For the rest of my earthly life I can say I am a Boston Marathon finisher

After six months of fundraising and training, the time finally arrived to make my way to the Bay State to run the 119th Boston Marathon. Training for this marathon wasn’t easy. I fought a tight hamstring the whole training period and was worried how it would feel the day of the race. Would I be able to run? Would I have to walk more than I wanted? But I kept telling myself I am running this race in memory of my Dad and he went through a lot with his liver transplants and didn’t let them stand in the way of his running. So, I resolved to not let a tight hamstring dampen my spirits. Thanks, Dad, for showing me what perseverance is.

Arriving in Boston, my husband and I could feel the energy in the air. After we checked into our hotel, we made our way to the expo. A race expo is a place runners pick up their bib number, chip, race shirt and goodies. It is also a place where vendors sell their wares. Wow, this one is huge and very overwhelming. Eventually we found where to pick up my bib number. The volunteer thanked me for being a charity runner and asked me where I was from. I showed him my confirmation and he handed me my packet. Immediately, I got tears in my eyes. What was once a dream was now becoming a reality.

Interviewed by Runners World!
Interviewed by Runners World!

The next day, we went on a tour of the marathon course. We were bused out to the start line in Hopkinton and made our way back to Boston with our tour guide telling us about various points of interest along the course. After the tour we decided to do a little sightseeing. I had heard of a newly opened store, The Boston Marathon Adidas Runbase, an epicenter for runners. While at the store I was looking at some Boston Marathon jackets from the past when a gentleman asked me if I was running the marathon. I politely answered “Yes.” He introduced himself and asked if he could interview me. After answering a few questions about running the marathon, he thanked me and said, “It will be on the Runners World website later today.”  WHAT???  How cool is that!  (Here is the link to the Runners World site)

The day before the marathon, I attended a team breakfast with my American Liver Foundation’s Run for Research Team members. Afterwards, my husband and I decided to walk part of the Freedom Trail. In retrospect this probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do the day before a marathon. However, there is a lot of history in Boston. That evening we went to the marathon pasta dinner.

April 20, 2015 – Marathon Day. I got up bright and early to load the team bus at 6:30 a.m. We drove out to Hopkinton to wait until our start time of 11:15 a.m. Finally, at 11:10 a.m. my teammates and I started making our way to the start line. The butterflies have woken in my stomach and are fluttering amuck. Realization kicks in I am about to begin the Boston Marathon journey I had dreamed about and spent six months training for!  5… 4… 3… 2…1… BOOM, we are off.

boston1The weather this particular day wasn’t expected to be very kind to us runners. It was all the weathermen could talk about for the last couple of days. While the temperature was forecasted to be in the 50’s, the closer we would get to Boston, the more the winds would pick up with gusts of up to 35 mph, plus rain. This only added to my nerves. However, I remembered the 2014 Little Rock Marathon. At the start the temperature was in the 50’s and as the morning progressed, the temperature dropped 15 degrees with rain and approaching storms threatening lightening. Or the severe thunderstorm that rolled in during the 2010 Nashville Marathon. Eventually, I decided to deal with the weather when it happened and not stress about it beforehand. Undoubtedly, all the stress regarding the weather, my hamstring, and the excitement of the race would only end up affecting my stomach after the first mile. I suffered for the next four to five miles and the feeling began to take its toll on me mentally. I had a pretty good pace going and this was only slowing me down. At that point, I reminded myself I was there to enjoy the race, not race it. I then let go of the stress, relaxed, and began to enjoy the race and all it stood for.

Every year the Boston Marathon is run on Patriot’s Day, a special Massachusetts holiday commemorating the opening battle of the American Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. In Boston, whether one runs or not, the marathon is a treasured race. Approximately one million people will flock to the course to support the runners. I can honestly say I do not remember a single stretch of the race where there wasn’t someone standing along the course.

Before we loaded the team bus earlier that morning, some of us put our names on duct tape which we then put on our shirts in hopes of someone calling out our name. And boy did they ever! Being the polite southern lady I am, I acknowledged everyone who called out my name by giving a slight wave. One time, I left my hand up a little longer and then the next person called my name, then the next and then the next. Oh wow, the power! I felt like a rock star. I even had a young man at Boston College yell that he loved me. At that moment, I thought it was kind of weird. However, the second time it happened, I yelled back “I love you, too!.” I can honestly say I have never enjoyed a race before like this, nor will I probably ever again.

boston2The miles go by and I alternated running and walking just like I had trained all those months. Sadly though, I had not trained for 15 miles of down hills. Uphill, no problem, I trained on hills. But 15 miles of downhill is a different beast and it was catching up with me. I was using muscles that weren’t use to being worked this much, and my legs began hurting and cramping around mile 22. Oh, how my legs hurt with every step I took. However, the crowds kept pushing me. Man, where is that finish line? To keep my mind off of how bad my legs hurt, I began to think about my Dad and all the struggles he had gone through his entire life with his health. I visualized the finish line and what a feeling it will be to cross it. I thought about all the elite runners and Olympians who had run the same course I was running right then. Right foot, left foot, keep going. Finally in the distance, I see the Citgo sign marking one mile to go. One mile left in my Boston Marathon. One mile and all of this will be behind me. One mile and I will be a Boston Marathon finisher. One mile.

Mile 26, Mass Ave, the crowds are so loud. I make the iconic right turn on Hereford Street. One turn left up ahead, a left on Boylston Street, and my journey will be complete. I’m smiling bigger than I had all weekend. My emotions all at once gather right in the middle of my throat. I can’t breathe. I try to contain myself and not look like a blubbering mess running down the street, so I close my eyes. The crowds at that point seem to quiet down a bit. It was if my Dad was there and told everyone to be quiet. I regain control and open my eyes. Okay, I’m ready to do this thing.

Left on Boylston Street, and up ahead I see the finish line. Somehow my legs go numb. There isn’t any more pain and I began to run faster. When all of a sudden I heard my name. I turned and looked, it was my husband. I began to cry. I really didn’t expect to see him because of the large crowds. I raised my arms to him as if to say “Look at me I’m about to cross the Boston Marathon finish line!” Okay, pretty face now. No crying. You are going to have several photographers take your picture for the history books and you can’t have that ugly crying face, you know it’s not pretty. Step by step, the closer I get. I make it a point to look from side to side at the crowds, taking in the last 2/10 mile of the course. I hear the announcer call out my name – “And here comes Kathy Wheeler from Arizona.” What??? Did he seriously just say Arizona? Someone needs to learn their state abbreviations. 50 yards… 25 yards… 10 yards… 5 yards. I raise my arms up in the air, look at the photographers and smile. I just crossed the finish line of the 119th Boston Marathon. For the rest of my earthly life I can now say I am a Boston Marathon finisher.

While writing this account and reliving this particular day, I still get emotional. Will I run Boston again? I sure hope so, but I don’t expect to have the same experience like I had this year.

My Dad and I
My Dad and I

I have been asked which race I will be training for next.  Post Boston, I’m in no particular hurry to decide. I want to remember thanks to Boston my Dad was brought back into focus in my life for a small period of time. I want to remember the emotions of being at the most historic race in the United States. I want to remember what it means to be an American and have the freedom to run a race someone tried to take away from Boston just two short years ago. I just want to remember Boston.

[Side note: I want to thank all the people who supported me on this journey with your thoughts, prayers and donations. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.]

Kathy Wheeler
Maumelle, Arkansa
April 20, 2015
Age – 44
Bib # 26582