Part 1: The Airport
It was a surreal feeling as I sat in the plane en route Boston. Boston seemed so far away. And here I was. In less than 20 hours I would be there, and in less than 5 days, standing at the start line of the most historic Marathon in the world. I felt well-prepared. I knew that it was a tough course with several inclines. I believed that I would do well. I chose not to be afraid. This is what I had trained for over the last 3 years.
Boston, here comes The Running Soul.
When I started training, I realised that I had the following phobias (much discussed!)
- Running at the Race Course
Speed: These workouts gave me nightmares, seemed daunting and created a lot of anxiety the night before. But now, they have just become a part of me. It’s not that I can run faster. I have just become more comfortable with the numbers. My mindset has changed.
Anxiety has changed to acceptance.
Race Course running: The lack of change in scenery created a boredom which affected my mind. The repetitiveness made it all harder. I hated running there. I had to do it because it was good for me. The soft ground absorbed some of the pounding caused by higher speeds. Blah blah! This season, however, I let it go. I did because I had to. So why fight it?
Resentment has changed to acceptance.
Hill-o-phobia: The hard work of regular hill training has made me mentally and physically stronger to withstand the burn of the muscles on the climbs.
The fear of failure on the uphills has changed to the confidence in my ability to tackle the inclines.
Making it to the start line of Boston represents the struggle of me finding myself. As I await the start tomorrow, I do feel the phantom aches and pains. I have no control over those. I only decide how I respond. I decide how I will run my race.
I feel like my well-prepared daughter, taking the 10th standard board exams.
I will run this race fearless.
Part 3: Race day:
Although the start time of my race (my wave) was at 10:50 a.m., we had to take the bus at 8:00 a.m. from the finish line at Boston Commons. All of us in that yellow school bus were just as excited as the kids who occupied the seats during weekdays. We chatted to calm our nerves and realised how similar we all were, no
matter where we came from! We had the same gripes, similar workouts and had shared the same highs and lows with our racing experiences.
An hour later, at the athlete’s village, a huge grassy plain with several large tents, the crowd was overwhelming. People of all ages, and all shapes and sizes, swarmed everywhere. Drinks, coffee, bagels, oatmeal. This was America at its best. Big and bountiful. I nibbled on my bowl of oats and lay on my plastic sheet for a while. Staring at the white tensile roof above me. My mind was blank. There was just so much going on!
Finally, it was time. We walked toward the start line. There was nervous chatter, with the common sentiment being our almost-in-tears state. The energy was electric as it was the end of a journey for a lot of us. We knew that it was a warm day, but had not really understood how that would impact the race. I had a plan, and I was going to stick to it. I had warmed up well. It was going to be a beautiful morning.
Part 4 : The Boston Marathon: A Dream Realized 3.0:
At the gun shot we took off. The narrow road and the large number of runners ensured that we started slow. After some time, we got into rhythm and ran as a pack. All gaining speed slowly and steadily. By 5km I was at my target pace, and by 8km I poured the first glass of water over my head. It was a really hot day. Never before, in any race, have I done this so early. I was in trouble. I kept hydrating and kept going, using the downhills effectively. As the course climbed a bit, I kept at it, as per the plan. I was determined. However, after a few kilometres I realised how much this was taking out of me. It did not feel right.
The sun, by noon, was beating down and the course was undulating, I was sweating profusely. By 15km I saw my pace drop. As I looked around, I noticed that we had all slowed down. The pack was still together. Heartened to see the others suffering just like me, I chugged along. This was going the way it was meant to be. Not the way I wanted it!
Oh! How would I complete the distance?
Never before had this dangerous thought entered my mind and that too, this early in the race.
Never before had the struggle begun this early, with more miles ahead of me, than behind me.
Never before did the course decide my fate.
The goal of a PB was flushed out with my sweat.
To take my mind off the battle in my head, I plugged in my earphones and downed a gel. I did all I could to shake up my head. I wasn’t even half way through the race and I had moved to plan B.
Oh how would I complete this race?
And with this thought, I moved into self preservation mode. The race was long, the course was only getting tougher, I should dial it back. Not the thoughts of a defeatist. I would say I was being a realist.
And the goal of a BQ at Boston was dismissed like a child’s irrational demand.
I just needed to finish. Plan C it was going be! I was beginning to feel angry, disappointed; it felt like the start of a downward spiral.
In that moment, the earth shook, time stood still and I saw the light.
Let it go. Just let it go.
I was just happy to be here. Running the Boston Marathon. The dream was to run it and here I was, in the midst of the crowd, running on Highway 135, through Wellesley and all the other towns. So I let it go. I realised that the dream was bigger than my goal.
Along with all things negative, anger, frustration and greed, I let it go.
Like everything that held me back – anxiety, insecurity and the ties – I let it go.
For the first time in 90 minutes I smiled. I was happy to be in the moment. This was my reward.
And I started high-fiving the crowd, blowing kisses, running the way I knew best. Enjoying it.
I accepted that the course had a mind of its own (clearly much stronger than mine!) and I learnt to respect it. I understood what the Boston Marathon represented to me. A lesson in Humility.
A new path opened up ahead, as I sang out loud. I laughed, I skipped and cheered people on. We were in this together. We ran as one. I ran relaxed and felt myself pick up the pace ever so slightly. No. I did not check my watch; I was just getting into the groove.
Past the halfway mark, I braced myself for the big hills of Newton. The first big hill showed up and I attacked it with technique. I lifted my knees and pumped my arms. Yes, this is what I had trained for.
It was a long hill; I controlled my breathing and ran easy. Three more challenges awaited us. I knew that my aunt, my uncle and my cousins (Team Running Soul J) were waiting for me before the last hill. I needed to look strong. That thought propelled me further and I saw my cousin Sonal. “There she is!” she shouted and I waved at them, streaming past. I was grinning from ear to ear as I high-fived my uncle. “You look good,” they said. Little did they know about the cauldron of emotions and battles under that smile!
It was then that the tears welled up, and in my heart I was grateful to everyone who had been with me, been a part of my journey, given me strength with their wishes, silently and via text. Everyone who had loved and encouraged me to make it this far.
I observed the runners slowing down and realized that the dreaded Heartbreak Hill was just up ahead. By now the fatigue of the constant rolling hills and the heat had settled in me. This was going to be hard. But I was ready (or so I thought). I ran up a part, then walked the next third (It was Peddar Road all over again!) but when I could see the top, I ran up, slowly but confidently. Each stride was slightly longer and faster.
A two-time Boston runner had told me at the start line, “Only when you crest Heartbreak hill will you know that you are really going to finish this race.” Now I knew what she meant. My mojo was returning! I would finish this race after all! I flung my water bottle into a dustbin, relaxed my shoulders, stretched my arms out embracing the world and felt free.
Oh yeah. It was a long downhill, a salve for the broken-hearted!
And now it was the last 10km. My favourite part of the race. The tentativeness of the start turned into the calm confidence of a strong finish.
I decide how this race ends!
After a long time I checked my watch. The average pace was at an all-time high. And to get a sub-4 now required some really aggressive running. But the clouds were out and the tail wind supported us. We were within city limits, so the cheering was immense.
I was ready to fight. The Force was with me.
I flew. I did not look at the watch again. I was going to give this my best shot. I could feel the pain in my legs. The burn in the hamstrings.
I smiled. I endured it. I was a Marathon runner. And this is what we do.
My heart was racing as I ran along Charles River, and down an underpass. And then up through it. (I mean guys, seriously? It is the last 3kms of the race!). I streamed past the runners, some hanging in and some who had given up.
Go, go, go, I told myself. I saw the Citgo sign up ahead. One mile from here.
Keep the pace. Shut out the pain.
Then came the famous right on Hereford (uphill again!) and left on Boylston. I could see the finish line 600m ahead. My heart sank as I checked my watch and saw 3:59. There was no way that I was making this one a sub-4 L. But the cheering just carried me along as I smiled, exhilarated, to the finish.
And then, I could not hold it in any longer. I cried unabashedly as I collected my medal and the silver blanket.
I was home.
Feeling strong and elated. And that was what mattered.
Parul Sheth: The Running Soul: Boston Marathon 2017 : 4:02:45
Part 5: The Epilogue:
Life does not always go the way we want it to go. Living with this uncertainty helps us grow. I had forgotten what that was. Life had been good to me and I had begun to take it a little bit for granted. Thinking that I was invincible. But life has its own rules. Fighting it is futile. I have had to align myself to invisible forces. And when I did that, I was able to create my happiness. I took life by the horns, gathered my strength, stood up and smiled.
Today, I am happy that I was able to hear that little voice inside me, reason with it and make it my ally!
Today, I am happy that the Mind and Muscle were able to collaborate and bring me to the finish.
Today, I am thrilled that the Heart and Mind worked as one so that I could re-calibrate my goals.
Today, I am wiser that I am happy to look beyond my goal and learn from the struggle.
Today is a good day.
Tomorrow will be a better one!
C’ la vie!