Miracle Monday: My 2014 Boston Marathon Experience

boston strong

It was a Miracle Monday.

But it certainly didn’t feel that way when I started the day.

Friday, April 18

After overcoming jet lag following a red-eye flight and then catching up on many, many hours of missed sleep, my body was on East Coast time and I finally felt more like myself. My sister and I were lucky to have a comfortable, fun place to crash for several days (thank you, Jeremy and Ambrosia!) that included more control over our meals and rest times than you’d normally get staying in a hotel.

I had been struggling with a calf strain that set in just a few weeks before arriving in Boston. But, after dry needling (sort of like acupuncture, but with electric stimulation added in) and a shot of a more natural version of a cortisone shot, it seemed like my angry calf had pretty much calmed down.

So, like my podiatrist recommended, I suited up for a gentle, shake-out jog along the shoreline with my sister.

Unfortunately, the angry calf reared its ugly head less than 10 minutes in.

I knew it was bad.

I called my podiatrist who then recommended a higher dose of ibuprofen, more acupuncture if possible and a massage.

Two days before the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Crestfallen, I called my husband.

“So, what does this mean?” he asked me.

“It means I will likely be walking the Boston Marathon,” I replied.

Only a miracle would change things at this point.

Saturday, April 19

We decided to be Boston tourists. The day before, we had maneuvered the T (with the help of our friendly local, Ambrosia, of course), picked up our race packets and scored special scarves knitted by congregants across the country and given out at the “Church of the Finish Line,” Old South Church, located only feet from the official Boston Marathon finish line. It had been a special day.

old south church scarf

Now, we were ducking into a dive-bar to have a late breakfast, complete with a Guinness for me (what? Carb loading!) before exploring the famed final stretch of the Boston Marathon, Boylston Street, and then beautiful Boston Common.

dive bar

We saw memorial flowers hung in the two spots where the bombs went off the previous year. We saw the restored storefront for Marathon Sports, whose window was blown out during the blasts. Now, it had the iconic blue and yellow Boston Marathon colors painted across the plate-glass window. Yellow daffodils and blue flowers dotted both sides of the road and ribbons and banners adorned street every pole.

marathon sports 2

The streets were teeming with people; many wearing the bright orange Adidas 2014 Boston Marathon Celebration jacket (mine was safely tucked away in plastic…I’m superstitious enough not to put on a finisher’s jacket until AFTER finishing the race).

Then, we came upon the one spot my heart and my mind had been on through all the months of fundraising, physical therapy, long training runs and conversations.

The Finish Line.

finishline

There was really no way to get a clear shot, but I managed this one, and it’s one of my favorites captured during the course of my visit to Boston.

I said a prayer, gave a smile, and said “see you Monday afternoon, Finish Line.”

I knew I would…no matter what.

Sunday, April 20

The day before the Boston Marathon, I found myself sitting in the waiting area on the top floor of a hotel in downtown Boston. My friend Michele sent me the contact info for a masseuse and, thankfully, he was willing to squeeze me in at 7 a.m.

It was Easter Sunday.

massage

For me, it was fitting. It was a beautiful day to celebrate a big moment in my Christian life. I was also standing at a crossroads and clinging to prayer at every turn. I had let go of the hope of a personal record-breaking time. I had let go of the hope of running much of the race.

Now, I was just hoping for enough relief to make it through the race so I could fulfill my promise to that Finish Line…and to myself.

My masseuse Jeff was great. It wasn’t by any means the best massage I’d ever experienced, but at the end of our session as I thanked him in the room, he shared with me that he was grateful to be able to help the runners and he was happy to help me, too.

He continued, “Don’t be afraid to push yourself. This is the event. Don’t injure yourself. Just visualize how you want to feel and send that relaxation down to the muscle when you feel the twinge. Notice it, but see what you can do to work through it.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but as my eyes welled up with tears, I knew that my $57 was well spent. That’s all I really needed from him. Or anyone.

Monday, April 21

Around Boston, this annual event is only known as “Marathon Monday.” It’s Patriot’s Day, a day commemorating Paul Revere’s ride through Boston. To my knowledge, nowhere else celebrates this day. The entire city of Boston is alive and buzzing, infused with thousands more people than usual and the energy is palpable.

My sister and I were up by 6 a.m. to have breakfast, use the restroom a million times and mentally prepare for the journey ahead of us.

The night before, we’d enjoyed a fun (and delicious) pasta dinner at Ambrosia’s boyfriend’s family’s house in Ashland, which is the original starting point for the marathon and near the current finish line in Hopkinton. We made a quick trip to see the original starting line.

original start

Now, we were checking our gear, waiting for Ambrosia and Jeremy to wake up (yes, I was the least patient one, I’ll admit it) to take us downtown to Boston Common at 9 a.m. so we could get on a bus bound for Hopkinton and Athlete’s Village.

race gear

9 a.m.

I was nervous and tried to hide it by cracking jokes and watching the scenery go by. I prayed often, asking God to just help me run my race. To just enjoy the day, no matter what. To not feel discouraged or look back on the experience with disappointment.

The car slowed near Boylston and Arlington and we quickly agreed that if for some reason our phones died or we had difficulty finding each other, we could meet right on the corner of the two streets, just outside of Boston Common.

With a quick honk and a wave, Jeremy and Ambrosia drove away and we turned to head toward the bustling transportation area, which was complete with security checking our gear and our numbers before releasing us to the busing area.

I was surprised by how organized everything was and how easily we were able to find spots on the bus. That definitely wasn’t my experience in 2011 when I ran the Boston Marathon for charity.

9:15 a.m.

On the bus and making our way to Hopkinton, my sister made small talk with the runner next to her. I tuned in and out, silently hoping for complete quiet to calm the nervous wondering of my brain. What would today be like? How would my leg do? How would everything else feel? Was my left foot being funny because I was overcompensating because of my right foot?

10:30 a.m.

Arriving in Hopkinton, we made our way through the crowds to Athlete’s Village and quickly found the line for the Port-o-Potties. Honestly, half your time spent in Athlete’s Village is waiting for the toilet. I kept my phone off trying to conserve every ounce of battery life just in case.

athletes village 1

I honestly hadn’t worried about someone trying to copycat the previous year’s bombing tragedy. The way I figured, Boston was going to be the safest place on the planet on April 21. With military police at every turn, along with Boston police and firefighters, helicopters overhead and the constant eyeing of your race number to make sure you were in the right place, there wasn’t much room for sketchy stuff to happen.

cindi athletes village

Cindi in Athlete’s Village

10:50 a.m.

It was time.

As my sister and I gathered ourselves, the tears welled up again and I kept clasping her hand. I was so grateful to be experiencing this day with her. To be in Boston. To be here on this day on one of the biggest years in Boston history.

selfie with c before start

And, I was proud to have sacrificed and worked so hard to get through the previous injuries that had plagued me.

I had turned on my phone and quickly checked my Facebook status from earlier in the morning, reading through the encouraging words of friends. My eyes rested on my former (and let’s face it, my forever coach), Dave Montgomery’s words. “Go get it. Run smart.”

(Thank you, Coach).

The phrase immediately triggered the memory of another phrase he and my other coach, Karen Maas-Smith used to say “Run your race.”

Today, it was MY race. No one else’s. And that, was what I was going to focus on.

11:25 a.m.

The gun goes off and we bob our way through the sea of other charity runners. The downhill is noticeable. Within five minutes, the same familiar pain in my calf has returned and within moments, my sister is out of sight. In this moment, I thought for sure I would feel sad. That I would feel alone.

That I would feel defeated.

But I didn’t. And I wasn’t.

I began to walk, texting my husband the message “Bad calf. Walking.”

As I began what I believed to be my 26-mile walking journey to Boston, my eyes focused on the little, 80-year-old woman ahead of me. They glanced at the tall, gorgeous trees around me. At the hundreds of runners darting around me.

I was tempted to feel sorry for myself or push myself again to run. It was humbling and slightly humiliating. But, I was there.

My husband replied via text, “Oh, I’m sorry, babe!”

And I sent back “It’s ok. It’s beautiful. Taking it in.” My response was genuine.

1 p.m.

A few miles later, something had changed. I still can’t explain it.

Maybe the walking worked the calf strain out (but why hadn’t it for weeks before?).

Maybe my adrenaline kicked in (while walking?).

Or, maybe it was God.

Whatever it is, my friend’s prayer from just a few days before the race echoed in my mind.

It was Miracle Monday.

8 miles done…running with no pain.

mile 8

Then,13, the halfway point.

mile 13

Past 18.

I vowed to run across every mile marker. My walk-jog couldn’t keep pace with my previous marathons, but I was beyond elated to be running. I was going to take full advantage of my healed leg.

Things began to change around mile 19. I felt light-headed, dizzy, weak and like I wanted to lay down and take a nap. My kidneys seemed to be screaming for relief, but when I stopped by the Port-o-Potty, nothing.

Something was going on.

Before steering myself to the medic tent, my brain finally registered what was going on. I was dealing with an old foe from my high school days: hyponatremia.

The 64-degree, humid Boston weather had taken a stronger toll than I’d realized. I’d also been taking ibuprofen, a NSAID that can interfere with how your body handles fluid and electrolyte absorption. Between the distraction of my healed leg and the unquenchable thirst I had been experiencing, I had managed to overhydrate myself while forgetting to keep up with my salt and electrolyte replenishing capsules.

I knew I was in a bad spot, so I walked and hoped to regain control. There was no way I was ending up a DNF (Did Not Finish).

Two pretzel rods and a handful of salty potato chips later (thank you, strangers! The ONLY time I’ll accept food from people I don’t know haha), my salt began to rebalance. I took in another capsule and stayed away from fluids for two miles. Though the slow down was costly for my time (I wasn’t paying attention anyway), I felt better and was proud to have been able to recognize the symptoms and turn things around.

4:30 p.m.

Five hours after starting the race together, my sister crossed the finish line. I still had about five miles to go. I took in my caffeine energy shot and felt the boost kick in. As I made my way into the final four miles, I high-fived spectators and yelled “Boston Strong!” I hugged the high school students from our charity, buildOn, who had come out to cheer us on.

buildon supporters

I ran next to “Elvis” and past a double amputee as he made his way to the finish line (tears!).

I’ve finished many races in my lifetime, but nothing compared to this one.

My heart leaped for joy as I turned right on Beacon and then left on Boylston.

My pace picked up and I felt light, free.

Tears welled in my eyes and the biggest smile spread across my face.

The spectators behind the metal barriers roared with enthusiasm, cheering and yelling out “Go buildOn!” (I wasn’t wearing my name, but I did have the charity shirt on).

I passed people on my way to the finish line, my eyes laser-focused on the enormous yellow and blue banners hanging over the finish line.

This was the moment I had been waiting for and working for.

As I crossed the finish line, you would have thought I had won the race. My arms went up in victory, my smile facing up toward the bright blue sky.

This was my Miracle Monday.

finish the race

****

There are so many people I need to thank who made this experience possible. The list is likely miles long (probably longer than this marathon was!). I’m going to focus on a few key individuals and teams who spent countless hours with me during this journey and made this possible, but oh how I wish I could list everyone because, man, I had a VILLAGE behind me on this one!

Dr. Mark Forman, Tracy and Sharon of Put Your Feet First podiatry in Scottsdale, Arizona. Thank you for cheering me on from start to (literal) finish. You gave me my first glimmer of hope during visit 1 and kept encouraging me every literal step of the way. I can’t express how much your encouragement, guidance and resources meant to me. You weren’t just medical staff; you were my coaches and personal cheering squad. Every doctor’s office take a page from your book. Thank you!!!

-Keith Fandry, Kinga Olasky, Chelsea Mieszala and Clyde at Back in Action of Scottsdale physical therapy in Scottsdale, Arizona. Thank you for drilling me over and over again to strengthen my legs, stretch me out and help me stay on top of my Achilles and calf injuries. Your expert knowledge and advice helped me push my boundaries and be strong enough for this race. Kinga, you saw me on some dark initial days when I was completely overwhelmed and not sure how this was going to turn out. Thank you for listening and being more than what is really required of your position. I am truly blessed to have had you by my side for much of this journey. Keith, thank you for  sharing your knowledge for dry needling- I’m a believer! Thank you also for helping to prepare me to overcome the mental aspects of this injury. And Clyde, thank you for patiently enduring my questions every week…and for forgiving me when I had to ask you to remind me of your name. (“Henry” is still pretty close to Clyde, right?)

Me and the physical therapy team at Back in Action of Scottsdale

Me and the physical therapy team at Back in Action of Scottsdale

-Coach Dave Montgomery of Highland High School in Gilbert. Coach, thank you for continuing to be my mentor all these years later. I give you and Coach Maas-Smith so much credit for making me mentally tough and enhancing my discipline, especially regarding running. I would not be the runner I am today without you. Thank you for answering my Facebook questions, sending me an incredible training plan (even if I wasn’t able to ultimately follow it!) and encouraging me throughout this journey. I still selfishly hope you’re still running and coaching 10 years from now so I can send my son to Highland to be mentored by you!

Michèle Audet. Thank you for connecting me and my sister to buildOn and for connecting me with an amazing masseuse. This was such a crazy, but worthwhile journey that I never in a MILLION years thought I’d ever get to experience again. You are a gift and I appreciate your support from across the country!

Thank you to everyone who donated their money, time and prayers to our efforts! You have no idea how much your support meant during this journey!

-To my parents, Sharon and Dan and my in-laws, Colleen and Joe: thank you for supporting my crazy dreams. Whether it was watching kids, helping with garage sales, working tireless hours on treats and decor or simply being an ear, you shouldered a lot to support Cindi and I. We are beyond blessed to have you in our lives and in our corner.

-To my husband, Obadiah and my kids Elijah and Zoe, thank you for sacrificing to help make my dream a reality. I missed many Saturday mornings lounging around with you or having fun at family outings. I was gone countless early mornings for physical therapy and podiatrist appointments. I was often grumpy, on edge and not always very gracious. Thank you for your relentless love in spite of me. You are the biggest blessings bestowed upon me and the greatest treasures I will ever have. You are priceless. Thank you.

e with medalz with medal

-And, to my twin sister, Cindi. There’s no way I would have survived this journey without you nor would I have wanted to experience this journey without you. I’m glad you’re just as crazy and tenacious as me. I’m grateful you accept me for me on my good days and not-so-good days, especially as we journeyed through this together. You were my rock in so many moments. We’ve run many miles together literally and figuratively in life and you will ALWAYS be my best running buddy. I value our friendship and our kinship more than you will ever know. I love you, Wombmate!!!

taxi with c

 

 

 

 

 

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