I toss and turn amid nightmares about the race, my abuser, my dead cat and Kevin. I wake in an unfamiliar bed well before dawn knowing that I’m not falling back asleep and that today I run the 123rd Boston Marathon. I smile in the darkness. When I step outside it is pouring rain.
An hour later I board one of hundreds of school buses from Boston to Hopkinton. I laugh and cry in alternation. Runners wave at other runners from the buses. The streets are full of us. It is surreal.
When my wave is called to the corrals my heart hammers and tears stream down my face as I join the procession out of athletes’ village. The clouds part and the sun shines down. I take off the fleece my friend Larissa gave to keep me warm this morning. It smells slightly of patchouli. I squeeze it to me briefly and hand it to a volunteer. I pass through a fence and face the road ahead, a parade of runners as far as the eye can see. I uncover my hair, unwinding the beautiful peacock green scarf my abuser brought from Afghanistan, a gift that brings no joy. I look at it one last time. My lip quivers but I lift my chin, hand it definitively to another volunteer, and continue marching forward.
We pass modest homes where families sit outside in lawn chairs waving. Suddenly overcome with emotion, I raise my hands to stifle a sob. The woman to my right looks at me–“Your first Boston?” I nod, weeping, my eyes wide. She smiles kindly and tells me to enjoy it, that I’ve earned it and there’s nothing in the world like this race. We begin dividing off into corrals. I continue toward the front. Intensely nervous, I hiss repeatedly in an effort to regulate my breathing. Flags fly ahead and a camera hovers above us on a long metal arm. I look at my watch; five minutes until our race starts. I close my eyes and smile a little. I remind myself how far I’ve already come, how much strength there is within me. I bring my hands together before my third eye and mentally begin chanting the Ashtanga invocation, which is comforting and familiar–a benediction.
A voice next to me whispers “May I pray with you?” Her freckled face looks kind and nervous like mine. I nod and she presses my hands between hers, facing me. She prays out loud in Jesus’ name that our feet be light and our spirits strong. She apologizes that she doesn’t know if I’m Catholic.
“No,” I tell her, “I’m not. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. I’m on board for any conversation with the divine. Thank you.”
There are two minutes left. I take my pre-race gel from the top of my compression sock and squeeze it onto my tongue. It tastes like coffee and chocolate. I cue up my Garmin. The pistol is a soft sharp crack in the distance. I smile as runners ahead of us begin to move. We walk and then jog toward the starting line, my finger on the button. When my foot finds the timing mat I press it and grin. I work gradually toward the left edge of the crowd onto a small path at the roadside where I accelerate very gently and then look down; 8:03. Perfect. I am grinning widely as I rejoin the procession. I am in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. I am running the Boston Marathon. I am elated.
I’m wearing my friend Kim’s long-sleeved white shirt over my racing attire. The sun is out and I’m warm; I cross my arms and pull it swiftly over my head, glance over my left shoulder and whip it onto the roadside. I’m wearing my Vivobarefoot road shoes, a knee-high pair of compression socks, a white sports bra and white short shorts with a rainbow at each hip. White for new beginnings, I remind myself.
I beam, recognizing the bass line of the first music being played on the course. When I race OCR I have a playlist for the car ride to the venue. The last song I hear before I arrive is always “Eye of The Tiger”–but my phone is at a gym in Boston and there was no pre-race playlist today. Still, here is my song being played! I laugh and raise my hand to wave. My pace is right on track and it feels easy. As we approach the first water station I pull away from the side of the street and turn my racing belt, drawing my soft flask. People pull over for cups of water. I drink from my flask.
We run over the 5k timing mat and I laugh; I’m doing what I came here to do and I’m having a great time. I am comfortable, it’s a beautiful day, and I’m going to re-qualify for Boston 2020.
There’s another familiar bass line coming from up ahead; it’s the Dropkick Murphys’ song “Shipping Up To Boston”, which always plays at Spartan in the festival area. I grin broadly, tearing a little as I nod along to the beat and raise my arm in greeting. I’m racing again and all seems right with the world. I glance at my wrist; still on track.
The streets are growing more crowded, though it’s nothing like the screaming throngs in New York. Still, people hand out orange slices and hold signs with other runners’ names. I have a pang of jealousy; though there are people I know on this course, no one is here for my sake.
I am, I answer myself. I am here. I smile with defiance and run.
The day which started with a downpour has turned brightly sunny. As we approach the next water station I drink from my soft flask and notice another runner splashing his face with a handed cup. I glance over my shoulder, pull to my left and do the same. The cool water feels divine.
I begin to notice that I’m running subtly slower than the other runners in my pace group and I don’t like it. I consult my watch, which tells me I’m still on track. I check it a number of times and gather from the lack of fluctuation that it’s actually displaying an average pace. There’s a gap in crowd support and only a thin line of people clap politely alongside the roadway as I realize I’m not getting the data I need. I remember the crowds in New York running that marathon, how I’d just won a local 5k. My watch isn’t working and I’m not sure what I can do today.
Someone at my right pulls slightly ahead; I dig in to match pace. I’m not giving up that easily. Garmin continues to read 8:07. Near the 10k mat someone holds a spraying hose; there is a rainbow in the mist. I run through. It is delicious, cold and soothing. “God bless you!” I call out to the man and keep running.
I suck down the last of my water too early in the race and scan the roadside hunting for a bottle. Eventually I find a child shyly offering what I need. I take it from his hand calling out my thanks and struggle to open my soft flask. I stuff the water bottle into my bra, but as I open the flask it suddenly slips out and rolls down the street behind me. I curse, unwilling to turn back, needing water. I pull over at the next station when I see a volunteer with a pitcher. She pours rapidly; I take off again when water splashes from the top.
At the next two stations I sip from water cups and splash the rest in my face, hot and concerned about refilling the flask again. My pace keeps flagging and I’m unable to marshal much more speed. I try and my body will not respond. I wipe sweat from my face and hope I can pick it up after the halfway point. I know my time goals are slipping away. I’m frustrated. I’m also running the 123rd Boston Marathon, I remind myself. This is my victory lap. I take gummies a few minutes ahead of my planned fueling time to soothe myself. With sweet bits sticking between my teeth, I see a sign held high on the roadside;
“You’re halfway home!”
(to be continued…)