I got a bit emotional as I realized these people didn’t know me, but were cheering for me anyway.

My first attempt to train and qualify for Boston came in 2004 with the Chicago Marathon. I was training really well, and then while playing a large group game at camp, I did an unintentional back flip. Afterwards my knee wasn’t the same, but I decided to run the marathon anyway. I came so close to qualifying, but I forgot to figure in the final 2/10 mile. I finished with a 3:41:22, 23 seconds short of qualifying. I decided it was God’s way of telling me I should get my knee checked out. The resulting appointment led me to knee surgery for a meniscus tear and several weeks of rest.

The second time I tried to qualify was at the Wichita Marathon in 2009. My training again was going well, and I felt good lining up at the start. There was not a chip start, so before the gun, I made my way up near the front. There were only 200 some runners. During the race I found myself going back and forth with a gentleman who finally asked me what I wanted to do for pace. He let me draft off of him and we chatted, keeping a nice even pace. He was only going to do the half marathon, and when he found out I wanted to qualify for Boston, he took off his Garmin watch while running and said “You need this.” He put it on me so I could keep track of my time closely. I believe his watch really saved me.

The rest of the course seemed to be against the wind, but I kept my pace in check. As long as the number in the lower left corner, which indicated my overall pace, didn’t dip above 8:20, I would be okay. I also had more people cheering for me on this course than I ever had before. My mom and some family friends were there to watch. Also a friend and triathlete jumped in to pace me and see how I was feeling. I was able to qualify with a 3:39:35. A full minute and a half off of the max. It was a great feeling.

A BQ in Wichita
A BQ in Wichita

Fast forward to Boston weekend.

My parents and I made a stop at my former babysitter’s house in New Hampshire to catch up before heading into Boston. It felt surreal that I was going to be running in one of the biggest races in the country and that I had qualified to get there! We got dropped off at the Expo on Saturday and walked down aisle after aisle of booths picking up samples. It was my parents’ first taste of an expo. I decided to forgo the $90 Boston Marathon Jacket, but did buy a shirt.

We heard there were some European runners who weren’t able to make it to the race because of volcanic ash from the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. We met one of my friends from camp for lunch, and then met my sister at the airport. We went to the hotel and were kept awake by some really loud college students.

My sister Alison ran the 5K on Sunday. It was fun to cheer for the runners even though it was sprinkling off and on. We then met up with a daughter of a friend with whom I would share a hotel room for the night before the race. We talked about running and marathons, and we planned to get up at 4:45 to get to the buses that would take us to the start. Uno Chicago Grill was the restaurant of choice for pre-race pasta.

I heard the 4:45am alarm, but didn’t get up until 5:30. I made quite a fashion statement as I stood in line for the busses in pajama pants and an old t-shirt. I wanted to be able to throw them away at the start. The bus ride was nearly an hour and I chatted with a gal with whom I shared a seat. We arrived at the Athletes’ Village and proceeded to find something to fill the time until the start. I stood in the bathroom line a couple times, read my magazine, got my name printed on my arm and just walked around. I had never run a late morning marathon, so I felt a bit restless.

I made my way to the starting corral with the sea of humanity. I took off my warmups and then pretty soon we were off. I thought the race would feel more crowded than it did, and I tried to take it easy of the first downhills. A lot of people were passing me, but I was in a corral with people who had also run my qualifying time, and I knew on this day I wouldn’t be able to repeat that performance. At one point, I witnessed a guy fall off a rock wall because the rock beneath him was crumbling. The course was really pretty through Hopkinton, Framingham, Natick and Wellesley.  If there was a competition for noise levels between the Wellesley women and the Boston College folks, I’d have to say that Boston College won. I got a bit emotional as I realized these people didn’t know me, but were cheering for me anyway.

At Mile 17 I told myself at Mile 20 I would re-evaluate how I felt. I kept on moving through the Newton Hills and I didn’t even know I was on Heartbreak Hill until I saw a sign about halfway up. Is that all you got?! I wasn’t sure my legs would hold me up as I cruised down the hills, though. I saw my dad at Mile 10 and evidently I was concentrating too hard at Mile 25 to see my parents. The Citgo sign that marks one mile left to go can be seen for a long time and that was difficult mentally. I managed not to walk at all during the race and even had a very small kick at the end. I must have been right around my threshold pace the whole time. I finished in 3:55:24. I was glad to break four hours.

Friends and family at the finish.
Friends and family at the finish.

I felt like a superstar as I walked through the finish chute. Everyone was saying congratulations. My family and friend found me in the crowd because of the bright orange bandana I was wearing. We crammed on the train and headed back to the hotel. The shower felt so wonderful! I really craved beef for some reason after the race so I had a plate of beef tips. So good! Then early to bed to catch a flight out the next morning and a jolt of reality the following day at work!

Renee Neufeld
Viborg, SouthDakota
April 19, 2010
Age – 30
Bib # 16371