BOSTON – The Marathon: Heartbreak Hill to the Finish Line

Cresting Heartbreak Hill was the best feeling in the world.  I surged down the hill towards Boston College and stopped for water.  The ground was so slippery with littered cups that I almost fell down.  Knowing I had made it over Heartbreak gave me a burst of energy and I took off, passing runner after runner, amazed that I was still able to pull off an 8:45 pace so late in the race.  It didn’t last, and it wasn’t long before I was back to playing mind games with myself.  Mostly, though, it was one big pity party, and I was the guest of honor.

Running through Brookline into the center of Boston was like coming out of a fog.  I was aware of every footfall, every yell from the crowd, and for the first time I realized how much my legs and feet hurt.  I looked around and could tell I wasn’t alone in my pain.  One older gentleman was leaning sideways as he ran, and I almost asked if he was okay but figured as long as he was still moving forward he would make it in.  One young girl who had written “This is my first marathon!” on the back of her t-shirt was visibly struggling, and the girl running with her tried her best to convince her that she could do this, she was almost done, just a little bit further.

Even though I only had five miles left to run, it felt like a million.  I continually set small goals for myself: just make it to that sign, now make it to the red light, now pass that woman in the orange t-shirt, and so on.  I saw someone being carried away on a stretcher, and could tell it was a female runner in a white cap.  I was glad it wasn’t me.  I passed a woman running on a prosthetic leg, and felt inspired to keep going.  If she could do it, so could I.

The course slowly made its way downhill, but it was not flat.  There were numerous small inclines that made me grumble.  Some of the downhill portions were actually quite steep, but I was so miserable I couldn’t even enjoy the downhill running.  It didn’t seem to make the running any easier.  Where’s Waldo, a girl in costume who had stayed near me most of the race, finally pulled away, as did Minnie Mouse.

The course eventually made a wide turn that took us past Fenway Park and alongside the Green Line, and I was in familiar territory.  This was where we had gone the other night in our search for the elusive clam chowder.  The crowds were so loud and thick, it was almost overwhelming.  People hung out of building windows, and the edges of the course were lined with thousands and thousands of outstretched hands.  I slapped some, ignored others, and trudged on.  I told myself, over and over, that I was never going to run another marathon.

Finally I could see it:  The Citgo sign, mile 25.  If I could just make it to the sign it meant I only had one more mile to run, and then this agony would be over.  That sign was how the Rocky Mountains must have looked to the pioneers heading west, deceptively close, but farther away than it seemed.  I became aware of some chafing on my inner thighs, and it really hurt.  Why the heck was I chafing there?

I wished I had written my name on my shirt or bib.  The entire run I had heard other people’s names being called out for encouragement, but I was glad of my anonymity.  I was feeling so poorly, I didn’t want to be noticed or seen.  I think, on some level, I didn’t even feel worthy of running the Boston Marathon because I knew I wasn’t having my best day.  Now, running the last few miles to the finish line, I would’ve liked hearing my name yelled out.

Mile 25!  I pulled it together one more time only to see yet another hill, an underpass.  It wasn’t too tough, and I liked the break from the crowds.  More running, then I could see the course making a sharp right that I didn’t expect.  I looked to see what street we were turning on—maybe it was Boylston!—but was confused to see it was Hereford.  Hereford?  Did something happen?  Did they have to change the course?  Where was Boylston?  I checked my Garmin to make sure I hadn’t misread the mileage.  Just keep going.  Of course, like a sick joke, Hereford was another very slight uphill.  There was a left turn just ahead, though, and this time there was no doubt about it:  Boylston Street and the finish line, just ahead.

That final half mile run to the Boston Marathon finish line is something I will remember on my deathbed.  I felt like a champion, and knew how stupid I had been to feel unworthy of being there.  I had fought and conquered, and I was going to cross that finish line leaving nothing on the course.  As the crowds cheered me on, I gave it all I had, passing runner after runner, and sprinted to the finish at an 8:28 pace.  Something I will never forget is hearing “Angela Turnage, Dallas, TX” as I crossed the finish.

Even though I missed a PR by a long shot, and instead finished at “only” 4:32:25, I was happy.  I had run the Boston Marathon—sick!—and finished strong.

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