Thursday 27 November 2014

Run Boston strong? Yes, you can. Yes, you can.

I'd dreamed of the finish down Boylston Street for weeks, the screaming crowds urging us on over the last few hundred metres

Deirdre Hassett

Published 29/04/2014 | 02:30

Boston marathon
Boston marathon

If you have any big running ambitions, and are injury free, a trip to one of the marathon majors (the big world-class marathons) is a bucket list must-do. I've run in two of the majors – Berlin and New York – but nothing prepared me for the Boston Marathon this year.

I knew it was going to be a special event, with the city rallying to commemorate the 2013 bombing and show unity and strength for this year's race, but arrival into Boston was a true descent into Planet Running. Every restaurant, every shop bore the blue-and-yellow race colours and the 'Boston Strong' logo.

Boston is a unique marathon as most of its runners are made up of people who have qualified by reaching a set time standard, which makes for a very fast field. On top of that, this year there were many invitees from the field of runners who had not made the finish line before the bomb went off in 2013, so there was a record field of 36,000 people running.

Runners are a hail-fellow community at the worst of times and with the city packed with athletes, every queue for coffee or for a table at a restaurant became a chat: are you here for the marathon? running? supporting? Everyone exchanged tales of qualifying, of last year's marathon, of supporting friends and family. I lapped it all up.

At the marathon expo, I met a hero, Kathrine Switzer, who was the first official female entrant in the Boston Marathon in 1967 and who became instrumental in the introduction of the women's marathon event to the Olympics. Later I attended a talk by father-son duo Team Hoyt, who have run in more than 30 Boston Marathons. Dick Hoyt (now in his seventies) pushes his son Rick, a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair (with an astonishing marathon personal best for the duo of 2:40).

Their story, now Boston Marathon legend, is moving beyond belief. Their motto (long before Obama) is: Yes, you can. I drew on the energy and inspiration and hoped that, yes, I could run Boston Strong. A sign on the marathon route said: run the first part with your legs, the second part with your head and the third part with your heart. I'd trained well; my legs were ready.

My head: I'd crammed as best I could by reading Boston Marathon-centric autobiographies (Duel in the Sun and Kathrine Switzer's Marathon Woman), and pored over the route map and elevation change points. As for my heart, only the race would tell. The day was a bit warmer than expected, peaking at around 21°C, which took runners by surprise. The easy downhill start in Hopkinton is deceptive – five or six miles of fast gravity-assisted running soon takes its toll on the quads. By mile 16, my legs were burning.

I had made my marathon time goal of 3:15:00 known to lots of people – a mental trick which commits me to my target on race day. I usually love the mental and physical battle of the last portion of a marathon – not today. The heat and hills left me drained and I found myself battling to hold pace.

My focus narrowed to one goal: on each kilometre as a single entity, slowing down for that kilometre as little as possible. Chanting: fearless. Boston Strong. I desperately wanted to be finished. After I gritted my way over Heartbreak Hill (at mile 21), I knew my target was close.

I'd dreamed of the finish down Boylston Street for weeks, the screaming crowds urging us on over the last few hundred metres. The reality: an anguished blur, chasing the elusive clock; running so that I could stop running.

I sprinted over the line to clock 3:14:21, a new marathon personal best, earned with heart over some of the hardest miles I've ever raced.

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