Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't Stop Believin' - The Boston Marathon Reprise

Ten days after I ran the Boston Marathon, Facebook was kind enough to remind me about the first 5k I ran just four years before. I had completed a "Couch 2 5k" program and triumphantly completed my first 3.1 mile race in 36:08 - at an 11:38/mile pace. The popping up of this reminder was the moment when the feat of completing the Boston Marathon finally sank in for me. Only four years before, I was deep in grief and barely hanging on - dragging my out of shape body and equally out of shape mind across their first finish line. Now, here I was, four years later - sitting in my living room - not only a Boston Qualifier, but a finisher of the Boston Marathon. 

Crossing the finish line!

No longer chasing the unicorn!
When I ran that first 5k with the theme song "Don't Stop Believin'" holding it all together I was wondering if I would be able to finish the whole thing without walking. I was certainly not thinking about the possibility of running 13.1 miles and definitely not even dreaming about 26.2. But as these things often go, running races meant that I made some friends who also ran. Before I knew it, I was signed up for my first (and shortly after that my second) half marathon. Within a year, I was training for the NYC Marathon with Team Determination, raising money for the American Cancer Society in memory of my husband Joe.

Not even six months after NYC - in April 2014 - I made my first attempt to qualify for Boston, running the NJ Marathon in 3:55:16 and in November 2014 I nailed it, completing the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:33:22 - a BQ by almost 7 minutes. I will never forget that day and the sheer joy of walking back to my hotel with "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" on repeat blaring through my earbuds. 

I went on to run the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016 with my parents, my son, my sister, brother-in-law, two nieces, and members of my running club all there to cheer me on. Many more friends and family members followed along virtually sending encouragement not only from across the country, but from various points around the world as well. Thanks to a special event page set up by my sweet friend Elissa I had even gotten marathon well-wishes from one of the members of my all time favorite band - The Afghan Whigs.

Marathon Monday was a glorious day packed into a truly memorable weekend.

Enjoying my 26.2!
Somewhere along the way after completing Boston, though, I admit that I lost sight of what a big feat it actually was for me to get there and to do it. The daily grind of work and being a single mom took over. When friends and family members would ask me about it I would assume that they didn't *really* want to know because who ever *really* wants to hear about the details of these four hour races except for maybe other runners. My own race recovery meant I was running less and therefore less inclined to socialize with runners and talk about running. Plans to get together with friends for celebratory "after Boston" drinks or meals got crowded out by life and this blog post sat barely started with only a few pathetic paragraphs that didn't even go together. Boston and all of its hard-earned glory quickly faded into the rear-view mirror of my life.

That was until I met someone who refused to let me forget that completing the Boston Marathon was actually a pretty big fucking deal, someone who never misses a chance to remind me about the work it took to get there and how strong I am for having finished it. He makes it a part of casual conversation anytime I express a doubt about myself or about being able to get through something. 

You don't think you can handle that thing at work? Of course you can, you did the Boston Marathon! 

You're worried about something going on with Domani? Just remember how strong you are and the example you are setting for him when he watches you do things like running Boston.

So, here I am on my way to vacation in San Francisco finally working on this blog post and I'm determined that before life takes over again, I'll wrap it up. I finished the Boston Marathon...the least I can do now is finish the post about it.

There are no words for the experience of being in Boston with my family for the marathon, but especially of being there with Domani. He WAS proud of me. It still makes me tear up when I see the photos of him and his cousin Catherine with me after the race with the signs they made.

With Catherine & Domani (and their signs)
after the marathon!
My family went to great lengths to be there for me just after mile marker 21 on race day. My pregnant sister, her husband, and their two young children trekked along with my parents and son by foot and by "T" hours in advance of the time I would be running through in order to make sure they were well-positioned. They had all created signs and added the BAA app to track me. My sister Naomi was watching from Idaho via FaceTime. They were a highly committed cheering squad - and it meant the world to me.

With my Mom & Dad and their sign before the marathon
The swell of joy I felt as I saw their signs from afar is not something I could ever describe, but knowing they were just ahead was what powered me over Heartbreak Hill and seeing them gave me the push I needed to finish strong. I was on top of the world in that moment of seeing them. There were high fives all around and a quick hug for Domani. I remember telling him something like "hey buddy, mommy is gonna go finish the Boston Marathon!" and then running off to the last 5 miles.

Greeting my family at Mile 21!!

Chatting with Domani at Mile 21!!
My family wasn't the only cheering squad holding a sign with my name on it in Boston on April 18th though, and I know that I would never have even been running those streets if it hadn't been for the best running club in NJ - Raritan Valley Road Runners and for my friend, Malinda Ann Hill. 

RVRR powered me through my BQ training cycles and cheered me on during both of my BQ attempts, including my Philly qualifier. Club members were also there in Boston to cheer on those of us who were running. The excitement of seeing friends I had been running and training with for the last two years as I closed in on my final 5k of that race is indescribable. RVRR has led me to some deep friendships and incredible personal achievements, but most important to me is the unconditional support I have found both in competition and life. It makes me bubble up with pride anytime I see the RVRR banner or our club members, so seeing RVRR on the Boston course was just that much sweeter.
RVRR in the house to cheer in Boston!

Malinda and I became friends back in 2012 when I had first started running. At that time I was racking up a bunch of 5k races and we ran in one together to raise money for the Colon Cancer Alliance. Not only did we share a love for running, but we also have common music tastes (The Afghan Whigs!) and are both single moms touched in different ways by cancer loss. She inspired me to chase the unicorn, ran with me whenever possible, sent virtual encouragement around the clock, and made sure there was a sign at Boston in the Wellesley Scream Tunnel just for me. 

With Malinda at my 2nd half marathon
 and the 1st I ran with her -
the Nike Women's Half in Washington, DC.

You could not ask for a better running club than RVRR or a better running friend than Malinda.

There was no denying that when I crossed the finish line in Boston I wasn't alone. There were so many people who played a part in that accomplishment. Suzanne and Bob who ran that first 5k race with me more than four years ago. Marise who I met for the first time while waiting to board the bus to Hopkinton. Friends and family who watched Domani. Fellow runners who pushed me along during difficult moments. Amazing people who waited for hours in all types of weather to cheer for me in marathons, half marathons, and 5k races in destinations near and far. Friends who toed starting lines with me and toasted in celebration after. My faith community who prayed and loved on me. People who I met through grief support who remembered and laughed and cried with me. Those special friends who never let me get lazy and always knew the right time to say "put down the chocolate chip cookie dough and get your ass out for your track workout".

With Marise just before going to our start corrals
When I finally reached the finish line in Boston, there was a lot of thankfulness that welled up inside of me for all of those people and for the winding path that had brought me to that place. There was also a whole lot of "I'm not sure if I can even make the walk back to the hotel". All of that brought me back to a moment that happened much earlier on the course.
Loved these signs
There have been many times over the past 4 years of training and races when I've experienced these supernatural moments that I can only attribute to a nod from my husband Joe - a sort of gentle embrace just when I need it to let me know that I'm on the right path. 

During Boston, my mind was starting to play tricks on my body right around mile 7 - way too early for a marathon. Most people who talk about "hitting the wall" (and believe me, I've been there) do so much later, around mile 20. If I was already talking myself out of the race at mile 7, it was going to be a long day. It was sunny and hot. I was starting to ache. Back. Legs. You name it. I remember thinking..."I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do this today." Then, it happened. I was coming up to a spot in the road where there was a tent with music blaring. The song was unmistakeable because I had trained to it - "I'm Shipping Up to Boston". My heart lifted a bit. It brought me back to my Philly qualifier. It brought me back to a gorgeous September day in Chicago during Riot Fest.

It was nice, but not terribly surprising given the race we were running. But, as I was coming up to the tent the song ended and the next one started. It was also unmistakeable because it had been my ringtone for Joe and that song which after he died would always pop up in just the right place at just the right time - "Don't Stop Believin'". And I didn't - straight through to that right on Hereford, left on Boylston and the Boston Marathon Finish Line. After the one-two punch of those songs I had everything I needed to run the race.

I am thankful for Boston and what it meant to me as a part of my grief journey. It will always hold an important place for me as a personal accomplishment, especially coming out of what has so far been the most difficult time in my life. 

From Hopkinton to Boston!
But, because God always seems to like to put an exclamation mark on these moments for me, there was the beauty and hope of last night as well.

While we were at the Mets game here in San Francisco (watching our Mets win by the way), the Giants had their 8th inning sing-along. I had to hold back the tears as the beginning bars started to play because the song was, of course, "Don't Stop Believin'". After we got home from the game, the "good luck" charm necklace I had been wearing for the last few months finally wore away and "broke" which is supposed to indicate a wish is about to come true. 

Good things are coming. I believe it. They tend to unfold exactly in the right time and the right manner in which they are supposed to - as long as we keep moving forward. And I believe that somehow Joe was just making sure I remembered that. 

After all, patience was always his virtue and never mine.