 17, you will only have single digit miles left to go.” Single digit miles. I was in a great deal of pain, but I thought…
“If I can just make it to mile 17, we’ll see how I feel then.”
So I fought on- through pain and massive amounts of doubt- and I made it to mile 17. And when I turned the corner onto Commonwealth Ave in Newton and saw the hills ahead, I paused. I noticed my fingers were swollen like sausages. And then I looked at the Medic Tent on my left. I looked again- ahead at the hills, down at my swollen fingers, and tot he left at the medic tent. And I thought to myself…
“If I can make it to the next medic tent, we’ll see how I feel then.”
MILE 18. A mile later, I came upon that next medic tent. I wanted to stop. I thought perhaps I should’ve stopped. But I was afraid. What if I stop and they tell me I can’t finish? I had no symptoms other than the swelling that would indicate hyponatremia (over-hydration).
“Are you alright?” a spectator asked as she saw me considering my options.
“Yes, thank you, I just need to pause for a moment,” I replied. I was breathless.
“Are you sure?”
I bent over in exhaustion. Just like that, it was as if on reflex, these wonderful people leapt from their lawn chairs offering me a seat as if I needed all 3 of them. They fed me pretzels, cold Gatorade, and equipped me with a GIANT bag of ice – that bag was like a saving grace to me because it kept me relatively cool for the next few miles. After resting for a few minutes, and against the wishes of those around me, I got up. I insisted. And continued on, declining the medic tent altogether and thanking the wonderful people for their help.
And instead of thinking about the unfathomable 7 miles I had left, I thought to myself…
“If I can just make it just TWO more miles to my dad and sister at mile 21, we’ll see how I feel then.”
And so I went. Along the way, I bumped into my friend Karen (side note: I don’t know what it is about the moments you see friends and family on the course, but I sobbed like a baby- out of exhaustion, out of joy, out of delirium, maybe all three). She jumped in to run with me and kept telling me how great I looked. I didn’t believe her, but somehow it was enough to keep me going. Until I reached…
MILE 20. Heartbreak Hill. Up to then, neither the heat nor my injury allowed for much in terms of stellar performance. But if there was one thing I wanted to accomplish that day, I wanted to run all the way up Heartbreak Hill; I didn’t care how badly I felt. So I ran up that hill in all of my glory, Chariots of Fire playing in my head, and when I reached my dad and sister at the top, it was the ultimate reward. I was exhausted, hurting, and HOT and despite all my thoughts about giving up and throwing in the towel, for the first time I finally thought to myself…
“If I can just make it FIVE more miles, I will see the FINISH LINE.”
The finish line. It was so close I could taste it now. Only 5.2 miles left to go. YES. I could do this.
And I did. I had been running the race alongside Ray Allen’s mom, Flo. I gave her some words of encouragement after Heartbreak Hill and she encouraged me right back. I told her I made a promise to my loved ones and to myself that I would not give up. She told me she had done the same and winked at me, “See you at the finish line.”
I spent the remaining 5.2 miles limping, trotting, counting down the mile markers. My friend Jackie even jumped in to run a couple of those last miles with me. And when I made the right onto Hereford (sobbing, again, at the sight of another unexpected friend) and the left onto Boylston, I knew what I was about to do. I was about to complete the Boston Marathon in some of the worst conditions it’d ever seen and in some of the worst pain I’d ever felt.
I made my way down Boylston Street, carried by the overwhelming encouragement from the crowd.
And I finished. It took me 6 hours 30 minutes and 43 seconds. But I finished. And I have never been more proud of myself in my whole life.
Of course there is part of me who wishes the heat and injury had never happened so I could try for my sub 5-hour marathon, but I have a feeling this 6:30:43 marathon will be one of my greatest accomplishments ever in my life. And to top all of that, I raised $11,435 for kids in need across the state of Massachusetts.
There is no shame, no disappointment, no regret to be had about that.
I did it : )