By Danielle Frost
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
The above is by far my favorite quote, spoken by University of Oregon running icon Steve Prefontaine, who died in a tragic car crash in 1975.
But I never truly understood that statement until after completing the Boston Marathon on April 18.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Boston Marathon is pretty much known as the “Super Bowl” of running. More than half a million people came out to watch the race this year, and saw a record shattering performance by Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai, who established a new world record, crossing the finish line in 2:03:02.
But even for the non-elite runners, qualifying for this race is not easy: I had to run a 3:40 marathon, which amounts to an average of an 8:26 mile for 26.2 miles, no easy task for many people. The men’s qualifying time for those under 35 is even more rigid, with a 3:10 requirement, or an average of a 7:15 minute mile.
Then, even if you qualify, there is the issue of getting into the race. Boston limits the field of qualified applicants to approximately 20,000, not counting the elite field and the charity runners. This year, the field filled in less than eight hours. Thankfully, I got in. But that was just the beginning.
In September, I tore my Achilles tendon in my left leg doing Warrior Dash, a 3.5 mile obstacle course through the mud and hills. I had to forfeit running the Portland marathon in October because I could barely walk. So, when I signed up for Boston that same month, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to run it. My doctor didn’t think it would be possible, given my injury. Neither did my physical therapist.
However, if there is one word that describes me very well, it’s “stubborn.” I am completely, absolutely stubborn to the core. I decided that nothing and no one was going to stop me from achieving my dream of running Boston, even if I had to crawl across the finish line.
Thankfully, there was lots of support from my family and friends in the online running community. Dailymile, which is essentially Facebook for runners, is a favorite site. I commiserated with other injured runners, like my friend, Norm, who developed a hairline fracture and tendonitis in his lower right leg five weeks before the marathon. And then there was my friend Lynn, who struggled with a debilitating knee injury after she ran an ultra marathon through the mud.
We cheered each other on, celebrated small accomplishments and grumbled when we couldn’t run. Norm made it the finish line just a few minutes shy of a sub-three hour marathon. Lynn was unable to make it, but will be there next year.
Getting to Boston is a huge undertaking financially. For this I have to thank my boyfriend Gabe. Without his generosity, the trip would not have been possible.
My friend Ayelen took several days off from school so she could come be my “support crew,” and attend the race. And then there was my friend Esther, who threw a party for me the night before I left, which included Boston creme pie.
Race day came and what an event it turned out to be. First, the runners are bussed 26.2 miles away to Hopkinton, where the race starts. Then, everyone waits for a few hours in an “athletes village,” which exudes a party atmosphere and includes free energy bars, water and bagels.
When my race wave began jogging to the starting line, I got chills, just thinking of all the running greats who had crossed this very same path. The girl next to me turned and said, “Guess we can’t back out now.”
And off we went, traversing through picturesque East Coast towns that I had previously only seen in books or online. The weather was beautiful and the crowd support was phenomenal. Children, even younger than my 4-year-old, eagerly held their hands out for a “high 5.” Entire communities lined the streets to cheer on the runners. You had the feeling that this was not just a marathon, it was part of the culture, and these very same people and their ancestors before them had lined the streets every year for generations.
The race itself is basically downhill for the first five miles, which sounds great until you hit the rolling hills around mile 11, which keep right on rolling and climbing, until mile 21. As a first time Boston runner, I made the mistake of only training on the uphills, but not taking the downhills into consideration. This turned out to be pretty detrimental. By mile 15, my quads had essentially locked up, and every step was painful. I gritted my teeth, ate some skittles, and kept on going. But by mile 21, I could no longer stand it. I did something I had never done in a race before: After chugging some Gatorade, I walked approximately three-quarters of a mile and then stretched until my legs were able to move again. The next four miles were an exercise in pain. The only thing that kept me going was the phenomenal crowd support, prayer, and pure determination. My main motivation was my mom. She died in 2006. She and my dad came to my first marathon in 2005, but were unable to make it to the finish line in time to see me cross it. When I started running again after the birth of my son, I decided to dedicate any marathon I ever did for the rest of my life to her. She was never a quitter, even during her darkest days, and I wouldn’t be either.
When I hit mile 25, I wanted to stop more than anything in the world. The internal struggle was great, but my desire to finish the race with my head held high, running across the finish line, was greater.
I crossed it with a fist pump, in 4:06. It wasn’t my best marathon time, but not my worst either.
The “Boston experience,” as it is sometimes called, taught me a lot of things: I learned that people’s capacity to be generous, even to their own detriment, is amazing. I learned that I have a lot of supportive friends. And I showed my Achilles tendon who was boss. Oddly enough, it hasn’t bothered me at all since the race.
Next up on the agenda? The Vancouver, Wash. marathon in June, followed by the Freedom Marathon in Gresham two weeks later. I know I will finish both those races, my head held high. And I will remember and honor my mother with each step.