How Can I Love You, I Don’t Even Know You

As someone who has never run the Boston Marathon, who doesn’t know first-hand the magic of Marathon Monday and the rush of the finish down Boylston Street, I sometimes feel “unqualified” to feel for the race like I often catch myself doing. No, I don’t have a connection to the city that those who have run it do. I can’t pretend to understand the cursories towards the Newton Hills or the elation the Citgo sign brings. I haven’t sat in anticipation during registration week wondering if my qualifying time was fast enough, or felt the camaraderie of boarding a flight at Logan International with dozens of people wearing the same jacket as me.

(I haven’t let myself daydream hard enough to decide whether I’ll be “one of those” people or not yet)

Millions of people have more of an earned love than I, yet I still feel a little piece of my heart is colored blue and gold. Why do I care so much?? Is this desperation or obsession – claiming to love something you don’t even know? The only other time I’ve felt this way was about Ben Affleck after Armageddon and come to think of it… if Pinterest is today’s taping Teen Beat pullouts onto you bedroom wall, then yeah actually this is kind of the same thing.

boston pin

“2 years ago” – have I been a delusional masochist that long?

Like many others, I set out after last year’s race with a renewed vigor to train hard, qualify, and stand at that damn start line in Hopkinton. I wanted to pin that “2014 Boston Marathon” bib to my race singlet, stick my fist in the face of last year’s terrors, and prove first-hand just how resilient and damn proud runners are.

My anger and scorn towards the 2013 attacks seems a little surface-oriented, since I was thousands of miles away watching from the safety of my office, well out of harm’s way of the bombing. But as I sat in front of my computer streaming the live coverage this year, just as I did last, I felt all those helpless emotions rise back up. Only this year instead of fear, worry, and concern for everyone in the city, I felt excitement, gutting disappointment, and long-awaited satisfaction.

Yelling at the screen hoping Meb could hear, “he’s closing! Keep pushing!!” Hearing the gun announcing the start of the age group waves. Crying when Shalane told reporters that she wished her best was better. Wondering what it really felt like to run an entire 26.2 miles packed with spectators, like a home stretch crowd the entire course. Seeing paces creep higher and higher late, worrying a million worries and hoping it was “just” that their legs were shot from the hills. Staring un-blinking at the live finish line feed searching for triumphant friends, swelling with happiness for them and even the complete strangers distracting my view.

And wondering what it’d be like to cross that line some day.

I realized then that while being a participant is obviously the highest of regards, just being a runner is so much bigger than it seems. This bond, the community – the one you see when a cramping runner is carried across the finish line by fellow finishers, when your Twitter feed blows up with hundreds of fellow virtual cheerleaders completely immersed in the event, when you care so deeply about someone else’s day it feels like your own – that’s fucking special. One of the most individual and lonely sports is surrounded by so much support the minute you look out from within, and it just blows my mind.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to Boston or not. Lord knows my stubborn side will give a few more hacks at a qualifying time – cursing the whole way I’m sure – but I’d be lying if I said it was my main focus. Yes, the allure is there, so much that I’ve put myself on a one week “holding period” to try and avoid any secondhand endorphin highs instigating decisions I might regret a few months from now. But I’ve had my share of ups and downs with this maniacal hobby, and through them I’ve learned that the relationships rooted in the miles are what matter most. The training partners, mentors, converted friends, all of you!, and mostly, the relationship I’m building with myself. While I think we’ve debunked the claim that running is the “cheapest” form of therapy, there’s no denying that the best place to find yourself is a few miles into a therapeutic run. And that’s what I want to focus on.

I know earning one of those Adidas finisher jackets doesn’t define me as a runner, that I’m no more or less a part of this community with or without one. But as I strive to keep bettering myself and maintaining these healthy relationships I’m rebuilding with running, I hope someday it does take me down a path that has an April stop in Massachusetts on the itinerary.

I’ll keep avoiding the jacket-on-the-plane theoretical scenario until then.

flat sarah boston

If you’re wondering whether I ran in an obnoxiously “Boston from afar” outfit Monday anyway, Flat Sarah has been resurrected from the hamper to tell you, you’re fucking right I did

Sarah OUaL

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30 thoughts on “How Can I Love You, I Don’t Even Know You

  1. You and me both girl! My goal is to qualify and I will stop at nothing! It may not be next year, or it may be – I’ll never know if I don’t go and try my hardest! You will make! I know you will!

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  2. Love this post. All of it. I’ve only completed one marathon so far, and it was a run:walk effort, and I was severely undertrained, and I’d have to cut over 50 minutes off my finishing time to qualify. But I want to so badly. And there’s a delusional part of my brain that says “I can hold a BQ pace for a few miles…why not 26.2?” But I still daydream about it.

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  3. Those freaking jackets are so cool. I’d be lying if I said earning the right to wear one of those wasn’t one of my main motivating factors.

    When you’re healthy/mentally ready to tackle the marathon again, I’d highly recommend hiring a coach. (I guess it’s too early to highly recommend it — I haven’t marathoned yet — but whatever.) A coworker went from consistent 3:41s, to 3:35, to 3:26, to 3:18 (!) over the course of a few years with a Run Smart Project coach. I’ll find out Sunday if the additional 147 (!) miles my coach has had me run this year compared to what I’d run by this time last year will lead to a new half-marathon PR.

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    • Will be cheering hard for you Sunday! I’d consider a coach – maybe the trick is for pressures to come from someone else rather than myself? I’m a people-pleaser and like high fives…

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  4. this nailed it. exactly how i feel about the running community and exactly how i feel about running boston—i’m not from boston, I have no friends or family and have never even visited Boston, but watching that race…man.. i just want to be with there with the runners of boston one day.

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  5. Delusional masochists of the world, unite!
    I’m still a good hour+++ away from a BQ. But a few years ago I was two and a half hours away. (Baby steps. And someday, baby steps that don’t involve the sit-down-and-cry cramps that have plagued me every marathon.) You’re closer to it than I am. But of course we all get something out of running – like spending quality time with friends, or finding joy in seeing how much faster we can get. A BQ is a huge goal, obviously, but it doesn’t have to be the only goal there is.

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  6. My fiance qualified for 2014, raced on Monday and suffered a near heat stroke and horrible de-hydration at mile 22, blacked out and was done for the day. She was a lot like you, determined to get to the finish line this year for the same reasons. While that might not have happened in 2014 she is going to regroup and try again in 2015. It takes time, and the journey is a difficult one. I keep telling her, getting to the start is harder than getting to the finish. I shared her page with you, it made her smile. Thank you

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  7. You said it perfectly! I’ll never make it to Boston but have the love for Marathon Monday. It’s so great to see the running community come together. I hope to be there cheering one day instead of at work stalking the times my runner friends — those in real life and the blog world.

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  8. Sarah, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time – and this is by far my favorite post you’ve ever written. Thank you for capturing my feelings perfectly and for justifying my obsession with running/Boston/that damn jacket so perfectly. Someday I’ll be there for that marathon, whether I’m spectating or running (but the masochistic side of me says running).

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  9. I want to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Award. You can check it out on my most recent blog post. I hope you have as much fun with it as I did!! If you don’t have time no worries!!

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  10. I so get it. I’m not even close right now, but to BQ someday is firmly etched on my bucket list just like the Kona World Champs IM is (maybe Boston when I’m 60, Kona when I’m 70?). I’m wayyyyy further away than you (I need to find an hour and change out there on the course somewhere), but – that jacket. I want it. There is nothing like the end of a marathon and this is the marathon of all marathons.

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  11. Well said girl! I would love to run Boston but even my fastest isn’t fast enough. You will get there and I can’t wait to cheer you on.

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  12. This is beautiful – I agree with everything you said. I don’t even run marathons but I would love to run Boston, I’d love to be fast enough to run Boston. I also love what you said about how those jackets don’t define you as a runner – a girl doesn’t need a blue and yellow jacket to be a runner, I feel that so passionately. But there’s something very special about seeing all those people, some of whom have worked SO hard to be there.

    One day, Lime, one day!

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  13. You basically summarized my feelings exactly. Can I just copy and paste them into a blog post since you just wrote what I’m thinking?!

    Seriously, I love love love this post and I’m not going to say “you’ll get there on day!” like so many have said to me because I know we both know that that damn BQ and the subsequent flight and start line and finisher jacket is so dependent on 100000 factors. What I will say is I know you have it in you, because you do.

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  14. Pingback: On Running (and on…and on…) | a bowl of clowder

  15. I want to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Award. You can check it out on my most recent blog post. I hope you have as much fun with it as I did. If you don’t have time no worries! Rock and run on.

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  16. Sara, I ran Boston last Monday — fulfilling a goal set in 1985 while standing on the sidelines watching. It took me until May 2013 to run my first marathon at the ripe young age of 49. I was lucky and worked hard enough that I got my BQ that day with plenty of minutes to spare. Last Monday was one of the most amazing days of my life – up there with the birth of my kids. The crowds were unbelievable from start to finish and I thought my heart would explode from joy and inspiration when I passed the Hoyts at 25K and when I saw the sign made by a spectator to tell us that Meb had won. I totally struggled with the heat and gave up on all time goals – walked thru all the water stops to ensure I was hydrated enough to finish. Although I did not feel great physically, I still loved every second, every step, and wished I could prolong the feeling of being out there surrounded with such (LOUD!) support, joy and gratefulness. I now get to wear the jacket along with the scarf (did you hear about how churches all around the US had people knit scarves for the runners? I was given one and blessed by a minister outside Old South Church on my way to the expo, tears streamed down my face….). The memories are etched into my brain forever. I feel so lucky to have been part of it all. I know this is a long post but the point I really want to make is that you are young and determined and smart and talented and I know that when you decide that this is the goal you want to attain, you will find a way to get there. It may not be this year but I know you will do it some day when and if you decide to go for it. Can’t wait to read about the continuing journey and maybe I’ll be there cheering on the sidelines when it is your time!!!

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    • I’ve read this comment 10x and tear up a little each time. You’re amazing, and thank you for sharing your experience! Great testament of how much running can mean to each of us.

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  17. Sarah,
    I know this sound silly, but you so perfectly articulated everything that I’ve been feeling. Your post literally brought tears to my eyes. Boston has been a dream I, too, have been chasing for several years. For the longest time, I’d dream about 3:40, 3:40, 3:40… only to run my 3:39, just one year too late– the year our age group standard was changed to 3:35. I so eagerly tracked and celebrated with my friends (and other local runners who i barely know) on Marathon Monday, but still dream of my own jacket -on-the-plane experience….not just for sense of accomplishment, but to experience the very special camaraderie you so perfectly described. It sounds like it’s just a matter of time before both of our tenacious spirits get our turn to toe that very special line!

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