We are one week on from the 119th Boston Marathon. I sat down to write this post several times over the past seven days, but it almost seemed too soon. I had to spend a few days icing and recovering physically and emotionally. While walking was a little painful, not to mention funny looking (maybe that’s why so many runners insist on wearing their Boston Marathon jackets for days…it explains their awkward gait) I felt as if I was floating on a cloud of accomplishment. True the weather was terrible, the headwind brutal, and my legs painful, but the Boston Marathon was an amazing experience.
I woke up on Marathon Monday and turned on the TV, hoping Mother Nature had made a game time decision and not rain on my parade. It was a total buzz kill when every other phrase uttered by TV journalists was “the weather is not ideal.” Maybe this is what professional football players feel like before a big game played in the middle of winter.
My Dad walked me to the Common where I boarded a yellow school bus for the journey out to Hopkinton. On the Mass Pike the reality that my feet alone would be carrying me back home started to sink in. Thankfully, passing motorists waving and honking jogged my thoughts out of that mental rabbit hole. The stranger sitting next to me was even more nervous than I was, and trying to calm her down (which ultimately resulted in me passing her my People Magazine) actually calmed me down. There was nothing else either of us could do at that point. We had the clothes on our back, it was too late to get another layer. We knew it was going to rain, the only question was whether we would be running in it for all 26.2 miles, or only some of them. I figured there was no point in worrying; basically everything was outside of my control…except for my head. My legs were trained to run this distance, but it would be up to my head, my mental toughness, to get me to the finish line.
After arriving at the Athlete’s Village and waiting in a 40 minute line for the bathroom, I finally saw a friendly face: a co-worker also running Boston for the first time. It was great to have someone to walk and chat with, it cut the tension building in my mind and body. With 30,000 plus people running this race, I saw another familiar face when I reached corral #7 (actual proof that Boston is a really small town). As we started to trot towards the starting line, the excitement was palpable, and the rain started falling. Hard.
The first several miles were slow, congested and wet. I got into a near shoving match with a Belgian, (thanks to that kind, and cute, stranger who acted as a bodyguard of sorts after the run-in) and I nearly fell after a runner right ahead of me stopped short trying to avoid a monstrous puddle.
The first 10 or so miles are a blur. It was raining, miserable, and the crowds were thinner than I had expected and hoped. My windbreaker was soaking, and my muscles were cold and tight. I had a moment when I wondered to myself: Why did I think this would be fun? Could I call an Uber? But I just put my head down and ran…and ran…and ran.
At mile 13 my right IT band (a polite way of describing my butt) and my left achillies started hurting. I felt pain with each step. This is when the power of the crowds and my fellow competitors meant everything. Between signs that read “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever,” and the herculean efforts of some of my differently-abled fellow participants (including Maickel Melamed) inspired and motivated me to keep going.
The turning point was around mile 17, still in pain, but with a heavy mist instead of a downpour, I heard a bellowing “It’s a Mahlmarathon!” and “Go Mahlman!” From some dear friends. My pace instantly increased, and a broad smile took over my face (Thank you Hannigans! That is exactly when I needed you!). As I took the right at the Newton Fire House with Heartbreak Hill ahead of me, I saw an incredible sight. A man in a wheelchair, using his legs to shuffle himself up the hill…backwards. As I passed him I told him how great he was doing, choking back tears, and nearing causing me to hyperventilate. That is what marathons are all about: individuals of varying abilities pushing themselves as far as they can.
Once I passed mile 20 I realized I was not going to make my goal time, but quickly got over it (pleasantly surprised with myself about that), as the crowds thickened and I started spotting more and more familiar faces among the thousands braving the rain to cheer us on. That’s when I got really emotionally, again fighting back tears because the combination of running and blubbering was causing hyperventilation.
Prior to that day, folks had told me not to weave from one side of the course to the other, it would mean taking extra steps and wasting energy. But when I saw my two besties at Kendall Square, I didn’t care. I swerved, nearly sprinting to the other side of Beacon Street to give them huge hugs. I don’t know if I said anything, but I felt a huge lump in my throat and again had to fight back tears. As I took that famous left from Hereford onto Boylston I saw my Dad waving, I could barely contain my excitement. After shedding that soaking wet windbreaker, hurling it at him, I took off. With about 300 yards to go my legs were hurting and tightening even more, but I felt like I was in a nearly full-out sprint. I couldn’t hear anything, the crowd was so loud.
Crossing the finish line was euphoric, but also a reality check. As soon as my legs slowed to a walk they stiffened up and I started shaking from the cold. Thanks to the volunteers who helped me get into my tinfoil blanket and peeled my banana for me because my fingers were too cold to function. I limped to the bar where I would rendezvous with my Dad and friends. Within minutes I had warmed up, and I chased my marathon with a banana and bubbly (a great combination, in case you are wondering). Celebrating with my Dad and some of my best friends, a celebration that eventually devolved into a 90’s dance party, was the icing on my Boston Marathon cake.
Despite running for 4 hours and ten minutes (although I stopped to go to the bathroom, so really four hours and 8 minutes, but who’s counting. Hint: me.) I had trouble sleeping that night. I couldn’t get over how amazing the entire experience was. I learned about the Children’s Advocacy Center, and helped them with the important work they do. There were so many amazingly generous people who donated to my marathon efforts, plus all the emails, calls, tweets, posts and texts of encouragement I received. Then those brave souls who tracked and cheered me on in less than ideal conditions. And I’m pretty proud of myself as well: other than a less-than-serious passing thought, I never seriously considered stopping. Despite the rain and pain, it was never really an option, I was committed. It’s overwhelming to think about, even now, one week later. Which is one of the reason it took me so long to write this post. I am still so touched by everyone who shared this experience with me.
In the end, I can corroborate the expression….There’s nothing quite like Boston.