Growing up, running had always been my passion. Something I truly enjoyed, and something I seemed to be good at. Running doesn’t discriminate. There are no “cuts” from the team, you don’t have to be a certain height or weight, and anyone is welcome. As a runner, it is hard to explain to a “non-runner” why you enjoy running for miles and hours on end. To explain the feeling of accomplishing your own goals and how it feels after all the early mornings, hot and bitterly cold days, what it feels like to finally reach that finish line: There is nothing like it.
At age 22, I was told many times I was too young and inexperienced to be able to hit my BQ time. I will tell you hearing that just fueled the fire. I was absolutely determined to do this. In October of 2010, I reached my BQ goal at my very first marathon. Through my lack of experience, I ended up being severely dehydrated, but the support of amazing friends helped push me to the finish line. Every wobbly step afterwards was worth it. Even the three hours in the med tent, hooked up to IVs, was worth it. Yes, I have learned a lot, but I laid there with the biggest smile on my face, knowing, I just BQ’ed.
In 2012, the BAA changed the way you signed up for the Boston Marathon. The anticipation of waiting until my specific day to sign up was agonizing: hoping the race wouldn’t fill before your time group was up. When the day came to sign up, I was ecstatic. I can’t even put into words how happy I was when the email arrived, and the paper came in the mail, stating I would officially be running the 2012 Boston Marathon! Now the journey began.
Unfortunately, my training for the 2012 Boston Marathon came with multiple annoying injuries, on top of running through a brutal winter in Western Michigan. I was determined to get to Boston and finish what I started. I trained as best I could, even with whole weeks off from running; trying to keep my miles up, but at the same time, trying to keep my injuries at bay.
Now a week out, and with the excitement setting in, the weather was not looking to be in the runners’ favor. After training in ice cold temperatures, my body would now be thrown in to running one of the hottest Boston Marathons in history. The seriousness of the heat really started to set in when the BAA put out a notice for the first time ever, offering runners the opportunity defer to the next year, in fear of the impending heat. As tempting as it sounded, there was no way I was deferring, after all this training and travel plans. I was ready to do this.
My husband drove me and two other friends who had qualified, from Michigan all the way to Boston, non-stop. We almost ran out of gas midway through New York because he did not want to “wake the runners” to ask how long he could be driving with the big “E” on the gas gauge. All in all, we made it. We enjoyed seeing town and even attended another Boston bound friend’s wedding in the Boston Public Garden.
Going into this race, I knew my pace would have to slow down and I would have to make a conscious effort to take in as much liquid as I could. My only goal that morning was to finish with a smile on my face. My parents dropped all four of us off at the start, and we were fortunate to be invited into a family’s house, also known as the “Kalamazoo House.” These people were originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and always welcomed into their home those racers coming in from Kalamazoo. We were a few blocks from the starting line.
As the start time was approaching, we headed to the start where we all split up in our respective corals. My friend Lauren and I were fortunate to be in the same coral and ran very similar times. We had planned to run this race together; to push each other, survive the heat, and enjoy it. As we stood in the coral, my tank top was already sweating through. The temperature was already in the mid-seventies, and with thousands of people a few inches away from me in every direction, it felt more like the mid-eighties. All of a sudden, it was our turn to start this adventure.
After months of training, and over a year of waiting, I was about to begin this amazing feat. Everyone one tells you how amazing the crowds of spectators are, but until you run Boston and experience every mile, it is difficult to fully comprehend. We started off a little faster than planned. With all the excitement and the downhill start, we quickly realized we needed to slow our pace down if we wanted to survive the heat. We ran steady until about half way, when the heat really started to take its effect on me. By then, we planned to stop and walk at every aid station to make sure to get all our liquids. I definitely didn’t want a repeat of my first marathon, ending up with an IV in my arm at the end.
With the numbers of runners crowding the aid stations, we would split up. One of us would grab a cup of water, and the other a Gatorade. Once reconvening, we would walk to the end of the aid station, pouring one cup into the other to dilute the mixture and not upset our stomachs. One of us would drink half and then the other would finish the concoction. We had this system down pat the rest of the way.
Now, this was more liquid than I was used to consuming in a race and I am pretty sure I peed myself at one point (sorry, TMI…runner problems). The good thing is, with so much water being sprayed on you from hoses and the dumping of cups of water down my body, no one would know the difference.
I don’t know how we were able to spot my family in the sea of spectators, but we were able to find them twice during the race! It was so uplifting and really helped keep me going. We made it through the Newton hills, running all but the last, when we conceded to the sun and incline to walk “to the next lamppost.” As hard as the hills were, that was only the beginning for my quads. As the race went on, and the heat was now in the upper-eighties, my quads started to seize up at random times, out of nowhere, creating a massive charley horse and forcing me to stop and walk until it subsided. This happened over and over.
We were now in the last two miles. I had missed an aid station with all the frenzy and REALLY needed some water. Up ahead was a spectator with cups of cold liquid. It was like a wonderful mirage. I grabbed the cup in excitement and went to pour it down my throat, only then finding out it was a luke-warm beer. Not exactly what I wanted at that moment and in those circumstances. Lesson learned.
As we made our last turn onto Boylston Street, the crowd erupted. It was the most emotional and amazing finish I had ever experienced. With my quads seizing up over and over throughout the last stretch and fighting the urge to walk, we kicked it in, grabbing hands and finishing. Thank goodness for all the wonderful spectators, and my amazing friend Lauren for getting me through it. Not exactly the temperature I was hoping for, but it doesn’t change the wonderful experience and stories I have to tell.
My legs were more sore than I’d ever felt and, of course, our bags would be on the last bus. Once retrieving our bags, I now had to drag my useless legs to our meeting spot. What felt like miles of walking was probably only a handful of blocks, but seeing my proud family at the end of it all, meant the world.
Throughout the race, I knew with all the sweating and water being poured over me, I was going to have quite the blisters and chafe marks. I put off removing my shoes for almost an hour and a half, because I was too afraid of what I would find. My right pinky toe had a blister on it larger than the toe itself, not to mention losing two other toenails. I also found out, once entering the shower, that chaffing can happen in places you would never, ever, expect. The safety pins attaching my bib to my shirt had even rusted in those short hours from all the moisture.
Within about six hours of being done, we now had to jump into a cramped car and drive all the way back to Michigan, because we all had to work the next morning. Talk about some rough walking. Not to mention the five minutes it would take to even peel yourself, and your legs, out of the car at rest stops.
All in all, this was the best experience of my life. I learned so much about myself and experienced something amazing. I cannot wait to go back and take it all on again!
Abbey Goetz VanValkenburg
April 16, 2012
Age – 23
Bib # 14938