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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The finish line





Well, the 114th running of the Boston Marathon is in the books. I finished in 4 hours and 10 minutes, and was running when I crossed the finish line. It wasn't my best running day ever, but it was definitely one of my best days ever. Even though I didn't feel great, every mile was worth it.

It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had a really ugly weekend filled with rain, some sleet, and really cold temperatures. If the marathon had been held on Saturday, it would not have been pretty. But, it cleared out for the start, and the temperature, in the 50s, was just right for running.

I took a bus sponsored by a local running club from a nearby parking lot right to the Athlete's Village in Hopkinton. It took about 2 hours to get out there from here with traffic and road closures. I sat with a woman who I recently met who was running Boston as her first marathon ever. She started running about a year ago. She has 4 kids under the age of 8, too, which makes this feat even that much more admirable. What an impressive goal, one that she accomplished, too!! It was nice to have a friendly face to chat with to make the time pass quickly.

Upon arriving in Hopkinton, I bolted for the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge pre-race haven in Hopkinton. A local church hall is set up as a refuge for pre-race with food, sunscreen, vaseline, water/gatorade, and many friendly faces. There are between 500-550 DFMC runners, and it is a sight to be seen in and around that church on Marathon Monday. We gather for a team photo before the start. After the team picture, they asked the "Living Proof" teammates to come up front for a photo. This year, there were 26 runners who are either cancer survivors or current cancer patients. They got a huge round of well-deserved applause from their teammates. What an impressive and emotional sight.

We milled around a little bit more, and then it was time to head down to be corralled for the start. They were set up for 27000 runners, and you gather in groups of 1000. Right before the start, they drop the ropes that divide the groups, and you all merge into a pack as you move towards the start. It took us about 8 minutes from where we were to get across the starting line. And we were off. Tens of thousands of people pounding the pavement towards Boston.

I knew early on that my time goal was out the window. I think deep down I knew that before I started, but had some hope that I would feel terrific after 3 weeks of rest and would be able to bounce happily towards the finish line on fresh legs. No such luck. By ten miles in, my legs were heavy and tired and I was just hoping to make it to the end. I saw some wonderful friends around the halfway point, and a quick hug and lots of smiles and cheers gave me the push I need to move on down the road. My husband, kids, sisters, aunt, cousin and neighbors were there to tell me that I was doing great and to just keep going. It was what I need to hear. By the time I saw them at around 15 miles, my legs felt like they should when I have only two or three miles left. Unfortunately, I had 11 to go. I handed over my watch to them so I would stop worrying about my pace, and just run based on how I felt. They were going to meet me about 6 or 7 miles down the road, and I needed that incentive to keep on moving.

By the time I got to mile 17, I was breaking the course down into smaller segments. Get to the next water stop. Look for the our friends at the Woodland T stop. Just get to the next hill. Another water stop ahead. Run past the Boston College crowd so they don't harass you. Run until you see the Citgo sign. Find your family again with the 23 mile marker within sight. Get a hug and some inspiration. Only 3 to go. The Dana-Farber group has a cheering crowd at the 25 mile point, and that became my next goal. The patient partners (pediatric patients who are matched up with runners) and their families are all there. I ran along next to them, giving them high fives and some cheers for being out there. I missed this last year. I didn't know exactly where they were and I was on the wrong side of the street at the time. I really wanted to feel their energy and support this year, and I am so glad I did. Only 1.2 miles left. Under Mass. Ave, right on Hereford, left on Boylston and you can see the end. .2 miles to the finish line. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. And then I was finished.

The crowds were terrific and huge and loud and encouraging and inspiring. Too many Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge signs to count. So many cheers of "Go Dana-Farber" and "Thank you Dana-Farber" along the entire route, in every town and throughout every mile. The thousands of other runners keep you going, too. There was a man that pushes himself backward with one leg in a wheelchair. I saw him last year, and knew he was back to do it again. Team Hoyt was there again, too. They are well known up here, but for those of you who don't know them, Dick Hoyt pushes his son, Rick, in a special wheelchair. Rick has cerebral palsy, and this was the 28th year that they have run Boston and they completed over 1000 races including Ironman triathlons together. Google "Team Hoyt" and read their story. There were blind runners with guides. There was Elvis, the Cat in The Hat, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Bananas, and Mario out there running, too. There are many other charities represented, each runner with their own purpose and inspiration. There were signs reading "Happy Thoughts" and "Where's Valerie?" and "Tampa Bay 6, Red Sox 0" and "Run, Mommy, Run." And everyday runners from all over the world. It's an experience that makes you have one of your best days ever, even if you don't feel your best.

Did I feel good yesterday? Not so much. Did I love it? You bet. My aunt said to me this morning that she wasn't going to even ask me if I was going to do it again until I could walk normally again. But, I already know the answer. If I am able, I will. What I realized is that this effort, this marathon, this cause....it isn't about me or my personal goals. They are good to have but should probably be saved for a different race at a different time when that is my focus. I discovered yesterday that what makes me run in Boston isn't trying to achieve a personal best. My focus for running Boston is my family, and your family, and friends. And funding research to find a cure for cancer. That's what got me to the finish line.

Be good. Be strong.

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