Running to Boston Part I

August 3, 2013 in Guest Blogger

Running to Boston

All right, all you “new year resolution”-ers out there, this post has, literally, been 3 years in the making.  This time of year brings a strong desire to look back on the past year and take stock of what we have accomplished and look forward to what we would like to do in the coming months.  Too frequently our look back makes us want to crawl back into bed with a whipping stick to make ourselves pay in silence for all that we promised ourselves we would do, but didn’t.  And the look forward fuels a nation wide workout frenzy born straight from guilt and self loathing.  BOO TO ALL OF THAT!  All a new year means is a fresh start.  No guilt, no shame.  The post you are about to read is not meant to do anything except MOTIVATE YOU!  It doesn’t have to motivate you to run or bike or even work out.  It is meant to motivate you to step out of your comfort zone, experience something new and difficult and when its done, look at yourself in the mirror and know that YOU will not hold YOU back.

In that spirit I am pleased to introduce our next guest blogger, my twin (yes identical), Sharma Phillips (she’s beautiful, isn’t she).  She graciously agreed to share her experience of accomplishing a long time goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  I want to give a special thanks to her for taking the time to share her story with us.  She is one amazing lady, and I know you will be inspired by her story just like I was. <3, Sharla


                                                                Sharma Phillips (that’s me) 

I am at my computer writing a training schedule that will kick off next week for my first race of 2013.  This is not a “New Years Resolution”.  When you pay money to do a race it turns from having a goal to having a job.  Most people don’t have a “resolution” to go to work this year, it is just what we do out of necessity.  That being said, writing a training schedule for a new goal at the new year makes me think of the successful and unsuccessful goals of last year. 

 Last year I had 3 major goals.  The first was to learn to swim and compete in my first triathlon.  With the help of an incredible women’s organization geared just for new female triathletes, I accomplished my first goal.  My second goal was to ride a century.  That is, to ride 100 miles on my bike.  Although  it was one of my first goals of last year, I am disappointed to say I have not accomplished it yet.  I will in time and I have patience for that time to come.  Endurance athletics gives you that kind of understanding. My third goal, and defiantly the biggest was to run the St. George marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon.  This is the story I have decided to share.  When I think about all the goals I have ever set for myself, this is one of the most raw experiences I have ever had.  Here is the story of my journey to Boston.

              This is a few of the girls from the TRI group.  We finished our first Olympic distance race.

 The Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon in the United States.  Last year there were 26,000 people who ran and over half a million spectators.  The city of Boston declares race day (always a Monday) a state holiday.  The race represents 30 countries.  Running the Boston marathon is highly sought after by runners of all athletic ability.  Because of the popularity of the race the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) initiated a time requirement for runners to fulfill at other races before they could even apply to run in Boston.  These particular races are “sanctioned” races.  St. George is one of the most popular sanctioned races and close to home.  My course seemed clear.  Last spring (2012) I entered to run the St. George marathon.   Besides helping me to my ultimate goal (Boston) I have always wanted to run St. George.  It is a great course, very well organized, and I knew a ton of people who had and were running.  St. George would be a fun race.   

I started my training in May.  I used the Runners World website to build a training schedule.  I ended up basing my training on a goal time of 3 hours 20 minutes.  That’s a 7 minute 40 second-pace for the duration of 26.2 miles.  To qualify for Boston in the 30-34 year old division I need to run a 3 hour 35 minutes race.  I knew I was aiming for 15 minutes under the necessary. I figured I would need the time cushion to account for unforeseen race issues and I thought I was capable of running that time. 

So, I trained.  Religiously.  I missed almost no miles I was scheduled to run.  Every side race I did I watched my pace.  The days passed.  I must admit I was nervous.  The closer the race got the more I wondered if I could really keep such a fast pace for the whole race.  Only time would tell.

The morning of the race I woke up surprisingly refreshed for 3:45AM.  Went down my checklist.  As I was sneaking out of the hotel room my son woke up.  “Good luck, mom”  and a sleepy daughter echoed “good luck.”  Deep breath, now I’m ready.

On to the bus that took us runners to the starting line I, ironically, was on the same bus as my friend from my women’s triathlon group back home.  There was about 6,000 runners starting but she got on the same bus as me. Good sign.  It’s about 43 degrees at the starting line.  There is a huge line of mini bomb fires.  There is music, flood lights, flags from every nation… it is a party!  Soon enough I was getting in position for the race.  In the St. George marathon Clif Bar provides pacers.  These are runners that carry a cluster of balloons with a finish time written on them.  That is the pace that particular person will go for the race to finish at their designated time.  I position myself between the 3:25 and 3:35 pacers.  I had trained to finish the race in 3:20 minutes but to qualify for Boston I had to finish in 3:35.  My strategy was to take my time and hang back for the first half of the race.  This is logical since there are so many runners it is difficult to pass for a few miles and most of the uphill is in the first half.  I knew I would be able to conserve energy and make up time on the downhill in the second half.  Finally the countdown starts.  I am so excited, my stomach hurts a little.  I didn’t get to eat as much breakfast as I should have but I have plenty of food with me to eat on the run.  The horn sounds, the race starts.  We stand still…. still waiting… still not moving… after a minute or so we finally start walking forward.  It is common in big races for runners to wait several minutes just to cross the start line after the races has officially started. There are electronic mats at the start that read a timing chip attached to the racers bib number.  Your official time starts when you cross the mat.  All the clocks on the course are the “gun time”.  This is an important fact to understand because the race clocks are a bit faster than your official start time since it takes that extra time to get across the start line.  Eventually we are over the timing mats and the race pace picks up. 

 This is my favorite part of every race.  The beginning.  I felt amazing, the energy just swept me along.  It’s still dark outside but here is this huge group of people.  We are a collage of 50 states and 13 countries.  We race a band of ages from 18 to 78.  We are of all walks of life, all different stories but for the next 26.2 miles we are on one path.  It doesn’t matter what the goals are or how or why. All that matters is the finish.  Together and separate most of us will get to the end.  I truly feel privileged to be a party of this race, and life.  

The next 16 miles are wonderful.  I am right on pace for my plan.  I enjoy it all and try to take in as much of the surroundings as I can.  The canyon is beautiful.  Despite how much fun I was having there were a few little signs that things weren’t going as well as I thought.  For example, I had to stop at the port-o-potty around mile 8.  This is unusual for me, while training I could do all 20 miles without any gastrointestinal issues.  Also my slight stomachache from the start had never gone away.  It wasn’t affecting my run but it did affect eating.  I couldn’t finish my Clif Bar and later had to choke down a GU.  In the beginning of the race the 3:35 pace guy passed me but I passed him around mile 13.  I knew that if I stayed in front of him I would qualify for Boston. 

At mile 16 I stop for yet another port-o-potty.  (I am up to 3 stops) Now the happy loving feelings from the first half of the race are gone.  I am worried about how much I can’t eat and why so many stops.  Also, I have run 16 miles, I am wearing down.  I put my mind to it and work through the next 5 miles.  Now my quads are aching, my stomach is in knots and my confidence is slipping.  At mile 21 I stop at my 5th port-o-potty.  I am in there for a long time, all the while the time clock is ticking.  I knew the pacer for 3:35 passed me while I was behind that fiberglass door.  I am no longer in position to qualify for Boston.

When I came out of that port-o-potty I was not thinking clearly.  I tried to calculate the miles I had left and how much time and come up with a pace to keep me on track.  No use, I couldn’t hold it all in my head, I started to reach for my phone I had in my shirt pocket.  I wanted to call my husband.  He would do the math for me.  I also wanted to tell him I am coming, I hurt, I am slow now but I am still working.  I fumbled with my shirt for a second and then my clear true inner voice sounded in my head for the first time in that race.  Like the clarity of a bell my voice said “Sharma, you are in a race, just go” Ok, I tell my voice.  I start to trot. I look down at my Garmin to see what my pace is and the voice sounds again “Your pace is GO”.  I didn’t look at my watch for the rest of the race.  I knew right then that it would be futile.  I was just going to have to go forward with everything I had and hope that it would be enough. 

 Mile 22 brought a stitch in my side that stretched from my left armpit to my hip.  I ran the full mile with my arm over my head trying to loosen the stitch.  No use, it was part of my race now.  The abdominal cramping was more like a clenched fist in my torso.  It was unrelenting.  Around mile 23 I see one of my old friends from Salt Lake who is there with her husband.  I was so happy to see her I called out her name in the most desperate crazed yell that just bubbled right out of my stomach.  I startled her but she recovered in time to cheer and shout for me.  Here is my first smile for a long time. 

At mile 23 there is a timing clock.  It is a few minutes faster than when my actual time is but the clock tells me I have 30 minutes to run 3 miles if I want to make my qualifying time for Boston.  On any other day this would be great news.  That’s only 10 minute miles, no trouble with that math.  I can do that….. right? “Just go” rings out from inside me. 

The last two miles of that race will stay with me forever.  I wish I would remember them forever because I experienced some miraculous recovery from my stitch and cramping.  This is not the case.  I couldn’t hold my body straight because of the cramps.  At times I was almost doubled over.  By now dehydration had set in.  In that last two miles I felt like every single person in the whole race passed me.  They all looked so amazing and strong.  It was demoralizing.  People I had passed 8 miles ago, caught me.  I tried to go faster but my cramps flexed in my stomach and I felt dizzy.  I knew the race was slipping through my fingers like water.  I wanted to walk so bad but the voice came again “If I don’t make Boston it will NOT be because I walked”. 

 One mile left, the home stretch.  There is a time clock at mile 25 and I see that I have 4 minutes to cross the finish and qualify for Boston.  Maybe there is a 2 or 3 minute grace period since it took me that long to cross the start line but even a 7 minute mile was unthinkable.  My race was over.  I still ran, I tried to go faster but the black tunnel would close in on me.  So I kept my sad steady pace, trying not to think about my lost goal.  I told myself that the bright side of not qualifying was that I would never have to run a marathon again.  I looked for my little family who had been tracking my progress.  I just wanted to see them smiling at me.  I knew my husband would understand.  The finish line crowd was huge and I didn’t see them in the stands cheering my name.  I crossed at 3:41.  That was it, I didn’t make it. 

         This is my very sad crawl across the finish line.  Check out the guy in front of me, happy bastard.

I went straight for another port-o-potty and called my husband from inside.  We agreed where to meet.  When I came out of the potty I had to sit in the grass for a bit, I just couldn’t go on.  An EMT came by and took my vitals.  I remember thinking “Yes, you should check on me, I don’t feel right”.  Eventually he lets me go get a Popsicle.  I wander over to the area I will meet up with my family and plop down in the grass.  I took out my phone to see who the many texts have been coming from and right at the top was a text from my two training buddies.  These girls followed me with the text updates and watched me cross the finish line on the live feed. They had been with me every step of my training.  The text stared “I know you are disappointed, don’t…” That’s when I start crying.  I was so glad they didn’t try to say “good job, you did great”.  I couldn’t bear that, I was so glad they knew, I wouldn’t have to tell them I fell short of my goal.  And they, maybe more than anyone knew my disappointment.  Right about then my family found me sitting in the grass crying holding two melting Popsicles.  Pathetic.  They all sat down with me and patted my back or leg.  But my sweet son, 10 years old, cried right along with me.  Seeing his tender sympathy caused me to stop.  There was so much in that moment I wanted to say to him.  I wanted him to know that it’s OK to try and come up short.  You can do your very best but it may not be your day.  That’s life.  The point is not the destination, it’s the journey.  

I picked myself up and ate my Popsicle and did my best to start to feel better.  We bumped into my Uncle and my triathlon friend. Hugs and congratulations all around.  I smiled and was grateful for their kind words.  I got my official time (3:38:48).  Back to the hotel to get cleaned up but I just had to log onto the Boston Marathon website.  I just had to double check the qualifying times, just to be sure.  Yep, ages 30-34 had to run 3:35.  But this is the age of the runner according to the day of the Boston marathon, not the qualifying marathon.  On the day of the next Boston marathon I will be 35.  That puts me into the next time bracket (35-39) who need to run the marathon in 3:40.  3:40!!!!! I made it by 1 minute and 12 seconds.  Relief, excitement, frustration that I didn’t look closer in the beginning.  I submitted my application for the Boston marathon right that minute. 

 5 days later my application was accepted for the 2013 Boston marathon on April 15th.  There are a few residual feelings from the St. George race that cling to my memory.  Those last two miles, I can’t forget how difficult, physical and emotional they were.  In those miles quitting never even crossed my mind.  That clear voice that urged me on.  And the feeling of wanting to “dig deep, push harder” but I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t do more that I was doing.  That was the edge of my ability that day. 

 The training schedule I am starting this week is for the Boston marathon.  I have other goals for the upcoming year.  One being the dropped goal of my century ride.  But that’s the lovely thing about a new year. It’s  not a clean slate, it’s a second chance.  I have had my eye on running Boston since 2010 and when I  go I will have no shame in admitting it took me 3 years to get there.  There are so many people that helped me along the way.  Supported me and cheered for me and swore at me when I needed a different kind of motivation.  But the truth is, I would have done it with or without them.  After all, it was my feet that hit the pavement, my legs that carried me and my mind that held my training and ultimately my race, together.  For me, that is the foundation of endurance athletics.  There is certainly camaraderie, training partners,  amazing spouses and family members that support and encourage along the way.  Without them the journey would be lonely, even less fulfilling.  But in the end they don’t get you out of bed at 5AM to do a tempo run before work.  This was my goal.

I started running for fitness.  But over time that act of running evolves into a connection with myself and the open road.  In that quite time with just my legs I learned new things about myself.  Running changed me with every mile.  It makes me a better person.  I know that someday I won’t be able to do this but today I can, so I will.  See you in Boston.