And no, this actually has nothing to do with 7 Marathons on 7 Continents in 7 Days aside from the fact that I've come to realize 7 is a magical number for me! Nope - what I'm talking about today is the proverbial finish line of a 7 year journey.
It was 2010 I ran my first Marathon at Shamrock. To this day I can vividly remember how tough that race was. It was blistering hot, my legs felt like they had molten metal injected into them by mile 20 and it seemed like someone wickedly kept moving the finish further and further away! But I knew I had friends and family at the finish line and I didn't want to let them - or more importantly myself down. I forged forward and I will never forget how glorious seeing and crossing that finish line was. It was the end of a painful, physical and mental 3 hour and 44 minute battle with the concrete and pavement that I swore I'd never do again. But it was one of the most rewarding moments of my life! There is just nothing like finishing your first Marathon.
Several weeks after Shamrock I finally forgot about the pain and reflected back on my experience. Yes, it was one of the toughest things I'd ever done. But man there was just something about how tough it was that inspired the curiosity in me. I began to miss the training and also began having thoughts about how much I could improve my time. I wasted no time and found myself registering for my second Marathon: the Berlin Marathon. This was a fantastic idea! Not only because I knew Berlin was a place to run fast - but I also would get a chance to see my family in Berlin and go to Oktoberfest after!
Fast forward 6 months of training (my legs, and my liver!) and the day arrived for my second Marathon, and first World Major Marathon. Wow talk about an experience! Towing the line with 40,000 other runners from all over the World is an indescribable and absolutely insane experience! The gun went off and off we went. It was a rainy day that was also quite cool. But by far the biggest challenge was trying to find a pace in the midst of that many runners trying to fit down some narrow streets in the first part of the Marathon course. But finally I opened up and settled in around mile 6. Somewhere around mile 17 I remember one of the medical support guy's on a bike coming up to me and offering a mylar blanket. I couldn't understand why! Turns out my color was somewhere in the neighborhood of blueish from the damp and chilly conditions. I felt fine, so I gave him a thumbs up and made my way to the Brandenburg gate where the 2nd Marathon finish line would be waiting! I knew I was on pace for a better time and like my first Marathon I just needed to keep moving. 3 hours and 30 minutes later I was making my way through history; both where we finished and in the footsteps of a World Record holder who just earlier ran 2 hours and 3 minutes. And it was amazing! I was absolutely stoked I had shaved 15 minutes off my first Marathon time! By in large I felt great and in good spirits. Of course knowing Oktoberfest was right around the corner helped!
It was somewhere right around this time I was introduced to Boston. I knew little about it other than only elite and ridiculously fast runners go there. My coach at time Jon Falk who had ran Boston several times was coaching a friend of mine Lindy who was trying to qualify. While I was moving onto training for my 3rd Marathon (the National Marathon in Washington - now the Rock 'n' Roll DC Marathon) I followed her journey closely. I knew my times weren't even in the ballpark for Boston but I there was something so elusive about it. I'm not afraid to dream big or work hard. I remember so clearly the day she qualified and how elated she was. I wanted that feeling! I channeled all of these emotions into my race in D.C. Man was that morning an absolute cluster f-k! The hotel I was staying at in D.C. was only a few miles from the start line but traffic was totally gridlocked! I spent 2 hours going almost nowhere and getting more and more anxious I would not make the start! Finally with 10 minutes to go I found a parking place about a mile from the start and did what I had to do: I laced my shoes up and got to running to the start! Not the ideal way to start a Marathon. I got there just as the gun was going off - said a quick hello to my family and was on the way. All those thoughts of Boston danced around my head. Could I possibly qualify here? All I needed to do was run a 3:10 which at the time was guaranteed entry. I had taken a big chunk of time off my first Marathon and had trained well so maybe I could do it again? 3 hours, and 15 minutes later I had that answer. I had chiseled 15 minutes off my time from Berlin! But unlike Berlin, although undoubtedly proud of my accomplishment, there was a bit of lingering disappointment. I only needed 4 minutes and 1 second faster to qualify (there was a 59 second grace period at the time). In my mind I had only just missed it!
And so began my chase after Boston. Now I knew it was possible. I had made such big strides in my first 3 Marathons surely if I just kept training the next race would be the one. Days after the National Marathon is when Boston announced they'd be dropping all the qualification times by 5 minutes. I was a bit deflated by the news and knew that would make things more challenging. But still, I was making big strides every race and if I could just keep it up it should be no problem. And that's when I was served my first dish of reality. My 4th Marathon - the Steamtown Marathon. It's well known for being one of the highest percentage of Boston Qualifier's so I figured I was stacking the deck in my favor. I had an absolutely awful day! I never felt good and from mile 17 on my legs were destroyed. I ran a 3 hour and 22 minute race. Certainly not a horrible time but a step in the wrong direction! This was tough to chew on. This was the first time in 3.5 years of running I had taken a step backward. Eventually I collected myself, chalked it up to a bad race and moved on. I'd go back to Shamrock in 2012, a course I knew, ran on nearly daily and given it's pancake flat should be a perfect race to get back on track.
3 hours and 24 minutes. 2nd dish of reality - meet JP.
I was officially defeated. I gave up Marathoning the remainder of 2012. Marathoning wasn't for me - the BQ was a pipe dream. Yep - for those of you who know me and my generally positive running attitude welcome to my low point. I continued running shorter distance races but it was clear I needed to change something. That is when I met Jerry Frostick. That was the change I needed. Jerry pulled my head out of the gutter and helped me realize I was plenty capable of getting that BQ I was after. I just needed to get out of my head and love running again. I returned to Shamrock in 2013 and ran 3 hours, 15 minutes. It was the step in the right direction I needed! In a bit of homage to 2010 I decided it was time to go back to Berlin. I ran fast there before - and I was running well again so maybe Berlin would be my race. Nope. 3 hours, 16 minutes. Granted it wasn't a huge step back, it was a step in the wrong direction and this was another tough pill to chew.
2014 was no different. I wasn't getting slower, but I wasn't getting faster. The thought that Boston just wasn't for me crept back in my head. And that's when I made the decision: stop chasing it. Maybe I was just pushing too hard. Too much pressure, too long moving in the wrong direction. It was tarnishing my pure love of running. And that's what I did. I decided I needed to keep running Marathon's but stop worrying so much about time. I needed to gain more experience. I needed to learn how *I* need to run the Marathon. I ran 11 more Marathons between 2014-2016 ranging from 3 hours and 13 minutes at One City all the way up to 3 hours and 45 minutes in New York. But I didn't let a single one of these defeat me. I knew each Marathon was a step in the right direction. Whenever I decided I'd go after Boston again, all that experience must pay off.
Enter 2017. 2017 has really been a great year of running for me. My Costa Rica Adventure was a huge confidence booster and really helped me reconnect with my passion for running. After returning, I spent February running the Run Until You Drop challenge for my 2nd year. In March I completed my first set of true back-to-back Marathons averaging 3 hours and 30 minutes for each. It was on a normal day I was out running with my friend Joe Telford and we were having a conversation about qualifying for Boston which further led to the tidbit that the qualifying times are based on your age on race day and not at the time of qualifying. Almost instantaneously lights were flickering, gears started turning and a la one of my favorite running movies, Saint Ralph, the voices in my head were telling me to "Win Boston" (watch the movie and you'll understand!) It was time to chase after Boston again.
I had a race in mind I had been eyeing for years: the Run for the Red Poconos Marathon. Pennsylvania had historically not been a place I ran well. But I knew this course was ripe for Boston qualifiers if you run it right. I had 8 weeks to focus on more specific training which would be plenty considering the base I would be carrying into training and a great mastermind in Ian Torrence to steer me the right direction. The day finally arrived: May 21, 2017. I slapped on my Luna sandals and we were underway. I needed 7:20 miles to have a shot. I remember asking myself a lot of questions in the first 5 miles if that day would be the day. I wasn't feeling great - actually I was feeling pretty crappy! My pace was just fine it just didn't feel right: until it did. Suddenly I started feeling great! The miles were flying by and I was finding myself having to control my pace to avoid running too quickly. I knew from my experience there was a needle fine line that equated to a few seconds where I could control the pace, or the wheels would come off. Half the race is done, the clock read 1:35 and change and there was a smile on my face! I was doing what I needed to do and with little effort. My head began to focus on miles 18-20 - the miles we all know make or a break a Marathon: the dreaded "wall". But I also knew the "wall" was something I could control. Stay on pace, keep fueling well and keep my spirits up. Mile 20 went by - and I swear just about broke out into tears! It was unbelievable how good I felt and I knew a BQ was a real possibility now! Just don't do anything stupid. Mile 22 came, and I decided I needed to give back a few seconds the next few miles because I was starting to feel the day a bit and I was well on pace. Control the effort, don't screw it up! By the time mile 25 arrived we were back in town. Spectators lined the street cheering us to the finishing line just up the road. Feed on that and keep moving forward. Right at mile 26 you enter the school track where one loop away is the finish line. I had no idea what the time on the clock was as I couldn't make it out. But what I did know is a track is 400 meters and I had 400 meters left in the tank to leave it on the course! I channeled my inner Rupp and put my head down. I rounded the last turn on the track and there it was - the clock which clearly read 3:10:##. 7 years of chasing after a BQ had suddenly become a reality and I grinned ear to ear! To make it sweeter I PR'ed by 3 minutes! If there was ever a time that felt as good as finishing my first Marathon, it was this!
For some folks BQ's come easy. I'm not some folks. It's taken 7 years of somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 miles of tough training and 20 Marathons for me to arrive at one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I've ridden a wave of low and high moments that I was never sure if it would come crashing down or break on shore. What I did know is I wasn't going to stop pursuing my dream no matter how long it took. I also knew I had so many friends, family and fellow runners that were following along this journey I simply didn't want to disappoint.
Well, my friends, the journey is over. I'M GOING TO BOSTON IN 2018! But where one journey ends, another begins. What's next? Not even I am quite sure but what I am sure of is I will keep pursuing it to an end and am so thankful to have so much support. So from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
If I had one takeaway for those reading this: be patient and don't ever stop pursuing your craziest dreams. You may have to work your a** off but there is no greater reward in the entire world that setting out to accomplish something, and doing it.