This article, written by Kass Berry, first appeared on her website shortly after the 2015 Boston Marathon. Since Boston 2016 registration opens this week, we thought it would make sense to share this motivating piece with The Legion. Enjoy.
The Starting Line
IT is finally here: The Boston Marathon. The day I have been preparing for since December 1. The race that had me running up to 75 miles a week. The event that motivated me to run in -20 temperatures, 18 miles on a treadmill and even complete 80 laps around a 200 meter indoor track (yikes). The marathon that led me to train through the worst winter that Boston has ever experienced.
I approached the starting line with a mixture of nervous excitement coursing through my veins. My brain was abuzz with advice and inspirational words from coaches and friends. This is physically possible for you!…Don’t go faster than 7:15’s for the first half. NO FASTER!! (Coach)….There is no race tomorrow… …Enjoy the day and have fun! Just a day earlier the infamous pro-triathlete and QT2 systems coach, Pat Wheeler (whom I still have never met haha) sent me an email with just three simple sentences…
Rain? What fucking rain? Make shit happen.
Wheeler was right. This rain couldn’t and wouldn’t stop me. It was time to put my big girl pants on and go run myself a marathon. This was my time.
Moments before my corral was released I shed my throwaway clothes to reveal my bright and easy-to-spot-in-a-crowd race day gear: a hot pink tank top covered up by a thin long-sleeve (probably a race throwaway), shorts, my hot pink CEP compression socks and a crappy pair of throwaway gloves.
The early miles ticked away effortlessly. The crowds were somewhat light due to brisk temps (40’s), high wind and impending rain, but the energy was overflowing among the runners. We were cheering on each other left and right to keep the positivity rolling and their fears of the rain at bay. I particularly remember an older guy laughing and shouting out to me, “I just got chicked! Oh no you don’t” as he sped to catch up. I couldn’t help but grin.
There is no race tomorrow.
During this time I struggled to find the 7:15 pace that Beth, my coach instructed me to aim for. I kept hearing her voice in my head, No faster than 7:15s! Got it?! Although every time I tried to slow down my pace seemed to drop too much to 7:20-7:25. Somewhere around mile 7 or 8 I decided to switch my Garmin220 watch screen to display “lap pace” instead of “current pace” so that I could better manage my overall pace (best decision!!).
(Mile 1-9 splits: 7:33, 7:13, 7:07, 7:10, 7:08, 7:09, 7:13, 7:14)
Around mile 9 I recall thinking to myself that my legs felt heavier than they should.
The legs will open up, they always do. You’re a thoroughbred. You’re built for this. You’re built for long run.
The reality is that the legs always have warmed up and opened up in the past. The scary part was that I knew they felt heavier than they should- something was definitely off. I pressed on.
Make shit happen!
My frantic mind was immediately put at ease in Wellesley when Keenan (Christine from the blog WeRunDisney) spotted me from the crowd and started wildly jumping up and down while screaming at the top of her lungs, KASSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! This was hands-down my favorite moment of the race. Keenan is a fellow Delta Gamma from Bucknell who politely encouraged me to drink (but only if you want to, right? haha)- we’ve recently connected as running bloggers, but I haven’t seen her in 10 years!! Seeing Keenan helped me get my head back in the game, refocus and have some fun on this wild adventure. Shortly after, I crossed the half at 1:36 with my arms in the air and a smile on my face. Pure perfection. I knew that if I could hold this pace (or close to it) a sub 3:15 would be well within reach.
I settled into the middle miles and this is where things started to get interesting. After running for over an hour with temperatures in the high 40’s my body was heating up and my thin long sleeve shirt was heavy from sweat and spilled water; at mile 15.5 (Newton Lower Falls) I made a tough call to shed the layer and damp gloves and complete the final 11 miles in a tank and shorts.
(mile 9-16 splits: 7:15, 7:19, 7:20, 7:11, 7:15, 7:19, 7:24, 7:14)
Shortly after I shed my long sleeve it began lightly raining.
Rain? What fucking rain? Make shit happen.
The light rain turned to heavy rain. I pressed on.
Rain? What fucking rain!?! Make shit happen!
I turned the corner by the firehouse at mile 17 to reveal the true test of the marathon: the first out of five miles of hills. Despite the now steady rain and 20 mph winds Boston came out to support its own and the thick crowds of spectators were ready to cheer the runners on! Unfortunately it was too late for me. Between the hills, the rain and the wind, my calves seized up and my body started to shut down. By mile 18 my legs were heavy and my smile was gone. The reality was that I was no longer attacking this marathon; I was now just trying to survive it.
But what about all the hard work? All the training runs? All the miles leading up to today? I am NOT going to let this happen. I am NOT going to get bested by Boston. FUCK THAT. There is no race tomorrow. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot.
Around mile 19 a deep coldness spread over my skin and enveloped my body. I felt excruciatingly cold- so cold, so raw, so empty. The heavy rain that pelted my face felt like dull daggers puncturing my skin and eyes with every step. I couldn’t blink, or feel my face and that’s when the world started to get blurry. I started to panic.
Am I going to be able to finish this race? Why didn’t I listen to dad? I can’t see straight. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. “You need a hat, Kass. You’ll WANT a hat.” This hill is temporary. Get up the mother fucking hill, Kass. I can’t see the runner in front of me. I want to cry. Fuck that, get up the hill. Left foot, right foot. Damn it dad, why did you have to be right? I need a hat and I need a hat now!!
I started to scan the spectators and volunteers for a drifit hat. I needed something to shield my face and bring some warmth to my head without getting heavy. Would I actually ask a stranger for his hat? Pardon my language but- FUCK YES I WILL!! I was desperate and this was an act of survival! Around mile 20.5 I spotted two men in their late 30’s on the left side of the course (one wearing a hat!!) and approached them. With a distressed facade and emptiness in my voice I pleaded to the stranger, “Can I have your hat?!?” A moment of confusion followed up with a genuine smile overcame this stranger’s face as he responded, “My hat?! YEAAAAA! Of course!” and handed the goods over. I have no idea if this man will ever read this, but I have to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to him and Bosque Running Shop for your all around awesomeness!! Your kindness and generosity helped me finish the Boston Marathon. Thank you stranger!
I kid you not- that hat saved me in this marathon. It shielded my face from the downpour, slightly warmed my head and kept hope alive for the remaining miles.
With my trusty drifit hat atop my red mop I pressed onwards.
Mile 23. Owen. Lillian. Mom. Dad. Friends. Mile 23. Just get there. But what if I see them and want to stop. Just get there.
If I had the ability to blink my eyes I’m pretty sure I would have cried when I passed by Owen, my parents and friends. I felt raw, exposed and vulnerable. My body was shutting down and it wanted to stop running. Me, Kass- the girl who says “never stop running” just wanted the world to stop. My thoughts were disoriented and my pace was slowing down. I could feel it happening; I was starting to lose control, starting to lose the strength and ability to refocus on my goal of 3:15. Everything started to slip away and I was bonking.
Never stop running. There is no race tomorrow, Kass. Just finish. Just get there. NO! Make shit happen!! Cold, so cold. What fucking rain? So cold. Will someone give me their jacket? So cold. Left foot, right foot. Repeat. Eyes forward, arms at 90 degrees, don’t stop. One mile at a time. Focus Kass, focus.
I have never, ever felt like this on a long run (@ Hyannis Half 2014 I thought I bonked—no no, THIS was how bonking felt) and I never want to feel this way again on a run. Ever. So heavy, so empty, so cold, so raw. I shuffled my way through the remaining miles. And then the unthinkable happened: at mile 24 I stopped running. I questioned whether to include this –because part of me is ashamed. But another part of me knows that somewhere within this mess of a marathon lies critically important lessons in running and racing. I now know what it feels like when you push your body to its breaking point, up and over the edge and I never, ever want to feel that way again. I now understand what it feels like when you physically and mentally have to stop running. I’ll admit that during the final three miles I took 3 thirty second walk breaks. I made sure to time them on my watch for fear that I might never start running again.
I followed my right on Hereford with a left on Boylston and embraced the crowds’ cheers as best I could. My body was cold and my mind mush but my heart was full. The energy of the crowds (and cheers from my friend Billy!) pulled me forward and through the finish line of Boston Marathon.
I did it. It was done. With months of training, the support of my husband, family and friends (and readers!) and the hat off of a stranger’s head- I FINISHED THE BOSTON MARATHON in 3:23:08.
Moments after finishing I thought to myself, “Well, it can’t all be wedding cake! This is part of the game. Until next time, Boston. I’ll be back.” I may have been down, but I’ll never be out. Running is hard. It’s supposed to be hard and that is what makes it great .
(Mile 17-26.2 splits: 7:43, 7:42, 7:38, 8:02, 8:33, 7:57, 8:48, 8:35, 8:59, 9:22)
Beyond the finish line
After I crossed the finish I felt so vulnerable and empty; it took all my remaining energy to move through the finisher’s chute to claim my medal. I looked around in hopes that a stranger would take pity of me and take care of me. Alas, no. The marathon was now over and done, yet I was still freezing and had to make my way back to mile 23 to regroup with my family and friends.
After receiving my medal, heat blanket (I use that term loosely) and chocolate recovery shake (YES!) I hobbled in search of a taxi. The plan was to double back to mile 23 and meet up with Owen and Lilly at my friend Jess’ apartment. As the cab driver maneuvered through the busy streets of Boston I curled up in the back seat and listened to the sound of my teeth uncontrollably chattering as I desperately tried to warm up.
The cab pulled to a stop and I deliriously threw a sum money at the driver. With my head hung low I hobbled out of the car and up the stairs to Jess’ apartment. I was frustrated because after so much training and preparation I was bested by Boston. I was ashamed because I walked. I felt defeated because after 5 months of hard training I stood in my own way (albeit under some rough weather conditions) and missed my goal of breaking 3:15.
Sulking in self-pity I opened to reveal my wild 3 year old gleefully giggling and jumping up on down on a daybed with a host of 30 year olds around her chanting her name. Lill-i-an! Lill-i-an! Lill-i-an! In a few short hours my kid had this house party wrapped around her finger. With stickers in their hair and on their clothes this party crew had embraced my babe as their own. I snapped out of my pity-party and joined the ranks. Lill-i-an!! A smile overtook my face as Lilly recognized me and shouted out across the way, “MOMMYYYY!!You ran a marathon mommy!!” This moment right here, her gleeful face and her undying support- it’s what I live for. It makes all the training miles, preparation and pain totally worth it. “I did!! I ran a long way to get to you!”
After a ridiculously long, hot shower Lillian and I curled up on the daybed together and snuggled (err, I wavered between passing out and shoveling a pulled pork sandwich into my mouth- thanks Jess). With Lillian on my lap and Owen by my side (getting me a hot tea, rubbing my tight legs and feeding me – yes, he’s AMAZING!) I sat back and took it all in. I say this with a smile- the Boston Marathon was a horribly awesome day with one amazing ending. Surrounded by family and friends I had done it: I completed my third marathon and even managed a BQ for the next one! I am one lucky lady.
I ran the Boston Marathon. I was bested by the Boston Marathon. And you bet your ass I’ll be back BEST the Boston Marathon in the future. Marathon Monday solidified my love for this sport and made the hunger in in by belly grow. Man, do I love running!!
If you’ve made it this far in this post then I thank you for reading along . All I have left to say is that Marathon Monday solidified one thing and one thing only: I’ll be back!
Never Stop Running,
Kass/The Lone Runner
To read more from Kass Berry, click here.