These are the words I was expecting to hear when my Boston Marathon run came to an end: “Congratulations and Welcome to Boston!”
These are the words I actually heard: “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to take you to the hospital.”
When I went to bed on Sunday night, I felt really confident heading into the race. Yes, the weather was supposed to be warmer than expected and I knew I might have to alter my goal time, but I also knew I’d cross that finish line feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment and emotion. I knew in my gut I was going to have a great day. It turns out that gut feeling was actually a gastrointestinal virus.
Monday morning started like any other race day. I ate a hearty but healthy breakfast, had my cup of coffee and bottle of Gatorade, rolled out my IT band and got ready to head to the start line. Looking back, it was odd that I felt some stomach cramping and other issues (I’ll spare you the details), but I chalked it up to nerves.
I wanted the Boston Marathon to go well, I had publicly shared my training experience and had no less than a dozen friends taking part in the day in some capacity. I didn’t want to just have a good day for me, but for everyone else as well. It may be difficult to understand, but I wanted to make everyone proud. I wanted to not only finish, but set a PR. I wanted to hug my friends when I met them and share a drink with them afterward for the first time in four months. But mostly, I wanted them to see me do well, not just train and talk about running hard.
Within the first three or four miles, I knew the day was going to be hotter than I anticipated and began dialing back my goals. Rather than try and run my best time, I dropped my pace by :10-:15 and focused on running strong, well and healthy. I knew it would be frustrating to not reach my goal, but I’ve run enough races to know my body can’t really handle the heat. Through the ten mile mark, I felt pretty good. I was high-fiving almost every kid with hand out, thanking every volunteer, picking up the pace when I heard “Shipping Up to Boston” and fought back the tears when I saw how many people on the course were determined to be ‘Boston Strong’.
As I passed through the water stop at mile 11, I realized something wasn’t right. Again, I chalked it up to the unexpectedly warm temperatures. The sun was beating down on my back. So, I scaled back my pace again. I told myself it was better to be safe than sorry. With my per mile pace now dipping to around an 8:20 (only slightly faster than the pace I maintain on long, slow runs) I felt OK and confident I’d be fine. Except I wasn’t. Shortly after running past the wild Wellesley women, I started to feel sick. I also began to worry I was going to become the CSN New England version of Uta Pippig. Thankfully, that did not happen. I did get sick, but not in front of the entire town of Wellesley.
I made the decision to keep running.
After my lengthy stop, I attempted to fall back into an easy, comfortable pace. I passed mile 14, 15, and 16, but with each mile I was deteriorating. By the time I had closed in on the 17 mile marker, I knew I needed medical attention.
The people who helped me on the course were fantastic. The dad with his two kids offering me bottled water and words of encouragement. The police officer who lent me his phone so I could call a friend I knew would be waiting at the finish line. The paramedic who optimistically said if I started to feel better and my vitals were OK, I could get back on the road and finish. Unfortunately, I was not OK. My heart rate was high, while my blood pressure had dropped significantly. I was dehydrated to the point my skin was dry and I was barely sweating. It was then that the kind paramedic explained I would have to go to the hospital.
Instead of my day ending with a finisher’s medal, a massive foil cape and hugs from celebratory friends it concluded with an ambulance ride and in a hospital hooked up to IV’s.
I was devastated. Beginning with the first phone call I made from the curb near mile 17 until I went to sleep Monday night, I sobbed. I was angry, sad and embarrassed that I couldn’t finish. I spent 16 weeks going to bed and getting up early, running hundreds of miles and altering my lifestyle to ensure I’d get through race day healthy.
Friends and family attempted to console me, but truthfully, I felt like defeated. I couldn’t understand how anyone around me could possibly be proud of my efforts. I didn’t reach my goal. No finish line was crossed. The entire day, in my mind, was an absolute failure.
Despite feeling terrible, I forced myself to shower and head to friend’s place. A few of the girls in my neighborhood had put together a post race party and I didn’t want one more thing to go to waste. I sat in a corner chair, sipping water and nibbling on saltine crackers, in tears. I kept thinking I had let everyone down and felt terrible that nearly a dozen girls (including one who flew in from Chicago and another who took the train up from New York) had wasted a perfectly good Monday.
But as it turned out, I was the only one disappointed with my performance.
While I sat in that chair I finally looked around, really looked at the faces in the room. I’ve lived in a number of different cities, but outside of Milwaukee (my hometown), no other place had ever felt like home. I’ve always had friends in the other towns I’ve lived, but not like this.
One friend sat with me when she realized I was crying. She said nothing, but I knew she’d do anything to make me feel better. Another offered to call the BAA to see if I could run the remainder of the route next week and still get my medal. A third quietly told me how worried all the girls and one of my close guy friends were not just about how I was physically, but also emotionally.
While I was on the course and in the hospital, this group of girls and the guy friend came together. They figured out how to get me from the hospital, called my mom to let her know how I was doing and stood outside (in a suit, while at work) for 45 minutes just to hand off a cell phone. There were hugs, shoulders to cry on, encouraging words, plus calls, texts and emails, which have continued into Tuesday.
The concern wasn’t limited to that particular circle of friends. I have been overwhelmed by how many people from every stage of my life have reached out, all because of a bout with the flu and a disappointing end to a race. It is not lost on me how insignificant my “problem” was in comparison to so many others, which makes the outpouring of concern mean that much more.
I love the Christmas movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”. A holiday does not pass without a night in to watch the film. Without fail I cry at the end of the movie when George opens up the copy of Tom Sawyer and reads the quote from Clarence: “Dear George, no man is a failure who has friends.”
My day did not go as planned and it was disappointing. I was not able to run down Boylston Street fueled by the screams of marathon spectators determined to show that ‘Boston Strong’ is not just words. What I did experience was another version of strength and support. The kind that comes not from fans and finish lines, but family. My Boston family.