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The Big BQ … Then the Big Letdown

I never thought I would qualify for Boston. I looked up the qualifying times at work one day — sneakily, as if I was about to do something really bad, like stream “Lost” even after the IT guy told me pretty explicitly not to do that again — and then quickly closed the tab. Run a marathon in under 3:35:00? Were they out of their minds? The finishing time of my first marathon was 4:28:18, and although I was getting faster, it was in moderate steps, not major strides.

But the thought that maybe it wasn’t insanely impossible kept creeping up on me, like I’m sure it has for so many of you who have run a marathon or watched Boston on TV and wondered, What if? And in May 2013, I was running the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan, and having a really, really great race. Everything was coming up Kate. The weather was sunny yet cool, I felt strong, my fellow-runners were friendly but not too chatty, allowing me to conserve my breath, and I was actually having something strangely close to fun — a sensation that is by no means guaranteed when racing. I intentionally pushed myself to savor each moment — the beautiful views of boats and beachside houses, the shady green trees overhead — and, as additional motivation to stay positive, I told myself, “This is a mile in your Boston-qualifying marathon. Enjoy it.” Did I think it was true? No. But then I somehow qualified.

As I was nearing the finish line, struggling to beat this guy I had been neck-and-neck with for awhile (the jerk won, then proved not a jerk by giving me a high-five after I finished), I could see the clock, and I could see that it was still under 3:35, but barely. I crossed over the timing mat, unsure if I had really just qualified and trying to catch my breath while simultaneously fighting a huge lump growing in my throat. I called Anne, who cautioned restraint until we saw the final results. The results posted quickly. My chip time was 3:33:20. I had squeaked in, with less than 90 seconds to spare.

Here I am before running my BQ race.

Kate before running Bayshore.

Today, I’m coming to terms with the fact that those 90 seconds weren’t good enough. Registration for Boston 2014 opened on Monday, September 9, for those who had beaten their qualifying time by 20 minutes or better. Then it opened for those who had beaten their qualifying time by 10 minutes or better, and so on and so forth until Monday, September 16, when registration opened for squeakers like me (a term taken from this fantastic article). There were 5,000 spots left available. On Tuesday, September 17, Runner’s World reported on its newswire that there were already 7,500 applicants for those 5,000 spots.

Registration is not first-come, first-served, for those remaining entries; race officials will choose the fastest first. Meaning that, unless a few thousand of those other applicants lied and didn’t actually qualify, I’m most likely out of luck.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what this means to me. Before, all I wanted was to qualify. Once I qualified, actually running Boston became incredibly important. I want to run the most famous course in all of marathon-dom. I want to know Heartbreak Hill. I want to earn a shirt with the BAA unicorn logo on it. I love unicorns.

I can still drift into my daydream fantasy about running Boston until next week, when I get my rejection letter. In the meantime, I’m trying to steel myself for the inevitable disappointment. There are a few truths I’ve identified to help myself that may help anyone else in this bummer of a boat:

  • Not getting in to Boston doesn’t detract anything from the perfect race that gave me a chance. Bayshore is still the best marathon I’ve ever run, in terms of time and in terms of overall experience, and I like to think that when I’m old and weak and confined to a chair, I’ll be able close my eyes and picture the trail, and remember what it felt like to run a good race.
  • I’m still a BQ-er. I can say that at least until registration opens for Boston 2015, right?
  • Speaking of, maybe Boston 2014 wasn’t my only shot. I’m training to qualify again. That’s as difficult to admit now as it was the first time, and I’m very afraid of failing, but I’m giving it another go with the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on November 2.
  • The point of Boston is that it is supposed to be elusive and near-mythical. It is the unicorn of the running world. Maybe having it remain a challenge, a long-term goal that’s always just out of reach, is a good thing. Its existence inspires me to continue training and working on myself as an athlete.

And, of course, there is a reason why securing a spot in Boston is more difficult now than in previous years. We all know that reason, so I won’t dwell on it here, but it is hard to be salty about not getting in when I remember why so many want to run next year.

Reflecting on these truths helps, but how will I feel next week when my rejection is confirmed? How will I feel if my November marathon goes terribly, if the wind is brutal and I gain minutes instead of losing them? I suppose I’ll find out soon enough. — Kate

Lively Athletics

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19 Sep, 2013

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