Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Boston Marathon, 2012

I don’t know if spectators realize how vital they are to marathoners’ success. Yesterday, in the grueling heat, we couldn’t have done it without them. It was a hard race, probably one of the most painful I’ve experienced, and there were many times I wanted to stop.
Running a marathon is largely a mental struggle; I spend 26.2 miles fighting to convince my tired, sore body that running 26.2 miles isn’t total insanity. The pain started early on for me yesterday. “OK, I’ve gone 11 miles. That should be enough, right? That’s a lot, right? I could probably just stop now…” I remember thinking to myself. Then I started to play the, “if I make it that far then I will” game. “I’m going to see Annie at mile 16. Once I see her I’ll stop and rest for a little while.” Then, after seeing Annie and NOT stopping, “OK, once I see Alex at mile 24 I’ll stop and walk the rest of the way.” I started clumsily counting on my fingers the number of miles I had to go until mile 24. I didn’t stop once I got there, either, but telling myself that I could if I wanted to got me through the previous miles.
I love to run because running gives me so much. It gives me joy, it makes me feel strong and exhilarated and it helps me relax and stay grounded. And it keeps me fit. What’s curious about the marathon is the way it makes me question one of the things I love most. “Why am I doing this? This sucks. I’m never doing this again,” I thought, over and over and over again yesterday. Trying to reconcile why I had been looking forward so much and for so long to something that was causing me so much pain kept my mind busy through many long miles yesterday.
I like to think that inner strength gets me through long, hard races, but after yesterday I know that’s not true. What got me through was the encouragement of the thousands of spectators along the course. Wellesley College women are incredible. We could hear them cheering before we saw them, and once we did there was a line of them that went on for probably a quarter of a mile. They held signs (ex: Kiss me, I’m a chemistry major) and screamed into the crowd of runners like their lives depended on it. I couldn’t believe the wisdom of small child, mid-way up heartbreak hill, who yelled, “I’m proud of you!” over and over again into the crowd. And at the end of the hill section in Newton I stopped to walk at a water station and didn’t want to start running again. I was walking slowly (limping, I think) with my head down. I finally got up the courage to start running again, and as I lifted my head and broke into a jog I heard “That’s right, you got it 11225!” It sounds silly, and it probably is, but the fact that a stranger at mile 22 believed in me made me believe in myself and kept me going the rest of the way. Those split-second connections made between runners and spectators, complete strangers to one another, are powerful beyond measure. As I finally turned right onto Hereford Street, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to distract myself by gazing into the crowd, a woman saw me and yelled, “Keep working!” I nodded at her, looked forward, and kept going. Left on Boylston.