For as long as you dream about running the Boston Marathon, you dream of that finish line.
The blue and gold on the pavement. The unicorn. The cameras. That medal. Oh god, don’t get me started.
Boylston Street is the stretch I envisioned every time a workout felt tough. The treadmill miles during the unbearably long and cold winter found purpose as I imagined that final sprint. Goosebumps filled my arms, creating moguls for the sweat to pour through. The chest constriction gripped my heart, like it does when the emotional lava flows to the surface.
That shit is intense, as dreams realized often are.
“This is the moment you’re fighting for,” I’d remind myself while speed intervals kicked my ass in the quiet, empty gym at 5:30 in the morning. That sprint. That finish. Those spectators. That cheering. That hallowed ground.
I’d close my eyes just a little to imagine exactly how the moment would go. Arms up, tears falling down, smile swallowing my face.
It’d be perfect.
I taped the Boston Marathon logo in front of my treadmill at home, in direct sight, so I’d remember what I was working toward all those months.
Not that you forget. It’s still taped in the same spot, by the way. Mostly because I hate that treadmill, and lord, please never make me get on it again.
The weekend before the race, while I meandered down Boylston Street with big hopes, lots of shopping bags, and a quickly emptying wallet, I wouldn’t let myself cross the finish line. Oh no, you can’t cross it before the race. That is a sacred moment you save until race day. I stopped just short of completely crossing the line.
Those are the rules.
It’s also “the rules” not to wear your Boston marathon jacket until after finishing the race, but people were breaking that rule left and right, and it was a very confusing time in my life. For the record, I waited until after.
So instead of walking across the finish line, I touched it. I sat on it. I took pictures. I tried to wrap my mind around what it’d be like to meet that line in a few days. I’ll make a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston, and this will be waiting for me.
The amazing moment.
On April 20, 2015, as I was rounding right onto Hereford Street after 26 miles, I couldn’t get to Boylston Street fast enough. I wanted nothing more than to turn onto Boylston toward that finish line…
… because I felt awful. I was cold, I was wet, I was exhausted, and I wanted the race to be over.
That was my Boston Marathon finish line moment.
Not exactly the fairy tale I spent years creating in my mind. The reality of the moment sunk into me like lead after that. My finish time – a 3:38 – is my second-fastest marathon. Of 16! Sure, did I hope to squeak out something a smidge better? Of course. But all things considered, I should be jubilant.
But I wasn’t. I was low.
When the endorphins subsided and the hugs ended (and I could feel my fingers again after a hot shower), I masked my sadness with joy. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy when I finished. I oozed joy the moment I reunited with my family and with Travis, and when he ceremoniously helped me into my Boston Marathon jacket after spending hours in the cold rain.
But when it all sunk in, when I realized that magical moment got lost in the wind and the rain and the ache in my legs, sadness replaced any trace of glee.
I’d spent so much time romanticizing what it’d be like to cross that finish line that I wasn’t prepared for the alternative – that the toughness and grit and elements and pain of fighting through 26.2 miles isn’t always the stuff of miracles. Not every marathon ends the way Grandma’s Marathon ended, with goals smashed and legs fresh, walking hand-in-hand with my parents into the proverbial sunset with a permanent grin on my face.
The reality is running is tough. A marathon can feel like a breeze one day and the worst 4 hours of your life another. Hell, running one mile can feel amazing one day, while simply putting on your running shoes is too much on another.
I wanted my magical moment, but the Boston Marathon handed me reality instead.
It took a long, long time to process these many, varied emotions of mine. As you know, all these feelings of mine often cloud what’s really happening. I sent rambling messages to a few confidantes, and they got it. They’re runners, so it’s easier. One was at Boston, herself, and the other just knows.
But how do I explain to the average person that I ran the Boston Marathon for the very first time with my second-fastest finish in 10 years of running marathons and I’m… sad?
Turns out, you just don’t.
I sat and I processed and I kept running and I kept dreaming and I realized something incredibly important:
I RAN THE BOSTON MARATHON. And, dammit, the race was amazing.
TO BE CONTINUED.