My Boston story begins in 2008 when I ran my first marathon, although the description “run” is probably an over simplification: I ran, walked, hobbled, limped, and finally finished in 4:46. I could have checked marathons off my bucket list and moved on to something else, but I was annoyed with myself.
I decided to do it again and this time do it right. I bought running books and poured through the Internet for advice. I found an online running log run by a 2:30 marathoner who would critique your training if you asked, and I did. He looked at my training, and my times for shorter races, and he said if I greatly increased my mileage, I had the speed to qualify for Boston.
I’d never seriously considered going for a BQ before. I didn’t think I was fast enough in my late 40s. But he dangled that carrot in front of me and I was all in from there. Second marathon was 73 minutes faster than my first, and just three minutes over a BQ. One year later, in the same race and with a friendly age-group bump, I got my BQ for 2011. But now I had to wait 16 months to actually run Boston.
In the meantime, I’d found an online group of people just as obsessed with a little race in eastern Massachusetts as I was. We traded encouragement, tips, commiseration, ideas on how to find a cheap(er) hotel room, and how to get around Boston. And we planned to get together there. So I spent the time getting ready to run, and getting ready to meet all these crazies. And negotiating the BAA servers on that crazy Monday when the 2011 race filled up in eight hours. Fortunately I was off work that day and had time to fool around with the registration process until I finally got around the balky servers and got in.
I got to Boston and met with my online friends as planned, which was exceptionally fun. Patriots Day 2011 dawned cool with a tailwind (this was the year Geoffrey Mutai ran 2:03:02). I was in the best shape of my life and I had decided I was going to go for a seven minute PR of 3:25. Dumb, dumb. I could have run a 3:30 and gotten another BQ, but that five minutes of greed cost me: I bonked in Newton. Even with the bonk, I still managed a 3:37, but my best training cycle ever had gone to waste.
I kept trying to re-qualify for 2012, and 2013, and 2014; but the tougher standards and some life issues kept getting in the way. However, a lot of my friends thought I was going anyway. I was at work when the bombs went off in 2013, and my cellphone seemed to be detonating as well, with repeated messages: “I heard there was a bomb. Are you OK?” I replied I was at work and very much OK, then I started trying to track down friends who I knew were there, which took a few hours.
And I decided I had to be in Boston for 2014, no matter what. Since a BQ still wasn’t in the cards, that left the possibility of a charity entry. I found a charity and started raising money. Asking people for money (or anything else) does not come naturally to me, and it was a struggle, but I got a lot of help from some very good friends who helped me get outside my comfort zone. I wound up contributing quite a bit of my own money to the process, and finally reached the fundraising goal. I was in!
My training had suffered with the lost time spent raising money, but, once again, I thought I was in better shape than I really was. Patriots Day 2014 had started out frosty, but by the time the fourth wave got going, it was warm and getting warmer. And I pretty much slow-roasted for the next five hours. Twice volunteers acted like they wanted to pull me off the course, and I probably should have let them, but I was not going to DNF: Not in this race on this day after what had happened on Boylston a year before. I finally staggered across the line and had a matched set of Boston medals.
I’ll keep trying to qualify and go back to Boston. Maybe I’ll do another charity entry some year if I can’t get my times back down. But that carrot Sasha dangled in front of me in 2008 is still as attractive as ever — running in the world’s greatest marathon. And I’m still friends with that far-flung group of people who love this race as much as I do.
Fort Smith, Arkansas