The Boston Dream: To Conquer the Original.
I decided I would one day run the Boston Marathon before I had ever run a marathon. I had run some half marathons and I knew I really enjoyed running, but the marathon was a distant dream for me. 26.2 miles? At a sub 8 minute pace? Crazy.
In August of 2014 I went to Boston for the first time as an anniversary trip and one morning I decided to lace up and run to the finish line. I stopped when I got there and kind of just stared at it. It’s weird to feel like paint on concrete is emotional, but I was overcome with emotion standing there. I stood for a few minutes, decided I was going to cross it for real one day, and jogged home. I bought a Boston Strong shirt and I wrote down in a notebook: “I am going to be a Boston Marathoner.”
I wrote it down, so I had to make it happen, right?
I ran my first full marathon in October of 2014. I didn’t train with a group, I didn’t do a lot of speed workouts, and I didn’t think a BQ would be attainable any time soon. When I said I would cross the Boston Marathon finish line some day, I meant it – but I didn’t say how long it would take. Who knew. I figured I might have to wait until I was in my 40s or 50s. I finished that first marathon with a 4:13:20. I was so proud. And I thought, I’m faster than that.
Fall of 2015: the trail marathon. I had what I would call my worst marathon in terms of how I felt. I was under fueling pretty consistently, I bonked, I cried, I in all honesty did not enjoy it. But I crossed the finish line in a 3:53:33. A 20 minute PR when I was feeling horrible. Part of me doubted that I could ever run faster than that, but the little Boston dream in my head made me want to try again.
Fall of 2016: I joined a running group. I started taking speed work and eating well seriously. I started eating to fuel my runs rather than eating for what I thought would make me look a certain way. I gave into my appetite. Because marathon training makes me HUNGRY. It should. And you should eat to fuel your goals. I still had a similar attitude throughout this training cycle as I had in the past. I didn’t know that I would have a stronger race, but I knew I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to smile. I needed a new marathon experience where I felt good. And that’s what Chicago 2016 was for me. I ran strong. I had energy left for the last 6 miles. Arielle ran up to me at mile 24 and said, “Dale are you going to Boston?” I screamed in her face (and had to apologize profusely later), but it was kind of an out of body experience. Her words stuck with me for those last few miles and I thought, this is it. Yes. I am getting my BQ. I kicked it into high gear. I tapped into that dreamer in me who knew I was capable. I had a negative split. I flew for the last few miles. And I crossed that finish line with a 3:33:53 (yes flipped those exact numbers for another 20 minute PR)! The best part? I felt amazing and I was smiling. I had my first Boston qualifying time (sub 3:35 for my age group).
Now, the timing with Chicago Marathon means you can’t apply for Boston until the following fall. I was proud of my time, but I knew it would be hard to wait a year to apply and risk not actually getting in. I toyed with this decision for a long time, but I knew I had earned my spot at Boston 2018. I wanted it. So, I didn’t want to risk not getting in with my 3:33 since Boston takes the fastest people first if they have too many applicants.
After a shorter training cycle in the summer of 2017 I decided to race a last chance to BQ in Grand Rapids in September – the weekend before applications for Boston 2018 opened. This marathon is a flat loop course designed specifically for people trying to BQ. I think it’s mentally more difficult than a major marathon, but at least you can kind of zone out and just go round and round. I had an incredible support system there that day that helped me get to that finish line. I hurt at the end. I kept frantically checking my watch thinking I had lost my goal time. But I had Steph next to me for the entire race and she said, “Dale if you look at your damn watch one more time I’m taking it and throwing it.” So I stopped looking. Sometimes you have to ignore your brain and all your control freak tendencies and just have a little faith. We turned the corner and saw Arielle and Jenny jumping up and down screaming at me to run faster. They hopped in with about a tenth of a mile to go and we all crossed that finish line together in 3:30:54. I can’t even say how grateful I was for them that day. I needed the extra support. And I knew I had it. I was going to Boston 2018.
Sure, I still had to wait to apply and get confirmation of acceptance. And those days waiting for that email were filled with anxiety and doubt. What if everyone was even faster that year? What if I didn’t do enough? But I had to wait. I had done all I could. Years and years of work for a dream I carried with me every day came down to an email.
I was sitting in a meeting with my phone in my lap, when I saw the notification. I discreetly opened it under the table and saw it: “Congratulations! This is to notify you that your entry into the 122nd Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16, 2018 has been accepted.”
I had chills.
I teared up immediately and had to remain calm hoping no one noticed. I waited until the meeting was over, went back to my desk and did a happy dance. It was the best email I have ever received. I was going.
With the pressure off, I was still planning to run the Chicago Marathon a few weeks later for fun. I had no time goal since I’d already locked in my spot. But the beautiful thing? Running without pressure is amazing. I stuck with Cait the whole time and crossed that finish line with a 3:28:30. Another 2+ minute PR and a BQ for 2019. It was unreal.
For me, this training cycle has been all about staying healthy. I know not putting pressure on myself works for me. It’s easier said than done, but that is what I have been focusing on this winter. After all this work I didn’t want to do anything stupid and hurt myself before I got to the start line. I have an incredible team behind me who have helped me stay healthy and become a stronger version of myself. I have so many people supporting me and rooting for me who have made this journey all the more worth it.
I get to run the Boston Marathon one week from today. I could type that over and over and it still won’t feel real. I’m having “pinch me” moments every day. I know I earned this spot. I worked so hard to earn it. It wasn’t luck and it wasn’t a fluke. I consistently worked hard and dedicated myself to this dream for the past three and a half years because I knew I was capable. You have to believe in yourself because if you don’t, who else will? It starts with you. In 2014, little inexperienced half marathoner me had no real reason to believe she would qualify for Boston, but it was a dream I wanted to work toward.
So I did.
And at this time next week I will be a Boston Marathoner and that is pretty freaking cool.