Evolution of a Real Runner

            I did my first marathon in order to fulfill a goal.  At almost 39, I planned to run “40 races by 40”.  The marathon was to be race number 40.  I worked my way through 5k’s, tri’s, du’s and half marathons, but felt I wouldn't be a real runner until I ran a marathon.  I ran it “Oprah style”.  I had friends and family rooting me on and finished somewhere in the 4:30’s.  It was painful and hard, and I assumed I’d never run another one.
            Okay, the next week, I signed up for my second, to be held a few months later.  I wanted to make sure that my finishing was not a fluke.  Was I really a marathoner?  Things changed during my second marathon.  I finished it in 4 hours, and it was fun.  During the race, I kept seeing signs like “Boston or bust” or  “BQ Bound”.  Obviously, being a Cape Cod girl, I knew the significance of the Boston Marathon, but that was only for elite marathoners, right?  I found out that evening I was only 10 minutes away from my qualifying time.  The fun was about to fade...
            I assumed that I’d qualify for Boston with a few more tries.  But, let me tell you, it ain’t that easy.  Race after race, I’d come close, but sorry, no cigar.  I was determined and pissed.  “Real runners, run Boston” I thought.  Not realizing this definitional pressure came only from me.
            In frustration of not making Boston, I decided to do an ultra-marathon.  Screw it, I thought.  If I couldn’t run fast enough for Boston, I could run long.  I signed up for a 50 miler in PA, called Oil Creek.  Now, this is a bear of a race and not like anything I’d even imagined before.  I pictured well-groomed trails like my beloved Steigelmeier Park.  NOT EVEN CLOSE!  It was brutal both physically and emotionally.  I bitched and whined and LOVED it.  I met my friend Roger on that trail, and he opened my eyes to ultra-running.  He’s become my advisor for almost every race I’ve done since.  Ultra running is tough physically, but it breeds close friendships.  Wow! 
            But Boston was still there, nagging.  It took me well over two years after I thought Boston was in reach, to finally grab my BQ (Boston Qualifier).  I drove to Albany and I worked my ass off at a very small race.  It was not fun, and I was alone.  I have a friend, Kathy, who cartwheels at the finish line of marathons.  That was NOT me;  I cried.  My time was 3:44.  Woo Hoo!!!  However,  Boston had closed registration already for that year.  Now, I’d have to wait another whole year to get in, and I was anxious to check the box.
            I used that year to complete my transition to ultra-marathoner.  I kicked ass in a Beast of Burden 50 miler two weeks after my BQ.  Not because I ran fast (I didn’t) but because I finished (I did).   I had assumed that Mother Nature gave the race director control of the weather on Beast days, but this race confirmed it.  With two feet of snow, I saw nothing but white the entire race.   No worries, I met Clyde, Chris, Gary, Jim and Marco.  Bonding happens quickly when you are in extreme situations.  
            So, long story short.  I eventually ran Boston.  It was surreal.  My brother and SIL waited hours to cheer me on.  I ran with no time expectations and soaked up the day.  I don’t think I’ll EVER forget rounding that last corner and seeing the finish line.  It changed me, but it didn't make me a "real" runner.
            I found a quote from John "The Penguin" Bingham that put it in perspective:  "If you run, you are a runner.  It doesn't matter how fast or how far.  It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years.  There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get.  You just run."
            The best thing Boston gave me was ultra-running.  Without it, I doubt I would have even discovered ultra's.  I question if I would embrace the challenges that ultra's throw at you, if I had not struggled to get to Boston. I still have goals that may be as unrealistic and frustrating as qualifying for Boston, but at least I don’t question if I’m a “real” runner any longer.


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