My Boston Marathon story is simple. All I had to do was run 26.2 miles. Oh, and be fast!
I grew up in the Alabama Children’s Home in Troy. According to statistics and the high school guidance counselor, I was not exactly “going places.” But as a teen, I was introduced to running by a houseparent, Mr. Grey. And that made all the difference. I have a type-A personality, and I used running as a way of escaping imperfections that plagued my life. In college, I ran for my sorority in Greek Week, and ran the track when I couldn’t sleep. Which was a lot.
After college graduation, I married a football coach and had two children. I was teaching and coaching myself and before I knew it, no more 5k racing for me. I retired my shoes and dreams so that their dreams could live.
In 2000, we moved to the Shoals area. Eventually I began to run again. Running for stress, heartache, habit, and any other reason. I quickly re-entered the running circle, and was approached by some local runners training for a marathon. They asked me to join their group. I ran my first marathon in Memphis, Tennessee. That was about nine years ago. I was instantly addicted to endurance running.
I learned if I wanted to run Boston, I had to first run a qualifier. Which meant I had to be fast. In 2008, I ran in the Birmingham Mercedes marathon. I did not stop, NOT even for water. I ran as fast as I could, and qualified for Boston with mere minutes to spare. (Although my PR was in Tupelo with a 3:38, it was not a qualifier.) I had a goal to run the Boston at the age of forty. In 2010, and at the age of thirty-nine, this girl got to run “The Big One!” I was so excited.
A local runner, Tanya Cullman was along side of me at the start. We planned to run it together. She became ill, and before I knew it, I was running without a security blanket. I am not a fan of crowds. Finding myself surrounded by thousands of other runners and a massive crowd of spectators was frightening. By mile nine I developed a blister on my foot. To compensate, I shifted my running technique. The Boston hills proved so challenging that by mile ten I had a busted heel. I was afraid an injury like that might occur. I suffer from Crohn’s disease. This medical condition went untreated for many years. As a result, I developed severe osteoarthritis. My orthopedic physician ordered me to end running altogether, especially after my left foot reconstruction. This surgery made it impossible for me to bend my foot. A large part of my hip bone was removed and fused to other bones in the arch. This made running almost impossible. Although the pain was constant, I continued running. In a four year period, participating in this sport left me with approximately fifteen broken bones. Most fractures were in my feet, but my shins and sacrum were cracked as well. Yet, I continued.
Running was my therapy and drug of choice. No Prozac needed. I crossed the finish line in Boston and could barely walk. I found out the next day that I had actually qualified again! The following week I was in a bright pink cast for six long months. I had no regrets. It was the Boston. How could I not finish? I did not care that a doctor told me that I could never run. I did not care that I had a disease that steered me “running” to a bathroom. I did not mind that I came from an environment that predicted failure. I only cared about proving to myself that a dream is not under an eye lid in deep sleep. A dream is the magic we give ourselves. No glitter needed. It is called belief!
What running did for me had nothing to do with athletic ability. The sound of the rubber meeting the road sends an instant message to my brain. You are capable! You are worthy! You are an inspiration, and you are deserving!
I am anything and everything because I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. May all glory and honor be his.
Mary Elaine Shirah
April 19, 2010
Age – 41
Bib # 17814