On Sunday morning at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa., I ran the hardest fought race of my life. I didn’t achieve my moonshot goal of qualifying for the 2018 Boston Marathon, but I came pretty darn close with an official chip time of 3:38:19. When the consolation prize was a 17-minute personal best, how could I be anything but proud? Here’s how it all went down.
In the days leading up to the marathon, I was a nervous wreck. Despite all my preparations, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had set myself up to fail. Sharing a far-fetched goal with the masses is motivational, sure, but if things don’t go as planned, you’re left with a lot of explaining to do. I felt the pressure.
After a Saturday night spent tossing and turning, I rolled out of bed, scarfed down a muffin, got dressed and headed out into pitch darkness. By the time I arrived at the park, got through the washroom and bag check lines, and did a quick warm-up, it was time to find my place among the 2,000 anxious runners. I squeezed in near the 3:30 pace bunny and took some deep breaths as the national anthem played over the speakers.
Within a couple minutes of starting, something was off. My shoes were way too tight. My shins were seizing up. I knew the shin pain would fade, but my laces weren’t going to loosen themselves. I continued for a few kilometres, fell back from the pace group a bit. Then, one of my feet started to go numb. I needed to address the problem. There was no way I could run a full marathon in this state, so I pulled away from the crowd for a brief pit stop.
Just as I rejoined the pack, the 3:35 pace bunny whizzed past. With my newly loosened shoes, I suddenly felt phenomenal. The pace felt relaxed and I got into the groove. I was smiling, taking in the scenery and relishing the experience. Each time I ticked off a big distance marker—10K, 15K, 21.1K—I could hardly believe that I was still running at goal pace. All the way up to 30K, I kept that 3:35 pace group in sight, planning to pick up speed and pass them in the final 12K to earn my coveted BQ.
But then things took a turn for the worse.
My gels were no longer giving me the boost I needed and my stride was shortening. Not only could I not speed up, but I couldn’t even maintain the pace. My thoughts turned negative and I wanted nothing more than to quit. Was this the elusive “wall” that we so often hear about?
After a couple kilometres of struggling and failing to get back on track, I made the conscious decision to switch to Plan B: to finish in under 3:40. I gave myself an out, but I didn’t give up. I knew the faster I ran, the faster I’d be done. By 35K, my Garmin’s pace alert had become demoralizing. I took it off, deciding to forget about time altogether and run with my heart. When I spotted my fiancé on the sidelines one last time, I couldn’t even muster a grin. I reached the final turnaround point, knew the end was near, and then I saw it—the finish line, at last.
I dug deep and used every ounce of energy I had left to run strong to the finish. I raised my arms in celebration, put the medal around my neck, and erupted into a mix of tears and hyperventilation. I’m still not sure if they were tears of happiness or disappointment. I knew I hadn’t achieved my primary goal, but I also knew I had accomplished so much.
Now that a few days have passed and I’ve had time to process it all, I’m truly thrilled about how far I’ve come. What seemed like an unfathomable feat just three short months ago now feels totally within my reach. And the best part of this failed BQ attempt? When I do toe the line at the Boston Marathon one day, there might just be a tiny new addition to my cheer squad.