The term “Big Runner” has always perplexed me a little. It has always seemed like a loose term used to describe people who seem to spend an awful lot of their time training or racing.
Monday, April 21 was the 118th Boston Marathon. I had the great honor of racing among more than 31,800 Big Runners. These people are big in talent, spirit, generosity and tenacity. But more than that, they are big in blessings and community.
The community was filled with spouses who awaken morning after morning alone in bed because their Big Runner is already hours into training time. These are families and friends who stand for hours on the side of a road, just to cheer and high five their Big Runner as she blows by. These are friends who take (in some cases, significant) time out of a workday to watch the Boston Marathon live feed around the time that their Big Runner might cross the finish line. (And then recorded it on their phone, pointing to their Big Runner so they could post it to social media. Love it.)
A Big Runner is everyone who competed, but also everyone who volunteered, cheered, traveled to support someone, knit a scarf, secured us, organized the event, kept us on our feet as we wobbled past the finish, and took our shining, sweaty pictures.
If ever there was a community to join, the community of Big Runners is the one, and the Boston Marathon is big in every way.
One thing that people who have run the Boston Marathon will tell you is that the first few miles, you are swept along in a wave of humanity, all running about the same pace toward the same finish line. I raced from the second wave, third corral, crammed in with at least a thousand other runners. It’s pretty safe to say that we brought many of the same goals, nagging insecurities, aches and journeys to that start line.
Those first few miles constitute a great metaphor for the whole big experience.
The Big Build Up
From the moment my husband and I set foot into the expo to pick up my number, we were swept up into an experience so big we barely could take it all in. There are so many people in one place that it literally assaults the senses. And yet, everyone you meet makes you feel solitarily worthy of being there.
I was more driven than ever to try to earn the honor of being a Big Runner at the Boston Marathon.
My road to Boston began almost four years ago on a muddy trail run called Frogtown, where an encouraging volunteer named Dawn cheered that I was running with such joy that I should try a marathon. I said something to the effect of, “only crazy people run marathons, but thanks,” ran for the finish line and picked up a distinctive hat emblazoned with a cartoon frog. It has become my lucky racing hat.
Fast-forward to February 2013 – the Tallahassee Marathon. It was my first marathon, and where I fell in love with the distance and first qualified for Boston. (Wearing my lucky hat.)
October 2013 brought the Chicago Marathon. It was a perfect day and an unexpectedly good finish time earned me a great starting spot for Boston. (Wearing my lucky hat.)
And then to spring break 2014, visiting my parents in Florida and making a last minute decision to race a local 5k. I rekindled a friendship with Theresa, a lovely high school friend who I’d been told was a Big Runner. (She took first, I took second…hmmm…didn’t have my lucky hat). Excited, we made plans to connect when we realized we both were headed to Boston just two weeks later.
The pieces were all in place for something really big.
The Big Event
Unless you’ve been intentionally not paying attention to sports or US news the past couple of weeks, you know many of the public reasons why the 2014 Boston Marathon was huge. This sporting event is second only to the Super Bowl in size; and this year, there was so much significance, celebration, memorial and flat-out heart that nothing will compare. I can’t begin to do justice to it here. (You can check out Runners World or CNN for some of the great stories of victory, survival and performance.)
Undoubtedly, everybody who was there has a great big story to tell. Rather than just giving the play by play of what I drank, if I cramped (I didn’t) and how tough Heartbreak Hill really is, I’d rather share a few highlights that prove my theory that Big Runners are made by community.
To start, I ran in honor of my dad, who is a diabetic. Our friends and family donated more than $2000 for the American Diabetes Association. (That’s like $76 per mile to help find a cure for Diabetes. Awesome!)
My husband, kids and parents were with me in Boston. What an amazing gift to have their support throughout the training, the planning and the whole incredible weekend. It was better because it was shared.
My team, Oiselle – including two of our shining stars, Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman – was out in force. While I didn’t get nearly as much time as I’d have liked to hang out with them, they were so present and I wore my singlet with pride.
Easter Sunday church at Old South Church (aka, Church of the Finish Line). It was, quite literally, one of the most spiritually and emotionally fulfilling services of all time. (So much so that it trended over the weekend.) Sitting between my husband and a wonderful new friend, we remembered 2013, celebrated the Resurrection and were wrapped in a blessings scarf knit with love and care by parishioners over the past year. That scarf will forever mean as much to me as my finisher medal.
Sunday dinner. We carb loaded on the most delicious Italian food imaginable at Carmelinas. More than the food, though, the staff showed boundless kindness and care to my family. Easter dinner has never been better.
And then…race day.
The Big Day
Monday morning arrived before my alarm. I hopped an early bus to Boston Commons, where I connected with some of the Oiselle flock and then took a (frighteningly long) bus ride to Hopkinton with Theresa. Catching up with my friend was a perfect start to the day.
We were walking through thousands of runners at the Athlete Village when the most amazing thing happened. I was, of course, wearing my lucky hat. Someone called out, “Hey, Frogtown!” I turned to find that the voice belonged to Dawn, who I hadn’t seen since that first Frogtown race, but who I remembered. She remembered me too. (Goosebumps!) My Boston Marathon would be perfect. I was going out to do it honor, to thank the community, to show the bad guys that good wins – and I was going to make it all happen to plan.
So with that unexpected gem and a shared encouragement hug with Theresa, I headed for the start line. There was just enough time to set my Charity Miles to Every Mother Counts and to say a prayer of dedication.
And across the next 26.2 miles…
- Sweaty men ‘pulled over’ to kiss Wellesley girls
- I thanked countless (yet not enough) military and police
- I high fived no less than 300 kids – and one dog
- I drank what had to have been a gallon of water and downed four gels
- I ran to the sweet sound of “go Shel!” and “go Oiselle!” hundreds of times (my phone wigged out in the heat and stopped playing music, which ended up being such a great thing)
- I played Battle of Wills against three big, hot hills (and won, thank you very much)
- I high fived MY PEOPLE, who were wearing their bright orange “Team Rachelle” tee shirts, screaming and cheering – they lightened my feet for the final stretch
- I had just enough left in the tank to encourage other runners on the very, very, very long stretch down Boylston into the finish (seriously, that is the longest stretch of road on the planet)
At the finish line, I was reminded what it is to share victory. This race was so much bigger than my training, my effort or me. I did this for Boston, for my Big Runner people, and all of the incredible individuals who formed the indestructible fabric of the community and this epic event.
Missing my Chicago PR time by 27 seconds, I am grateful and proud. Grateful for the whole experience. And so proud to say that this Boston Marathon finisher ran her best race ever at the biggest race in history to honor the community, the event and my Big Runner people.