By Monica Zaremba
December, 2013 Training for the Little Rock 2014 Marathon
Turning a corner in my Benton neighborhood, puffs of warm breath cutting the crisp, cold air, feet steadily beating along, I look down at my watch and note my splits.
I think I can do it. I think I can qualify for Boston.
We stand at the edge of the Commons. Jerry gives me a final hug and some last words of encouragement. I turn, show my bib number to race security and pick one of the dozen yellow school busses to board. Settling onto the rubbery green seat and looking out at the heavy, grey sky, I blink. Over a year and a half of training and racing and it’s finally here: The Boston Marathon.
During the bus ride to the start line it rains periodically. I exchange stories with the Londoner beside me as he talks about the years it took him to qualify, including how in 2013, he thought he had finally qualified only to have the Boston Athletic Association increase the qualifying standard by 5 minutes, negating his time.
As our ride out of Boston nears an hour, I look around at my fellow runners. Is anyone else concerned that we have to run this entire way BACK into Boston?
We arrive at the athlete’s village. Port-o-potties stretch as far as the eye can see. There are three large tents with runners huddled inside, trying to stay dry and warm as we wait to be released to the start line. Although there is plenty of food, Cliff and Gatorade products, I spread out my black garbage bag to sit on, open my own baggie of nutrition (Honey Stinger waffles) and settle in.
Wave 2, Corrals 7 and 8 are called to be released to the start line. I shove 4 Humas, my phone and a baggie of Gu Roctane capsles into my flip belt. I give my leftover snacks, blanket and garbage bag-turned-picnic-blanket to some ladies in the third start wave. Happy to be moving, we set out on the .7 mile walk to the start line in Hopkinton. It’s cold, windy, but not raining for the moment. Someone has set up tables in their front yard with water, food, vaseline (totally normal in this situation) and orange slices for the runners. We stripped off our outer layers and donated them to volunteers for the Boys and Girls clubs.
Although the mobility impaired starters started at 8:50, the elite women at 9:32 and elite men with wave 1 at 10:00, volunteers and spectators cheered for us as if it was the first start of the day. I hastily repin my bib from my outer jacket to my inner shirt as we shuffle from the back of the corral to the start. I blink back tears, and tell myself to buck up.
For the week leading up to the race, I clicked on every article about running Boston that popped up in my news feed. I read, repeatedly, that the rolling downhills, adrenaline, and fresh legs cause runners to go out too fast, they trash their quads on all of the descents, resulting in the late Newton Hills being, well, heartbreaking. I made a controlled effort to keep my pace within reason and enjoy the ease of the first few miles.
It rains on and off and I'd expected the miserable conditions to keep spectators inside, but as we approach the mile 3 marker and the downpour really begins, the crowds just cheer louder.
I eye the runners around me. Being one of the slower runners in my wave, I expected to be surrounded by throngs of wirey, muscular, seasoned racers but I’m struck at how perfectly average we all look. I pass a man with a singlet which reads on the back, “Picked last for gym class, 1970.” Never judge.
The flat laces of my beloved adidas Adistar Boost find their way out of their double-knots. Twice. My cold fingers can barely retie them. My left hamstring threatens to knot up and I take 2 Roctane tablets.
We pass in and out of picturesque towns, briefly listen to bands play and families cheer, hear the Wellesley girls screaming blocks before they actually come into view. I consider stopping for a smooch, but keep moving.
At the halfway point, I’m slower than I’d liked, but as the miles ticked by, I’d stopped checking my pace and just enjoyed the experience. I set my sights on working hard through the next 5 miles and then push through to 20.
The clocks at the mile markers count from the first wave start, which housed the elite men. I figure they should be finishing, but the crowd gives no indication of who’s won.
Around mile 16, we start on the first of the 4 Newton Hills and among the runners, it becomes quiet, save the heavy breathing and steady footfalls. I just tell myself to maintain cadence and look up. The anticipation of Heartbreak grows.
The second (or was it third?) hill is pretty taxing and I enjoy the brief reprieve before heading into the next one. The cheers of the crowd encourage us to go on. I remind myself to smile. Mostly, because in the way that marathoners do, I was really enjoying this experience. Second, because it relaxes the face and reminds your brain that you really are happy.
We pass mile 20, and then finally, Heartbreak. I will down most of my third and final Huma, my stomach no longer very pleased to be bothered with digestion. After cresting it and still feeling good, with less than 6 miles left and the students of Boston College wildly loud, I start to get the euphoric/exhausted feeling that with over 20 miles down, the end is reasonably in sight. 4 steady miles and then open it up for the last 2.
The smaller towns give way to the urban setting and the town name above the mile markers finally read Boston. And then there it is—the iconic Citgo sign. A mile to go.
Cruelly, there’s one final little hill and then we descend into downtown. Runners are picking up their paces, crowds are getting thicker, and you really, really do believe that they’re all cheering for you. Turning left onto Boylston, I find myself stuck in the middle of a pack. 25.8 miles into the race, and I’m boxed in!
I break out of the pack, open up my pace, and will myself to soak in the final moments of the race.
I cross the finish line. An older gentlemen bestows medal upon my neck. A young woman dresses me in the poncho. I smile, a lump in my throat. The cold, wind and rain that I’d become numb to during the race were now impossible to ignore.
It’s over. Months upon months of training. Hours of running, and already, I can hardly remember it. And now it’s done.