Time and traction are two incredibly valuable things. Accepting and understanding that these interlace together can itself take some patience, with circumstances and willing aligning. In 2016 I finally boxed off a goal that I deemed impossible for a long time. I crossed the finish line of the Berlin Marathon with a pair of eyes too scared to look down at the clock face on my wrist. 2.59.38. Big salty tears rolled down my face. Words on my bucket list that I thought would remain for a quite some time now had a strike through. This achievement was a symbolic thank you to the men who have encouraged, guided, and pushed me to chase dreams that I thought belonged to those with ability way out of my depth.
Fast forward to the spring of 2017 and I was at the close of my latest training cycle winding down to run the roads of Massachussets. I said I wouldn’t run the Boston Marathon until I got a male qualifier. Some suggested I run it anyway, and as much as I appreciated the sentiment I’m glad I stuck to my guns. I wanted my running of this race to represent a number of things, for myself and others. Alongside the nod of acknowledgement, I want people to know that it is possible to aim higher than the averages that are typically set. Go above and beyond that, as far as you think you can go. This applies even more so to women. It was also a physical nod of acknowledgement to my male friends and training partners, ones who have allowed me to witness the drive of what it takes to shoot and score. Taking to those streets with one of the men I’ve had the pleasure of learning from was the cherry on top of the cake – Flowers, more formerly known as Tom Crossland.
Before the race we listened to Lauren Hill, ate tupperware boxes of porridge on the Red Line train and read words from our good friend Liz, teary eyes welling up as they soaked up the words of the email, Crisp Day for a Cruise. Shortly after we were ushered in all surrealism on to a yellow school bus as we rode with friends and strangers with anticipation and excitement along to the start in Hopkinton.
Training for Boston included more learning than I could have expected. I found the sense of structure that I was reluctant to follow for quite some time and thanks to the guidance of my coach, Nick Anderson, I was able to thread consistency into my every day routine, bar the sacred Friday of rest (hell yes). I was welcomed into Vicky Park Harrier fold, raced XC, managed to run two 1.22 minute half marathons – miraculously I felt – and flipped my anemia around. Slowly but surely the grind of 6 day training weeks and double days melted into feeling stronger, without constant self questioning anymore. I knew had and did do what I could. The dread that regularly preluded a speedwork session had started to subside. I began to feel excited for the route ahead. A hurdle mentally more than anything else. Whatever race day brought I knew that I’d done what I could, with my won legs and with the gentle force of support.
Boston wasn’t anything like the hills back home, but it was hilly, and it sapped my legs and mixed up the pace from the start. The sun shone, smiles beamed, planes flew over head and before we knew our legs began to turn as the start was called. As I heard pockets of people around me re-arrange their aims because of the 20 -25 degree weather, I knew neither Flowers or I would. I wouldn’t be stupid but if things did go awry, it would be through aiming with the same arrow drenched in water kindly given by Bostonian families.
From the get go, our wavy (literally) journey began and about three miles in I realised that I had no idea how to pace this thing. Nick and I had agreed a 10-20 second margin, yet as I rolled up and down the pace on my watch was all over the place. As in so many races, the support on the sidelines sinks into your skins and propels you forward. The shouts of of 4025 sunk deeper, the ladies outside Wellesley College allowed the tears to stream from my eyes, and as I ran past my Canadian friend Mango, I knew I couldn’t just let this go to shit. I didn’t spend five months to flop even if the two kilometers up legendary Heartbreak Hill almost broke me. The final five miles were a bit of a blur, but thankfully I managed to gain traction and pick up the pace. It wasn’t until a slight bump, which at the time felt like a mountain, two miles to the finish that made me wonder if things would slow more than I anticipated. I attempted a finish line sprint with gritted teeth and let the tears flow. I’ve never cried so much on a finish, with a mixture of relief and happiness.
With a PB of 2.54.50, a position of 50th female and taking home 1st British lady for the ladies I couldn’t have been happier. Several times I’ve heard ‘imagine on a cool day on a flat course’ it would be easy to wonder why we chose Boston as our next race, yet that was all part of it. I wanted to work towards a PB whether it was a tough course or not, but this one was about principle.