After the Chicago Marathon last year, The Wife and I were discussing races and goals for the year ahead. We were heading down wildly divergent paths; while she was deciding to take a break from the marathon, I had spreadsheets devoted to selecting my next one and was wondering how big a chunk to try to bite off. I kept throwing out times I thought I might be able to improve by, 5, 7, or maybe even 10 minutes. But then I started to think how close that 3:15 or 3:11 was to a BQ and kept dismissing it as unrealistic. I’m not fast enough, can’t run enough miles, I don’t do strength work or stretch, I’m a Gemini born in a year of the dog, and a whole host of other excuses were bandied about. The Wife cut me off mid-sentence with an exasperated sigh and got up to walk away. She responded to my slightly hurt, confused look with:
“Stop debating and just do it.”
This didn’t help. “...wha… you mean… Vaporflys… ?” I feebly offered.
“No you idiot. Just go for it. You always spend weeks hemming and hawing over times like you’re planning to invade Russia in winter, then go run whatever you want to anyway. You’re like a machine. So just shut up and go BQ.”
I’m a machine. Visions of Rocky-esque training montages ran through my head and my swollen ego decided yes damn it, I’m going to BQ. I figured I’d be running the friendly Wineglass course and started writing up the training plan and convincing myself the workouts and paces weren’t beyond my ability. I downloaded the Rocky IV soundtrack. And I slowly started to believe. Then I got into the NYC Marathon, and my focus changed. I was ecstatic, this was the race I’ve wanted to run since before I even wanted to run, and for a while I forgot about goals and just enjoyed the fact that I would finally be joining the party on the Verrazano Bridge. Any running train of thought quickly ended up at Grand Central and included images of flying up 1st Ave through a tunnel of noise, and I spent weeks in this euphoric daze like a kid who got the “it” toy at Christmas. But as the spring racing season began the excitement gradually faded and I revisited my training plan for the year. The NYC course is definitely tougher than Wineglass. And I remember watching some nasty windy days in recent years on the first weekend of November. I need to run a 3:10 to BQ, but to get in I probably need to cut it down to 3:05. That’s almost my current 10k pace, and I couldn’t imagine running that over the 59th Street Bridge (sorry Mayor Koch).
Then Boston happened. You all know how that went. The winners weren’t the flashiest athletes or the ones in the most commercials or those with the best PRs. They were the grinders, the ones who don’t take no for an answer, who don’t make excuses, who don’t ever stop. The telemarketers of the marathon world, you could say. I marveled watching elites drop like flies while the regular folk endured and in a few cases even finished in the money. It was a race for those who lace up not because they’re getting paid to, but because they want to. Or maybe need to. It was a race celebrating those who consciously choose, without glory or paychecks, to be perpetually exhausted, always hungry, in pain, and forever lacking a complete set of toenails.
There were a lot of theories about why the elites seemingly suffered worse than the citizen runners. One thing I didn’t see mentioned but that I kept coming back to was that for most people who endured the conditions, they probably didn’t know if it was their first or last or only shot to run Boston. They couldn’t drop out and collect a check a few weeks later and try again next year. They may never again have the chance to go right on Hereford, left on Boylston and they weren’t going to be denied the opportunity, even by an apparent act of God. If you’re not inspired by that, you either need someone to check your pulse or you’re about to lecture me on how running will ruin my knees.
They say you should announce your goals and put them out there for all to see. Helps keep you accountable, they say. Helps you to, with apologies to the already long dead horse, keep showing up. So here we go. On November 4th I’m going to return to the city of my birth and qualify for the Boston Marathon. I’m not going to try, it won’t be an attempt. I’m going to just fucking do it.