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 boxed off a goal that I deemed impossible for a considerably 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 down dreams, ones I thought belonged to people 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 Massachusetts. 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. Go as far as you think you can go and even further. 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 at the time, 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 began to feel excited for the route ahead. Whatever race day brought I knew that I’d done what I could, together with the gentle ushering of support.
The sun shone, nervous smiles filled the streets, planes flew over head and, before we knew it, our legs began to turn as the start was called. Boston wasn’t anything like the hills back home, but it was hilly and was coined later by Flowers as concrete cross country. It sapped my legs and left my unaware of my pace from the start. As I heard pockets of people around me re-arrange their aims because of the 20+ 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 out by Bostonian’s.
About three miles into the race 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 numbers on my watch were here there and everywhere so I tried to focus on effort. 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 had tears streaming from my eyes, and as I ran past my Canadian friend Mango, I knew I couldn’t 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 somehow I managed to gain traction and pick up the pace. I attempted a very rusty finish line sprint with gritted teeth and let the tears flow. I’ve never cried so much upon finishing, and this was a mixture of relief and happiness.
With a PB of 2.54.50, a position of 50th female and 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, and the battle made it even more memorable.