Three years ago, I wrote about running the iconic Boston marathon, which I was privileged to do with a charity place. 95% of runners in Boston have to achieve challenging (for me) qualifying times and three years ago, I knew that I wouldn’t ever be quick enough to achieve one. I was therefore delighted to run for a charity and have my chance of running in this amazing marathon. It is one of the six major marathons of the world and to achieve my dream of getting the six star medal for those runners lucky enough to have run all of them, I loved the Boston experience and took everything in, convinced it was my one and only time of running it.
Yesterday, I was therefore so excited and humbled to be able to run it for the second time, this time as a qualifier. During lockdown, I had invested the additional time I had from not commuting in my running and last year had run two marathons, achieving Boston Qualifying times in both, which I was incredibly proud of. I was therefore determined to go back to Boston this year and run as a qualifier.
My training was going well until I went skiing in February, when I took a nasty fall. For those that have been skiing with me, you’ll know my skills are not great and I fell and slid for about 40 metres, screaming loudly, looking like an idiot I’m sure and twisting my knee in the process! The following day my knee was very swollen, I could barely walk and I knew that getting to Boston would be a huge challenge.
Over the next four weeks, I had lots of physio and had to do a lot of walking and static cycling as I couldn’t run. I could then start to walk/run for the next five weeks, leading up to the marathon. It was painful, physically and emotionally. Each walk/run led to soreness and hobbling. It was frustrating as I wanted to just run, something that I love. I had moments of tears and a lot of doubt. Throughout, my aim was simply to be in Boston as a qualifier, and to walk/run alongside my husband who was running for charity to get his fifth star. He was also injured and so it led to lots of time in gyms, plans for managing the pain, dark humour and wonderful support from those around us.
I managed to run an 18 mile run two weeks prior to the marathon, with some pain and hobbling afterwards, and so didn’t know how my knee would hold up in the run itself. My aim prior to the injury was to run a Boston qualifying time in Boston but that aim had disappeared somewhere down a ski run in Italy! Now, my aim was to run as much as I could and to enjoy the experience.
I had a wonderful message from my coach before I ran that said well done for everything I’d done to be on the start line and that I was ‘a fighter’ and to enjoy the day. It made me smile and sent me on my way to Boston.
Arriving at the ExPo was an emotional experience – we had both made it to the start line! It was the 50th anniversary of the first official women’s race in Boston and there were pictures and articles about this everywhere. In 1972, there had been a field of 8 women, who followed two women who in the previous three years had run the race but unofficially – entering the race from the bushes at the start and running with a bib but without giving their full name so that the officials didn’t realise they were a woman! It reminded me of how much equality means in all walks (or runs!) of life and I was so excited about running in their foot steps.
I stood on the start line on a glorious morning – sunny and cold. I felt very emotional. It had taken a huge amount of work to be here and I was determined to enjoy it. I had no expectations of a time and I wanted to run for as long as I could, try and enjoy the hills (there are a lot of hills!) and take in all of the experience.
The start is fantastic, with all of the local residents cheering you on. It is also on a long downhill and so I set off far too quickly! The first ten miles flew by – the crowds were amazing, the weather perfect for running and the symbol of the marathon, a unicorn, was everywhere. The Boston route is simple – you are bussed out 26.2 miles from Boston and you run back in a straight line! This means that the route goes through lots of villages and the residents come out in force to cheer you all on. It is incredibly inspiring.
I always have a part of a marathon where I struggle mentally and yesterday was between miles 14 and 16. The route is very hilly. It is known for the two big hills, at miles 16 and 20 (the final one being known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’!) but it is actually relentlessly up and down for the whole way. I had planned lots of hill training but with my injury, this hadn’t happened. By mile 14, my legs were tired and I started to slow. I was determined to run up the hills (I hadn’t managed this in my first Boston marathon) and I did this so I was delighted. I was slow (at times, I questioned whether I would actually be quicker walking!) but when I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I had a huge smile on my face!
The final 5 miles were wonderful. The crowds were amazing and the pull of the finish line was strong! It is hard to think clearly at that stage in a marathon but I was now confident that I would break 4 hours, which I was so happy about. At mile 23, I managed to calculate that if I ran well, I may be able to get a Boston Qualifying time, which had been beyond my wildest dreams on the start line. It spurred me on and I ran up the final hill and turned left onto the finishing straight on Boylston Street with a huge smile on my face. It is the best finish in all of the marathons I have done, crowds ten deep, the long finish straight in front of you and the noise is unbelievable. I ran my heart out, tears streaming down my face and crossed the finish line in 3.49, a minute inside the qualifying time. I couldn’t believe it! I felt so privileged to be here, doing something I loved.
I picked up my bag and checked my phone to see that my husband was also doing incredibly well and eventually finished in under four hours which, given that he hadn’t run until ten days prior to the marathon, was amazing and I was so proud of him.
I hobbled back to our meeting point and was delighted to see our friend who had also run and got his six star medal – it was a special moment.
This marathon has taught me many things. When I started my marathon journey 11 years ago, I ran 5.45 and yesterday I was almost two hours quicker. You can achieve anything if you work hard, believe and surround yourself with people that support you and lift you higher. I am so very grateful for everyone who has supported me over the years – it is their voices that I hear at the difficult moments in a marathon and I can’t express how much it means to me.
At the ExPo there was a big sign that had a wonderful quote from Nelson Mandela: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. That is so true and sums up my Boston marathon 2022 experience.