Boston Marathon 2021 Race Report (Part 2 of 2): Living the Dream!

“Be here now.” – Ram Dass

To keep people spread out due to COVID, the 2021 Boston Marathon start was a rolling start. Instead of bringing everyone out to the start line and starting all at once in a big mass, runners were bussed out to the start gradually over several hours and started whenever they got to the start line and felt ready to go. I personally liked the rolling start. It was nice because it was not overly crowded, and the port-a-potty lines were short. It was definitely a different vibe though without the excitement of a mass race start and the national anthem. It felt a bit strange just to walk to the start line and start your watch whenever you wanted like you were going on a Saturday long run.

2021 Boston Marathon start line. You just walked up and started whenever you were ready.

After some final stretches and one last trip to the port-a-potty in Hopkinton, I walked up to that beautiful blue and yellow start line, pressed the start button on my Garmin, and started running. A few steps later I heard a volunteer shout, “You’re running the Boston Marathon! How cool!” I felt the tears well up in my eyes again. I could not believe this was happening.  As I passed the mile one sign, I blew a kiss into the air and thought to myself, “I let go of expectations.” My plan for the race was “Be here now.” I knew it would be hard with warmer temperatures and a shorter training cycle, but I wanted to enjoy every moment. I had worked so hard to get to the start in Hopkinton and I wanted my run from Hopkinton to Boston to be a celebration.

That feeling when you are finally doing the thing you have been dreaming about for years.

I started my run around 10:30am. It was already 70 degrees with 80% humidity. By mile two I felt too hot. Slight panic started to creep up, but I came back to my race plan, “Be here now.” At the water stations, I started taking a couple of sips of water and dumping the rest of the cup on my head. I tried to keep my pace smooth and not get carried away by the early downhills. With long deep breaths, I tried to hold myself back because I knew I would need to conserve my energy for later in the race. One spectator was yelling at people to relax on the downhills. I felt like he was speaking to me personally, and it reminded me to let go of the tension I tend to hold in my upper body.

By mile nine, I felt tired. Too tired. I just noticed the feeling and told myself, “It’s ok to feel tired. This is hard.” Then I thought to myself, “You are running the fall Boston!” I did my best to ground myself in the present moment, observing the leaves and the beautiful fall colors reflecting in the nearby lake. Be here now. It is interesting to note that by doing this practice I seared that moment into my memory. I can still clearly remember the beautiful fall leaves on the ground and the humidity hovering above the water.

The Boston spectators and volunteers were phenomenal. After almost two years of no races, having the opportunity to run a large and well-supported race was electrifying. Many spectators shouted, “We missed you!” because there had not been an in-person Boston Marathon since April 2019. They had Halloween decorations, therapy dogs, trick or treat stations, otter pops, beer (I was very tempted by the Coors Light within grabbing distance at mile eight!), and anything else you could think of. I was wearing my Boise Betties singlet and every time someone would shout, “Boise Betties!” I would feel so much gratitude towards my Betties teammates and coach who helped me get to Boston.

Mentally, I had broken the race up into segments: Miles 1-10, 10-16, 16-21, and 21 to the finish. Although it felt hard early on, I focused my attention on breathing, relaxing and holding back a little bit, and noticing the beauty around me. I knew that there were some hills coming up later in the race in the 16-21 segment and I didn’t want to blow up prior to the hills! I would not allow myself to mentally calculate how many miles were left in the race. When my mind tried to go there I reminded it, “Be here now” and came back to the present moment.

As I approached Wellesley at the halfway point, I could hear the cheering from the scream tunnel of Wellesley College girls almost a half mile away. The high pitched roar sent chills up my spine. It was so fun to run through and high five some of the girls. I didn’t see anyone actually kissing this year, but many of the signs said “Blow me a kiss!” so I did lots of that!

After making it through Wellesley, I knew that the Newton hills would be coming up shortly. I tried to absorb the excited energy of the Wellesley girls and keep it in my back pocket for the Newton hills. Around mile 14 or 15 I saw some spectators with a “Go Go Idaho!” sign that looked like a play on the famous Citgo sign. I ran all the way to the other side of the road to give them some Idaho love, show them my Boise Betties singlet, and take a photo of their awesome sign.

Ran by these people somewhere between Wellesley and Newton and loved their sign.

As I entered Newton and approached the first big hill at mile 16, I tried to focus on running it by effort and not by pace. I was about to find out if I had relaxed and taken it easy enough on the downhill during the first several miles. In my mind, the first hill was the hardest. It was hot and the incline seemed long. I made it past that one and thought, “three more of these?!” However, I didn’t really notice the second or third hills because they were much shorter. The spectators helped carry me up and over the fourth hill (also known as Heartbreak Hill), and once I made it over Heartbreak Hill, I was done with the Newton hills!

I knew from studying the course map that Boston College was just after Heartbreak Hill around mile 21. This University of Virginia alumnae has never been more excited to see Boston College fans in her life! I made it past the hills and still felt OK! These last few miles were going to be amazing! There might be some suffering along the way, but if I stayed with the discomfort, there would be joy as well. I was big enough to hold both.

Up until this point, I had done a good job of fueling and hydrating. I had been taking water and/or Gatorade from every water stop and a gel every four miles. After mile 20, however, slight nausea started to creep in. I opted to skip the mile 23/24 gel, but was able to keep up on the water and electrolytes. Anyone who has run a marathon knows that the real part of the race starts after mile 20 and that anything can happen during that last 10k. I tried to stay focused and keep grinding – one step and one breath at a time. I said the sound of OM a few times and thought of my yoga family and perhaps others around the world who also might be saying the sound of OM. I connected with something larger than myself to propel myself forward.

When I passed the “Entering Boston” sign, I could again feel the tears. I couldn’t believe that I was running the Boston Marathon, made it into the city of Boston and hadn’t hit a wall yet. I started hearing people cheering “Go Danica!” and realized that I was running just behind NASCAR driver Danica Patrick. I saw the famous Citgo sign on the horizon. My family told me that they might come to cheer around mile 24 so I started looking for them which was a nice distraction. When I didn’t see them I figured they had found something more fun to do.

Photobombing Danica

After I gave up on finding my family I realized that I was getting really close to making what I consider to be the most famous turns in running: Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. I had imagined making these two turns in my head for years: while visualizing and preparing mentally for other races, while doing hard workouts, and while just daydreaming about what it might feel like to run the Boston Marathon. 

What actually happened as I made the final turn and ran the last 600 yards or so down Boylston Street far exceeded anything I had imagined. I blew a kiss at the street sign at the corner of Hereford and Boylston. I made my way down Boylston Street feeling good and strong, shouting “F*&! Yeah!” (sorry to any kids that may have heard) and “Thank you, Boston!” The energy on that final stretch was absolutely phenomenal. I glanced at the sidelines about 400 yards from the finish and saw my husband and kids there cheering for me! (They were shouting “Hu! Hu! Hu!“) I crossed the Boston Marathon finish line with one hand over my heart to honor my inner child and the other hand extended upwards towards the sky in gratitude. We did it!

Going into the race I had an A, B and C goal. My A goal was 3:50, B goal was under four hours and C goal (which really was the most important one) was to have fun! I crossed the finish line in 3:51:07 and was absolutely ecstatic to have run the Boston Marathon in under four hours.

Every physical or mental setback, every tear, every workout or race where I imploded – it was all a part of this journey and it could not have happened any other way. No matter what that big, scary, seemingly unattainable thing is that you dream about, I am here to tell you that you can make it a reality. Write it down, be consistent, keep showing up for yourself, and when it’s time it will all unfold with beauty and magic.

Finish line feels

Boston Marathon 2021 Race Report (Part 1 of 2): Getting to Hopkinton

What’s meant for you will never miss you, and that which misses you was never meant for you. – Unknown

Getting to the start line in Hopkinton was the hard part. I wasn’t sure if this day would ever come. After working for years to qualify, then finally qualifying in December 2019 with a 6 minute and 14 second buffer, I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about getting into the race. However, COVID related delays, cancellations, and reduced field sizes proved me wrong. I went from elation and excitement over the anticipation of running in April 2021, to riding the roller coaster of uncertainty for months.

In a strange twist of fate, instead of running Boston on April 19, 2021 (the originally scheduled date of the 2021 race) I was getting an MRI for mysterious ankle pain. In all of the visualizing I did for my qualifying race in December 2019, this was not how I pictured April 19, 2021 going.

I was not initially accepted into the 2021 Boston Marathon during registration in May 2021. After allowing myself to feel grief over not getting into the race, I was able to somewhat let go of my attachment to running it. Deep in my heart I knew I would run Boston one day. I had no idea that day would be October 11, 2021.

On August 18, 2021, I was eating lunch and checked my emails on my phone. There was one from the Boston Athletic Association that said, “Limited In Person Entries Available.” In disbelief, I said to my husband, “I think I may have just gotten into Boston!” I wasn’t sure if the email was real or not, but I eventually decided it was legit. I registered with the code provided in the email and received my confirmation of acceptance a couple of hours later. I couldn’t believe it! The Boston Athletic Association had offered entries to qualified U.S. entrants of the Virtual race as well as to athletes who narrowly missed the qualifying cut-off time. The universe was showing me that if I could trust and let go of the desire to control and attachment to outcomes, things might just work out ok.

I quickly booked a hotel and flights, and my amazing and brilliant coach put together a 7.5 week marathon build. The training part was mostly uneventful, with the most stressful part being trying not to get COVID. The fear part of my brain worried that getting COVID at the last minute might be the thing that derailed the dream. Then I realized that by worrying about getting sick I was denying myself the joy and excitement of looking forward to running the race I had dreamed about for years. 

The entire trip to Boston felt surreal. Going to the expo, seeing the finish line that I would cross, and sharing the experience with my family who has supported and encouraged my dream from the start was amazing. I had tears in my eyes when the volunteer handed me my race bib.

I woke up early in the morning on October 11, 2021, put my hand on my heart, and told my inner child, “Today we get to run the Boston Marathon!” Although a bit skeptical, she felt joy and excitement. I crept around the hotel room in the dark trying to get ready without waking my family. In doing so, I caught my pinky toe on the edge of a chair, bending it backwards. I felt the pain in my toe and tears welling up in my eyes. I examined it, iced it for a few minutes, took an Advil and hoped for the best. Although the throbbing was there for a while, by the time I got on the bus to Hopkinton a couple of hours later, it felt fine.

I made my way from the hotel room, to the bag check, to the security line for the busses. At every step of the way I was greeted by excited and helpful volunteers. They let me on a bus a few minutes before my scheduled bus time. I was on my way to Hopkinton! The excitement and anxiety on the bus was palpable. I did my best to tune out, ate my Need for Seed Picky Bar and focused on taking deep breaths and feeling so grateful for the opportunity to run.

Picky Bars = Medal Fuel

After about an hour on the bus, our driver pulled into a lot of empty busses. Other runners on our bus quickly realized that our driver was lost! Some runners were sticking their heads out of the bus window yelling for help and asking for directions while others tried to use their phones to navigate to the start line drop off point. I could feel my anxiety increasing. Although there was a rolling start, the forecasted high was in the 70s. I wanted to start running earlier rather than later in an attempt to avoid overheating. I also really had to use the bathroom! After 30 more minutes of driving around, we eventually made it to the correct drop off point.

I followed the lines of runners a little less than a mile down the road to the start area. I found the “It all starts here” sign. After years of dreaming about it, it was time to actually run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston!

When the finish line is just the beginning

I worked hard for six years to qualify for the Boston marathon, and I dreamt about it for many years prior to that. I followed training plans, fought through injuries, and spent countless hours fantasizing about what it might feel like when I finally got that coveted Boston Qualifying time. The goal seemed so elusive to me, and the target time kept moving further out of reach, but I was relentless. Crossing the finish line would be a huge celebration. I would finally belong. Having proven to myself that my body could run the required pace for 26.2 miles, I would finally accept it. Sure, there was plenty of happiness and celebrating at the finish line when I achieved my goal, but those feelings of not belonging lingered. The body image issues did not magically disappear now that I could call myself a Boston qualifier.

February was still dark. One night the following winter I tossed and turned all night long, wrestling with the demons I thought I had outrun. They were still there, demanding my attention. Hadn’t I done enough? I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I didn’t yet understand that there would be no outrunning the so-called demons. I needed to run towards them and not away from them.

The harder I tried to outrun them and the more I pushed them away, the stronger and louder they became. They demanded my attention until I had no choice but to stop and look them directly in the eye. Upon further examination, I started to see that it was not demons I was pushing away. I had been rejecting parts of myself.

For the past six years I thought I had been running towards a huge goal. But was I ever really running towards anything? Or was I just running away? It is not the Boston Athletic Association where I am seeking belonging, I am seeking to belong to me. To feel safe, accepted and at home in my own body. And so began the real marathon. The one back to myself.

For this journey, however, there is no training plan. No track Tuesdays or structured Thursday tempo runs. No concrete way of measuring progress. My Garmin will not give me any feedback. Rather than my watch, I am having to learn to rely on an internal knowing that I locked away decades ago and was not sure I could still access.

But she is in there, calm, curious and waiting. If I am quiet and still, I can hear her.

Remembering the WHY

Exactly one year ago today, I qualified for the Boston Marathon. Years of hard work, dedication and commitment to a goal had finally paid off. Now (except for that pesky training for another marathon part) I could relax and celebrate all the way up until April 19, 2021 when I would get to cross the finish line on Boylston street! It was like waiting for Christmas! Except that is not what happened at all. In March of 2020, the world and racing came to a screeching halt. Boston 2020 was postponed and then changed to a virtual race and Boston 2021 is an uncertainty. What started as a year of excitement and planning turned into a year of doubt, fear, and anxiety.

I tried to shift my running focus. What virtual race or challenge might excite me? Perhaps this would be a good time for something new or different! Every time I tried to do a hard workout or virtual race I would enter the pain cave and quickly abort the mission. What was I doing? Why was I there? Why did I want to run so hard, to push myself like that? I must admit that I also allowed myself to engage in some self pity, even though I know that worrying about running and racing while the world is burning to the down is downright silly. I remembered all of the times I had pushed myself last year and thought of it as a “waste.” I had to take several steps back because I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I asked myself, what is your WHY? Yes, qualifying for and running Boston is a great running goal, but is that really the WHY? Is that what gets you out the door every morning? The answer, of course, is a resounding no.

I believe that running goals are two dimensional. There is the lowercase why that gets you to do a specific workout (ie, “I will do this tempo run because I am training for a half marathon with a certain time goal.”) and then there is the all-caps WHY. This is the WHY that gets you out the door every morning, the WHY that helps you get through the pain cave. The lowercase why might be able to help you somewhat in the pain cave, but you need the uppercase WHY to dominate it. The uppercase WHY is what keeps you going day after day, year after year, long after that race you trained for is over.

I love this Lauren Fleshman quote, and it so eloquently captures my WHY.

“The more I pushed myself in running, the more I discovered the weaknesses of my mind. These were the same dragons lurking in my life. To compete is to voluntarily come into contact with your dragons so you can learn to slay them.” ~Lauren Fleshman

I struggle with all sorts of weaknesses in my mind, including self-doubt and impostor syndrome. There is no room for thoughts like that when you are trying to execute a difficult workout. The hard runs give me a playing field upon which I can learn to navigate my mental demons and come out triumphantly. If I can beat them on the track, I can beat them in other places, too.

Running without races on the horizon has also reminded me that I love running just for the sake of running. Running is how I connect with nature and my sisters in sport – many of whom I am missing dearly since we have not been training together for most of the year. It really is easier to stay motivated when you are training with your friends! Running is an escape from the realities of 2020, the one thing that has felt somewhat “normal” during an anything but normal year.

Finally, this year has been a stark reminder to be mindful of the things I can control and the things I cannot control. I can’t control Covid, I can’t control whether there will be a Boston 2021, and I can’t control whether my qualifying time at CIM will be good enough to get me there. Just like I can’t control the weather on race day or the outcome of a race on any other year. I can, however, control the work I continue to put in each day and my attitude. 

I believe that I will cross the finish line on Boylston Street. I don’t know if it will be in 2021, 2022, or 2026. What I do know is that I will continue to look for joy in the journey and in doing so will continue to learn more about myself. It turns out it was never about chasing the unicorn or catching the unicorn. It was about becoming the unicorn.

Catching the Unicorn! My 2019 California International Marathon Race Report

I ran my first California International Marathon (CIM) on December 4, 2016. I had been running on pace to break four hours, but also running with a questionable femur. Things had been going well, but with less than 5k to go, I felt a pain in my leg that I could not run through. I stopped to stretch it and was not able to start running again. By the final mile, I could barely walk. I hobbled my way to the finish line, limping over it in 4:22. I received some crutches and a femoral stress reaction diagnosis to go along with my medal, and I could not ski all winter. It was my second stress reaction diagnosis of the year, and my second marathon (of the five I had completed) that had ended with crutches, which left me wondering if my body just could not handle the distance.

In spite of my broken, depressed, and defeated state, I still had my dream of running Boston. I had joined the Boise Betties in 2014 when my friend Gretchen started this coached women’s running group in hopes that I would become a faster and better runner. When I told her that I wanted to run Boston one day and she told me it was possible, I didn’t really believe her. I thought that she was just being nice and encouraging, as any good coach would be. I didn’t tell other people that I wanted to run Boston because I thought they might look at me as if I had just told them I wanted to build a rocket ship and fly to the moon. However, slowly, over the years, I began to admit to people, one by one, and then to everyone, that this was my goal. Someday. I would inch towards a place where it would seem somewhat attainable, but then the qualifying times would get harder. It is a moving target.

There was also the issue of my brokenness and inability to run a marathon. Or at least that is the story I was telling myself. In 2018 at Onward Shay Boise Marathon, I was finally able to execute a marathon properly and break four hours. It took me seven marathons to run one well. After seven marathons, I finally felt like I had the capacity to run the distance. Now I had to convince myself that I could run a Boston qualifying time. It didn’t matter how much my coach believed in me. If I didn’t believe that I could do it, it wasn’t going to happen.

Ever since my heartbreaking run at CIM in 2016, I dreamt about going back in 2019 to run a Boston qualifying time. I knew the course. I knew what the finish line looked like. I pictured the last 5k, except instead of limping the last 5k I pictured feeling strong during those miles. I had the 2016 poster in front of my treadmill with a Boston 26.2 sign right in front of it.

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View from my treadmill for the past three years

The week before CIM 2019, I was not in a good headspace. My anxiety was high (partly seasonal, partly due to the race), I was stressed out about the weather (the forecast included lots of rain and wind), and I wasn’t sleeping well. At one point during the week, I was standing in the kitchen in tears telling my husband that I really needed my mind to participate in this run and I wasn’t sure how to get it on board. I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on mental training in a last ditch effort to fine tune my brain game. I picked up a few tips from a book called The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion (the title really spoke to me!), and I’d recommend it.

I got a migraine the day I flew to Sacramento and it never completely went away before the race. I almost gave up on my goal and thought “well, I can try again in June.” But I also remembered how hard I had worked, all the money I was spending on travel, all the time spent away from my family for training and to race, and all the extra work my husband does so that I can train for and run marathons. And then I recommitted to my goal. Or at least leaving it all out there. If I left it all out on the course and didn’t give up on myself when it got hard, I would consider the race a success.

1st 10 miles – Grateful

I thought about how thankful I was just to be there, just to make it to the start line with a healthy body and the fitness to go after a big goal. As my friend Sarah reminded me, “it is a gift.” I thought of my coach and family who were instrumental in getting me there, my training partner Amber who was also running, and anyone who had run miles with me to help me through this training cycle. I thought of all of the people tracking me and cheering me on. By miles 3-5 I started wondering if I was going to get tired too early. I went back to feeling grateful. “Run with joy,” I thought. “This could be IT. This could be THE run. Enjoy EVERY step. Run like you never want it to end.” At mile 8 I definitely was worried I was too tired for that point in the race and I started to tell myself that it wasn’t going to be my day. I got scared. Then I remembered what my coach had told me before my marathon last year. “Don’t get scared if it starts to feel too hard.” I also identified it as “just a thought,” (a tip I got from The Brave Athlete!) and tried not to attach too much meaning to it, to let it float on by. I kept running, tried to notice other things around me, and soon forgot about it. I eventually saw the 3:45 pace group ahead of me and felt reassured that I had not gone out too fast.

2nd 10 miles – Grind it out

Miles 13-16 had a headwind. After a brief panic, I thought to myself “ok you have done this before” and remembered my marathon last year with the headwind. I also thought about how unlike my marathon last year there were all of these people to help block the wind. I tried to find a group to run behind and also reminded myself we’d be turning in a few miles.

I stayed behind the 3:45 group and noticed that the pace felt relaxed. I thought “oh my gosh I am almost at mile 17 and I feel GOOD!” and then I remembered that I was only at mile 17 and never to get excited during a marathon at any point until you see the finish line. But I did allow myself to feel THANKFUL that I was feeling good at that point and just kept running. I also saw a spectator dressed as Santa on the sidelines cheering and told him I had been good and could I please have a PR. I think he heard me.

I reminded myself that the race had not started yet.

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CIM spectators are awesome! I saw this gentleman at least twice on the course and he brought a big smile to my face. Thank you, sir!

Last 10k – Grit

At mile 20 I told myself, “OK, this is the race. This is where it starts. 10k to Boston.” I had my Believe journal sitting in my hotel room which contained entries of the 1500 miles I have run this year in preparation for this race. I just had this 10k to go. And there were all of these people around to support and encourage me. I looked at my watch and knew I was about where my coach and I talked about me being at the 20 mile marker. I just had to hang on. It’s a big request for the last 10k of a marathon, but there was a lot on the line.

After one of the aid stations I kind of naturally went ahead of the 3:45 group and I just kept going. Once I passed them I was running a little scared because I felt like if they passed me it would be mentally defeating. I had no idea how far behind me they were, but I figured they were just a tad behind me because I could still hear the crowd yelling “3:45!!!” at the pace group as they saw the sign that one of the pacers was carrying. Every mile for the last 10k I told myself “OK, just one more mile like that. Just one more 8:30.” I said out loud, “BOSTON.” I told myself, “You have worked SO hard for this. Do NOT lose this race in the last 5k.” I told myself that I had done track workouts or tempo runs during this training cycle that were harder than this. I vividly remembered the last time I was at the end of that course and could barely walk. To be able to run strong down those streets was such sweet redemption. I can’t even describe the feeling. The last mile I looked at my watch and knew I could make it in under 3:45. I told myself “this is your victory lap!” I had the *intention* of speeding up and it sure felt like I was, and I was picking people off, but in reality I was just hanging on to my pace. Which at the end of the marathon, I will take! I ran down those last blocks before you make the two turns towards the finish wanting to cry. I felt so much emotion, but I was still running my heart out and trying not to feel all of the emotions yet because I still had to make it to the finish line. When I turned and saw that finish line, it was amazing. Since I was there in 2016, I have imagined going back to CIM and doing this. I have visualized this moment SO. MANY. TIMES. Every track workout during this training cycle that was hard, I visualized turning the corner and running towards that finish line victoriously. I would look at the poster in front of my treadmill during treadmill runs and picture it. For months and weeks before the race, I would lie in bed and night and visualize it. AND IT WAS FINALLY HAPPENING. My coach was right. If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, your body can achieve it.

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When the moment you have dreamed of for years becomes a reality

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The best sound!

 

The Girl in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Growing up I was never an athlete. I was usually picked last in gym class, unless my friend Katie was the team captain and would take pity on me. (Thanks, Katie!) I played field hockey for a season, but spent most of the time on the bench. During adolescence, I hated my body and abused it through vicious cycles of bingeing and purging. In early adulthood, I discovered distance running and gradually learned that if I treated my body well and fueled it right it could do some cool things. I was strong, I was capable. My body could run long distances. It could make babies and birth them. If I gave my body the respect it deserved, it would perform well in return.

In 2005, my friend Laurie convinced me to run my first marathon, the Chicago Marathon. Sometime during the training cycle I looked up the Boston qualifying times out of sheer curiosity. They seemed totally and completely unattainable. I remember thinking that if I was still running in my 60s, I might have a chance of getting in. Fast forward to 2014. My friend Gretchen, a fellow mom I knew from preschool, mentioned that she was thinking of starting a coached women’s running group. I sheepishly asked if I might be able to join, not knowing if such a group would include middle of the pack runners like myself. Fortunately, the group was for all types of runners. All paces, all ages, all distances.

I joined. I got up early. Really early. In all sorts of weather. I began doing more structured speed workouts. I committed. I got injured. I got back up. I recommitted. I kept going. And I kept this idea of Boston in the back of my head. Maybe? Could it be possible? Someday? I shared my goal with my coach and my family, but not many other people. I didn’t want to share with too many people because a) I didn’t want for them to think my goal was ridiculous and unattainable, and b) what if I tried and failed? Also the qualifying times and accepted qualifying times kept getting harder so that when the goal might seem within reach, the goalposts would move further away.

As I told more and more people, I realized that those around me (at least the ones that matter) believe in me and support me, but the only person that needs to believe that I can reach this goal is ME. My coach believed in me from the very beginning. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter how much she believes in me. If I don’t believe in myself, I cannot get there. As for the failure part, if I am not willing to risk the failure, I can’t get to the triumph. Big goals come with big rewards, but they also come with risk.

On December 8, I am going to chase that big goal. After years of hard work, many training cycles, and years of thinking “maybe someday, but not today,” that someday is now.

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Dear Santa, I’ve been good this year

Jack and Jill went down the hill

I took a quick trip to North Bend, Washington this weekend to run the Jack and Jill half marathon. There are several marathons on this rail trail course and I wanted to run the half to see if I might be interested in doing the full. Having done just a moderate amount of training since my half in May, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was also going into the race with a migraine and it was 70 degrees with 70 percent humidity. So there was that. But it was beautiful!

The course is a net downhill and I had no idea how to adjust my pace to compensate for that, so I just ran by feel. My first few miles were about 8 seconds under my recent half marathon pace and that felt comfortable, so I just decided to roll with it. I also had no idea if some of the miles were more downhill than others, which is another reason why I wasn’t overly focused on my pace. Just as the Famous Potato Half I ran in May, this one also started to feel hard around the 8ish mile mark. I reminded myself that the pain cave was coming and that when I saw it I was going to say YES to it and run directly into it.

I refused to let the negative voices dominate, pushed myself as hard as I could on the day, and surprised myself with both a PR and an age group win! Up next: CIM!

JJ Half

Famous Potato Half: Say yes to the pain cave

Since Boise races are notoriously inaccurate and I had heard this course was long (spoiler: it was), I did not go into this race with a time goal in mind, only an average pace goal. I have found that I do better with average pace goals anyway, as it helps me focus on the process and run the mile that I am in.

The start of this race was a little hectic. It was delayed due to the fact that not all of the busses had arrived. The port-a-potty lines were long. I was standing in line with my friend Laurie when she pointed out to me that I really needed to calm down. I know that my pre-race anxiety is an issue and one that I need to get under control in order to keep my heart rate low at the start of races, but what I did not know is that it is an issue that is apparent to those around me. I thought I hid it well. I guess not. While we were still in line, the MC suddenly announced, “ok, everyone is here, let’s start!” Laurie was kind enough to offer to drop off my bag at the gear check for me and I ran off to the start line, trying my best to get a place at least in the middle of the pack. This was not the best way to begin a race.

I plodded along on pace and did fine until about the 7th or 8th mile, when it started to feel hard, as it typically does in a half marathon. Around mile 10, things really started to feel awful. Also around mile 10, the race goes by the finish line and then loops around the last 5k. I do not like races that give you a preview of the finish before you finish.

The 10 mile mark of this race also marked the entrance to the pain cave, and it was a place I did not want to go. I was afraid of the discomfort, fearful of failing, so I let the negativity creep in. “You could just stop right here,” I thought. “Just step off the course right here and this all stops. All of it. The pain, the agony. You don’t have to do this. Why are you doing this?” I thought about stopping. Then I wondered what I would say to my kids at home. That I stopped because it was hard? That I didn’t know if I could stay on pace the last 5k? That I didn’t even try? No, that wasn’t acceptable. As in life when things get hard, we must stay the course and keep going. One step at a time. Because the way out is forward. So I moved forward. Slowly, painfully, up the hill, past my teammates and coach who were so kindly cheering but who I can only remember in a blur because I was so deep in the pain cave, and towards the finish line.

FP Mile 10

In the pain cave. Unhappy. (Photo @boisebetties)

Although it felt like I had slowed exponentially in the last 5k, I had really only slowed down one, maybe two seconds per mile, and when I crossed the finish I had met my average goal pace.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t fight the pain cave. Say yes.
  2. The only way to get to the good stuff on the other side of the pain cave is to run through the pain cave.
  3. Keep going. Always keep going.

 

 

FP Finish

Outside of the pain cave with giant potato. Much better.

Pocket Bikes

2018 was a banner year for our family. My father in law passed away from pancreatic cancer in May. Exactly one week later my brother-in-law was diagnosed with a rare stage 4 duodenal carcenoma. In between all of this my husband had his own cancer scare which included major surgery and several months of rehabilitation. And I learned that a close family member had been keeping a fairly large secret for a significant amount of time, resulting in some anger, resentment, and a breakdown in trust. It was a lot to process in one year. I am still processing it.

We lost my brother-in-law on January 22, 2019, just eight months after his diagnosis and eight months after we lost my father-in-law. For so long, I have felt like this wasn’t my grief. This grief belongs to other people. My husband, my sister-in-law, my niece and nephews, my children. My role was to support. I would cry quietly, and away from others. And while it is true that it has been incredibly important for me to support my husband during this time, it is also true that my grief is legitimate. I have tried, however, to “dump out” and am fortunate to have some friends who have been willing to listen to the depressing saga that has been my life over the past year. These same friends are now having to listen to me talk nonstop about Virginia basketball. (Did you hear we won a national title?!?! Sorry not sorry.)

Growing up, I looked up to my older cousins and I often wanted an older brother. When I married my husband, I got one. Our personalities were very different. He thought I was too uptight and needed to take more chances. I thought he needed to think things through more before taking big risks. We were both probably right. He was an attorney by training, but like many of us, he was always looking for a way out.

John was a dreamer with big ideas, and he went after his dreams with fervor. A fellow large law firm refugee, he didn’t like being tied to an office job. Some of that was because he loved spending time with his family. Some of it was because he didn’t like being told what to do. That’s pretty prevalent among the McCalls. I think my kids got that gene.

From supplements to geode kiosks in the mall, there was always a fantastic business opportunity awaiting. One year he imported pocket bikes and tried to convince me to do it with him and sell them under my eBay account. He got so mad at me when I refused to buy thousands of pocket bikes from China and resell them on ebay because obviously it was going to be such a big money maker. I am sure I missed a big opportunity to retire from the law there. I still laugh about it.

John loved his kids more than anything. He was constantly singing their praises, going to all of their sporting events, and talking about how he was raising three Olympic athletes. His hands on and loving parenting style was a huge positive influence on my husband. As many fathers in the 1970s, their dad was not a hands on dad. Watching his brother parent with such joy and love paved a path for my husband and gave him the confidence that he too could be a good dad and do things differently than his own father had done. And, indeed, he is a wonderful father too.

My grief is certainly different than my husbands’, than my sister-in-law’s, than my niece’s or nephews’, but it is mine. I feel it when I hear certain songs. When I hang up my visor after a run. When my husband makes smiles in the same way his brother did. And when I see or think of a pocket bike or some other half-baked idea, I am reminded of the fact that life is too short to stay in your comfort zone.

Costa Rica 070

Boise Spring Run 5k

My father-in-law used to say that even a blind squirrel catches an acorn every now and again. And so, too, even a middle of the pack runner can win a 5k every now and again. I ran the Boise Spring Run 5k as a fitness test. The field was small and none of my teammates were running, which is precisely why I was able to place first overall female. The other reason is that something happened to the woman ahead of me. She either got lost or went to the bathroom or decided that she wanted to go for coffee or something?! There was a super fastie woman in front of me that I had no chance of catching who somehow ran across the finish line several minutes after me and I never passed her. So I don’t know what happened there. But somehow I crossed the finish line first. And it would have been a PR if the course had been measured accurately, but since this is Boise and we don’t have accurately measured courses, I can’t claim this one. This course was too short. But I did get a prize bag and I got to tell my kids that I won a race. They always ask me if I won and I always tell them, “No, I am not trying to win, I am just out there to have FUN!”, but this time I actually got to say, “Yes, I won! The blind squirrel caught an acorn!”

Boise Spring Run 2019