My friend, Ryan shared this with me this week and reminded me of how appropriate this quote was for my journey to qualifying for Boston! I couldn’t agree more!
I ran my first marathon – The City of Trees Marathon on October 4th, 2009. It was 40 degrees and raining the entire race. It was wonderful and hard and definitely one of the most difficult things I’d ever done to that point (and that’s saying something from a woman who’s given birth without an epidural 5 times!) I had set a goal of running the race in 4:45, but crossed the finish line in 4:57:33. It was such an emotional and glorious moment to suddenly become a “marathoner!” I could not imagine running any faster than the 11:21 pace I maintained for that 26.2 miles!
But, that is one of the things that really seems to drive our kind — the “runners” in the world. We love to challenge ourselves, push hard to achieve our goals and once those are mastered, we make new goals and go after them, too! One of the first thoughts that went through my mind as I soaked in my ice bath after the race was, “I bet I could do the next one FASTER!” And once I got on that path, it wasn’t long before I started daydreaming about pie-in-the sky goals — especially the biggest one of all for most marathoners — to one day qualify for Boston – the Holy Grail of running achievements!
At that point, I’d already bought several books about the Boston Marathon, about it’s rich history, about Kathrine Switzer and her first run there in 1967 (where she was the first female ever to run it with a race bib) and how the race director, Jock Semple tried to attack her and remove her race bib and kick her out of the race partway through.
It angered me and surprised me to think that women had been unable to freely race in a marathon just a little over four decades ago. And, women weren’t openly welcomed into Boston until 1972, which coincidentally was the year I was born!
From the moment I learned that little fact, I felt a connection to Boston and the history of women runners. I felt it was my destiny to one day run the race myself — one of the benefactors of women like Kathrine Switzer (and my own Mom who started running in the 1980’s and was the first woman I knew who ran a marathon the year she was 40!) They blazed the trail! They showed me the way and I knew it would be an honor to have things come full circle and freely come to race in Boston one day.
But, there was the qualifying problem. Boston, unlike most other marathons, won’t allow you to just sign up and show up on race day to run. Instead, you must run a marathon on a USA Track and Field certified course in a qualifying time (based on your gender and age!) At the time I was dreaming about Boston, my qualifying time would have been 3:45:59 since I was 36. That was a difference of about an hour and 12 minutes FASTER! Talk about a pipe dream! But, it was already engraved on my heart as my destiny — so I kept training, kept running, even when others stopped joining me for training runs or gave up on their running visions for awhile. I spent many years running alone along the roads in Nampa, Idaho, dodging sugar beet trucks in the summer and heavy traffic. I wasn’t close to a greenbelt so I made do with what I had. And, little by little, I started to improve.
About 6 months later I ran my second marathon. I’d been training for and ran my first ultra marathon just a few weeks before, so I wasn’t expecting a very fast time when I signed up for the Famous Potato Marathon – and that’s good – because I actually ran slower with a time of 5:14:13, but I wasn’t discouraged! I’d done a difficult half marathon (with 8+ hard miles of uphill) and my ultra within the same month as this race, so I was seeing myself accomplish several races in a short period of time, which was cool, too and it was helping me develop my strength and endurance (even if my speed wasn’t improving much yet.)
By my 3rd marathon, I got more focused. I printed out a Smart Coach plan from Runner’s World and I started training more seriously for speed. When I ran the City of Trees in October of 2010 (one year after my first marathon) I shaved off 36 1/2 minutes off my time when I crossed the line in 4:20:59! That was a huge improvement and gave me hope that Boston could someday happen for me – if I kept working hard! But, I still had a long way’s to go. I needed to shave another 35 minutes to “BQ” (runner lingo for Boston Qualify!)
My focus was averted temporarily as I sought to run longer and longer distances in ultra marathons on the trails I’d fallen in love with. I didn’t run another marathon until the Famous Potato Marathon one year ago — just two months after my first 100 mile race! I had no idea what I could do and had not trained on the roads hardly at all during my ultra prep, so I was amazed when I crossed the finish line comfortably in 3:48:41! A PR by more than 32 minutes! That’s when my quest for Boston became more than a dream. It started to seem so much more likely!
There was just one catch. Though I was about to turn 40 and the standards would have allowed me to run a 3:50:59 to qualify, new standards had been put into place that required me to run faster than ever!!! They shaved off the 59 second grace window that had applied for so many years and then took another 5 minutes off the time, basically requiring everyone in all age groups to run nearly 6 min faster to qualify! My job just got harder! I needed to run a 3:45:00 or better to BQ! If the standards had not changed, that would have been the day I qualified for Boston! But, with the new standards in place, I needed to run 3 min and 41 seconds faster! I was NOT discouraged! I was pumped!!! I was so determined to go into laser mode and just focus as hard as I needed to to reach my dream goal!
I had moved to Boise late in 2011 and had the amazing luck of having a good friend who is much faster than me ask me to start running with him more in the early mornings. This benefited me in a couple of ways. Being able to run in the dark, before the kids woke up meant I was able to get in more miles (my weekly average went from about 30 miles a week to closer to 45-50) and I was having to push my pace more to keep up with my fast friend (even on his easy days!) I also suddenly had access to the Boise Greenbelt for safe running on long stretches of asphalt without a beet truck (or any traffic) in sight and I could hit the trails and run in the mountains almost from my front door, so I was gaining strength in my legs from climbing a lot more mountains – several times a week! I had been noticing an improvement in my endurance and my strength and my speed over several months when I ran the 3:48 race!
I set my sights on a fall marathon with a lot of elevation loss (something I thought would play to my strength of running fast downhill.) That race was the Pocatello Marathon and it didn’t go as planned. I was on pace for a BQ until mile 18, when the wheels just fell off and I started to walk – and pretty much walked the rest of the race until I crossed the finish line in a disappointing time of 4:27:01. I had not trained specifically for a downhill road race. I had hoped my good luck at the previous marathon with very little road training or any speedwork would mean I could just “wing it” and do well at this race while still training for ultras in the mountains. I was wrong! It was a lesson learned! But, I did not give up!
My friends Ryan and Derek continued to push me hard in training and they both knew how much I wanted Boston! Derek said something to me that really spoke to me this past winter. He said, “What is difficult for you must become easy!” From that point on, when the boys ran roads with me in our midweek runs, we ran my BQ pace – or faster – every single time!!! I started to train at the pace I needed to qualify! It was hard at first and I couldn’t hold it long, but as the weeks went by, I started to find it more comfortable and by the time I showed up at the Redding Marathon in Jan of 2013, I knew I was ready (or close!) I had even ran a 20 miler at 1 second per mile faster than BQ pace in training!
That was the most comfortable marathon of my life! It truly did feel like a training run until the final 4 miles or so (when it started to hurt and I could not muster the energy to push it home a bit faster!) I enjoyed the hills, the beautiful bridges we crossed and the route. I crossed the finish line in 3:47:22 – a PR but not a BQ! I had ran a smart race and my Garmin said I’d done the 8:34 pace I needed for the duration – but – the certified course, being done on a very curvy route turned out to be a 26.5 instead of closer to 26.2, so I just missed it. Being a race director myself (and someone who has personally helped certify 4 marathon courses) I should have known better! If you don’t cut every single tangent the course will be a bit long and I should have assumed from the start that I needed to run a little bit faster the entire time to reach my goal. It was another lesson!
I ran my second 100 mile race in March of 2013 (about 2 hours faster than the year before), then I set my sights back on qualifying for Boston in May at the Famous Potato. I felt fitter and more focused than ever before! Ryan had gotten the marathon bug and was training hard right along with me (for his own goal of a 3:10 or better) and having that camaraderie was good for me! Even though we run different paces, we would meet together, do the warm up miles as we talked and then each push hard for the speedwork and tempo work, then cool down together. I think we both pushed each other to do better and that was a big help! For about 6 weeks, we abandoned our beloved trail running and just focused on preparing our bodies to qualify on the asphalt!
And, it paid off!! This past weekend, on May 18, 2013, I made history (for ME) by qualifying for Boston!!! I did it!!!!! I can’t believe it!!! Despite having to stop for potty breaks several times along the course, I ran across the finish line in 3:40:44 — a full 4 minutes and 16 seconds faster than I needed to! My family was there to cheer for me along the route (including my parents, which meant the world to me), so many of my friends were either running the race or were there cheering or pacing, my amazing friend Lucia, who has ran Boston more times than any woman I know, paced me the last 6 miles and kept me steady and I got to high-five Ryan as he grinned at about mile 18 for me and 22 for him as he went on to qualify for Boston with a 3:08, too!
It was an amazing day! When I crossed the finish line, my dear friend Dennis yelled at me, “C. EB” as he likes to call me. I was having a hard time catching my breath and when I looked up and saw him with his arms stretched out I went to him for a congratulatory hug. That’s when it all suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks — the quest was OVER! I’d actually DONE IT!!! I started sobbing, just so overcome with gratitude and emotion and RELIEF and joy! I did it! I really did it! I finally qualified for Boston!!!
My parents were there with the video camera and my Mom said, “Where are you going now?” and through tears, I threw up my arms and yelled out, “BOSTON!!” My five kids gathered around me and hugged me and said they were so proud of me! “You did it, Mom! you finally did it!” My husband hugged me and said, “I knew you could!” which meant the world! Later, Ryan found me and we posed for a picture. I’d named our little team, “Boston and a Belt Buckle” – meaning I wanted to earn a 100 mile belt buckle and a Boston qualifying time in the same year. We’d both earned our 100 mile buckles at Antelope Island Buffalo Run in March -and less than two months later, we were standing near the finish line where we’d each BQ’d!!! That couldn’t have gone better!! 😀
So, if you are dreaming of Boston and it seems like an impossible dream, I want to encourage you to never lose hope! I went from a 4:57 marathoner to a 3:40 one. Anything is possible if you are willing to believe in yourself, work really hard and keep on picking yourself up and trying if things don’t go right the first time! It’s worth it to keep after your goals! You can do it!!!!!