A race or a journey? What meaning are you making?
On Monday, April 17th, I ran the Boston Marathon. This was my second Boston Marathon, the first I ran in 2018. Many of you will recall I set out to qualify for Boston this year as a way to celebrate and commemorate the 5th anniversary of the stroke I had just six weeks before running in 2018. Qualifying and running Boston this year was my way of really stepping back into running, paying homage to the growth and work of the last five years, living without fear, closing a chapter on my stroke, and taking forward lessons that have helped me to live bigger.
The weather defined the 2018 marathon; some of the worst weather in the history of the Boston Marathon, cold winds, and icy rain ran with us the whole way. This year what defined Boston for me was the ability to soak in and revel in the experience, the sights and sounds, and high fives from the incredible crowd that lined the entire route to support us and cheer us on. What defined Boston for me this year was the choice I made to experience the journey and not simply focus on the finish line.
I have found myself pondering the meaning I am making from this experience and thinking about the choices we have in creating meaning from our experiences. I have been mulling over our ability to rewrite and reinvent our meaning with the passage of time and the collection of new learnings and experiences in life that allow us to see the past differently. In the moments and days since crossing the finish line, I have found myself teetering between feelings and sensations of joy, contentment, pride, accomplishment, disappointment, loss, sadness, and emptiness now that the marathon is over. My training hadn’t gone as I’d hoped, and the weeks leading up to race day had left me weary, anxious, and disappointed as my pace seemed to slow the harder I concentrated and tried to run faster. I tried to let go of expectations for a personal best or a Boston-qualifying time at Boston, though in the back of my mind, I secretly, not so secretly, hoped I might surprise myself.
On the morning of the marathon, the bus from the hotel to the buses that would take runners to the start in Hopkinton was full. I found myself taking an Uber with another runner I’d taken up with at the hotel. A new connection was made. In the line for the bus, I conversed with another woman waiting to run. I met up with a neighbor also running; we took a photo to commemorate the moment and rode the bus together from Boston Commons to the staging area for the start of the race. I savored the opportunity to get to know her better and relished the calming effect the conversation had on my nerves. When I last ran Boston, the weather was so bad there was no staging at the start of the race; the corrals we’d been assigned were forgotten, and we were simply told to run. This time on race day, I paid attention to the experience of staging and all the volunteers there to support our endeavor – I’d had no idea there was a school where the buses dropped us off or that we would walk over a mile from the school to the corrals at the start line or that there would be so many stations with water and food.
Usually, as I begin a marathon, my ambition and competitive nature set in, and I do my best to begin forging my way to the front of the pack, the finish line solely in mind. I found myself instead holding back, observing, paying attention to my pace, and intentionally maintaining rather than pushing. The last time I ran Boston, I couldn’t remember any details of the towns we ran through; I couldn’t even recall the infamous Heartbreak Hill or when I’d climbed it. This time, I found myself recording every detail, taking every opportunity to high-five the many, many adorable children who lined the course with their parents to cheer us on. I paid attention to the mass of runners in front of me that never thinned out; as I crested a hill, the sea of runners stretched in front of me all the way up the next hill. I stopped to hand off an unnecessary jacket and gloves to my husband and said hi to my parents and kiddos, who were able to come out to watch and greet me along the streets of Framingham. Last time I didn’t get to see my soggy cheer crew until the finish line. I noted that Heartbreak Hill doesn’t come until after mile 20, making an uphill climb all the more challenging both mentally and physically. I appreciated that my last experience in Boston gave me a sense of excitement and curiosity to help conquer the climb. At the finish line, which I crossed in good spirits and even with smiles, I took a photo and offered to take photos for other runners to celebrate reaching this goal. I crossed at 4 hours and 8 seconds, found my family, cleaned up, and changed clothes in a porta-potty, and off we went to continue our explorations of Boston, ending the night back at Fenway Park for the 27th Mile Post-Marathon Party. I felt gratitude that I crossed the finish line with the energy and physical ability to keep going.
In the days following the marathon, I have found myself in this state of post-race blues, struggling with disappointment that I didn’t get a better time, frustration that my watch died at mile 23, and thoughts of how I could have and wish I would have just shaved off 9 more seconds to cross the finish line under 4 hours. And I have also had moments of bliss and gratitude that I felt good at the finish line, pride and accomplishment that I took the opportunity to enjoy the experience, savor the course, and I still finished at the 4-hour mark, remembering why I set out to run Boston again in the first place – not to set a personal record but to bookend a life-altering experience. My mind has been going back and forth between the perfectionist and the recovering perfectionist, the part of my inner voice that has always told me I can and should do better, be better, and the part I’ve been retraining myself to hear the voice that says, “Well done! That was awesome!” My 2-year-old daughter has been an incredible inspiration; her inner voice is an encourager, and I not only hear her encourage herself, but I am also often greeted in the morning with “Good morning, mommy! You go for a run? Good job, mommy-bear!” I am a firm believer these days that we are the authors of our stories, we are the ones who shape our narratives, and we can take charge of our inner monologues. I also want to acknowledge that old habits die hard; the struggle is real. I think I will choose to take forward the view through the lens of gratitude, accomplishment, overcoming, satisfaction, and joy, but I feel it is also necessary to acknowledge the other lenses through which I have viewed my experience of the Boston Marathon since crossing the finish line. The inner critic is real, and so is the inner mentor, the inner encourager. I am choosing to give voice these days to the inner mentor and to allow this wise voice to have a say in how the story is written.
The Boston Marathon experience was so much more than the run. The experience was the time with my kids, sharing the history of Boston and our country, sharing the experience of savoring the moments. The experience was remembering the “why” of being there again. The experience was about overcoming and relishing, not about setting a record. The experience was about sharing this victory with my greatest fans and cheerleaders, with those for whom I strive to be an example and from whom I learn so much from the example they set – my family and my kids. If I keep in mind my goals and reasons for setting out to run Boston again, the run was hands down a success – I enjoyed every high-five I took the time to take. I remember the course and all the great signs and support. I can recall Heartbreak Hill. I crossed the finish line with a smile, feeling fine, able to change and go about the explorations of Boston, capping the day and the marathon experience with the Post-Marathon Party at Fenway Park. If I let the first narrator write the story, the experience was joyful, blissful, and deeply satisfying. The other voice that wants to try to edit the story to focus on the time that wasn’t good enough or could have been better, well that narrator has been asked to sit down; their story is incomplete, their view myopic, and they tell a story that doesn’t serve the future I want to create. I am owning my role as the creator of my story. I am the narrator, and I choose the tone of voice that tells the story. Of course, not all parts of the story are joyful, but this chapter was filled with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude, so I’m bringing in joy to tell this part of my story.
Have you taken ownership of your life story? Do you see yourself as the author? Can you identify the dominant voice telling the story of your experiences? What other voices might you allow to speak? When, why, and how? Have you experienced a shift in how you perceive your story as time passes, or you experience something that gives a new perspective to your past journey and the part an experience has played that has shaped your present or your future? Do you see the importance of taking ownership? Of directing how the story is told in order to direct how the story plays out?