The Road to Boylston Street
When I first started running, I was a young mid-20’s mom of three babies, crippled with postpartum depression. I was desperate to find something that was my own, just for me, that had nothing to do with diapers, midnight feedings, preschool, or Dora the Explorer. I didn’t realize that running was going to be that thing for me, until I’d been doing it for a while. I only started because I had three babies’ worth of excess baby fat in 3 ½ years, and I wanted to lose it. Running seemed like the logical first step. Running a full marathon wasn’t even on my radar, let alone trying to qualify for Boston.
Fast forward a few years, I had just run the St. George marathon. It was my 3rd marathon and I got a 26-minute PR, with a finish time of 4:02. I was ecstatic. Friends, in my novice mind, I was screaming FAST! Who cares what time anyone else got, I RAN FAST for me! That’s what running was for me in the beginning. Every single step felt like a victory. Running was the cure to my depression, it literally changed and SAVED my life! Running brought me my joy! But, as human nature dictates, Success creates a greater desire to push even further. I had talked to my friend, Kristen, from high school at the finish line in St. George that year. She had qualified for Boston with a time under 3:35. And I thought, wow, that’s really fast, but that’s only another 25 minutes off my time. Maybe…….
Later that year, I got horribly sick. I spent the next year and a half of my life basically just surviving, barely. I was diagnosed with Graves disease and my running came to a screaming halt. Thanks to the discovery of natural healing methods, coupled with modern medicine, I was able to receive treatment and move on with my life, living a new normal. And I started running again.
In 2013, two more babies and a couple more marathons later, my younger sister and brother both wanted to run their first marathon with me in St. George. My body had been thru a lot since that first time on the course in 2008, and I trained while nursing a newborn baby. I toed the line with my siblings, 6 months after giving birth to my 5th baby. I ran the first 14 miles with my sister. And then she took off, and I just couldn’t hang. My brother finished in 3:56, my sister in 3:57, and I finished in 4:13. Both my brother and sister finished their first marathons, not only faster than me that day, but faster than my fastest time ever! Something to note about my family: we have a little bit of some friendly competition between us! Letting my little sister beat me left me unsatisfied. I had a score to settle!
There was fire lit under me that day, and it just never burned out. The following September 2014, after a year of building and hard training and the most intense focus I’ve ever had, I ran the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon. To qualify for Boston, I needed to run 3:40 or faster. I decided to set my goal at 3:35, just to be safe. I decided I would just try to stay head of the 3:35 pacer the whole race. That fire stayed with me the whole race. I wanted it BAD! I crossed the finish line that day in 3:33:07! I had done it! I had qualified for Boston!! I registered for Boston that day.
The next few weeks, I learned about the dangers of over training. I had also signed up to run the St. George marathon, a mere 3 weeks after Big Cottonwood. And then, the pacing team I had run with a few times, needed a pacer for the Layton Marathon, which was 2 weeks after BC and 1 week before St. George. I was just going to do it all! 3 marathons in 4 weeks? What could go wrong? Add in a minor peroneal tendinitis injury from BC and I was literally running through the perfect storm. I paced the Layton marathon in 4:15, and then, finished the St. George marathon in 3:39:36 (another BQ, barely). I ran one single training run between those three marathons, because of my foot injury.
After I finished St. George, I was ready for a break from running and excited to get back into lifting heavy. I was also in the process of earning my personal training certification and excited to test out everything I was learning. One day, shortly after my marathon month, I was testing my strength, trying to find my rep max in the squat rack, and the deadlift. The next day, my hamstrings were crazy sore, but more so in my left side. Sore muscles after a workout are not unusual, so I didn’t think much of it and kept going thru my routine. By the end of the week, the normal muscle soreness had relented, but the pain in my left hamstring had worsened. Still, I pushed on, running thru the pain, thinking I could run it off. 3 weeks later, with a continuous dull pain in my hamstring, I paced the 2-hour time slot in a half marathon. When my partner and I came across the race photographer around my 10, I decided to leap. When I landed, I felt a pop in my hamstring. I finished the race, but my leg was done for. I went to my chiropractor, who also does muscle activation therapy. He said it felt like someone had taken a hatchet to my muscle, there was a nice clean tear right thru the middle.
I felt completely broken. I fell back into a depression that I hadn’t experienced since before I started running several years earlier. But I was determined to be in Boston the next spring. I took about 4 weeks off of running and went thru intense physical therapy. I was also teaching fitness classes regularly, and I did my best to modify. My marathon training was almost non-existent. I wore a neoprene hamstring sleeve for every workout. I spent a lot of time on the treadmill. I only did 2 long runs, and every single step was painful. My husband even urged me to postpone going to Boston, expressing faith in me that I could qualify again another year. I was stubborn and determined.
January 2015, I completed my physical therapy (insurance reset and I stopped going). Just as I started making plans for travel and hotel to Boston, my husband lost his job. I felt like the odds kept stacking up against me. Because of his job loss, my husband decided to start his own company. That meant, that he didn’t feel like he could take the time away to travel to Boston. So, I was going to go alone. I used my SkyMiles to book my flight, and found a decently priced hotel on the outskirts of town.
My dear friend, Carin, who had moved from Utah to Wisconsin in 2014, had jokingly mentioned going with me. We got talking and decided it would be the perfect getaway for her, and she booked her flight to meet me in Boston.
The trip itself was amazing. Carin was such a perfect travel companion. The whole weekend revolved around the marathon. We even started posting pics all over town on our Instagram pages with the hashtag #sherinboston. She was such an amazing support for me. We toured the town, took a trolley ride, saw all of the historical sites, walked everywhere, got to visit the Green Monster and saw the Sox play, took pics at the finish line, took our time at the Expo, ate all the food! Perfection!
The day before the race came, and I had fun trying on all the different outfits I had brought and running up and down the halls in our hotel, trying to decide what to wear. The weather had been beautiful all weekend, but the forecast for Monday showed cold and rain. I decided on cropped tights, a Boston tank I had purchased at the Expo and arm sleeves.
I decided to take an Uber to the Boston Common, where I would then meet up with my friend Lauren to ride the bus to the start line. The Uber driver got lost. I used my phone’s google map to guide her before just hopping out and walking the rest of the way. I was able to find Lauren by the bus, and she and her friend Tobey and I rode the bus to the start together. My phone died at the start line. No pics of this momentous occasion for me. I stayed with Lauren and Tobey at Athlete’s Village as we tried to stay warm and dry in the drizzle and made our way toward the start line. Considering that I was running injured, I had decided that I was just going to run and enjoy and experience the race without the pressures of a time cut off, but in the back of my mind, I just wanted to run in under 4 hours.
I decided to just run with Lauren and Tobey. It was a party on the course. We hooped and hollered, I laughed as I watched Tobey flirt with all the spectators, got a kiss from one of the Wellesley girls and take a swig of some guy’s beer. I loved running with her just for the entertainment! There was a light drizzle, but the first half felt great, so I chucked my long sleeve at the aid station at the half way point.
I stayed with Lauren and Tobey until mile 16, where I stopped to take a piece of watermelon from a spectator offering it to the runners. Manna from Heaven! I realized that was my first walk break and my hamstring seized. I tried to start running again, but I couldn’t keep up with my friends. That’s when I realized that Heart Break hill is really a series of hills that lasts for 5 miles. On any other training run, those hills would’ve felt like nothing. But it had started to really rain harder, my hamstring was cramping, and I just couldn’t get my rhythm back. I ran/walked the next 5 miles. When I got to mile 21, the penultimate of Heart Break Hill, I wanted to stop. I felt so devastated by the pain I was in, and my inability to push thru it. As I crested the hill, I scanned the crowd for my friend Carin. I couldn’t find her. We had planned for her to meet me at mile 21. I desperately needed to see my friend, I needed her energy, her support. I didn’t find her. When, I finally did find her at the finish line, I discovered she was just as devastated as I was that we had somehow missed each other.
Friends, the spectators at Boston are incredible. They make you feel like they showed up to watch just you and only you. My name was on my bib and I heard complete strangers yelling “Come on Sherrie, you can do it!” I felt like I wasn’t allowed to give up. Those blessed, beautiful strangers, buoyed me up and helped me move forward.
I think I remember making it to mile 22. I think. I remember turning a corner…maybe. Miles 22 thru 26 are a total blank. I do not remember seeing the Citgo sign. I think I was literally running numb, or maybe angels carried me thru those miles, but I cannot remember them. What I do remember is turning a corner, looking up and seeing the finish line. I experienced what can only be described as an awakening. I picked up my speed the best I could, and hobbled my way toward that beautiful finish line. Tears started streaming, mixing with the rain. I was about to finish the Boston Freaking Marathon! As I crossed the finish line, I burst into a fit of ugly, hysterical sobbing. A volunteer even asked me if I was ok. All I could choke out was “I just ran the Boston marathon!” My finish time was 4:06. There is something deep and spiritual about finishing a marathon, but it is transcendence to finish Boston! I will never forget.
I’m grateful for the experiences I had leading up to Boston. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned about how the body can perform when the mind is determined, and a valuable lesson about recovery and over training. Since my Boston experience, I have run 5 Boston Qualifying marathons, and have every intention to, someday, go back (preferably uninjured) and run it again!