Friday, 7 May 2021

Every second counts.

 In the great scheme of things that have happened over the last 14 crazy months one specific race being cancelled is not a big deal.  Or shouldn’t be a big deal, not to a normal, well adjusted adult.  But I am obviously not a normal, well adjusted adult.  When the 124th Boston Marathon was postponed and then transformed to a ‘virtual marathon’ I was far more upset than I should have been. Maybe I am not as normal and well adjusted as I like to believe!

When I started running, back in 2010/2011, the idea of running a marathon was incredible.  I did not believe that it was something I was capable of achieving, I'd always been remarkably adept at avoiding physical activity while growing up and hated 'games' at school.  Even when I had got my head around the idea of running 26.2 miles all in one go I remember saying to a friend ‘Oh, to run Boston would be a dream – but there is no way I will ever be a good enough runner to do that!’  Their reply was quite simple; ‘Not with that attitude you won’t!’ And that was it, a seed was planted, I had a goal - to qualify to run a marathon in my favourite American city.  

As I ran more marathons my time seemed to be settling at around the four hour mark, but annoyingly it was just the wrong side of the four hours.  Midway through 2018 I set myself a goal of running a sub 4hr marathon before my 50thbirthday.  I had no set event in mind, and managed to run my first sub 4 at a low key marathon with Phoenix on the banks of the Thames in February.  I hadn't set out to run fast - it was just one of those days where, with the support of friends, everything just worked out for the best. The pressure was now off as far as I was concerned.  We still joked about the possibility of running a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time, but the gap between 3hrs 58mins and 50 seconds and the sub 3hrs 50mins needed (I was in the 45-49 category then) seemed insurmountable.  

Then, in April, we had a trip to Paris to eat steak frites, drink red wine and run a marathon.  It was an 'interesting trip' that resulted in me smashing through the 3hr50min barrier and getting a BQ time. Another important thing happened -  I got older or, and this sounds much nicer, I 'aged up!'  Meaning that despite running as a 49 year old, the race I was entering would happen when I was 50 - which put me into a higher age category giving me a 5 minute slower target time.  My Paris time of 3.47.12 was 7mins and 48 seconds faster than I needed.  Happy days!  I registered for Boston, waited a couple of weeks, was told my time was fast enough, booked hotel and aeroplane tickets and looked forward to April 2020 and the 124th Boston Marathon.

Then Covid happened.  Along with every other race, Boston was postponed and then transformed into a virtual event.  I ran it on the same course with the same people as I ran my first sub 4 and I hated every minute of it.  And there were a lot of minutes of it!  But, I got the job done and have the medal to prove it. The only silver lining was that the Boston Athletic Association changed the dates for qualifying marathons so that my Paris marathon would still count for the 2021 marathon. But, and it is a huge but, the field size was cut by a third.  I applied anyway, encouraged my very fast friend to apply too so we could have a nice jolly trip, and waited.  Normally a buffer of 7mins 48seconds would mean I was sure of a place, the buffer for 2020 had been 1min 39, this year the speculation was rife that at least 10 minutes would be needed.  I was trying to prepare my 'happy face' so that when my friend got in and I didn't I could at least not disgrace myself by screaming and crying in public.  

On Tuesday 4th May social media posts kept popping up - runners saying 'I'm in with a buffer of 20mins' - I didn't see a single post with a buffer of less than 10 minutes.  I began to despair.  But I couldn't stop scrolling through the feeds.  And then I saw it.  A post on the official BAA instagram site announcing that the buffer was 7mins 47 seconds.  I ran from the bedroom to the kitchen, threw the phone and the piece of paper with my Paris time on it at Husbando and squeaked at him incomprehensibly.  Was it true? Had I read the numbers properly?  My heart was pounding.  I checked, he checked, we called one of the boys in to check too.  It seemed I might be in - but I wouldn't believe it until the email arrived. The one that had this heading:

I may well have checked my email every half hour overnight waiting for that! 

I can't believe I got into the Boston Marathon with just one second to spare - if I'd slowed down to talk to a friend I'd passed in Paris I wouldn't be going to Boston in October. The heart ache that must be felt by those who were one second the other side of the cut off must be huge.  In any other year they would have been safely into the race. 

Husbando has booked flights and a hotel room, I've spoken to my head teacher, who seems thrilled at the prospect of getting rid of me for a few days so now I just have the small matter of nursing my dodgy knee back to good health and getting my tired old 'aged up' body back into marathon shape! Oh, and planning just how much merchandise I will buy.


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