“The sheer exhilaration I felt at the finish line will never be topped” – Amy Cole (April 18, 2011)

Running, for the longest time, was a casual thing for me: a hobby really, and nothing I thought would ever amount to much in my life. Certainly not something that would eventually lead me to a great city in the Northeast where accomplished runners gather every year for the most celebrated marathon in the world.

My Boston journey began back in 2009. Actually, if you want to go back even further, my running career began back in 2002 with my first 5Ks after a few months of goofing around on treadmills at the gym.

I built up stamina enough to run the local Komen Race for the Cure and actually got a finisher’s medal which was awarded to the first 400 finishers (our race is usually 40,000 strong). Once they put that medal around my neck at the finish line – and I managed to NOT throw up on the volunteer – I was HOOKED. This ‘exercise’ thing was a new venture for me, having spent much of my life as a couch potato (albeit a skinny one).
In 2007, I ran my first full marathon, Little Rock, and finished in 4:07, not terrible for a first timer. But once I crossed that finish line and felt like collapsing in a heap of sweat and exhaustion, I realized I was NOT the marathon type and would stick with halves and shorter distances. That is, until I later realized my friend Kristen had qualified and run Boston. That’s when my competitive streak reared its ugly head. I asked myself “How can SHE qualify for Boston? I run just as fast as she does! What’s so great about her?” [Note: this is the same speech I gave myself years before when I went from running one mile to running 5Ks, then going up from 5Ks to half marathons… It’s either a character flaw or the best thing about my personality, or something in between!]

Once I decided to put the “I want to BQ” goggles on, there was no stopping me. I decided I needed to be accountable to someone, someone with a lot more experience than me at distance running. Leah Thorvilson is a friend of mine on Facebook (she is a local world class runner, an Olympic Trials Marathoner, living here in Little Rock) who posted on her page that Kenneth Williams is a running coach who helps folks BQ. I immediately contacted Kenneth and he had me fill out a million page questionnaire (one of the questions was something like “Do you have a family? If so, do you mind NOT seeing that family for a while?”). Once I was accepted into this ‘in’ crowd of trainees, Kenneth sent me what appeared to be an Excel spreadsheet for slow torture; i.e., run as much as you can for months at a stretch.

Several months and a few injuries later, I made my way to the 2009 Memphis marathon, where (I’ll spare you the gory details) I eked out a 3:38 finish time. I BQ’d right under the wire! I had to wait until 2011 to attend Boston, since the 2010 race was already full.

The day in October 2010 when registration was opened for Boston, I was at my computer at home, qualifying time in hand, and ready to rock n’ roll. I filled out that online form faster than lightning (it helps working in the web design industry; I fill out online forms frequently during the day). That was the year that registration crashed their servers and for 2010 they changed the rules for qualifying and registering. Phew! Got in right under the wire.

The months leading up to the race I was giddy- telling everyone where I was going on my “vacation” in the spring with my family. I saved up money to specifically spend at the Expo on race swag. I loved getting the “confirmation notices” in the mail with the Boston logo on them. I posted them to Facebook proudly and each time I could barely believe those things were addressed to ME.

Fast forward another six months and, finally, I was Boston Bound.

This was my first trip to Boston so we wanted to make the most of it. We had plans to stay almost a week. First of all…the WIND. WOW! So cold! Living in Arkansas my entire life, April in Boston was a frigid wake-up call. I had only brought a denim jacket with me, so once I picked up my official race jacket from the Bill Rodgers Running Center, I was a happy camper. The Expo was fantastic, and I got pictures taken with me holding my race number and shopping around the booths. I went to dinner at Legal Seafood the night before the race with Koach and his other trainees, made a few friends and ate some great seafood.

My nerves on race morning were working overtime! I woke up very early to catch the T to get to the bus pickup. Standing in line proved VERY cold and not having thawed completely from the history tour the day before (mental note, don’t go on a walking tour of a big city the day before a marathon). I spoke with other type A personalities while in line and heard THEIR Boston stories (where did you qualify? What was your time?), and even spoke with some of the charity runners who were reticent to share how they got to Boston for fear of being snubbed.

After over an hour of being in line for the bus, it was time to hop on board! I spoke with my seat mate whose qualifying time was 20 minutes faster than mine (she was also younger, never had a kid and BQ’d in Philly, a flat course….did I mention I’m competitive?). I was blown away by how smart, funny and friendly almost everyone was before the race! Doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, professors, scientists; they were all just happy to be there like I was. I was in the minority having never run the race before and I got lots of advice about running the course (‘Don’t go out too fast!’ was a popular refrain).

The grassy area at the high school in Hopkinton was sunny and of course, WINDY. The port-a-potty lines were long but again, friendly. Finally they gave the announcement “time to get to your corral!”

The crush of athletic bodies heading to the busses was, I’m sure, a sight to behold. People were stripping off long sleeves and pants while walking and trying to hang onto phones, water bottles and pin on their bibs. I finally got to my bus and tossed my bag into the capable hands of a volunteer (God bless those folks!). I was giddy and chatting with strangers all the way to the start line. It was at this point the sun was out and I realized I should have put on sunscreen.

Standing at the start in the crowd of type “A” personalities was fun and exhilarating. I was surprised at how small a town Hopkinton really is (and how narrow the roads are!).

When the starting line guy finally gave us the “go” light, we were off! It was so exciting! I remember the crowds of people already lined up to cheer us on. The first few miles were a blur of small town New England. It was surprising to me the amount of downhill that was involved in those first few miles. I do recall warming up pretty early on and shedding my gloves at mile 2. About mile 8, I wished I had some music as I was running alongside folks who didn’t really chat much or already had their own cohorts running next to them. Mainly in the first half of the race I was antsy to get to Wellesley College! I heard the screams before I saw the crowd. It was so much fun; I think my smile was etched onto my face during that entire stretch of road.

Speaking of roads, I was glad I was looking down for much of the race trying to dodge tossed cups (Oh, those messy water stops!), railroad tracks and mainly other runners. I was surprised also at the lack of race etiquette, having almost been spit on by accident by the runners ahead of me most of the race.

By the halfway point, I knew the hills were a-comin’. I had been warned by Koach that the hills started at about mile 16 and didn’t really stop. I DO remember finally making it to Heartbreak Hill. I saw the giant heart on the ground in chalk and I was irked that the cheers weren’t heartier. So I decided to pump up the crowd and waved my hands in the air and said ‘come on!’ and THAT got them going! I had a cheering section all the way up that beast of a hill. It was fantastic. The crowd support itself was superb during the entire race, and as Koach said after the race “Amy, I’ve never in my life eaten so many oranges out of so many grubby little hands.” I had brought Fig Newtons with me and that sustained my energy during the entire route. But I have to admit I did sneak an orange in at about mile 19.

Once we were at about mile 22 I realized the end was near. My feet were hurting as they always do during a marathon (at least for me), but the energy of the crowd was contagious. The closer we got to Boston’s downtown, the more energy I felt. The crowds got bigger and bigger and finally at mile 25 I knew I had energy to really start RUNNING. The other women (most near me at this point were women) really piled on the speed and when I glanced at my Garmin I saw I was running a sub 7 minute mile the last half mile. We sprinted into the home stretch, rounded the corner and I saw that FINISH LINE. Wow. I still get chills thinking about it. The roar of the crowd, the announcer calling out names, the clock with the time on it, and the sheer exhilaration I felt when crossing the finish line at Boston 2011 will never be topped. I felt like a true athlete, a celebrity and it was my one tiny moment in life where I can honestly say I OWNED the world.

In 2011, the temperature on race day was in the mid 50s and we had a rare tailwind so record setting times were posted that day. It wasn’t a PR for me, but I did manage to finish in 3:45 which technically, that year, qualified me to run Boston again.

After I crossed the finish line and they put that medal on my neck I thought my smile would crack my face in two. I took a photo of me grinning like an idiot and even took a picture of the exhausted dudes behind me near the massive water table.

They kept us moving along but I was fine with that, not wanting to stop moving until my sore feet could properly be released out of my sweaty Mizunos.

I meandered to the buses and proceeded to wait on my second marathon- waiting for my bag to be found. I stood there for literally 20 minutes waiting for them to find my dry bag on the bus. My feet were already tired and after this point I was close to collapsing from exhaustion. Finally they found my bag and I called my husband who gathered up the family (kid, mother and mother in law). I got some good pictures of my family smiling happily for me amongst the other finishers and families in downtown Boston.

I won’t go into too much detail about the Subway ride back to the hotel (or the HORRID airplane ride/fiasco getting back to Little Rock – nothing like being stuck on a plane for nine hours with no food) since anything negative about the experience pales in comparison to the sheer joy for a non-‘athlete’ like me to have run the Boston marathon.

Amy Cole
Little Rock, Arkansas

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