On Patriot’s Day 1993, even though it was a state holiday and a day off from classes at Boston Conservatory, I had a tech rehearsal for our final sophomore project and was forced to sit in an auditorium ALL DAY waiting for my handful of scenes to be rehearsed. My sister Colleen was running the Boston Marathon, and even though the auditorium was merely blocks away from the final stretch of the marathon, my instructor would not allow me to take a 30 minute break to go out and watch for her to sprint across the finish line. I sat, and I waited, and I waited, and I remember clear as day, my sister walking in the door, ecstatic, because she had just finished the Boston Marathon in under 3 hrs, and just 20 minutes behind Joan Benoit. I had done literally nothing all day but sit and watch others rehearse they scenes, and I felt like a terrible sister. I was so proud. And I had no clue what it took to run a marathon, let alone at that pace. I also had no desire to run that far myself. Ever.
The following year she was back, and thankfully, I did not have a rehearsal that day. I remember planting myself near the finish, watching the clock, waiting for her to come in at around 2:50-2:55. I really didn’t understand wave starts, so I began to get worried when 3 hrs came and went on the clock, and she was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until around 3:15 or so that I finally saw her, looking strong, yet pained, and I became emotional. Of course, her time was actually only just over 3 hrs, but again, I had no appreciation of how differently you can feel in any given marathon, no matter what your capabilities and how hard you trained. 10 minutes seemed like such a huge difference to me, but she seemed just fine with her finish time, and I was still proud.
It would be 10 years before I found the marathon bug. I completed my first half in 2002 (which is still my favorite half marathon, the BAA Half), thought it wasn’t that bad, and decided in January 2003 that I could handle a full. The day after my training began, I took a strange fall while snowboarding, and destroyed my ankle- couldn’t run for almost 2 months, and it remained wonky for quite some time after. I ran another half that fall, and in January 2004, tried again.
During training, I really had no idea what to expect. My half had been just under 2 hrs, so I had hoped to be able to run the full in around 4. And I secretly hoped that something phenomenal would happen, and I would run the current BQ time for my age group, which was 3:40. It was a pipe dream, and not something I ever should have thought about for my first marathon, but, I did. I remember starting to fade around mile 21 at the Vermont City Marathon that year, and watching that 3:40 mark pass by me on the giant clock at around mile 22. And realizing I wouldn’t even make my 4 hr goal. But then I decided I just wanted to finish while still feeling good, and then I could drink beer and visit with my friends that night. I finished in 4:23. It seemed “slow” to me, but now I know that for most people, that’s a pretty damn good time for a first marathon.
After that, I decided I was done with marathoning, at least for the time. I still dreamed of running Boston, and refused to do so unless I qualified, but it seemed so out of reach. 10 years went by, and I hardly even raced. Most of my running was done without a watch, just for fun. But in the summer of 2013, everything changed. That summer, I learned that the Angel City Pit Bulls, the animal rescue group with whom I volunteered had been selected as an official charity partner of the LA Marathon in 2014. It was time to start getting serious.
In 2014, I hoped to break 4 hrs. It was ridiculously hot, and I nearly through in the towel at mile 18. But I pushed on, and finished in 4:35. I was not happy. In 2015, again, shooting for 4 hrs, again, stupid hot, I finished in 4:14. In 2016, we finally had slightly better weather, and I finally broke through that 4 hr barrier…by 30 seconds. But hey, it was a sub 4! And then, I watched two of my running buddies qualify for Boston at Mountains 2 Beach later that year. Suddenly, I felt empowered. Maybe, just maybe, if I worked hard enough, I could make my Boston dream come true.
I trained through the summer of 2016, running one of the last marathons available (Ventura Marathon) for a 2017 BQ. [By the way, if you click on the link to go to the Ventura Marathon page and watch the scrolling photos at the top- that happy girl crossing the finish line? That’s me in 2017 doing the 1/2, decked out in my Skirt Sports gear.] I ran strong for almost 20 miles, and then things started seizing up on me, and my stomach became unhappy too. I rallied by mile 22, but due to cramping couldn’t quite pick the pace back up to full speed. Though I had a PR, I did not have a BQ. I would have to miss the 2017 marathon. But, there was 2018…
I tried again 5 months later at Surf City. My training had been on fire. I was so ready, or so I thought. What hadn’t been on fire was my nutrition. I bonked before I even hit mile 16. I felt it coming on by mile 10, and tried to eat and eat to get the energy back, but I was done. I almost bailed at 16, but my friends were waiting at mile 20, and I couldn’t disappoint, so I rallied. Thanks to a buddy who helped keep me going the last 6 miles, I finished under 4, but still did not have my BQ.
Next up was LA, but as it was only 6 weeks after Surf City, I knew it wasn’t wise to race. I ran the most comfortable marathon I have ever run, and finished in roughly the same time as Surf City…go figure! So, what next?
On Patriots Day that year, I watched with one friend who had qualified but couldn’t go due to injury, and tracked our other friend as he made his way from Hopkinton to Boston. I was insanely envious. I needed to race, and decided that a half marathon would make me feel better. I logged into the Mountains 2 Beach website to sign up for the half…and they had just released another 200 entries to the full, which had previously been announced as full. It was a sign, I went for it. I had 6 weeks to get in marathon ready shape.
Mountains 2 Beach, much like Vermont City, is held the Sunday of memorial Day weekend. And so 14 years after my first marathon, I set out with a goal of 3:40. But unlike that day 14 years I go, I knew 3:40 was within reach. I had changed my nutrition, thanks to eat2run.com. Fat-loaded and carb-loaded properly I felt strong. I did not bonk. I had the usual negative thoughts around mile 21, but as I did the math in my head, I knew I could slow down and still make it. So I rallied. My friend tried to get me under 3:40, so that I would have over 5 minutes and wouldn’t have the dreadful wait til the final day of registration, but I couldn’t quite get there. 3:40:39. Thankfully, it ended up being good enough for Boston 2018!
Training began in earnest that fall, for both LA and Boston. The plan: race hard at LA to BQ for 2019, and then have fun at Boston. I was right on track. That was, until December 21st, when I learned I had breast cancer. It came out of left field. No one in my family had it. I had no lumps. I had nothing on previous mammograms. But, there it was. My first questions to pretty much every member of my care team “so, will I be able to run Boston in April?” I asked so often it was in my chart “wants to run Boston marathon in April.”
If you’ve never been through a cancer diagnosis and subsequent scheduling of treatment (or had a close friend or family member go through this), you won’t understand how hard it is to get a straight answer to the question “how long will this take.” That’s because, there is no straight answer. Every person is different. Doctors don’t want to guess and then have a patient get upset and throw it back at them when complications arise and it takes longer. I must have been the biggest pain in the ass. I wanted to schedule a surgery date even though we didn’t know for sure whether it would be a lumpectomy or mastectomy. I didn’t understand that if the latter, and I wanted reconstruction there would be 2 surgeons involved, so they couldn’t book anything until we knew for sure. When I asked for a timeline for recovery, they were masters at sidestepping the issue. And while my surgeons always seemed to be optimistic, others I spoke with would tell me, “no way. absolutely no way will you be recovered by April 16.” But I stayed hopeful.
Finally, I was given a date. February 1st. 10 weeks before Boston, It would be a mastectomy, and since they felt they could spare my nipple, I would begin reconstruction right away (I had the option of waiting to reconstruct, which would have meant a faster recovery, but also meant losing my nipple. ) I still didn’t really have a good understanding of how the recon would work.
After my surgery, I woke up and was amazed at how great I felt. I was not in pain, just stiff and sore, like I had just done a really heavy weight workout on my left side. In a week, one of my two drains came out. The doc said I could do the elliptical at the gym if I wanted, but I decided that was weird with a drain in. Instead, I hiked. A lot. 10 days after surgery I did a 7 mile hike. Then got frustrated because my one remaining drain was still outputting more than 30 ML/day, the number it needs to get below before they will remove. I took two days off and did nothing. The drain did not change. Screw it. I went back to walking/hiking. FINALLY, on Feb 19th, the second drain came out. My first question: “Can I run?” Sure, listen to your body. If it hurts, don’t run. Otherwise, go ahead. Just don’t lift your arms over your head. “And when can I do that? When can I walk my dogs?” 4 weeks. Ok, cool.
I ran that night with my Pitfire family.
It did not “hurt” but was definitely not the most comfortable running I’ve ever done. I could not swing my left arm without feeling like a plat in my chest was shifting back and forth. So, I ran without swinging my arm for those first few days. And then, things began to relax. I broke up scar tissue. And I started adding miles. I did a 16 miler two weeks before the date of the LA Marathon- which was one month before Boston. I decided to run LA.
One week before LA, I woke up one morning feeling off. It ended up being a stomach bug, which left me stuck on the couch for an entire day, and unable to eat normally for almost 5 days. Not the best when you are trying to carb up for a marathon.
Even the day of the LA Marathon, I was not 100% sure I could finish. My husband told me he would be angry with me if I ended up in the hospital. But he would be happy with ANY other outcome. I took that to heart, and promised if anything went wrong, I would stop. The day before the marathon, my throat was dry. I felt fatigued, and had a familiar ache in my shoulders and back. It was what happened whenever I had a cold coming on. I pushed it down and denied that I was getting sick. I took Emergen-C. I took Mucinex. I went to bed early. That morning I was no worse, so I just told myself I wasn’t sick. During the run, I constantly checked my arm throughout the marathon, to make sure there was no swelling (lymphedema). I kept the pace conservative. And I kept going. I felt good. Mile 20 came. My muscles were getting fussy by then. I had no gaol other than finishing, so I stopped. I stretched like I would at the end of a training run. This was, after all, a training run for Boston at this point. I started up again. Started catching teammates who were running just the second half of the marathon (they had a later start). I walked and talked with them as I passed, enjoying some quick breaks in the process. I stretched again at mile 24. And then I pushed through those last 2 miles. 4:07. It wasn’t sub 4, but it was damn good considering.
And then I had my beer with my wonderful friends.
And then two days later, the bronchitis hit. My poor, poor immune system. I took a few days off, but jumped back on the horse by Friday, even though I felt like I had COPD. It helped to clear out my lungs a bit.
Oh, and let’s not forget the part where my foob (that’s breast cancer speak for fake boob, by the way) turned red after the marathon. And didn’t fade. But didn’t hurt or itch or anything. But after a week, I decided I should probably see someone. Of course, once I made an appt, it started to fade. But the doc decided to give me some antibiotics, just to be safe. So far so good, LOL.
And then, on Thursday night, just 2 1/2 weeks before Boston, as if I hadn’t been through enough, I had yet another bout with a stomach thing. This time, however, though it was much more violent during the episode (I’ll spare you the gory details), once it was done, it was done. And on Saturday, I ran 18 miles. Enough to be a final long run before Boston.
So, yeah, I’ve still gotta get through the next two weeks. And I probably should do some serious knocking on wood right now. Maybe I should wrap myself in bubble wrap and not step outside my apartment for the next two weeks. Find some sort of Harry Potter-esque portal to Boston to avoid the plane (although even those have their dangers). But universe, I think you’ve tested me enough. And I have proved I can handle it all. So, how about smooth sailing from here on out, OK? Thanks much. I’m really looking forward to seeing this: