An Unexpected Road to Running Boston
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Guest Author: Marie Heywood
Author of the blog, Ten Thousand Words
(This article originally appeared on thinkingwritingaloud.blogspot.com)
AHHH The Boston Marathon. The Holy Grail of marathons. The Super Bowl of marathons. I did it. I made it. I can die now. In all honesty, when I started running about 5 years ago, I didn't have any dreams of running the Boston Marathon. I was about 30 pounds heavier and could barely manage run/walking a couple miles. For years I'd dreamt of being an avid runner, but when it came to actually putting foot to pavement I'd make it about a half mile in and end up walking. Mentally I could not get over the bodily pain and torture of running, even though I really wanted to. Then one summer I quit my "real adult job" and started working as a cook on a ranch in Middle-of-Nowhere Montana (another story for another time). There was no TV, very limited internet which could only be accessed in the main lodge, the nearest town was down a long dirt road that took about an hour to get to by car, and I didn't have a car. But there were a lot of super fun hiking trails, incredible scenery, and, like I said, a long dirt road. I determined I would run on that dirt road every day. I started out small, only a few miles a day, but by the end of the summer I could run 10 very hilly, rocky, dirty miles with no problem. I'd also lost about 20 pounds. I decided to sign up for a half marathon and then walk El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage in Spain. I finished the half marathon in 1:51, just below 2 hours, which was my goal, and walked 25-30 miles a day on El Camino, finishing in 20 days, and losing 10 more pounds. The next year I signed up for a second half marathon, and after that decided it was time to challenge myself further and go for a full marathon. I ran my first marathon in 2017, and went on to run a few more after that. Last year I decided I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So I did. Here's the thing. I am not your typical, over-the-top, one-million-pairs-of-shoes-owning, Strava-tracking runner. I don't own any fancy running gear besides the basics (camel back for long runs, nice running leggings and shorts). I own two pairs of running shoes, one pair for trail, one pair for road, both Altras (I swear by them). I keep it simple. I think it's unfortunate how expensive we've made hiking and running, which should both be free/cheap sports (a way to keep the class system in place, perhaps? Again, another topic for another time). The beauty of running is that it's free. It can be done anywhere, by anyone, barefoot or in heels, if you wanted. I digress. If I need to go for a long run, I'll put the location of a favorite restaurant in my google maps, figure out if it's the mileage I need to run, and then run to it (I love ending long runs with good food). I rarely track my time or my pace, because I find it distracts from the joy of running for me, but I have a general idea of how fast I am. The night before I ran my first marathon, for example, I told a friend, "I'm pretty sure I can run this under 4 hours. Yeah, I know for sure I can. I'm doing it." And I did. I finished in 3:51, just below 4 hours. So when I went to run the marathon that would qualify me for Boston, I did the same thing. I decided I could do it, so I did it. Here's the thing: It doesn't always work that way. Which brings me to the Boston Marathon. I had a couple layovers getting to Boston and it wasn't until my final layover that I recognized my fellow runners. I was wearing corduroy bell bottoms, a felt hat, and a grandpa sweater. Not the look of a Boston Marathoner. They were all wearing Adidas and Nike running gear, very conspicuously. I watched them all, feeling out of place. Right after I landed in Boston I went straight to the Marathon Expo to pick up my bib number and race packet, and was again met by more Nikes and Adidas and whatever other sports brand you can think of. It's funny; I work as a chef at a ski resort where I run way more than I ski, and then when I get around "my people," I still manage to not totally fit in. Forever a rebel, I suppose. I digress. Anyway, the Boston Marathon Expo! Touted as the best Marathon Expo in the world, where they sell any arbitrary piece of running equipment you can think of! Rich white folks buying things they don't need, making running an expensive undertaking, which it shouldn't be! Unnecessary, busy, crowded! I had to get the hell outta there! Instead of going to talks on how to strategically take on the Boston Marathon course, instead of spending all my money at the Expo and other running events, instead of meeting famous runners, I spent the weekend leading up to the Marathon hanging with my friend Rudy, his girlfriend Evelyn, and all their super cool friends. We went to a local brewery, made dinner and cake together, I walked around the city and got lost, exploring different spots, eating good food, meeting great people. When I did eventually make it downtown again the Sunday before the Marathon, I was, again, in my hippie attire and everyone else was in their blue and yellow Boston marathon jackets. I laughed. I mean, I knew the Boston Marathon was a big deal, but I guess, to me, it's just another race to run that happens to be in an awesome city I was excited to explore. It's a big deal race, yeah, but, I don't know, friends? What's the hub bub? I started questioning if I even deserved to be there, because I just didn't understand how fanatical people were being about it. (I feel the same way about Beyoncé or Oprah or anyone/anything else that people go crazy for. Why?) I digress.
The day of the race. We were warned it would rain, but that the rain wouldn't last all day and there would eventually be some sun. Prediction correct. I had to be to my bus by 7:30, and managed to get my feet soaked walking to my stop, which meant I would be running with wet, cold feet. I literally had cold feet (ba-dum-ching). The bus ride was about an hour long, and once I got there I had to wait another hour before being taken to the starting line. Starting time for me was 11:00 am, which is the latest I have ever started a race. It felt a little weird. I was getting antsy, and I was worried about my stamina with starting so late in the day. I wanted to finish the Marathon in 3:30. I finished in 3:40. When I crossed that finish line, I was quite disappointed (and I felt like I'd been hit by a truck). Here's the thing: the ski season this year was insane for me due to the amount of snow we got in the Wasatch, which means I didn't get the training I would've liked. I started forming some gnarly blisters I could feel by mile 5 that were painful and distracting. Boston was at 76% humidity that day, and I'm used to running in dry, cool, crisp air. My lungs didn't handle the moisture in the air very well (hence feeling like I'd been hit by a truck). The course is a challenging one, one that starts out relatively easily and then about half way through gets really hilly (interestingly, the hill a couple miles before Heartbreak Hill was the one that did me in). It got pretty hot by the middle of the race, and I did not dress appropriately for that. I also decided mid-race that there would have been value in actually tracking my pace during training. Had I done that, it's very possible I could have finished in my goal time. Lesson learned. However, lame excuses aside, I have to admit, it was quite an honor to run the Boston Marathon. As I was running, I began to understand why it was such a big deal. Yeah, the course is hard. Yeah, you have to qualify to be able to run it in the first place. But what makes the Boston Marathon special is the people. From beginning to end people are lined up on the side of the road, cheering runners on. A lot of them have oranges, bananas, otter pops, water and even whiskey to offer runners. There were blind runners and disabled runners holding their own and incredible volunteers who truly made the race awesome. Half way through I heard someone calling my name, and found it to be the mother of one of the servers who worked at the restaurant where I am chef. I'd met his parents a couple months earlier and they knew I was running the Marathon so looked for me on race day. They even got a few photos! Later on I heard my name again, and found Rudy running after me to cheer me on. How cool to be in a city I don't know but to have amazing support! I was running with the best runners in the world, and being cheered by the best cheerleading squad in the world, the whole way through. What a high. What a privilege.
I still probably won't be a very conventional runner. I consider Boston my graduation into trail racing, and have already begun training for my first trail marathon in a few months, the Mid Mountain Marathon in Park City. I'll probably fit in with those wild trail people a little more. I digress.
ABOUT GUEST AUTHOR
Marie Heywood is a free spirit. There's really no other way to put it. Marie is a traveler, musician, dance party extraordinaire, lover of the outdoors and runner. And the long time friend of The Average Joe Runner, since the good ol' days of college.
She is the author of the blog, Ten Thousand Words. In her own blog description about herself, she quotes Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: “The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."
Visit Marie's blog, Ten Thousand Words, at thinkingwritingaloud.blogspot.com