After qualifying for Boston in a surprise perfect race in 2013 then suffering a race week injury, Lauren thought she may have missed her shot. After years of setbacks and heartbreak, perseverance eventually led to success. Here’s more of Lauren’s story.
My Boston journey isn’t a story about overcoming a life-threatening condition, returning from service overseas, or turning one’s life around; it is far less impressive. My Boston journey is merely one humble school teacher’s story of good ol’ dogged determination.
Running had always been my favorite form of exercise, but I’d never run competitively until I began triathlons in 2009. At that point, I think I’d run maybe two 5k’s in my entire life. Fast forward to 2013. I had a couple marathons under my belt, but I had always thought of Boston as a pie in the sky, something that other, faster people did. It never occurred to me to even think about trying to qualify. Then I had a big PR at the challenging Georgia Publix Marathon that spring and thought, Maybe Boston isn’t just for other, faster people. Maybe I could be one of those other, faster people.
I spent the next few months training for an Ironman but after the Ironman was over, I signed up for a marathon that was about three months away and thought I’d run and just see what happened. I didn’t have a coach, I didn’t have a specific training plan, I didn’t have a clear sense of what I needed to do to race my best. All I had was a good base of fitness and a devil-may-care attitude.
What happened was I had the best race I’d ever run. Maybe the stars aligned, maybe the angels smiled upon me, maybe I banked some good karma along the way. All I know is I felt great the whole time and crossed the finish line almost seven minutes under the BQ cutoff for my age and gender. It was a huge surprise.
Sweet! The following fall, I submitted my application, got my confirmation, and was all set to run the 2015 Boston Marathon. In the weeks leading up to the race, I could hardly keep my mind on anything else and was just counting down the days until Patriot’s Day.
I must have gotten a little over zealous in my training because I went out for a run one day about five weeks before the race and ended up limping home. I went immediately to the doctor hoping to hear that I was overreacting and the pain was no big deal. Nope. Stress fracture in my left foot. And just like that, my Boston race was gone. I was devastated. I realized that in the big scheme of things, my life was pretty darn amazing if not running Boston was my biggest problem, but I was crushed nonetheless. My qualifying race had been so dreamy and unexpected that I thought maybe it had been a fluke.
Because I’d already spent the money on travel and airfare and, more importantly, because I had a number of friends and teammates running, I decided to go to Boston anyway. Part of me thought that once I got there, I’d see that it was just another marathon and that it wasn’t such a big deal. Oh, how wrong I was.
The way the city came together around the race and the sense of camaraderie I felt with all of the other runners was indescribable. It was like all of us shared a heartbeat for that weekend. I hobbled through the expo in my boot and picked up my packet with the shirt and bib I would never get to wear and cried for about the umpteenth time that I wouldn’t be running.
On race day I found a spot with a couple of local friends to cheer on my teammates and was again overwhelmed with the magnitude of the event and the sense of pride and unity with everyone partaking in it. I HAD to get back here and run this race.
I went home more determined than ever. I waited not so patiently to come out of my boot and, pardon the pun, hit the ground running the minute it was off. I did my best to follow my doctor’s orders about building gradually, but I came down with plantar fasciitis in that same foot not long after getting out of the boot. After a few months of pushing back became completely fixated on qualifying for Boston in New Orleans 2016, which would allow me to run the race in 2017. After so many months of setbacks, it HAD to happen.
The week leading up the race I was terrified of failing. I didn’t sleep well and tossed and turned every night. Race morning I felt a bit jittery, but I just figured it was race nerves. I took off running at my planned pace and could tell that something just wasn’t right. It felt much harder than it should have even in the earliest miles. I also had a sharp pain in my abdomen, probably from nerves. Whatevs, I thought. I’ll just muscle through it. Nope. Somewhere around mile 17 I fell apart and was run/walking. I missed the cutoff by about six minutes, a full 13 minutes slower than when I’d BQ’d that first time.
Again, I was crushed. I woke up crying in the wee hours the night after that race. Again, I knew that if a bad marathon was my biggest problem, my life was pretty sweet. But my confidence was shot. I was really beginning to believe that that first BQ had just been a stroke of luck.
Nonetheless, I was still obsessed with getting back to Boston. I signed up for the Kentucky Derby Marathon that April, about 8 weeks away. Not ideal, I know, but I had nothing to lose by giving it a shot. I enlisted the tutelage of a local coach and I paid him to do my thinking for me, because, clearly, what I was doing wasn’t working.
I went into this race much more relaxed, as this was just a Hail Mary pass. I probably wouldn’t BQ, but what if I did?
During the race, I could feel that my legs were still carrying fatigue from the ill-fated marathon in New Orleans, but I ended up BQ-ing by about a minute and a half. I was thrilled that I had it in me, but I knew that it was probably not a large enough margin to actually get me into the 2017 race. It did, however, turn my confidence around. Maybe my first BQ was not a fluke? I did submit an application for the 2017 Boston Marathon, but, as I’d suspected, my time was not far enough under the cutoff to get me in.
Time to rally. I shifted my goal from Boston 2017 to 2018 and set my sights on a race that was in December, far enough away to give me time to recover, and train properly. And, at long last, I qualified by over four minutes. I was afraid to get my hopes up until I actually received the confirmation email. I think I heard the angels sing when I opened up that email. I was going back to Boston!
I still have the bag from 2015 with my bib, shirt, program, and runner’s passport just like it was the day I picked it up. Did you ever read Great Expectations in school? Miss Havisham–yeah, that’s been me. It has been a symbol of a dashed hopes, but that bag has also been my motivation during all of the times I wanted to give up on myself. It has been a reminder that my running is not a fluke. That I WOULD get back to Boston.
And, knocking on wood as I type, I will be there this year. I can’t wait for my unique journey to unite with those of the thousands of fellow runners at the 2018 Boston Marathon.