Yes, it was hard (even more so than I imagined it would be.)
No, I’m not still sore (honestly, my recovery was much less painful than I expected.)
Yes, absolutely Yes. I am glad I trained for and ran the Boston Marathon on behalf of Boston Children’s Hospital.
Will I do it again? TBD.
Here’s what it was like the first time around…
The race was not without moments of doubt and despair, mind you. Yet those doubts passed quickly, about as fast as any thoughts I had of running a PR that would further establish me as some kind of reverse prodigy, kind of like I did with my Mulligan Mile 10 years previous.
What the day left me with most of all was an appreciation of the personal transformation that takes place when a person sets an ambitious goal and pursues a great endeavor.
The training and the race not only helped transform me physically, but opened doors to relationships with new friends, reconnected me with old friends, and reinvigorated a way of positive living that I sometimes lose sight of– the way of the mulligan.
The Way of the Mulligan
Living the way of the mulligan is more than just taking a second chance at something, like you would get on a golf course when your playing partners allow you to redo a shot that has gone awry.
While those do-overs are moments of grace that are critical to embrace and take every advantage of, they only appear from time-to-time in light of some kind of perceived failure.
But living the way of the mulligan is something we are called to every day, during good times and bad. Today, now in this and every moment, we can take another chance at making our lives vibrant and alive and worthy of our humanity.
Now we begin.
Every breath is just one breath that’s never been breathed before and won’t be again. Every step is one step that we can appreciate in mindfulness.
And what is a marathon more than breaths and steps– and potato chips and… . But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What Was It Like?
It’s easy to feel like an imposter when you run the Boston Marathon on a fundraising entry, instead of qualifying based on your fastest marathon time of the past year.
So I was heartened by the enthusiasm of my fellow team members at Boston Children’s Hospital, the sincerity of the hospital staff and families who shared their stories, and the palpable gratitude of so many spectators who cheered us on. With apologies to the Seinfeld bit, it was proud day for my blue and orange checked laundry. That singularly ugly-on-the-outside-beautiful-on-the-inside jersey was cheered on loudly in every neighborhood of the race, and made me feel very much at home on the course.
The weather was perfect, a little on the warm side by the time I was on the most difficult part of the course. So I was glad that I had gotten in a little heat training during a quick trip to Florida right before the race. But guess what else I got in Florida? Yup. COVID-19. I know, imagine that, in FLORIDA, of all places?
So after more than 9 months of training and more than two years of diligent avoidance of the virus, Florida finally got me.
Thanks to the Moderna vaccine and booster, my symptoms were mild and mostly cleared within the first week after they started. However, I did still have a little lingering heaviness in my throat and chest, another week later. I can’t say how it affected my performance on the course. I do know that testing positive cost me a week of training and sowed more seeds of doubt that sprouted when things started to get really difficult in the run. This was not the kind of “positive psychology” I have studied and written about.
I was told by a grizzled old veteran of the 1970’s and 80’s running boom that marathons are supposed to be hard. In as many words, he basically told me to suck it up and quit my bellyaching about how I wilted in the later stages of the race.
Which is exactly what I had been trying to do during the marathon with one major issue: my bellyache. I had expected to be tired, of course. I expected my legs to start to wear down — which they did on the famous Newton Hills leading up to Heartbreak Hill. I had felt that feeling before and had always been able to pause, walk it off, take a little something to eat, put all the pieces back together again and start running again.
But what caught me a little off guard this time was that bellyache. Whenever I would start up running again on the hills, I would get the feeling like I was on the brink of throwing up– something I saw several fellow runners do alongside me.
I didn’t exactly hit the legendary “wall” that mythically separates runners from the final 5 or 6 miles of the marathon. It was more like climbing over a series of small boulders not long after the halfway point.
It reminded me of the couple times when I’ve been seasick. Queasy, unsteady, blech. What I also remembered about being seasick was once I started throwing up, there was no stopping it. So my internal coach made it clear to me: must. not. vomit.
Just the thought of that took its toll on my pace– my 9:50/mi first 5K went to over 15 mins/mile by the final 5K leading up to the last mile. Which basically means I was walking half the time. That was no really what I had in mind, but each step did take me one step closer to the finish.
The Potato Chip Cure
Looking back, I thought of a few technical corrections that might have alleviated the discomfort. Ultimately, I think I needed a few more calories and lot more sodium. That became clear when I paused to lay down in the medical tent after the race, knowing I was too queasy to get in the car and drive the hour back to where I was staying.
The nurse prescribed the kind of medicine that we wish could cure all our physical ailments: potato chips. After eating half a small bag of them, one tiny bite at a time, I popped up on my feet like Popeye after a can of spinach. And was able to ride home without incident and enjoy a big Italian dinner that evening.
Hiding In Plain Sight
If there was a drone following me on the run it would have captured some damning footage of me. The video would show me running happily in the sections of the race where I hugged my sister Liz, my daughter Eve, and other friends who had come to see me pass by. And there could be an inspiring montage where I took time to exhort the crowds and blow kisses (Thank you, Women of the Wellsley Scream Tunnel and cheering fans on Boylston St.)
It would also show stopping to walk almost immediately after I passed through all the attention. The people were carrying me through.
So I don’t know why it took me almost a week to realize an overlooked remedy (beyond the salt tablets that I was carrying but failed to ingest) that maybe, just maybe, could have helped me keep up my running pace as I was struggling.
It took days filled with an outpouring of calls and messages, congratulations, affection, and good wishes (more than 400 likes on FB. Probably my most-viewed post ever) from friends and family.
It took a week of thinking how I couldn’t have gotten to the starting line of that race without so many countless people, known and unknown who were part of my team of support.
It took a week of looking over my list of more than 150 donors who contributed to my fundraising for the hospital’s research and programs. [NOTE: My fundraising page can be found here and will be open until May 9, 2022. Please pass this along to anyone you know who might be interested in supporting their great work!]
It took a week of posts, stories and photos streamed from my fellow fundraising runners at Boston Children’s, who I had spent the run either passing, or more often, being passed by. None of whom I personally knew beforehand, but who were running the race in the same laundry as me, so easily identifiable.
The answer may have been right there, running alongside me, hiding in plain sight in those garish checked singlets. It finally struck me.
What if I had just asked to run along with one of them and started to talk with them about, well, anything? Would that human interaction, that social fuel been enough to get me a little more straightened out during the run? And that may have been all it took to make adjustments to my nutrition and pacing to the finish? And even if my time wasn’t improved (which in the end is pretty darn meaningless)f, could my run have been more enjoyable? I tend to think yes, yes, and yes.
Now We Begin
So that became perhaps the major life lesson of the day– we have to do certain things on our own. We have to do the hard work, the training when no one is looking. We need the resolve to keep rising up over the adversity that inevitably will arrive, since life will be hard at times. But in our determination for self-determination, perhaps it’s best if we don’t overlook that others are there to help also. And by reaching out, you may be helping them too. We all have our Heartbreak Hills to climb.
And all along and with every breath, step, and potato chip, we could have all been finding our own Way of the Mulligan, appreciating whatever we were experiencing together and individually.
Now we begin.