I’m not the runner who has been in the sport her whole life. I wasn’t very athletic in school and instead gravitated toward less competitive activities like theater and dance. For me, becoming a runner was a very gradual and sometimes surprising process.
Senior year in college my roommates and I got jobs at a gym (The Squash Club in Allston – anyone remember that?) so we started working out and taking group fitness classes. I really enjoyed it and stuck with some sort of fitness routine for the next several years. I mostly took group classes like step and ‘Hi Lo’ (this was the 90’s, very pre-Zumba), and even considered becoming an instructor at one point. I loved the combination of a great workout with fun choreography and the exercise made a difference in how I looked and how I felt about myself. Several years later at a new gym (Super Fitness – also defunct), I took a special class once a week dubbed ‘spin tread’ with Erik Hajer who to this day remains one of my favorite coaches and inspiring athletes. We did speed training on the treadmill and then would switch to spinning on the bike. It was an intense workout but I loved it and really enjoyed the running.
In 2002 I took a job at Fitcorp, a fitness center in Boston, as a sales rep. My office was literally in the middle of the weights area, so there was never an excuse to miss a workout. I ran on the treadmill on my free time and finally someone asked me why I didn’t run outside to enjoy the beautiful day in Boston. A couple of days later I tried running to the hatch shell and back – about 3 miles – and I enjoyed it so much more than running inside. A couple of months later I made it to the Museum of Science and back. It was the first time I ever ran 5 miles and I had to walk a little bit before I finished. I ran in old bad sneakers, I ran in cotton, I ran holding an actual cassette walkman and then a discman before I got my first MP3 player which held about 15 songs. I had a lot to learn.
Later that year some of my co-workers were throwing around the idea of training for the Boston Marathon. Fitcorp has a great marathon training program and a few of them had ‘run a marathon’ lingering on their bucket lists. I reluctantly decided to join them in the training with no real commitment to the actual race. Someone mentioned to me a great way to kick off a winter training program was to find a Thanksgiving 5k Road Race. I searched for a race in CT and discovered a brand new race was beginning in my home town. I ran the inaugural 2002 Commodore Hull Thanksgiving Road Race and was interviewed by a local paper asking why I had chosen this race instead of some of other more popular and established races nearby. I responded that I was excited to be a part of the new tradition in my hometown and it was great timing since I was about to start training for my first marathon. My quote was printed and I knew I couldn’t back out now.
I showed up every Saturday morning and ran up and down Beacon St. getting ready for the April marathon. I bought new running shoes and some winter running gear. I signed up for my first half marathon which would be in Hyannis and every time we completed a long run it was the longest I had ever run. After my first 16 miler I called my mom to tell her I survived and then took myself out for pancakes. Everything was going great, but there was one problem – I wasn’t registered for the race. It was February and I still wasn’t convinced I would be able to run the full 26.2 miles. Then one day someone left an envelope on my desk at work and inside was an invitational entry to the 2003 Boston Marathon, to this day I have no idea where it came from. The registration date had already passed but I still filled out the form and sent it in with a check and a few days later I received confirmation that I was entered into the race. *Back in 2003 the Boston Marathon did not sell out and there was a paper form to fill out because they did not have online registration.
My family made plans to come up to Boston for the race while I suffered through the last month of training. In March we were bused out to Framingham for the 21 miler and to my shock I made it back to Boston. Before I knew it, race weekend had arrived. My friend Lucy joined me for the expo where I picked up my number and bought the official jacket and fleece pullover (I still wear both). The night before the race I stayed at a friend’s house that was also running and we were picked up Monday morning for the long ride to Hopkinton. It was a gorgeous day for a run and we had a lot of time to kill waiting for the noon start. Waiting around, I overheard a woman talking and I’ll never forget what she said “…and you know what those last 5 miles are going to feel like.”
Having little idea of what the last 5 miles would feel like I thought, ‘Crap! What have I gotten myself into?!’
Before I knew it, it was time to line up. The next few hours were a bit of a blur to me. I remember racing down the hills at the start pumped with adrenaline, I remember a group of guys chanting my name as I ran by in Framingham, I certainly remember the roar of the Wellesley girls and the famous ‘Scream Tunnel’ half way through the race. Lucy and my family were going to be around the Newton Hills (Mile 16/17) and I couldn’t wait to see everyone and show them how great I felt. When I finally caught site of my cheering squad I had to cross the road to get to them and I leaped into my Cousin Tom’s arms. Thank goodness he was strong enough to catch me or my race would have ended in a face plant on Comm Ave. I posed for a couple of photos and sprang off to get over the hills. I saw them again at Cleveland Circle (Mile 22) and one more time in Kenmore Square (Mile 25) just a mile before crossing the finish line on Boylston Street. I finished the 2003 Boston Marathon in 4 hours, 23 minutes and 45 seconds. I loved every moment of the experience: the crowd, the course, the unbelievable feeling of accomplishment at the finish line, and the camaraderie of hobbling around Boston the next day wearing a finisher’s jacket.
While I kept racing, it was another two years before I ran my next marathon. In 2005 I trained for my second Boston as part of the American Liver Foundation’s Run for Research team beginning a very important and influential chapter of my life.
So much of my adult life has been framed by my running career: my friends, my career, my relationships and in many ways, my personality. Becoming an athlete allowed me to find strength, confidence and a love for myself I had spent much of my earlier life searching for.
This winter I celebrate ten years since that first training season. To date, I have run a total of 12 marathons with two more on the calendar. I have better shoes, prettier gear, much better form and I upgraded that walkman to an ipod shuffle. I found some speed and achieved the holy grail of distance running when I qualified for Boston with a 3:40:46 in Philadelphia. I even discovered the courage to break outside my comfort zone to try swimming, biking and yoga. But of all of these accomplishment and races if I had to pick a favorite, it will always be that first Boston.