The Road to Boston: Chasing the Unicorn with a Team by my Side

This will be my third time running the Boston marathon and my eighth marathon total. Many people wonder why – why one would choose to put his or herself through running 26.2 miles voluntarily – and then do it multiple times. For those that have done a marathon – whether you chose to be a one and done runner or are toeing the line of your 20th, a big part of it is getting to that finish line. And the finish line at Boston is like no other experience you will have. As a runner – and I can proudly say that – crossing that finish line in 2008 and again in 2012 were truly moments in time that I will cherish. But running with a group – like the one I’m heading to Boston with in just over a week – has shown me that running can be more than just about that ultimate prize.

2008: You Never Forget Your First Time
My road to Boston started in 2008. I was in graduate school at Tufts and had never run a marathon before. It was on my bucket list – and when the president of the school announced a charity program that would guarantee entry into the coveted race, I jumped at the chance – figuring it’d be my one and only chance to run it – and that I’d never be fast enough to time qualify.

2008 Boston Marathon
At the finish of the 2008 Boston Marathon – completely exhausted.

Looking back on that race, it’s amazing I did as well as I did for my first marathon as I barely made it through my one and only 20 mile training run and did not log nearly as many miles during the week as I do now – and I did absolutely no speed work—things that have become second nature to me going into my 8th marathon and 2nd year running with the Fleet Feet Chicago Racing Team.

Starting in the third wave – with a bib number in the upper 20,000s, it was quite the experience. I trained and ran the race solo and saw my friends and mom at different points throughout the race. I wore a brand new Timex watch that I didn’t even know how to use and had no idea what a split was, didn’t monitor my pace, and did my nutrition all wrong. But rounding that last corner onto Mass Ave made all the pain, blisters, and stomach aches suddenly disappear. The crowd consumed me and it was all I could do not to break into tears at the sight of the finish line. I finished around the 3:52 mark – meeting my goal of finishing in less than 4 hours and I was utterly exhausted but oddly fascinated by the realization that I wanted to do it again – and I wanted to go faster.

2012: The Hardest, Hottest Run of my Life
Fast forward to 2012. At this point, I had completed 2 more marathons (my second being Marine Corp Marathon where I time-qualified for Boston by just about 5 minutes). Having moved to Austin, Texas – I had enjoyed a great training season as I did not have to deal with weather conditions like I did when I lived in the northeast. I was feeling pretty confident going into the race. I had moved up to wave two and my bib number again improved by almost 10,000 numbers.

2012 Boston Marathon
Forcing a smile at the end of the 2012 Boston Marathon.

Rather than recap the whole race, I’ll sum it up by saying this experience was truly the hardest, hottest, most difficult run of my life. When forecasters started reporting that it’d be in the 80s the day of the marathon – I thought I’d have a leg up – but I learned the hard way – to respect the conditions and readjust expectations. I finished – but not where I wanted to. Going into the race, assuming all went well, I had not planned to make another appearance in Boston again– but because I want my last time running Boston to end on a high note, I decided I’d have to do it again.

When the bombings happened in 2013, I was sitting at my desk, now living and working in Chicago. My heart broke. It was gut wrenching to watch a town I used to call home and my community – the community of runners – get beat up like that. But it was also so encouraging to see everyone come together and really support one another. I decided in that moment – no matter what – I would cross that finish line at least one more time.

2015: Chasing the Unicorn with a Team by my Side
In the fall of 2013 I toed the line of the Chicago marathon for the first time. I had trained hard and for the first time ever, with others through the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) marathon training program and the Fleet Feet Racing Team workouts. I felt ready – more ready than I have ever felt in my life. I not only PR’d but shaved off 20 minutes finishing in just over 3 hours and 15 minutes. I was beyond ecstatic. I would run Boston again in 2015.

Since then, I have run two more marathons – Lake Placid and Chicago again in 2014. My last experience was another huge improvement – finishing in just over 3 hours and 3 minutes. I can honestly say if it had not been for the support, encouragement and constant challenges I receive from my running family at Fleet Feet and CES (because I truly see them as an extension of my family) there is no way I would be where I am today.

With some of my teammates at the finish of the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Can't wait to run the streets with them in Boston!
With some of my teammates at the finish of the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Can’t wait to run the streets with them in Boston!

So this will be my third time running Boston. I have moved from the back of wave 3 to the middle of wave 1 – averaging about a 10,000 bib increase each time. I have trained through a terrible Chicago winter – and yes, mostly outdoors in occasional white out conditions and through bone-freezing negative wind chills. I did speed workouts on treadmills when the ice made it unsafe to attempt to do them outside, woke before dawn for double digit training runs during the week. Ran a 20 miler by myself because I had to skip the planned one due to a slight injury and travel plans. I even broke down in tears due to a tight hamstring 2 miles into a speed workout on the lake front path only to be met by fellow teammates who stopped and run/walked me back to the store – foregoing their planned workout for the night to help me. I ran through a lingering illness for over two weeks and started a new job in the middle of some of my highest mileage weeks. And when I wanted to quit – which was multiple times– I did not because of the support and encouragement of my teammates and our coaches.

So what have I learned throughout this training season? That while we may not always run together – and we sometimes even compete against each other – we are one community – a community of runners. And I am so grateful for the friendships, bonds and miles we’ve put in this together.

And in my dreams – there’s that finish line – the ultimate prize. Here’s to chasing that unicorn in less than a week! Good luck to everyone who has trained hard. May this race be all you hope it to be!