April 22, 2016

Chasing Unicorns

On a long run from Hopkinton to Boston, it was exactly where we were supposed to be.

On Breaking Three

I watched my younger brother Ben run marathon after marathon (six to be precise) with the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, like so many other runners. I saw him miss his BQ mark by minutes, and then later by ten seconds. The kid has guts and in May 2015 he ran a 3:00:03 marathon to punch his ticket to Boston.

As kids, I made Ben run with me on our camp road on Lake of the Woods. I ordered him to do workouts and follow some sort of crazy made-up-by-a-10-year-old regime around all things athletic. It kept us entertained and focused nevertheless.

Though I had run the legendary race once before, the experience was made new again through his eyes. The Boston Marathon was meant to be like every other run we had ever tackled together, only on a much bigger stage.

Not only did Ben train through another wicked winter in Toronto, he trained almost entirely on his own. He is one of the few people I know who truly runs for the love of the sport. He doesn’t drown in the details on his watch. He runs to push his limits, get outside and live a life full of epic moments.

He didn’t arrive in Boston to ride the wave of experience, he came to throw down a new personal best time and break the three-hour tape in the process.

It was incredible.

The Race

The full Boston Marathon experience itself has so much personality, and it is only when you're deep in the heart of the race that you truly get to know it for what it is.

It starts with setting a goal to run a qualifying time, and achieving it. Receiving a confirmation email to say you’re in. Beginning the training and running through every version of our nasty and iconic Canadian winter. Planning the trip to Boston and then making the trip. Walking through the expo doors. Picking up your bib and realizing that it’s all very, very real. The hype in the air around the city. The race jackets. The bus ride out to the start. The characters on the bus. The athletes’ village. The nervous excitement during the walk from the village down to the corrals. The national anthem. The small talk with other nervous runners. The race. The downhill. The legendary uphill. Up and down. Down and up. The small towns. The 500,000 screaming fans. The CITGO sign. The greatest finishing stretch on the planet. The medal and the hugs.

There is only one Boston.
“In their two to four hours of running, the runners of Boston will know the fear of journey, the brutal frustrations of life in a body and the joy of discovering something beyond. We run to become human, to find our limits and to befriend them.” - Eleni Schirmer
The City of Boston threw down one of the greatest sporting events of all-time on April 18, 2016. They do this every year. That city has a heart that is 42.2 kilometres wide. To the First Responders, the organizers, the sponsors, the runners, the volunteers, the fans – thank you. After all, the fastest racecourse is the one with the loudest spectators.

Long live race dreams, and may we always chase after that unicorn.

Why Not Me?

What I find so fascinating is that everyone who lines up at the start of a marathon is dreaming just a little bit bigger on that particular day. They have to.

Predicting how a race plays out is something like a shot in the dark, though that’s not completely accurate given the months, building on years, building on decades of training it takes to get to the finish line.

Marathons are never easy. You have to give more of what you already have. You will have to fight to come close to your physical limits. Your attitude matters.

As the sun beamed down on the 30,000 runners waiting in the start corral, I had a gut feeling that it was going to be a battle. One that I was excited for, and one I believed in.

Once the gun went off, I did not see another female runner for the entirety of the race as the women’s elite field goes off in advance of the mass start, meaning the field of world class female runners are 25 minutes into their race by the time the race "officially" begins.

Throughout the race, I bobbed and weaved among a steady stream of supportive male runners. I mention this because the 120th Boston Marathon marked fifty years since women have been running in the race after Bobbi Gibb unofficially ran in 1966.

I had the honour of running in Gibb’s shoes on Marathon Monday – not just for a mile like the adage suggests – for 26.2 miles. I was on the receiving end of so many enthusiastic and focused cheers because I was the first woman that the crowd saw in the race after the elite women had charged by.

I crossed the finish line as the first women in the Open Division, ultimately landing me 25th woman overall in the Boston Marathon. I put it all out there, felt alive and had a blast.

One phrase rolled around in my head when it got tough, a nugget from my friend, Kim Doerksen: Why not me?

About 10 kilometres into the race, I realized for many reasons it was a special day. As I gave out over 500 high fives to young girls lining the course, I too dreamt a little bit bigger. I gained strength from the spectators screaming, “look a girl”, “you go, Lady!” and “girl power”. I felt like I was somehow, in some strange way, paving the way for the other women behind me in the race, chasing after their own incredible dreams. It was my day to hold the torch that Gibb lit. Why not me?

It’s been big news that the 2016 winner of the Boston Marathon gave her trophy up to Gibb after hearing her inspirational story. Of course she did, what a classy move. While I don’t have a trophy to share, I’m eternally grateful that Roberta Gibb believed in herself enough to put one foot in front of the other in 1966, when I’m sure it must have been very difficult. For that, I am grateful.

Collective Endeavour

While we may run the race and many of our training runs on our own, we’re in it together. Committed to the challenge. Special thanks to my Vancouver Falcons Athletics Club teammates, and coach John Hill.

To the many fire walkers in my life who made the Boston Marathon experience so epic in the months leading up to the race and on the day, you the real MVP.

"There is a great endeavour waiting outside. It is full of challenge and beauty, requiring a simple resilient solitude. All those who undertake this endeavour will not be alone in their isolation. There are others, an invisible nation of those committed to the craft. All of them will toil in the darkness, daily honing themselves, their internal fire lighting the way toward brighter days to come." - Tracksmith

A video posted by Kate Gustafson (@atrueworld) on