Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Victory Lap - Suzi

"The journey is the reward, the marathon is the victory lap"- Unknown

I first saw this quote on the back of a t-shirt of a runner at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC in 2012 at the first marathon I ran. After completing both the MCM and Boston, I can say that this quote fits marathon running to a T. The hard part, the journey, of running a marathon is the months and weeks of training leading up to the race. It's the early mornings, the cold runs, the missing of social occasions with friends. It's doing what you need to do, despite what you'd rather do. It's finding the strength and determination within yourself to continue on. These are the things that test us and show our true character. This is the journey that each person takes for themselves. What you learn about yourself and your resolve is something that will never leave you. Come race day, you are ready to shine, to enjoy the moment you've worked so long for. It really does feel like a victory lap, especially in your own back yard with family and friends throughout the course as I was lucky enough to experience in Boston.

Running the Boston Marathon last Monday, was an unforgettable, but somewhat indescribable experience. Having run previously in Washington DC, I was looking forward to running in the city I have lived and worked for the past couple of years with family and friends along the way. When I ran in DC, I only had my fiancé to look for in the crowd. This time, I knew friends would be throughout the course, and my entire immediate family, along with my fiancé’s mother and grandmother, would be there to cheer me on. I had lots of friends tracking me from afar and it felt great knowing I had so many people behind me!

The bus ride to athlete’s village seemed to take forever! The bus was packed and I sat near two girls from my department that were also running. We talked mostly about nothing, making nervous conversation to try and speed the ride along. We hit some traffic, and I got nervous we'd be late and I wouldn’t have time to find the port-a-potties. When we finally arrived, there were so many people I was in awe. Two open fields of just people everywhere! There were port-a-potties lining the fields, tents set up in the middle and people on blankets and mats throughout. We quickly made our way to the port-a-potties line, which moved fairly quickly. It was starting to get warm, and I was nervous knowing the temperature would continue to rise. I took off my sweatshirt and long sleeve T, quickly realizing that I wouldn’t be needing either for any part of the race. I haphazardly rubbed some sunscreen onto my shoulders, totally missing the back of my arms and shoulder blades; I hadn't even thought of sunscreen until then. I quickly put water in my water bottles, ate a banana and made my way into the herd of people lining up into their various corrals. Corral four was my corral, and I quickly fell in line with everyone else. The walk out to the start was much longer than I expected. I stopped once more at open port-a-potties, got back in line and continued to make my way to the start. Some people were jogging up the hill to the start, not me, I was saving my energy, there'd be plenty of hills later!

I started off the race nice and easy, telling myself to run conservatively. I knew I had a long way to go, and knew the Newton hills would be a challenge. The first few miles felt like a big party, with bands and so many people cheering. There was never a dull moment or an area of the course that wasn't lined with people cheering you on. It was a beautiful day for a run, and I tried to soak it all in. At mile two, I saw my first friend and was so excited, I yelled to her and waved as I ran by. Watching my surroundings, the people, the bands and recalling the road I was running on, I made it to mile 10 where I saw my next friend. She was on the same side of the road as me, so I stopped and quickly gave her a hug, and continued on my way! Again I was so excited to see her; it was wonderful to have her there. Next came the girls in Wellesley. I was told I would hear them screaming a mile before I saw them, and I did! Their energy was incredible and I even got caught up in the excitement and sped up. Once I passed them, I started to notice the heat, and slowed myself down to a comfortable pace.

After I crossed the half marathon point, I put my head down, music on and made my way towards NWH where I was expecting to see my family and fiancé. Coming up through Newton and down towards the Hospital, the anticipation of seeing my family quickened my steps. I finally saw them, my mom first, then my fiancés mother, my brother and his girlfriends and finally my fiancé; the rest of the family was lost in the crowd. I waved to them a couple times and continued on my way. As I passed my family and continued towards the fire station, I noticed a spectator on the sidewalk running in the same direction as we were, and quickly getting ahead of me. After a few seconds watching this person, I realized it was my fiancé running ahead of me; he must have wanted to get more pictures! This time I ran over to the side of the road, gave him a hug and quick kiss and continued on. I was on cloud nine and felt the adrenaline run through my body, just what I needed!

As I rounded the corner of Rt 16 onto Rt 30, the crowd was loud and I was ready. I had held back up until this point to make sure I made it up and over heartbreak hill. The sun was beating down, hot and unrelenting. I tried to find shade on the side of the road as much as possible. I felt ready for the hills, but not ready for the heat. I was used to running in 18 degree weather with four layers and a ski hat, not 70 degrees with bright sunshine! My pace slowed somewhat through the hills, but having run them so many times before, I knew where I was a felt confident that I could make it through. I made my way up and down all three of the big hills, and mentally high fived myself after getting up each one. The mental toughness of the last 16 weeks was tested there as I told myself I didn’t come all this way to stop now. I knew it was all downhill after this and pushed on.

Coming down the back side of heart break hill into BU, the people were drunk and some kids were crossing the street. Despite the obvious drunkenness, everyone was positive and happy, continuing to cheer us on. I was surprised at how sore my legs were coming down the hill. That wasn’t something I had expected. I continued to run, with my knees high for a little bit to try and loosed up my legs. The next few miles on Comm. Ave are somewhat of a blur, as I had to will myself to continue. This was when I really started to feel the heat and thought that I might have to stop and walk. I reminded myself of all sprint training and Crossfit workouts that made my lungs burn, just as they were at that moment. I was so close to the end, I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I drank lots of water and Gatorade, grabbed oranges whenever they appeared, threw some water on the back of my neck and kept moving.

I continued on watching the CITGO sign get bigger and bigger, getting me closer and closer to Kenmore. Out of the crowd, someone yelled "Suzi Estey!!" I turned and looked, and saw a friend from college I hadn't seen in years. I waved to him and kept going. It felt good to have someone yell out my name unexpectedly and it gave me a little boost that I was badly needing at the time. At mile 25, I heard a man behind me yelling "This is my spot! This is where they stopped me last year! This year I finish!!" The crowd erupted in cheers, I got a little choked up, patted him on the back as he continued past me, and kept running behind him. Seeing the emotions of that runner, I quickly remembered why I was doing this. For him, for all the runners that were stopped last year. For all the people that were hurt. It wasn’t about the run, it was about the resilience of the people of Boston, the spirit of the runners! I put my head down, turned the corner onto Boylston Street and made my way towards the finish line. I think I blacked out on Boylston Street because I don't remember much besides looking up at the bridge and thinking how far away it still seemed. I could hardly believe I was just steps away from finishing the Boston Marathon! I crossed the finish line 4 hours, and 16 minutes after I had taken off from Hopkinton! Not too shabby for my first Boston Marathon in 70 degree weather!!

My fiancé and I, along with my sister and her girlfriend, stayed in Boston that night, walked to dinner and to the finish line. Around 7 pm, we saw a lady with a marathon number on walking in the road on Boylston Street towards the finish line with clean up crews behind her. She was the very last finisher of the Marathon. We clapped and cheered for her, along with the other people on the street, as she finally crossed the finish line. Many times throughout the evening as we were walking around, people passed me on the street and congratulated me or gave me a high five. People saw the jacket (and probably my limp), knew I had run and wanted to congratulate me just for being a runner. The people of Boston amazed me that day. From athletes' village, throughout the entire course, and even long after the majority of the runners had finished, there was always support and encouragement. It didn’t matter if you were the first one across the finish line or the last, there were people cheering for you. Boston is not known for being a friendly city; it's usually just the opposite. People tend to keep to themselves, not wanting to be bothered. I saw for myself firsthand how the people of Boston can come together. We have endured a lot in the last year, but it has made us stronger, and this was obvious on Marathon Monday! The journey from Hopkinton to Boston was an unbelievable experience, made that way because of the people. The runners on the course, the fans throughout the race route, and volunteers at athletes village and the finish line; everyone was kind and encouraging and couldn’t be happier to be a part of this race. This race was a victory lap a long time coming for the city of Boston. We showed what we were made of, and it was our time to shine. We showed the world what people of Boston are made of and what it means to be from Boston. We came back bigger and stronger than ever. Being a part of the race was truly the opportunity of a lifetime, and an experience I will never forget. I can't thank Newton-Wellesley Hospital enough for the opportunity to be a part of this remarkable day!!

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