like many people i know, i would consider giving one of my kidneys in exchange for a free tee-shirt. tee-shirts that i have to pay for come in a very close second, especially if they have a snappy logo or advertise some sport or event that makes me look really tough. right now, one of my favorites is a grey long-sleeved tee that advertises the “get yer ya yas out along the charles river” four-mile road race. it is decorated in a variety of clashing colors, and the center looks like this:
amazing, right? it’s like mick jagger and an old timey typewriter collided, and then some 1980’s-era clip art jumped into the fold. and if i was able to score something as magnificent as this for running four miles, what might i be able to get for running 26.2? oh my gosh, the possibilities abound, and i am giddy just thinking about it!
but there’s just one problem. under no circumstances am i allowed to investigate, observe, or touch any 114th boston marathon® apparel until AFTER i finish that race.
i guess that you could say i’m superstitious.
every day at 11:11, i hold my breath and make a wish. when i play softball, i carry two dimes in my back pocket (a habit passed down from my equally superstitious dad). i have named all six of my previous goldfish “atlas,” based on the belief that they will live to a ripe old age if they’re named after the strongest man in the world. (since i am now on atlas seven, i may need to reconsider this tactic.)
so, when i ran 21 miles (!) last saturday morning, it should not come as a surprise that superstition played a large role in the plot.
i woke up extra early at 5:45 a.m. (ew,yish.) i wanted to have a chance to shower (mainly just to wake up, not cleanse, since i was just going to sweat my pants off anyhoo) before nandi and her beau the toyman came to pick me up at 6:20. i had all my items: freakazoid spandex suit, gloves, sweatpants, fleece, chocolate milk, 189 gu’s and jelly beans, and my lucky penny. the toyman dropped us off at alewife station, where we joined forces with fellow teammates kelly and brandt, and together we trekked to b.c.
once we got to b.c., we boarded a cushy charter bus (complete with very necessary restrooms!) and headed to hopkinton. the plan was to run all the way from hopkinton along the marathon course back to b.c., a full 21 miles. and hurray! the last part of our run was going to be none other than the dreaded heartbreak hill, aka my hill of sorrows.
on the bus, i was incredibly nervous, and my stomach was a jumpy wreck. i tried breathing deeply, sipping water, and organizing and reorganizing my fanny pack. these things did not help. so finally, i went for the big guns and said my never-fail prayer, the memorare. i’ve been reciting this prayer since i was 11, i think, when my seventh grade english teacher made us say it every day at the beginning of class. i am not a religious person by any means, but i think that somehow, though, this prayer has become stuck to the fiber of my being, and i just sort of unconsciously rattle it off when i am nervous or stressed. and strangely, whenever i say it, good things happen. i am not sure if the bvm is pulling some strings for me in heaven, or what… but so far this winter, the prayer has granted my sister the editor-in-chief position at the u.b. law review, my friend fred an acceptance into a phd program, and me (and the rest of simmons college) a random and impromptu snow day!
as i finished my last memorare (when i am really nervous, i say it multiple times), the bus glided to a stop. off we tumbled, into the 28-degree morningtime. the start was a ZOO… and that was just with 200 or so charity runners milling around– i’m having a hard time imagining what it’ll be like with one gazillion marathoners in just three weeks’ time. tents were set up, and wiry little men were handing out gu’s and free saucony gloves. it was amazing! unfortunately, i was not able to partake, because i was completely unwilling to carry anything in addition to the fanny pack that i had strapped to my gut.
8:30 came, and we were off. my peerless running mate kelly and i established a nice pace– but both of us were very aware of the fact that the marathon course is very downhill, especially for the first five miles. according to my fit friends who have done this race before, it’s a real temptation to go out too fast, and then have nothing left to give when mile 17 (this is the beginning of four miles of hills, culminating in the devil itself, aka heartbreak hill at mile 21) rolls around. so we checked ourselves so as not to wreck ourselves, and employed the run-walk strategy starting at mile one. basically, after each mile, we would walk for one minute. i know it sounds counter-intuitive to WALK when you are supposed to be RUNNING, but the method seriously yields good results. and for a race like boston, i’m willing to try just about anything in order to cross the finish line in a conscious state.
on and on we ran (and walked, every ten minutes or so). through hopkinton, to ashland, to the framingham train depot! we were feeling great. as the miles ticked off, i kept exclaiming, “kelly! i feel like we JUST STARTED this run!” and yet, knowing that this was THE course, we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. and it kept NOT DROPPING. i started to wonder– was this going to be okay after all?
and then we received an omen from the heavens. waterstops were set up every three miles or so on the run, and as we came up to one on a particularly desolate stretch near route nine, the most appropriate thing ever occurred. it goes a little like this:
and then i knew. i just knew– perfect day, perfect weather, perfect song to match my measured pace… this run was going to be phenomenal. the memorare was working its magic again!
kelly and i soldiered on through natick and wellesley, loyally adhering to our run/walk principle, and managing to feel pretty good in the process. as we ticked off the miles, i kept trying to reign in my pace, because i knew that the hills were looming just around the corner. i also kept peeking at my blood sugar readings on my sensor– they were coming in pretty high for the first 14 miles of the run, because i had had very little insulin to cover my pre-run pb&j bagel. at mile 14, though, i decided to have a gu (coupled with a little bit of insulin), not to aid my blood sugar, but to give me some more energy for the last seven miles of my trek. it was a strangely wonderful feeling– for once, i was eating because i WANTED to, not because i felt horrible and needed to. see! see how charmed this run was?!
we lumbered past newton wellesley hospital, the site where my cousin yuley and aunt brain and i cheered on my uncle joetails when he ran the marathon in 2008. i remembered standing on the sidelines, cheering and clapping wildly for the folks who glided by. i remembered thinking how much i had wanted that to be me. and then i remembered how quickly i’d discounted the idea back then, telling myself that my insulin-laced body would never be able to survive an endurance event like boston. so, as the hospital disappeared behind us, i ever so slightly shook my fist in tiny and quiet celebration of the miles and the finger pricks and the bloody glucose sensor sites and the tears that i have gone through not just over this training, but over the years, to arrive at this one perfect moment on this one perfect 21-mile run.
then we rounded the corner. and saw them. the newton hills, looming like k2 in the distance. not really– i don’t think that newton, massachusetts sports anything close to the elevation of k2, but daaaang, those hills are still tough.
“okay, kelly!” i yelled, “let’s remember our mantra– wwnd!” wwnd, of course, stands for what would nandi do. my dear friend nandi is a BULL when it comes to running hills. she charges up them like whoa, leaving only dust and less hearty folk in her wake. so, summoning up the spirit of nandi, we did our best to attack the slopes. up and down we ran.
it’s funny, though… no matter how many times i study the course map, or picture race day, i always forget the exact location of heartbreak. after we crested the third hill, i thought that maybe i had already run heartbreak, and that my heart and mind had survived intact. but that’s the thing about that hill– when you finally reach it, there is no question. so as i started to climb the fourth, most treacherous and nefarious slope, i silently laughed at my naivete. THIS was heartbreak, and sure enough, my heart was suffering. or was it my lungs? or was it my brain, collapsing? whatever it was, i wanted it to be over.
but i kept pushing. and then i reached the summit! just ahead of me, i could see a party of people wearing spandex and wacky leis! i was almost home!
chug chug chug– kelly and i rumbled to the finish together, yelling at each other in disbelief! WE HAD RUN 21 MILES! yes, US! WE. DID. IT.
many people might scoff and say that superstition and divine interference played no role in propelling us to the finish… but i disagree. our day was charmed, and i have proof. just as we were stretching our tired legs, i looked up to see this guy crossing the finish line:
MAGIC. anyone who knows kelly and i must also know that we are the world’s biggest nintendo fans… and it is exceedingly clear that SOMEONE SOMEWHERE had our backs.
and guess what? after the run, i checked my blood sugar. it was 74.
see you in three weeks, o marathon course. i don’t know if april 19 will be as charmed as march 27 was, but i am ready for you, no matter what.
magical book recommendation:
love in the time of cholera, by gabriel garcia marquez
there’s a lot to love about this book, particularly what i think is one of the most vivid endings ever written.