The First

“Do you want to do this again in the fall?” I remember asking myself. I was closing in on the 20-mile marker of the 2009 Vermont City Marathon. I was ahead of pace. I was hurting.

I chose Vermont as my first crack at a Boston qualifier thanks to a recommendation from a friend who achieved her first BQ there. In many ways, I had no business making such a leap. I came in with a marathon PR of 4:07 from the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon. I failed to crack the four-hour barrier in the infamous 2007 Chicago Marathon that shut down because of the heat (I finished in 4:45).

But I spent the next 20 months getting, as they say, serious about it. It all started during a trip down to Florida shortly after Chicago. I was out kayaking with my uncle who would turn the tide (so to speak). “We’re going to use that marathon base and get you under 20 minutes for the 5K,” he said. “Ok,” I agreed, somewhat skeptical. My uncle used to coach high school track, and that, coupled with my dad’s own running prowess at the University of Florida, made for a pretty damn good coaching staff in my corner.

My uncle sent me workouts in the mail and I would turn lung-searing, quad-busting quarter after quarter on the track, oftentimes with my dad holding the stopwatch for me. That spring of 2008 I ran a 19:45, and you might say the trajectory of my running altered with that race.

You see, with the adrenaline still pumping, I went to the running resource I had recently discovered: the McMillan Running Calculator. I plugged in my 19:45 and when I scrolled to the predicted marathon time, it had dialed up a BQ.

The untenable now tenable. The impossible now possible. The once unimaginable now, well, you get the idea. At least in theory.

I set about tackling this new challenge with fervor. There were the detractors who scoffed at taking nearly an hour off my PR. No matter – fuel for those particularly anguishing long runs or grueling tempos. I sometimes relive my final 20-miler before that race. The one I did in the rain. The one where I returned to the house waterlogged, stepped inside, and declared, “Ready.”

So, why this sudden trip down memory lane? I’ll call it a fortuitous mis-click on a tab in my Google Sheet training log that brought me back to 2009 this week. I started scrolling through my marathon buildup for that BQ attempt, trying to conjure up some of those old feelings, particularly during this week where the running has been sparse and light as I fight off the last lingering elements of my cold.

Memories still surface from that race in Vermont. Neighborhood houses passed in my periphery at that 19-21-mile stretch. Children offered oranges from their outstretched hands. I managed a weak smile, while inside a war raged between self-doubt and self-motivation. The heavy rain that started to fall five minutes before the start had finally started to abate. Turning onto the bike path at 22 and living water station to water station, knowing that the next mile marker would be just beyond it. Emerging from the woods. The sun. Lake Champlain deep blue and perfect on my right. The sound of the finish to my left. Spotting my wife and dad screaming for me just ahead of the 26-mile marker. Knowing at that moment that I had it. That despite the pain in my quads and hips, the voices from the doubters inside my head and out, the year, months, hours, and miles that went into this. Culmination. I had it. I crossed the finish in 3:08:41. Empty. Hollow. Commencing serious Frankenstein walking. Finding my wife and dad, hugging them tight, and beginning the now nearly ten-year tradition of crying after marathons. Letting it sink in slowly that I was Boston bound.

That’s enough to get me through this week.

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