Remembering Happy Moments That Cannot Be Taken Away

Like many others, I sat down to write my race recap a couple of times in the immediate days after the race. It’s hard to write about something that forced you to feel so many conflicting emotions. I went to write one sentence and then slowly deleted it, thinking “Is that what I really want to say?” or “Is that what I am really feeling?” Trying to resolve the emotions between celebrating a great race and coping with what happened at 2:50pm in the afternoon has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

There’s a moment I keep replaying in my head. I’m sitting down at the restaurant on Dartmouth and Stuart. The waiter just served me my first celebratory beer. I’m happy. I look at my phone, open Twitter, and scroll through my mentions. In an instant, my feed switches from “congratulations” to “Are you ok????” My smile is gone and I don’t know what to do with myself. What once were texts and tweets congratulating me on my race quickly turned to  concerns and fears.

01 2013-04-13-13-31-36I can’t get this moment out of my mind. I was looking forward to thanking people for tracking me, and letting people know my post-marathon hobble was impressive, that the hills were no joke, that I became emotional when I saw my family cheering at Boston College. There were so many things I wanted to say to those people when I began to celebrate.

And because that moment was stolen from us, it’s been hard to get back there. At first, writing about my race seemed pointless, meaningless. Whenever I stopped to consider writing a celebratory recap, I was immediately overcome by guilt. Why should I stop to celebrate my race when people are still suffering? To be honest, I didn’t even really remember much from the race. I was so concerned about what happened afterward,  those memories just …left. POOF! Gone. Like someone just erased them from my brain. It’s a weird feeling to know you ran 26.2 miles but you struggle to remember even one mile of it.

But I’m stealing back that moment. In the past few days, the happy moments have come back to me. I’ve read others recaps, looked back at pictures, and stepped away from the grief of the following week. I’ve had flashbacks I wished would never return. I’ve played out scenarios of what could have happened to me, my friends, or my family countless times in my head. The footage from the news was on repeat in my brain and on my TV screen for seven days.

But then, the happy flashbacks started. I’ve had flashbacks reminding me I was happy and there were events, people and thoughts that made me laugh during the race. I welcome these memories and I’m so happy they’ve returned. And I want to continue to remember them.

So, here are the happy moments I remember:

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Chanthana Tsai, Scott Shroyer, and I went for a fun shakeout run on Sunday morning.

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(Good thing we didn’t injure ourselves during these jumping pics!)

We had a nice meal on Sunday night and rested up for the day ahead.

On Sunday night, I slept like a rock. I had slept ten hours the night before (woot!), and would have been happy to get five decent hours of sleep before waking up at 4:45am. I slept six hours and felt really rested when I woke up Monday morning. I spent a few moments alone in the hotel lobby eating a snack and sipping some coffee before the rest of the world woke up and before our group met to get to the shuttles in time.

I was kind of giddy, but I didn’t show it. I just kept thinking, “This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.” The bus ride was very surreal. We sat in the back of the bus (like the cool kids always do). Kris and I sat together and chatted off and on about how we were feeling. We quickly realized the back of the bus wasn’t the best place to be, because we hit several big bumps and we both went flying (along with my remaining coffee). The ride to Hopkinton felt like it took hours.

When we arrived, I was quiet and nervous.

And then? We waited.

Before the village was full: Quiet moments early in the morning
Before the village was full: Quiet moments early in the morning

The day before, I had met an old high school friend of mine for lunch. After not seeing each other for eight years, it was a welcome reunion. Seth is an incredible runner. He told me his training hadn’t gone well and he was just hoping to run sub 3:00. Seth called me once he arrived at the Village and we met up to wait it out. He made me laugh all morning and distracted me from thinking too much about the race. (As for the race, Seth CRUSHED his goal with a 2:43! Just amazing).

To anyone who told me to bring way more clothing than I thought I should bring to the Village, you were right! Sadly, I didn’t follow that advice and had to deal with some shivers throughout the morning. I should have brought one extra layer for my feet (my toes were cold!) and my legs. Next time around, I’m definitely bringing several layers and a warm blanket.

It must be some kind of law of nature that after you spend hours of time hanging around, doing nothing, you wait until the LAST possible second to get your gear ready to head to the corral. I don’t think any one of us avoided rushing at the last minute to put our bibs on, stuff our warm clothes into our gear bags, and walk to the corral. I entered the corral just five minutes before the start, and had no idea I had cut it that close until the announcer said, “Three minutes to the start of the 117th Boston Marathon!” I took the last few sips from my water bottle, tossed it, and waited for the corrals to start moving.

Miles 1-4: 7:28, 7:16, 7:14, 7:08

Because the first four miles are downhill, the goal was to let the legs go a bit and try to work through the crowd as much as I could. The first mile was conservative, especially because we were all still jostling and trying to get comfortable. But the next three miles felt great, knowing I could settle down in the next section. I took my first water cup at Mile 4.

Miles 5-13: 7:22, 7:16, 7:19, 7:17, 7:17, 7:25, 7:20, 7:15, 7:27

The goal for this long section of the course was just to settle in at goal pace and see how comfortable I could make it feel. The course is rolling here so I just tried to take each little hill in stride and recover on the downhill sections. To be honest, my legs didn’t feel good in this section. They felt heavy and I had a hard time finding any kind of rhythm (internal rhythm, as opposed to the time on the clock). I was a bit worried because I knew if my legs didn’t feel good before the halfway point, I might be in big trouble at Mile 16 when the hills started. I took deep breaths and tried to take in the experience. I took my first Gu at Mile 6 and my second water cup at Mile 8 (consistent water stops every four miles and a Gu every six miles through the end of the race).

I knew my Dad would be cheering me on at Mile 10 in Natick. It helped to have that mile marker to look forward to, and it distracted me just enough to look around for him on either side of the course (we hadn’t agreed on a certain side). He apparently saw me, but I wasn’t able to find him in the crowd. I was disappointed but knew he must have seen me. The crowd through Natick was awesome. Both sides of the street were completely lined and we ran through some pretty loud cheering sections. At this point, I had been running for a 70-year old guy for about seven miles. Wow! If I’m still running a 7:20 pace in a marathon at the age of 70, I win. That’s just amazing. Each mile I ran with him, I had two thoughts. First, he’s incredible. And second, he’s 70 and you’re 25, and you should be running faster than him, Jenny! That guy was tough.

I took my third water cup and my second Gu at Mile 12.

Miles 14-21: 7:18, 7:28, 7:17, 7:31, 7:35, 7:38, 7:37, 7:59

I’m not sure what happened at this point, but all of a sudden the legs started to feel really energized. Once I reached the half marathon marker, turnover was smooth and I didn’t feel like my legs were just dead weight. I guess it’s a sign of a long distance runner if you don’t properly warm up until Mile 13! I remember the slight hill when you come up to Wellesley and you begin to hear the students cheering for you. The noise wasn’t nearly as loud as I imagined it, but you could hear it become louder as you ran closer. The signs were really clever and the smiles were much appreciated. I didn’t stop for a kiss but maybe I should have. I stayed on the left side of the road to avoid those who were stopping for kisses (which weren’t many, actually!). I remember seeing this guy carrying a camera taking video of the girls cheering for him. He must have stopped for four or five kisses before he kept racing. I’d love to see that video (I’m sure he’ll cherish it forever because he seemed really excited about the fact that girls were cheering for him).

Water and Gu at Mile 16. This is when the work begins. I honestly avoided looking at my watch much between Miles 16 and 21. I tried to take the hills at effort, give myself a one to two minute break once I reached the top, and then get back into a rhythm near goal pace. I honestly didn’t even know which were the “big hills” because everything felt like a hill at that point (even the relatively small ones). As much as I wanted to keep my head up and enjoy the crowds through this rowdy section, I just kept my head down, listened to my music (low volume) and kept my legs moving. I knew if I could just keep the legs moving and not look at my lap pace, I could mentally and physically get through the hills. The downhills between each of the three big hills really helped me collect myself and prepare for the next one ahead. I didn’t even know I had run up Heartbreak Hill until I reached the top and saw someone holding a sign saying “You just ran up Heartbreak Hill!” Well thanks, stranger! This section of the race is more of a blur than any other.

Gu at 18 and water at Mile 20.

Miles 22-FINISH: 7:18, 7:32, 7:43, 7:31, 7:21 (And 6:53 pace for the last 0.2)

The downhill after Heartbreak was the only time I became emotional during the race. I was so relieved I had made it through each of the three big hills. I’m not sure I’ve ever cried tears of relief before, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they were. It was a mini-celebration because I knew I could conquer the next five miles. The crowd through Boston College was SO impressive. They were definitely louder than the Wellesley crowd! I felt like I was floating down the hill. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom cheering for me near Mile 22. I had no idea if it was her but I had a feeling it was. My entire family was waiting there for me and I managed to miss all SEVEN of them! I put my hand over my heart, tapped it a few times, and tried to show them I saw them and appreciated their support more than I could express in words. And for whatever reason, I thought putting my hand over my heart probably wasn’t that obvious, so I quickly threw my hands up in the air, Rocky-style. For real, it was all a blur. My sister Lindsey said she’s never seem me glare like that before. I was so out of it! I’m just proud of myself for mustering the energy to throw my hands up like I did (a difficult tasks after running 22 miles!). Mile 22 was an emotional mile. I shed a few more happy tears and regrouped.

Last water stop at Mile 23 (one mile before I planned). Those ten seconds of walking to sip my water felt heavenly. Just a few more miles to go. Usually I really like to empty the tank at the end of a race. The last six miles is usually a progressive pace. But all I kept telling myself was just to keep my legs going. Just as I had during Miles 16-21, I avoided looking at my watch. I knew I was on pace for a 3:14 finish time but I didn’t want to get too anxious.


And just like that. The Citgo sign was ahead. And then it was behind me.
And just like that, the Citgo sign was ahead. And then it was behind me.
Pleasantly surprised my form is so strong with one mile to go!
Pleasantly surprised my form is so strong with one mile to go!
Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston.
Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston.

[I don’t remember seeing that dude in the sweatshirt. It was much too hot for that, mister!]

Head up and a small smile knowing the finish line is so close
Head up and a small smile knowing the finish line is so close
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Finish line. Amazing feeling. It gives me goosebumps every time I think of it.
A moment of celebration five minutes after finishing. I was so thankful I was ready to celebrate.
A moment of celebration five minutes after finishing. I was so thankful I was ready to celebrate.

Coach Hadley prepared me for Boston in 14 weeks. I never expected to PR by three minutes on such a tough course. Lots of good things to look forward to!

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What happened before 2:50pm that day was a true celebration of all of our hard work. The happy moments should trump the sad and truly scary ones. We deserve to celebrate and not feel guilty for doing so. I really looked forward to my first post-Boston run at Fleet Feet Chicago. I wore my race shirt for the first time with a smile on my face as a tribute to those injured, killed, or affected in any way by the bombings.

The Boston Globe published an article that helped me: “Runners, the marathon does matter.”

In the best of circumstances, running a marathon is a punishing experience. But it’s not one we normally associate with survivor guilt. Yet it’s not unimaginable some runners might feel as if their personal path to fulfillment has been cheated. This should not be confused with selfishness.

The lesson here is not to dismiss, even for an instant, the shared heartbreak that will forever mark our experience of this particular 2013 day. But runners need a way to honor the hours, the miles, the sweat, the discipline, the achievement of running beyond their capacity to continue.

The takeaway is to celebrate what can never be taken away.”

If we choose to remember them, these happy moments cannot be taken away.

Jenny Poore
Chicago, Illinois
April 15, 2013
Age – 25
Bib # 8763

[Jenny Poore created her blog WE WANDER AND PONDER …preferably while running in 2010, when she decided to train for her first half marathon.]