Grace and gratitude. These are the two words that continue to come to mind when I think about this yesterday’s Boston Marathon.
It’s equally important that I win with class and humility as I lose with respect and gratitude.
At 42 years of age I’m not running to prove anything. I’m quite happy with what I’ve accomplished in my athletic career as a marathon runner. Looking back at seventeen marathons in as many years allows for much reflection and appreciation for what this body has allowed me to do, over and over again.
If I had to pick my top marathon moments they would include:
1. my personal best of 2:28:32 at the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to become the (then) second fastest Canadian,
2. my Olympic Qualifying time of 2:29:38 at the 2015 Rotterdam Marathon to become the first of two women to represent Canada at the Olympic Games after a 20 year absence
3. crossing the line into the arms of my family after becoming an Olympian at the 2016 Games, and:
4. placing third at the 2018 Boston Marathon due to favourable racing conditions.
Obviously today’s 2019 Boston Marathon did not make the list. It goes into the (junk) pile that includes my 2:43 at the 2017 London Marathon due to stomach issues, and my one and only DNF at the 2013 World Championships in Russia due to heat exhaustion. After a successful year in 2018 with my surprise Boston podium finish, and 2:36 that earned me a bronze medal at the National Championships held within the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I wondered if I might be due for a trip down the valley instead of up the mountain. I’ve said before that I’ve grown more in my Christian faith and as a person in my lowest of lows than in any success or collection of accolades. With only running two marathons a year, you roll with the highs and lows.
So, what’s one the problem with the marathon? It’s on one day. There’s a lot you can control leading up to that one day but when it comes to race day, as my kids would say, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”
Nearly everything was identical between my 2018 and 2019 Boston Marathons: training, racing, healthy and injury-free, and goal of sub 2:40, top 3 masters and top 15 overall. What was different? That one day. Last year at the technical meeting, we were given the “bad news” that the race would bring challenging weather that people would not like. Yes, please. This year at the technical meeting, we were given the “good news” that the rain would end by start time and it would be warmer. No, thanks. Additionally we learned that the elite/sub-elite field would have 60-65 people instead of the usual 40. On race morning when I learned that the humidity was 90%, it was a final acceptance that today would not be my day as it was last year.
Like the athletes who weren’t conditioned to cold, I was not conditioned to humidity after training in another very Canadian winter. I’ve run a few marathons with high humidity and did not do well. It is by far my least favourable condition on race day. I handled it well in Rio, but that was after training through it for three months with our typical humid Southwestern Ontario summer. As Trent Stellingwerff reminded me, “High humidity (or temperature in general) – with everything in life it is part nature and part nurture. Yes, absolutely you can train to better handle higher humidity/temperatures, however, there is also a nature part around blood flow and distribution where some athletes are just more inclined to handle cold/cool conditions versus others that are better in the warm/hot conditions.” Just compare the top ten performances of Eric Gillis at the 2016 Olympics vs Reid Coolsaet at the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Today was necessary that I adjust my expectations. I would have to take it easier and go by effort.
Last year I don’t remember any sort of struggle during the race. Honestly. I felt good and was able to surge in the final kilometres, making my way from 10th to 3rd. It was surreal, quick, and incredibly exciting. This year my thoughts went back to London 2017 where I kept thinking, “Oh, when will this finally be over?” It was slow, humbling, and incredibly uneventful. When being passed by a few women today (Rachel Hyland, Dot McMahon, Kate Gustafson), they were so supportive and encouraging. I took a few steps with them, but knew my body was able to only give so much. Thank you, ladies. You were wonderful.
So what am I be grateful for? That my stomach wasn’t affected by the humidity, like in other races, enabling me to execute another successful fuelling plan (because if this did happen, it would have been really ugly). That I handled higher mileage without injury or illness (besides one cold) in this build. That I valued finishing over dropping out. That fellow Canadian Kate Gustafson passed me and I was happy for yet another great performance by a Canadian woman. That I chose to smile and take in the crowd and celebrate along Boylston because I was finishing my 3rd Boston Marathon. And that, like the 2016 Olympic Games, I crossed the line and looked to the right to see our beautiful Canadian flag with my precious three children and husband to which I ran.
I’m looking forward to strolling along the streets of Boston tomorrow in search of some New England clam chowder and sweet treats before heading back home to pack school lunches and taxi kids to swimming and hockey. I have no race plans in place. I’ll chat with Coach Dave-Scott Thomas when I’m ready.
For now, it’s all about grace and gratitude.
Top photograph by Alan Brookes; lower picture courtesy of #TeamDuChene