To you fellow racers that have tried to BQ but have come up short – keep trying, find a fast course, train with other runners seeking the same goal, and don’t ever quit; Boston is not going anywhere.Happy Running!
It’s Mile 23 at the 2007 Akron Marathon; the sun is out, the temps are cool – this is the perfect weather I had hoped for race morning to try and qualify for the 2008 Boston Marathon. But as I scurry down Portage Path towards West Market Street, I am calculating the math in my head that I need in order to Boston Qualify (BQ). It’s not going to happen. My legs are getting heavier with each step, cramps are nastily settling in, my blood sugar is starting to drop, and that iron clad motivation for months to try and BQ is being replaced with the struggle to try and finish without looking as rough as I feel. Several minutes later I hit the finish line in Canal Park, shake hands with race director, Jim Barnett, and look at my watch – missed it by 3 minutes – that seems so damn short, but in order to BQ, missing by 3 seconds, 3 minutes or 33 minutes puts you in the ‘not-quite-fast-enough’ boat and you need to just wait until the next marathon; and for me, since first planting the BQ seed in 2003, the next marathon became a carousel of trying and failing and trying and failing for 6 years and 12 marathons (just think, my quest to BQ started before Lebron James scored his first basket for the Cavaliers!).
I tried marathons that other runners recommended as being fast – Cleveland, Phoenix, Columbus and Chicago, but the results still came out; good race, but not good enough to grab the brass ring called Boston. I started to really obsess about nabbing the BQ – at least once a day, every day, Boston thoughts would pop in my head for years; I was getting so tired of hearing other runners talk about the greatness of the event and reading about the history and mystique of racing on Patriot’s Day. As much as I liked supporting my running pals, it was always hard on race day tracking their progress while wishing I was the one racing it. But I kept on trying and decided that in 2008, I would do something out of the ordinary for me – I would run Akron as I do each year, but purposefully would hold back and really gun for Chicago 2 weeks later as my attempt to BQ. Based on the Boston criteria and my new age group in 2009, if I ran a sub 3:21, I would land in Boston in 2009; a sub 3:31 would get me there in 2010. Akron went very well and I finished in 3:34 with plenty left in the gas tank; as soon as I finished, I ran over to my wife, Beth, and daughters, Sadie and Celia, by the dugout in Canal Park like a jumping bean yelling to them, “Bring on Chicago!” I knew I could shave a few minutes off that course even if I only had 2 weeks in-between races. Everyone knows how hot and dreadful Chicago ’07 was, well, Chicago ’08 was a far cry from perfect running conditions – the temperature hit 82 degrees a couple hours into the race, but I paced myself smartly and by mile 20 was on track for a sub 3:21. However, by mile 23, the 3:21 was gone and now I was in real peril of losing the 3:31; at that point, I totally got into a Zen state – I did not hear any crowd noise, I only focused on 1 thing – get to the finish line and get the BQ no matter what. I have no specific memories the last 5K except 1 thought popped in my head and that was – you are so close to getting this and you may not get this chance again, so buckle down, tough out these last 3 miles, and make it happen. In the near 450 races I have raced since 1992, those last 3 miles were the physically and mentally most difficult obstacle I have faced. I am not sure how I did it, but the mind games and focusing worked and when I saw the finish line, I knew I was going to be sub 3:31 and heading to Boston in 2010. Unfortunately, the dream I had rehearsed tons of times of how I would react when getting to BQ wasn’t how I finished in Chicago. I was dizzy, confused, dehydrated and kept telling myself, ‘don’t let my girls see me collapse.’ I had a few friendly aides help me through the food line and someone placed ice on my neck and then I shuffled to my family (smartest thing to do at any marathon: plan AHEAD of location where to meet!). Very slowly we went back to our hotel room so I could re-gain my senses and energy – I may have made the BQ, but I was exhausted and far from being in a celebratory mood. Yes, I had reached the BQ, but now I had 18 more months to wait and wait.
Boston 2009 was a hard day for me – I knew many runners that were racing (including a number of first timers) and I was just wishing that I could have been part of the festivities. I tracked them all, called them after the race and heard the words, “wonderful, awesome, unbelievable” so many times, that I started to get really depressed. After work, I walked around my neighborhood that night and just felt so isolated; 1 more year to wait and with my luck, something will happen in the next 365 days to not allow me to go. I was more bummed this night about not being in Boston than any other day of my life – I was close, but not close enough. The rest of 2009 was my usual docket of racing and training and now I was able to tell others and myself, that I will be heading to Boston in April and I went on with the other parts of life – work, coaching my kids in sports, doing family things and the such, but I was still feeling a tad unfulfilled. But as the seasons change and time inches closer to goals, I was able to see on my calendar that April 2010 was getting more in focus and with that came the monthly, then weekly and finally the days countdown to Boston.
1948 and 1952 Olympic gold medal winner, Harrison Dillard, said “Good things come to those who wait.” On April 17th, After 7 years of waiting and 15 marathons completed, Beth and I flew from Cleveland to Boston on a rainy and grey day. Once the plane lifted off, it was starting to sink in - I was finally heading to Boston. I must admit I was still thinking that something would pop up that would disallow the race or having me participate, but none of that happened. Instead, the weekend was as fun as we had hoped – meeting lots of other runners, going whale watching and strolling in downtown Boston and taking everything in. Race morning was surreal for me – riding on the highway on the bus to Hopkinton and seeing the exit signs for all the small towns we would be running through just seemed so distant, but was now soon to be reality. As I lined up in Hopkinton in my starting corral, and walked towards the starting line shortly after 10am, I could not help to grin; the first 2 minutes of the race were some of the happiest race moments of my life – I actually said out loud “Dreams come true” when I hit the starting mat and wasted a lot of energy high 5’ing kids, pumping my arms, waving and being so excited to finally be “running the New England.” The race itself was a lot of fun, but as was advertised is quite hard at times and running through my regular lunch hour, made me very hungry. Finishing time was irrelevant, and though I would have liked to have had more energy at the finish, I was very pleased with a 3:38. My emotions got the best of me when the volunteer placed the finisher medal around my neck – I stared at the brightly colored unicorn and ribbon of the 114th BAA Marathon and started crying - 7 years I had waited for this moment; 7 years of waiting, thinking about, reading about, hearing about, talking about, and now I was a finisher. I met Beth a few minutes later and the tears continued. We both knew how much this moment meant to me. Usually minutes after a marathon, Beth consoles me or I tell her “maybe next time,” but on April 19, 2010, this WAS next time!
So, was this race life changing as many claim it is? No, but it was pretty dang special. Was it the best marathon on the planet? Again, it was a very well oiled race, but I would say I prefer the big stage atmosphere in Chicago better. But this race was the result of years of dedication, persistence, 6 years of attempting and coming up short, but never giving up and working to making a race dream become a race reality. At times I questioned why I would put myself through all this effort to say, “I Ran Boston,” but now that I have achieved that goal, it was all worth it. So, to you fellow racers that have tried to BQ but have come up short – keep trying, find a fast course, train with other runners seeking the same goal, and don’t ever quit; Boston is not going anywhere, so you may not hit it in 2011 or 2012, but when you do, it will be a very special moment for you and can never be taken away.
• Road Racing for 19 Years
• Sponsored by PowerBar for 5 Years
• American Heart Association – “Heart and Sole” award recipient – 1996
• Work in Human Resources for Saint-Gobain Corporation since 1990
• Wife: Beth, Daughters: Sadie (10) / Celia (9)
Favorite Quote: “Dream your painting…then paint your dream.”