I round the corner onto Boylston Street and hear the deafening sounds of the cheering crowd. My body is shivering from the quickly changing temperatures and the shock of all that happened over the previous 26 miles. This is the moment I’d envisioned for the past 18 weeks. All the time and the work and the sacrifice of my family led up to this moment–the finish line. This is what I’d been working toward.
I look toward the finish line as pain pierces through my body. The blue banner and ticking clock seem miles away. Twenty-six miles behind me and even now I wonder, will I make it?
Suddenly, two women, fellow runners, approach on either side of me and I hear one say, put your arms around us, we’ll get you there.”
No, please, I resist tears falling from my eyes. You go. I’ll be okay.
The women refuse to go on, each taking one of my arms and placing them around their necks, this is what it’s all about, they said. We will get you up to the finish and you will walk across on your own.
On the morning of April 15th, I open my eyes and look around the darkened hotel room. Even though we’d been in Boston for a couple of days, it feels surreal. It’s here, I think to myself as I say a silent prayer of thanks. It’s finally here.
I am a mix of nerves and excitement as I climb out of bed and walk toward the window. I pull the curtains to look outside and see the sky is as dark as night. Lightning illuminates the darkness and thunder echoes through the air. I smile at the sight of the rain pounding the streets below.
This will only add to the experience of the day, I comment to Chad as I watch puddles gather on the streets below. As I get ready for the day I reflect on the previous 18 weeks— the long runs in the snow, battling freezing temperatures, 700 miles logged, and the constant support and encouragement of my family.
This day is as much their day–Chad, Charlie, Chanelle, and Meadow–as it is mine. They not only put up with the grueling schedule of my training and my
slight neurosis about it, but they supported and encouraged every step of the way. In my mind, I am running for them. Full of gratitude for their unrelenting support. I want them to look back and say it was worth it. As I carefully pin my bib to the front of my shirt I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my family and only one thought crosses my mind:
I want to make them proud.
I’d qualified for the Boston Marathon several times through the years. I ran my first marathon at age 19 and since that time “qualifying” was enough for me. Truth be told, I’m a big baby when it comes to the cold and marathon training during Ohio’s winter months never interested me. I’m a fall marathon kind of gal, thankyouverymuch.
This year I turned 40, though, and suddenly “qualifying” didn’t feel like enough. This was the year I wanted to stand on the starting line. I don’t know, maybe I wanted to prove something to myself? Maybe I wanted to chase something? To this day, I’m still not sure why it all mattered so much to me, but it did. And because it mattered to me, it mattered to my family. They celebrated the completion of each long run with me. When we had to forgo plans because “Mommy has a long run”, they didn’t complain. They grieved injuries alongside me and celebrated each victory along the way. They gave me a gift I never asked for and there are not words to express the extent of gratitude I felt for my little cheering section.
And so for the first four months of this year I had an eagle eye focus on a single date: April 15th, the Boston Marathon.
Chad and I stepped out of our hotel into the wind and pouring rain and walked toward the buses that would take me to the starting line of the marathon. When it was time for us to separate my nerves stepped into overdrive and the lump in my throat broke. I said goodbye to Chad and hung my head low, hoping the tears would appear as raindrops on my cheek.
I climbed aboard the bus and took a seat among my fellow runners. Men and women full of excitement and anticipation. There was laughter and chatter as strangers became friends, bonded by a single experience for which we’d all been working.
As the caravan of buses traveled toward the start, traffic slowed and I thought about all that had happened over the last few days. Just five days ago I was laying in an MRI machine to make sure the new pain that had popped up wasn’t a stress fracture. I thought about the doctor who went above and beyond to make sure I could make it to the start line that day. The prayers of friends and family who knew how much I wanted to be there. Just three days ago I’d learned that my lower extremities were riddled with tendonitis. I looked around at the other runners and wondered if they, too, felt pain every time they walked. Somewhere along this journey, I’d convinced myself that the pain was part of it. Somewhere along the way I’d convinced myself that my will would overpower the pain.
The gun sounded and we were off. Here we go, I thought to myself. Keep it steady.
The rain had stopped and there was only a slight chill in the air. The sun was hidden behind a thick layer of clouds and by all measures, it was a perfect day for running. I immediately noticed the sound of shoes on the pavement. Thousands of feet pounding down the same road. A gentle padding like raindrops. I smiled on the inside at the sound of this herd of runners, this community of people from all over the world, who had converged on this single street, all reaching for the same, but individual goals.
I listened to the repetitive cadence of Brooks, Nike, New Balance, Saucony, Mizuno’s and more against the pavement and vowed to memorize it. To drink in the experience. We passed through crowds and I slapped the hands of little boys and girls who were calling out support for strangers. I noticed the streets lined with people who had braved the rain and cold to sit on the sidelines and cheer, support and encourage. I’d heard about it in the past,–the crowds at the Boston Marathon–but the reality was more beautiful than I could have imagined.
Grateful to be there, I breathed quiet prayers of thanks.
As I passed by mile markers, I glanced at my watch. I was right on pace. I knew the pace I wanted to run and, for the most part, I felt strong and steady. Mile one, two, three, four. . . . ten. . . everything was going well. . .
Until it wasn’t.
Somewhere between mile 10 and 13 something in my leg snapped. Or, more specifically, something in my hip. At mile 13, I pulled off to the side for the first time and attempted to stretch it out, work it out, fix it.
Each step became more painful and so I switched strategies–play the mental game. I worked hard to change my perspective. To say positive things. I uttered prayers, played with my form, envisioned the finish. I tried everything.
Nothing worked. With each step the pop-pop-pop-pop-pop in my leg continued.
I switched from a hobbling run to a long stride walk. With each step the popping in my leg became louder and more painful. I thought about Chad and tried to remember what mile he said I would see him. Twenty? Twenty-one?
I just want to make them proud.
All around other runners noticed my struggle and encouraged:
You’ve got this!
You will make it!
It doesn’t matter if you have to crawl, one woman said, you’ll make it to the finish.
I hobbled my way through, ticking off one mile off at a time. Twelve to go, eleven, ten, nine, eight.
I was no longer looking at my watch. I let go of all goals except to make it to the finish line. Countless times I was asked, do you need a medic? Each time, I refused. With each step I thought about Chad, Charlie, Chanelle and Meadow. I thought about all of their support and love. I thought about their encouragement. I thought about how I didn’t want all of this to be for nothing.
Just after mile 22, in the middle of a hobble-jog, I finally heard Chad call my name. I veered to the side and finally let go of all the emotion. The sadness in Chad’s eyes mirrored my own.
Just tell me I can do it, I pleaded with him.
You can do it, he told me.
I want you to be proud of me, I said through desperate tears.
Summer! he responded, unable to hide his shock at my words. We are so proud of you.
The last four miles are a blur. I was no longer able to attempt to run. Each step sent a painful shock throughout my body. I pulled off to the side often trying to stretch or work out whatever had gone wrong with me. At mile 25 I pulled off to the side and attempted to fix my leg again, and by some miracle, when I looked up Chad was standing in front of me.
It’s really bad, I told him.
You’re almost there, he said. I’m going to walk up here beside you.
And that’s what he did. I hobbled along on the marathon course and he fought the crowds and security on the sidewalk to stay beside me. When I looked up, he was there.
He’s always been there.
As I rounded the corner onto Boylston Street fellow runners ran by me tapping my shoulder and cheering me along. You’ve got this, they said. You can do this. You’re almost there.
Put your arms around our us, said one woman. Peggy was her name, I learned. This is what it’s all about, she said.
In all my thoughts and dreams about the Boston Marathon, I never imagined a scenario where I walked across the finish line. But that’s what happened. I was ushered to the finish and hobbled across the line sandwiched between two runners who left an imprint on me that will last forever.
As I made my way through the finishing chute, medics approached me from every side offering help, assistance, wheelchairs, food, water, warmth. The pain was nearing unbearable, but I was desperate to find Chad. I continued to hobble down the street with a medic who stayed with me until again, Chad appeared seemingly out of nowhere.
Finally, I’d reached the real finish line and something in my body-brain knew it. In that moment, I could no longer bear any weight on my leg. I tried with everything I had to take a step, but my leg was done. Chad acted as a limo and carried me on his back the mile to our hotel.
As I write this, ten days have passed since the marathon. A pair of crutches rest beside me and I am still unable to bear any weight on my leg. I am trying to sort through all that happened. Unending questions swirl through my mind as I realize the burden I’ve placed on my family due to my limited mobility.
Was it worth it?
Should I have stopped?
Should I have seen this outcome?
I should have been smarter.
I am quick to form a new goal. Before we were back to the hotel, I told Chad I wanted redemption. Goal: get healthy, qualify again, get back to Boston.
First things first, though. There are lessons to be learned and I know I need to pay attention. First and foremost–pay attention to the injuries–there are times when no strength of will can battle a screaming body.
It’s more than that, though.
Questions of identity, striving, achieving, pride, prayer, contentment, failure and success linger.
Maybe I’m over-analyzing, but I know I need to sit here for awhile. Sort it all out.
In the end, there is a hero in this story. It’s the guy who bought me a headlamp so I’d be safe running in the dark. The guy who joined me on snowy winter runs. The guy who booked hotel and flights. The guy who heard my dream and paved the way so it could happen. He showed up at mile 22 and again at 25. He walked beside me as I limped and when I couldn’t walk another step, he carried me.
This was not the Boston Story I wanted to tell, but it’s the story I was given. (The story I lived?) And in the end, regardless of the time on the clock or the crutches in my hands, I know that I am the luckiest girl alive to be a part of this little family of ours.