This past Monday was the pinnacle of marathon running — the 120th Boston Marathon. Over 26,000 runners from all around the world converged on the great city of Boston to run this historic race, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was my dream since 8th grade when I started running with my dad. Back then we would only go a few miles, yet in my head, running the Boston Marathon was completely attainable. It was only once I got older and actually ran a half marathon that I learned that not only was running further not as easy as I thought it would be, but I also had to run a lot faster too.
As I toed the starting line in Hopkinton (or, rather, as I stood about 200 meters back from the starting line, in the second wave of runners), I thought of all the hard work that it took to get me to where I was. The Boston Marathon was my 8th marathon. It took me 5 tries and four years to get a “BQ” and the work it took to get there made the race all the sweeter.
As my wave started, I took off with them, nervous and excited. Five miles in, I knew that it was going to be a tougher race than expected. Running hard downhill wasn’t something I practiced, and my quads were starting to feel it already.
At mile 10 I passed my husband, mother-in-law, and two sister-in-laws giving me a huge surge of energy. It was warm (just over 70 degrees), and everyone around me was grateful when we passed over a bridge and felt the start of a few sea breezes.
By the time we hit Wellesley, we finally had some more space to run without bumping into what felt like a million other sweaty bodies. I’ll tell you what, as a female, it seemed like the Wellesley “tunnel” (really they are only on one side) was over-hyped. They were great race supporters, don’t get me wrong, but they were much more interested in the men running around me than cheering me on in my race.
The dreaded hills started around mile 17. Of course, I had been running up and down hills the entire time, so by this point, all I could think was “bring it on.” Of course, that thought definitely came too soon. The hills were tough, and the down hills worse than the ups. Seriously, if you have a hilly race coming up, train running downhill because my quads are toast!
At mile 19 I saw my old Coach and she was cheering for me. Another surge of energy hit me as I kept pushing up and down the hills. Finally, I hit Heartbreak Hill. While it wasn’t easy, surprisingly, as I got to the top, all I could think was, “the hill at mile 17 was worse.” Now, all I had to do was finish the last 5.2 miles and get to the finish line … if that’s what you want to call “all.”
For the last five-plus miles I let the crowd carry me. The support from the entire city of Boston and the history and grandeur of the race started to overtake me. As I crossed the finish line, exhausted, I started tearing up because of how hard I worked, everything I had accomplished, and everything this city and other runners had given up in the pursuit of this race.
As I met up with my family in the reunion area and received their hugs and congratulations, I decided that, yes, I would be back next year. Boston, I’ll be ready for you. Dare I say, bring it on?
Stephanie Balaconis is a runner, writer, and adventurer living in Ohio, with roots in Texas and Boston.