Why do we run? Everyone one of us has a different motivation, and I would suspect most of us have multiple reasons why we run. I’ve contemplated this question many times and the answer changes depending on the day, my mood, and what is happening in my life. As I look back on my recent experience in training and running the Boston Marathon, I think of two major reasons for my running obsession: hope and community.
Hope. In 2014, I was in a place in which I felt hopeless and helpless. My mother had battled cancer on and off for over 15 years and had reached the point where the word “terminal” was now part of the conversation. The chemo was no longer working and it was leaving her with debilitating burns on her hands and feet. My parents had been married for 47 years, and they used to walk their dogs every morning. But she was in too much pain to even walk across the house. I got off the phone with her one evening in September and she had just given me the most recent updates from her doctors. I felt hopeless. After many tears, I went to my go-to comforts…. research and running. As I scoured the internet and read articles on cancer treatments, I found myself combing through the website of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It is one of the world’s leading institutes for cancer research and patient care. That’s when I found the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, and I knew I had to be on the team. I applied, got accepted, and began the journey of training and fundraising in honor of my mother. Having a common goal brought my parents and I closer together. We raised over $17,000 that year for cancer research programs at Dana-Farber. Going to Boston was the last trip we took together as a family. My mother had told her doctor that whatever happened, she had to get to Boston for the marathon. Running for Dana-Farber and raising funds for cancer research gave us hope. It was what we needed. Even though we knew there was nothing that could be done for my mother, it gave us a sense of purpose and hope to raise money for cancer research, so that perhaps one day, people would not have to endure the pain that mother endured. Five weeks after that trip to Boston, my mother passed away. I’ll never forget those last weeks of caring for her, of the many people who were there to comfort and reassure me when I was scared out of my mind. Throughout those months, running was a source of hope, especially running for Dana-Farber. In the weeks after my mother passed away, I ran just to keep moving forward. I remember there were times when I couldn’t get through a mile without bursting into tears. Yet, I knew running was going to help me somehow. And it did.
Community. I joined TRP on January 1, 2015 as part of my New Year’s resolution to run with a group to help me train for Boston. It had snowed the night before and it was 36-degrees that evening. Only nine people showed up. I was so nervous. Would these runners be friendly? What if this was a group for only fast, competitive runners? Would I be able to keep up with them? What would we talk about? Why the hell was it so cold?! My fears and questions were immediately answered as I was greeted with a friendly smile and welcome from Shokofeh and Keith. Though I wasn’t really able to pace with anyone on that run (because, yes they were all really fast!), on the way back to Trader Joe’s, Ed Llewelling slowed down to keep me company.
I wondered if I would continue running with a group after training for that first Boston marathon. It didn’t take much time for me to realize that TRP was much more than a running group. It was a family. I loved meeting new people every week and sharing miles together.
Two years later, my husband, Brian, and I decided we wanted to run for Dana-Farber again, in memory of my mother. We both were accepted to the team and it was a different experience this time around. First, the fundraising part of being on the DFMC team was not as daunting. I was overwhelmed by the support of friends and family who generously donated to our fundraising for Dana-Farber. Second, being part of TRP for so long meant I knew I had support. Every week I felt blessed for each run, because I had TRP friends by my side. Third, I signed up for TRP Peak Performance coaching. The training plan and accountability made a HUGE difference for me. I broke through several mental barriers and saw the results of the training every month.
Marathon training is full of ups and downs. Some of the highlights this year included setting a PR at the TRP Magic Marathon for my mile time and for a 5k at the Sun Run. I had many runs in which I got swept up in conversations with TRP friends that I hardly noticed the time and distance passing us by. There was one run in which Brian and I started out with Shokofeh and Keith for a few miles, and an hour or so after we split off and were coming up on the last three miles of our long run, I heard voices shouting and cheering for us from the road. Shokofeh and Keith had finished their run, got in their car, found us on Vistoso Blvd, and drove by shouting words of encouragement. There were runs in which I had the joy of chatting with Teri, Katie, Celia, and many other wonderful runners. Their humor and kindness made every mile special. Now… to be honest, not every run was easy. There were long runs in which I was hit with upset stomach or fatigue. In the last 20-mile training run before Boston, Brian and I had been struck with a terrible stomach flu four days prior. We had structured this last long run to include running the AZ Distance Classic. We struggled the entire way. We were thankful for Robert, who helped us refill our water bottles just before the half-marathon began. We were also thankful to see so many TRP members along the course who gave us a thumbs up or a smile. Mentally and physically, we were not happy, but the encouragement from others made the difference for us to finish that run.
The experience of marathon weekend was a beautiful blur. I had been sick that week and our shake-out runs were pretty difficult. Seeing Keith and Shokofeh along the Charles River path on Sunday morning lifted my spirits. During that weekend, we participated in as many Boston marathon events as possible. We went to the Expo twice, we took photos near the finish line, ran along the Charles River, went to Old South Church on Easter Sunday where we received a special blessing for the athletes, we walked along the Freedom Trail, ate plenty of seafood, visited Brian’s grandfather in Everett, went to a UA alumni party with other marathoners, and we also got to meet legendary runners like Katherine Switzer and Uta Pippig.
On Sunday, we attended an emotional reception with our Dana-Farber teammates. I was inspired by the strength and passion of the doctors, scientists, and patients of Dana-Farber. Their focus and drive is immeasurable. Throughout the weekend, I had flashbacks of two years ago when my mom was with us. I felt the pain of her absence and grief, and yet, I also felt like she was with me the entire weekend.
Marathon Monday was an experience like no other. We got up early and joined our DFMC teammates on the long bus journey to Hopkinton. We walked around Hopkinton to see runners in the early corrals set off. The race itself was awesome. What I love about Boston is the spirit of the race, and the history and culture that surrounds it. Total strangers will spend an entire day cheering on other strangers as they run the course. The course runs through eight towns and it’s miles and miles of cheering spectators. This year, it was much warmer than usual. Thankfully, Morey from TRP advised us to beat the heat by pouring cups of water on our heads and clothes every mile. This kept us cool and reminded us to stay hydrated. The race is mostly downhill, but at mile 17, you hit the Newton hills (which actually aren’t that steep) but your legs can feel like lead at this point. I looked to my left and was excited to see Dr. Clare Twist cheering for us. Dr. Twist spoke at our DFMC reception the evening before. She is a pediatric oncologist and has been on the Dana-Farber team for 25 years. She is now fighting her own battle with cancer and could not run this year, but she still wanted to be there and cheer for her teammates. At this point of the race, I had to take walk breaks because my quads were thrashed and my breathing was rough. I thought about my mom a lot during the race and of how strong she was even when she was in pain. She truly embodied the spirit of marathoners. Running a marathon takes courage and perseverance. Also, I was blessed to run with my best friend and husband, Brian. Running with Brian gave me energy. He kept saying, “We’re doing great!” and “We’ve got this!” His positive attitude and encouragement pushed me to keep running when I just wanted to stop. In the last few turns of the course, I saw runners from Achilles International, who were military veterans. There was one who was a double amputee with two metal leg prosthetics, and he was incredible! I could not help but tear up when we got to Boylston Street. The caucaphony of cheers from the crowds, the inspirational runners surrounding us, holding my husband’s hand, seeing that finish line just ahead… there are no words to describe the feeling.
So, why do we run? Running, to me, used to be something I begrudgingly did alone, just to stay in shape. The past two years with TRP have changed that. Through the roller coaster of life, running has been a way for me to experience hope and to experience community. I find joy in being part of a group and inspiration in every person I meet.
There is a quote from Olympic runner, Emil Zatopek, that resonates with me. Zatopek said, “If you want to run a mile, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” I don’t know if everyone necessarily needs to run a marathon to experience a different life, but I do believe that running has the power to change us. For that, I am very grateful.