Thursday, April 23, 2009

Boston Marathon 2009 (Part I)

I woke up in Boston a heap of nervous energy. I reached for the running clothes I picked out the night before, carefully choosing just the right socks, and gingerly tying the laces of my Zoom Elites.

I headed downstairs to stretch, breathe, and gather my thoughts, quieting all the “what ifs” and fears zipping around my mind. My stomach was in knots, too uneasy to choke down breakfast. I had never worked myself up into such a state for a run—not even at the starting line of my first marathon.

This was it. After all the many months of working toward my Boston Marathon goal, it all came down to this: a 20 minute jog the day before the race.

The next few minutes would tell me everything I needed to know and I was terrified of taking the first step. Either I would make it to the legendary starting line on Boston’s 113th Marathon Monday, or I’d join the mass of spectators lining the course. The outcome of the test jog would give me the answer.

I had spent the ten days after pulling my hamstring doing just about everything I could possibly do to make it better. I rested, I slept, I elevated, I iced, I walked, I stretched, I strengthened, I ate, I hydrated, I swallowed Advil, I massaged, and I repeated. Religiously. Like it was my job. I visited some of the kindest and most knowledgeable people on the planet at Wharton Performance. I thought all good thoughts. I believed that I would heal. I was confident that I would race.

So I stepped out the door on Sunday morning, into a beautiful sun-drenched day and had faith that my journey still had 26.2 miles left in it. After all of this, how could it not?

A cautious shuffle turned into a light jog. A dull ache twinged, but it was not a deal-breaking pain. Ten minutes passed and a light jog turned into a familiar, easy pace. Five minutes passed, and just like that, I had my answer.

That sudden, sharp stabbing sensation ripped through my leg. I stopped running for a few steps, denying that this was really how this was all going to end. I picked up my right leg to quicken my pace again, and as my other leg swung to do its work, the pain shot and radiated up and down the lower left side of my body.

It was over. Apparently there is more than one way to experience heartbreak at the Boston Marathon—and it needn’t involve any hills.

As I limped back to my friend Jo’s house, where I was staying, I let the tears streak down my face. I allowed myself to finally cave to all the wretched thoughts I had been suppressing for a week. I climbed the stairs and picked up my phone, encapsulating the entire experience into a text message of no more than 200 characters. I sent it to Mike, who was on a plane heading to Boston, and did the only thing I knew would sooth me: I poured myself a cup of coffee.

“I know this is not what you want to hear right now, but it’s true: Everything happens for a reason,” Jo said. “And if I were you, I’d punch me in the face right now.”

I chuckled, because she spoke the truth, and delivered it in a manner that only a closest friend could. And she would know. A world-class lacrosse player, once captain of Penn State’s soccer team, former collegiate lacrosse coach, and a marathoner to boot, I will never experience anything in athletics that she hasn’t already been through, including a game-ending hamstring injury.

“I know and I believe that too,” I said. “I just wish that shitty situations came with a label explaining what that reason is.”

As Jo headed to work, I packed up my car to check into the hotel I had reserved for myself, and all my friends and family that were en route to cheer me on at a race I was no longer running. I went to the expo to defer my race entry, dodging the scores of excited runners picking up their bib numbers and Boston Marathon memorabilia. I tried not to hate all of them. It was hard.

I retreated back to my hotel room for fear that the sight of one more royal blue and yellow, unicorn-bearing jacket might finally make me vomit. I sat alone for a while, aimlessly staring out the window at the planes coming in and out of Logan. I started thinking a lot, about everything. And I came to a few important realizations.

To be continued…

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