From a twinkle in my eye to a date in the diary.
So with just a week to go to the 2018 Boston Marathon, and with training having turned to tapering, it seems as good a time as any to pause and reflect on how I came to be a Boston Qualifier, and what it all means to me.
I’d like to say it was as simple as simply figuring out the qualifying time, training for it, and then achieving it in one simple 18-week training cycle, but the truth is that’s just not how it happened. I’m not what you might call a ‘natural athlete’ and only really uncovered the fact that I actually quite like running and that I might be marginally better than average at it a few short years ago. It’s definitely been something of a journey (odyssey perhaps?) to get to this point, and I’d like to think all the more meaningful because of that.
Maybe the start point for me was when I ran my first marathon (Vancouver in 2010). At that point, Boston was not even a twinkle in my eye, and like most first timers, I had a very clear and unambiguous goal for the race which was simply to finish the damn thing and hopefully have fun in the process. 8 years and 15 marathons later I’ve developed a theory that you don’t pick marathon running, marathon running picks you. You’re either one and done, or you’re hooked for life – at least that’s how it’s been for me. I crossed the line in Vancouver tired and emotional but convinced I could do better and with a resolve to do so.
It is possible the launch point for my quest for Boston came when I was told (not unkindly I hasten to add) by an athletically minded friend that with a first marathon time of 4:18, that qualifying for Boston was an unlikely goal. Or maybe it was when someone told me (perhaps a little more unkindly), that they “had me down as more of a couch potato” when they saw me out running one day – but I don’t think so. I simply don’t believe you can cover thousands of miles of training, year in year out, in all manner of weather, with all the inherent distractions and obstacles life throws at you, if you don’t have an internal fire and level of self-motivation to succeed that sits entirely separate from the external voices (positive or negative) that come at you as you go about your business.
I think my first real glimpse of Boston came in 2011. My fourth marathon was a repeat visit to Victoria, which I’d run the previous year as my second marathon (thus beginning my Spring / Fall) marathon schedule that I’ve maintained for all but one injury-marred year since 2010). I’d brought my times down below 4 hours, but I was not expecting my finish time of 3:30, a time that might have squeaked me into Boston had the entry deadline for the following year not already passed. I honestly don’t know how I ran that time that year, but it did prove I had a fast one in me, and although the following year all the qualifying times were made 5 minutes harder, I did at least have some empirical evidence that I could run a fast for my age marathon, and that maybe, just maybe, I could actually run a BQ.
If Victoria 2011 first put the idea of Boston into my head, then it was probably the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015 that convinced that it was actually on as a realistic goal. I’d had a great run (3:38) at St George, UT the prior year, and after adopting the science and structure of the Hanson’s Marathon Method training plan, I ran at 3:42 in DC (in my opinion a much tougher course than St. George), where my fastest mile was around mile 24, and for the first time I finished a race feeling like I’d left a little on the field. I now had a plan to follow that I believed could make me faster and stronger, I got a little smarter about fueling and hydrating, and equally crucially, I got a year older, and moved into another age bracket where the goal time moved back to 3:30, a time I had achieved before.
And so it came to pass that I did it. 18 months, and two further marathons after the training foundations were laid in DC, I actually went and qualified. I wrote about my qualifying race here, suffice to say that I trained hard, I picked a fast course, the stars aligned (as surely they must on those special days), and I ran the race of my short running life to date. My point here is that achieving a BQ wasn’t about the qualifying race (The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Marathon, in Snoqualmie, WA). The specific act of qualifying was a moment in time, a race that went right, a (really) good day at the office. For me, the satisfaction in qualifying was really all about the aggregation of learning over many races, of progress measured in years not weeks, of relentlessly training day in, day out, and of having the dedication to reach a destination I didn’t even know I was headed for when I set off.
Now that I’ve arrived at the start line, my challenge is to enjoy the moment for what it is, to really have fun, revel in the experience and remember that (speaking for myself), the race itself is nothing more or less than a 26.2 mile celebration of everything that got me there, and that toeing the line in Hopkinton come April 16th, is victory in itself.
Keep on moving,