The Road to Boston

Boston Hat Photo

Before I ever ran ultras, indeed not long after I started running (period), I decided I wanted to qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Initially, I hadn’t realized that you even need to qualify for the race, but my friend Sheila had done so and explained the process. It sounded really challenging. I like challenging.

It was after the bombings had already happened. I’m not much of a writer to begin with, so I don’t know how to capture the way I felt about it, the way I will always feel, without saying anything but the most obvious things. Things that have already been said a thousand times over. I suppose I feel the way I imagine you feel about it. Anger, horror, disbelief. In particular — as a mother — grief. Just thinking about it still rips a tear in my heart. Like so many others, I wanted to run to show solidarity and to pay respect for the fallen and the maimed. In a small way, which, when grouped together with so many other runners would have become a big way, I wanted to be part of what it meant to be defiantly Boston Strong.

When I started training, I could barely string together three miles at the 8:24 average pace I would need to qualify (I was 38 and needed a 3:40 finish). Undeterred, I worked away at it, week after week. The first time I hit the 20 mile mark, I cried. Literally and figuratively, I had come such a long way.

Soon, the training started coming together and I was clocking 24 mile training runs at well under BQ pace. I stepped up to the start line of the August 2013 Santa Rosa Marathon brimming with confidence and eager to run, joining the 3:30 pace group.

If the experience hadn’t been so incredibly painful, it would have been humiliating. The Wall snuck up on me and pounced like a cat. It threw me in the air and dumped me on the pavement, pummeling me with its leaden bricks. In was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life, before or after. Ultras included. By mile 16 I was dizzy, nauseous, suffering from both tunnel vision and double vision (quite the combo!) and had stabbing heart pains so severe that I could not adequately catch my breath. To add insult to injury, my quads seized up. It’s no exaggeration to say I could barely stay upright. I came through the half in 1:44, and hobbled through the finish in 3:53.

A few weeks later, baffled and humbled, I discovered that I was suffering from iron deficiency anemia. That’ll happen when you abruptly adopt a pescatarian diet, begin losing weight and piling on the miles all at the same time. Taking iron pills took me from a constant state of complete and utter exhaustion, thinking that I never wanted to run another step again, to feeling that life itself was breathing energy into my oxygen-starved body. Anemia is a cruel master; it had stripped me bare and robbed me of my dreams. I wanted revenge.

Six months later and without any specific training, I ran a surprise 3:06 at the 2014 Napa Valley Marathon. The accomplishment was a turning point for me. I had more than BQ’d (though too late for the 2014 race) — I’d started a personal revolution. The race was the kind we all fantasize about. Dead-even splits. Near-effortless. Running each mile faster than I ever could have imagined was possible. It lit a fire and left me ravenous for more. I hired a coach and salivated at the prospect of going sub-3.

The finish-line joy of a near-perfect race at the Napa Valley Marathon.

The finish-line joy of a near-perfect race at the Napa Valley Marathon.

Flash forward another six months to the Ventura Marathon (September ’14), where I ran 2:51:49. It wasn’t my best race and I think I can do a lot better than that, but it’s hard to complain about the progress it reflected. Since I turned 40 in December, my Ventura result was enough to qualify me for the elite field at Boston for the upcoming 2015 race, where I’ll be competing in the Masters Women division and hope to end up with a top five result.

A hot day at the Ventura Marathon.

A hot day at the Ventura Marathon.

Of course, in the background to this story is that during this time I’d started to run ultras — and started to do well at them. So it is that I find myself not only in the 2015 Elite Women’s Start at Boston, but a Nike Trail sponsored athlete. Just a few short weeks after Boston, I’ll be toeing the line at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race, and (someone! please!) correct me if I am wrong, but I believe I’ll start the race as the women’s leader in the 2015 Montrail Ultra Cup [as of the time of this post, the official 2015 standings had not yet been published].

It all sounds so absurd, ridiculous even. Because the reality is, I’m just like anyone else. I’m just a Mom who has, rather late in life, discovered that she loves to run. Who finds perfect moments in the movement. Those moments when all of the work comes together and the body abides. That’s why I do it, that’s what I love. Just like you, right?

So… I want to know. What’s your Boston story?

6 thoughts on “The Road to Boston

  1. A great blog Caroline. You are an inspiration to us all…
    Best of luck at Boston, we will be cheering for you. X

  2. I’m someone who took up running again post-40 years old and am in the middle of my Boston story (I hope). Still a ways to go, but your story is inspiring. Best of luck — have a great race!

    • I wish you all the best in your running and training! Believe you will get to Boston. It will happen. It wouldn’t be worthwhile if it was easy! I hope that the journey brings you joy along the way (as a relief to the inevitable pain!). Let me know how it turns out, ok? Stay strong. You can do it!!

  3. My road to Boston was similar (but slower). I always had Boston as a goal from the beginning and qualified on my 3rd attempt. The race is unlike any other. The back half of the course is tough, but the crowds are amazing throughout and are a huge help (hug the right side through Wellesley for extra motivation). By nature of the qualifying standards, it is a fast field, so you’re surrounded by strong runners. I ran it in 2013 (in a qualifying time) and even before the tragic events later in the day, I knew I wanted to come back the next year. I’ve transitioned more to the trail and longer distances, but I definitely want to try to qualify again. It’s an incredible race.

    Heard you on URP a few weeks back. All the best at Boston and States!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story Trevor! Even as someone who focuses primarily on trails, I’m nervous about miles 16-22 at Boston. It’s making me decide to run slightly on the conservative side and enjoy the experience rather than really pushing to my limits and risking a total blow-up!

      Hope to see you out on the trail one day!

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