More Than Just a Race

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One character trait will always hold true to the Boston Marathon runners: incredible tenacity. They get knocked down just to get back up again. They overcome hardship against all odds. They conquer some of the toughest mental and physical obstacles. More often than not, the biggest lessons learned in life, whether they involve athletics, relationships, or life in general, stem from adversity. Injury Prevention Specialist Sara Collins, one of the participants of the 2016 Boston Marathon, shares her inspiring journey of perseverance; her story helps to reminds us that the true meaning of sports is not necessarily about crossing the finish line.

How did the Boston Marathon go for you this year?

As I mentioned in the previous blog, I was working with an injury that was difficult to rehabilitate without completely shutting myself down. As I got closer to race day, I did more cross training, cut back on running and was feeling strong – fairly comparable to how I’ve felt in the past before running other marathons. I spent time preparing myself mentally for the race because no matter how I was feeling physically that day, marathons are mentally grueling and I wanted to be in the best head space I could be in. I also kept in my head that, no matter how a person’s training season goes, anything can happen race day. I went to the finish line feeling good and hoping I’d have one of those marathon experiences where I had a tough training season and would end up PR-ing. But, I didn’t.

I trained the beginning of the course a few weeks earlier and mapped out a plan – run through the start to .1 miles then walk. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but the beginning of the course is VERY downhill, and downhills aggravated my injury so I wanted to play it safe. Walk the downhills, run the uphills and flats – I’d be GOLD by the time I hit the hills in Newton with this plan. Except that it was almost impossible to walk with thousands of people running downhill without getting trampled. So I ran a half mile and by my first mile in, I knew I was in trouble.

Each hill lifted my spirits, each downhill crushed them. I got to Framingham where it’s mostly flat and had trouble running. My leg was starting to give out every step I took. Concerned, I stopped at the first medical tent, thinking that if I got a quick stretch in, I’d be okay; the stretch did not help. Conditions did not improve, both mentally and physically, and I was very conflicted. Do I continue and further risk my well-being or do I stop? STOP!? I couldn’t believe that 6 miles into the race I had to think about this. At this point my leg was giving out every step I took, water stops were being broken down around me and there were only about 10 other runners in sight. I called my sister just after passing the 10k mark to ask for advice, and before she even picked up to say hello, I made my decision. Tearfully, I told her I was stopping. The only picture of me from the marathon that day was not of me smiling, running and celebrating each mile I accomplished, but of me walking, talking on the phone, balling my eyes out.

Not the glory story you were expecting, right? Me either! Despite only finishing a quarter-marathon, I achieved so much more than a medal at the end. All of the hard work I put into training, the $5500 I raised for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and that I still tried, even though I really shouldn’t have (I can admit that now) are my badges of honor. The beauty of Boston is that no matter the outcome, the pride is yours. Boston is notably one of the hardest marathons in the world and I couldn’t be more proud of myself knowing I ran 1.25 of them. Boston will always be there. I’ll just have to try it again!

The Boston Marathon must be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What is it like, running beside thousands of participants, all of whom have different stories, lifestyles, and backgrounds?

IT IS AWESOME! There really isn’t anything like the Boston Marathon. Ask anyone who has run one or twenty, volunteered or spectated, it is a magical experience. I guess that’s why a unicorn is the mascot! The best part of running Boston isn’t getting to the finish line (well, it kind of is) but the people you meet along the way, the stories you hear, the high-fives; we all inspire one another along the way.  That day, elite or not, we all run the same course. We all cross the same finish line. We all think the hills are over at mile 21. We all put the same hard work into training. We all win the same medal. What other sport can you say that for?

Like I said, I didn’t get to finish the race, but I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and encouragement from the spectators during those last few difficult miles when it was clear I wasn’t feeling too great. And to that one family who walked across the street to hug me and tell me that I finished my very own Boston Marathon that day, thank you. That right there defines the spirit of the Boston Marathon.

How did this race affect you mentally and physically? What achievements have you accomplished? What obstacles have you conquered?

Even though I only went 7.2 miles, this race was by far the most difficult for me mentally. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous going into the race but justified those nerves as pre-race jitters. My race plan had worked for me just a few weeks earlier, why would it fail me that day? My positive attitude quickly shifted to concern, back to being positive, to feeling scared, back to okay, and then a downward spiral into feeling sad and a failure to myself. I don’t quit things – so much so my friends say I have the opposite of commitment issues! I seriously could not believe that I was faced with making this decision. I felt I had no control over stopping. But stopping was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made as a runner. I gave myself the next few days to be sad, mad, disappointed – whatever feelings showed up. After that, time to start healing and thinking about 2018 (that’s right, I’m coming back!). My feelings shifted to being inspired and motivated to get into the best shape I can be in and run the race I know I can in two years. It was a very organic shift; I didn’t have to force myself to feel this way. To me, that means I’m ready to put the work in and run the race I know I’m capable of doing.

What is your biggest takeaway from this year’s Boston Marathon – all of the training, dietary changes, the relationships you’ve built with others? Any advice for future runners?

I’d say the biggest takeaway from this year’s training season and the Boston Marathon is that, one, I actually LOVE running and two, it is okay to stop. I pushed myself in ways I never had before as a runner, but I also took a lot of steps back in order to take care of myself. I learned so much about myself and had a great support system around me giving me solid, honest advice. I also found out I like long runs and hills – my enemies became my best friends in 2016! I learned how to eat better for training and BOY did it make a difference – thanks to some last minute advice from Dietician extraordinaire Laura Moretti. I’m sure my morning sweet potato at Saturday morning practices won’t be forgotten by my team! And the friendships – that’s the best part. Do you have 90+ friend-family members who look great in purple? I am, as the kids say, #blessed.

My advice to future runners is to push yourself to do the best you can do, because you can, but to care for yourself while you do it.  Becoming a runner has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given myself. Don’t think  you’re not a runner if you “just do 5k’s”. A 5k is a lot of miles! So is a mile! Get out there, enjoy running for what it is, our bodies most natural form of exercise. And if you’re looking to advance your running or running is giving you some “gifts” in your knees/shins/hips, come to The Micheli Center – we’ll help you take it to the next level!

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