The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

To achieve your true potential you must first find your own limits then have the courage to go beyond them. #beyondlimitsknown BLK 

I originally planned to give you a post-race report from my trip to Olathe, Kansas for the Garmin Wickedly Fast Half Marathon.  Monday was the Boston Marathon and as I watched the pre-race coverage, I knew that this week’s blog was going to be about the race.  I promise to tell you about the Garmin race next time.  It was a funatical runner kind of race and I have lots of photos to prove it.

The Boston Marathon is one of the six major world marathons.  The others are London, Berlin, Chicago, New York and Tokyo.  But the Boston Marathon is special – it is the world’s oldest annual marathon, definitely the most well-known, and arguably the most prestigious.  They invite the top marathoners in the world – also known as elite runners – to compete in the race.  This year there were 33 invited runners (20 men and 13 women).  Everyone else has to qualify to enter the race – meaning that you have to run a really fast marathon someplace else.

After the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, several of my friends contacted me to make sure I wasn’t running in Boston that day.  I was touched that they were concerned about me and flattered that they thought I would be there.  My best marathon time is an hour over what I would need to qualify.  If I am running when I am 80, I still won’t run a qualifying time for Boston.  That race is really for the best marathoners around.

As I sat on the couch watching the athletes line up for the start, I realized that the Boston Marathon is all about dreams – the dreams of the elite runners, the wheelchair competitors, and the weekend runners.  All of them came to that start line to test their limits and see if they had the ability to go beyond them to run the hills and against the headwinds to make it to the finish line.  The way the race unfolded showed how true that was.

The first to start were the wheelchair competitors.  It had been raining and I feared that the wet roads would cause them to wipe out.  Later in the race they showed several wheelchair competitors struggling up one of the hills, against the winds.  I could only imagine how the muscles in their arms were burning.  I was in awe of their strength and determination.

Marcel Hug won the men’s wheelchair division, defeating the 10-time champion Ernst van Dyk.  Marcel has a dream of being “respected as an athlete instead of being admired as a person with an impairment.”  I respect Marcel as an athlete.  I hope he feels he has achieved his dream.

Tatiana McFadden won the women’s wheelchair division, her third time winning the Boston Marathon.  Like Marcel, Tatiana was born with spina bifida.  And like Marcel, she is an athlete although she is in a wheelchair.  I love this quote from an interview Tatiana did with CNN back in 2014:

“Don’t put limits on your dreams. If you want it bad enough, you must try, and if you miss the first time, you must try again. Don’t let others tell you that your dreams are too big — or you ambitions impractical. We all must learn to listen to that drive that is within us. If we all listen carefully to that drive within, there are no limits to what we can achieve in life.”

Tatiana is living her dream.  She won the wheelchair division in Boston, London, Chicago, and New York in 2013 and again in 2014.  Tatiana is the first person—able-bodied or otherwise—to win four major marathons in one year – the Grand Slam for marathon runners – and she has done it twice.

When the women elite runners came to the start line, I saw Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Linden (known in the running community simply as Desi), two American runners who both came to win.  In 2014 Shalane had a dream of winning the Boston Marathon – her hometown race – to help her beloved city heal from the 2013 bombings.  She led the pack for 19 miles, forcing the other runners to go fast.  Despite her determination to win, she ended up finishing 7th with a personal record of 2:22:02, making her the third fastest female American marathoner ever (behind Deena Kastor and Joan Benoit Samuelson).  It really hurt when she learned that the women’s 2014 Boston winner tested positive in an out-of-competition drug test in September 2014 and is facing disqualification.

On Monday I was cheering for both Shalane and Desi.  The sports announcers were cheering for them too.  Shalane had stayed with the pack until the middle of those Newton hills.  I remember running those hills last June during the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon.  In a headwind, those hills would take their toll.  As the lead pack sped up, I was sad to see Shalane drift back.  She finished in 9th place, less than 3 minutes behind the winner.

I remember Desi leading the pack at various points in the race and then falling back.  Just when I thought she was out of it, Desi would work her way back to the front.  I was screaming at the television “Come on, Desi!”  Maybe this was part of her race strategy – tucking in behind the other runners so she didn’t have to fight the wind.  After Mile 22, Desi fell back and the lead women pulled away.  Desi finished in 4th place, less than a minute behind the winner.  In a post-race interview, Desi said, “To do well here, you have to be in for a long day of pain and that’s why I think I do well here. I’ll certainly keep coming back and giving it a shot.”  She still has that dream of winning.  I hope she makes it.

Meb Keflezighi was among the elite men.  One month away from his 40th birthday and here he was defending his memorable win in the 2014 race.  Who hasn’t seen the photos of him crossing the finish line last year?  It meant so much to have an American win the race the year after the bombings.  Meb also had a dream – a dream of repeating that moment.  I love Meb (if you recall, I even wrote an entire blog post about him).  So yes, I was cheering for him.

The elite men started almost 30 minutes after the elite women.  The conditions were just as challenging for the men.  The pack stayed together and I could see Meb tucked behind the other runners – still in striking distance.  But at Mile 21 he couldn’t hang on any longer.  The leaders pulled away without him.  I later learned that he had to stop and throw up 5 times in the last 3 miles of the course.  As he ran towards the finish, I couldn’t help but cheer (and shed a tear too).  He might not have won but you could tell that every one of those spectators along the course didn’t care – they were cheering Meb too.  He won everyone’s hearts.

Then Meb did something that I will never forget.  As he approached the finish line, he saw one of the elite women runners, Hilary Dionne from the US, ahead of him.  Hilary said later she was just trying to finish the race when she heard the announcer say that last year’s winner [Meb] was coming.  Meb sprinted hard to catch her.  When he reached her, he grabbed her hand and they crossed the finish line together, arms raised.  Meb said it was fun to do that.  If I was Hilary, that would have been better than winning the race – running across the finish line, holding Meb’s hand, raised in victory.  They hugged after they finished – Meb in 8th place and Hilary in 15th.

Then there is Rebekah Gregory, one of the Boston Marathon bombing survivors.  They tried to save her leg but after 18 surgeries, she made the decision that to move forward, she would have to leave her leg behind.  In November of last year, they amputated her damaged leg.  On Monday, Rebekah who had only been wearing a prosthetic for 3 months ran the last 3.5 miles of the race course.  Rebecca’s dream is to run the full 26.2 miles next year.  I have no doubt that she will do it.

I know I will never qualify to toe the start line of the Boston Marathon.  But I will happily cheer on everyone who does – the elites, the weekend runners, and the wheelchair athletes.  Their determination to achieve their dreams inspires me to be the best I can be.