Saturday, April 26, 2014

It's not "just a number"

It's been a crazy few days.  When I discovered other people in my race photos and posted a picture of the bandits to Facebook and Twitter, I never imagined that 48 hours later that photo would be all over the internet.  The reaction has been largely supportive, though there have been some pretty harsh comments directed toward me as well.  There have also been a number of comments to the effect of, "So what? Why do you care?" I've seen a lot of commentary, both thoughtful and otherwise, on both side of the bandits debate, so I will set the bandit issue aside for the moment and try to explain why seeing others wearing my number was so upsetting.

When I registered for my first marathon in 2010, the goal was just to finish, and I told my family that I would be running one and only one marathon, to scratch it off of the bucket list.  I'd never run more than 13.1 miles, and my longest training run was to be 22 miles, so I felt that just covering 26.2 miles was going to be a huge accomplishment for me, regardless of my finish time.  The last three miles were a struggle, but I finished.  My dad and husband were waiting at the finish line, and as my legs cramped like I'd never felt before, I was overcome by emotion.  Did I win?  Of course not.  But I had accomplished something that until only recently I'd never thought I could do, and was very happy with my "one and only" marathon and my time of 3:43:48.  And then I realized that I was less than 9 minutes away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon... The Holy Grail of marathon running.  

Yes, I'd sworn that was the only marathon I would run, especially as I'd worked my way through the training cycle and realized what a time commitment it is to run 40+ miles each week and how much dedication it takes to get out there and run in the cold, in the rain, when it's 90 degrees and humid, or when you just want to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. But the possibility was there... Boston.  I'd have to take 20 seconds per mile off of my marathon pace, which is not a small amount, but not outside the realm off possibility.  

So I set my sights on Boston, and on March 29, 2011, I registered for the Miami Marathon.  For the next 8 months, I ran, added speed work, joined the Bull City Track Club, and really dedicated myself to training for a BQ.  And over those months, running became a big part of my identity.  I became friends with other runners, and when we weren't running together, we were talking about running or planning the next race.  I continued to really push myself in training and really committed myself to becoming a better runner... all as a means to earning a spot in the Boston Marathon.  On January 29, 2012, I finished my second marathon, crossing the line in 3:28:24 and earning my coveted BQ.  

On September 14, at the moment the BAA opened applications to runners with qualifying times of 5+ minutes under their age group cutoff, I registered for the Boston Marathon.  When I received my runner passport from the BAA with my race number in March, my excitement really started to build.  On the day before the race, I picked up my bib.  My ticket into the Boston Marathon.  

From the time I decided that I wanted to qualify for Boston and registered for the Miami Marathon on 3/29/2011 through the moment I stepped first to the line at Hopkinton, I spent 427 hours and 52 minutes running 3,092 miles (thanks Garmin Connect), and finally, on April 15, 2013, I ran the Boston Marathon.  As I ran through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, and Newton, over Heartbreak Hill, into Boston, and finally onto Boylston Street, it was evident that those 3,000+ miles were absolutely worth running because they culminated in such an amazing 26.2.  To me, that Boston Marathon bib number was not just a number.  It represented years of hard work.  It symbolized reaching a personal goal and doing something that for the first 31 years of my life, I wouldn't have thought possible.  It was literally sign that showed I had earned a spot into the most prestigious marathon in the world.  As a friend said yesterday, in many ways it's similar to a diploma: years of work went into it, and it has far more value to the person who earned it just than any old piece of paper.  

The exhilaration of running the 2013 Boston Marathon carried me to a new PR and another BQ, but given the huge expense of traveling to Boston for Marathon weekend, I didn't intend to return in 2014.  The tragedy at the finish line changed that. I had finished the race and was only a few blocks away when the bombs went off, and as we learned details about what had happened, I knew I would be back.  I wanted to support Boston and the Marathon, and, like thousands of others, planned my return for the 2014 event and knew this year's marathon would be a running experience unlike any other.  

Perhaps I did not have the 25 month lead up to the race that preceded my first Boston Marathon, but I worked hard to get there.  I paid to be there.  I earned my spot.  And that is what 14285 means to me.  People can say what they want about bandits, but to me, a Boston Marathon bib will never be "just a number."

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