"It's time to keep enjoying the best day in running history."
MARATHON MONDAY, 6:00AM
It was a tiny little house with a very steep staircase and lots of tight corners and we were a very large group (about 70) so definitely a bit tricky from a logistical standpoint, particularly for those who were visually impaired. Not surprisingly, we all took it in stride, happy to be in a comfortable spot rather than sitting outside at the athlete's village. When we arrived there was coffee brewed and oatmeal on the stove thanks to our fearless leader, Andrea Croak, who was one of the great masterminds behind the successful operation of our team. We all piled in and found a spot to plant ourselves for a while. Fortunately, there was a small porch and a back yard so many of us filtered outside to soak up the rays and enjoy the morning as much as we could given that we were about to run a marathon. Joyce and I found each other and then met up with Alex, one of the two guides that would be running with us. Alex would be doing the first half with us so we chatted strategy for things like lining up for the race start, getting through the water stations, pacing and fuel stops for three of us. Joyce still seemed calm and relaxed which I thought was amazing given what she was about to take on. My nerves were starting to ramp up as the thoughts of all the potential things that could go wrong started to creep in. Alex helped keep my mind at ease with his bubbly personality and easygoing nature. That was hugely appreciated.
The first wave of the marathon would begin at 10:00am and we had some speedy team members who'd be starting in that group, so before we said goodbye to them, we all gathered for a team shot and some words of encouragement from David Brown, another key player behind the success of the day. Joyce and I would start in Wave 3, which was at 11:15, so we had several hours to wait before we would head to the line. I'm not going to lie, the waiting was brutal. For both of us. We talked, watched the elite athletes on tv, went to the bathroom, ate, stretched, drank, put on sunscreen, organized and then did that all over again about ten more times.
Finally, at 10:45 it was time for Joyce, Alex and me to head to the start. Oh my Lord, was I freaking out now. Even Joyce, who'd been calm and steady up to this point was shaking and admittedly nervous, too. Only Alex seemed to be unfazed.
We snaked our way through the crowds of people, Joyce holding on to my arm, eventually making it over to our corral. We decided to start in the back hoping that letting the rest of the runners in our corral go ahead of us would make it easier to navigate in the beginning. The sun was beating down on us and the heat radiated from the pavement. It was significantly hotter than we expected and all three of us were sweating profusely. Perfect time for a selfie, right? Had to be done. Finally, after a song and some announcements, we were off. We walked to the start mats and then eased our way onto the course. It was organized chaos at first. Joyce and I were holding a tether which we pulled taught during this section so she could easily feel where I was going. Alex was awesome, acting as a barrier from the other side of us and politely belting out blind runner coming through if we needed to pass. And then we rolled into the first water stop. Alex ducked off to the side to get us water and Joyce and I kept going. I reached out to get some for myself but wasn't able to snag a cup before we were past the station. Unfortunately, Alex thought I'd been successful so he didn't get any and thus all three of us missed out. Clearly, we needed a better system. For mile 2, Joyce and I moved away from the volunteers and the other runners grabbing cups and Alex went in alone to get multiple drinks for all three of us. Then, I held up my hand so he could find us once he'd gotten the supplies. This is what we did for the rest of the race and it worked perfectly. The miles were now ticking off, our pace somewhere in the high 9s to low 10s which was right on target. Joyce seemed good, happy even. So we just set ourselves into cruise mode and let it roll.
These miles flowed beautifully. Alex talked non-stop, letting Joyce know what was happening in the crowds, reading the funny race signs out loud (ie. May the Course Be With You - my personal favorite) and pointing out landmarks of interest (bridges, lakes, funny costumes, etc). He even told us a few stories and had us both laughing. It was such a pleasant distraction and totally helped us stick with our groove. Seth, the guide that would be taking over for Alex, would be meeting us at the transition area at mile 11.5. It was clear the Alex didn't want to stop as he continuously talked about how hard it would be to say goodbye. Twice he asked us whether he thought his wife would "kill him" if he kept going despite the fact that he was recovering from a broken rib incident. Joyce and I just smiled and shrugged our shoulders as we knew he would make up his own mind regardless of our responses. The transition area crept up on us quickly and we easily found Seth who jumped right in. Though it was clearly hard for him, Alex decided to duck out as planned and gave us all hugs before sending us on our way.
With Seth, we had to reset a bit and find a new rhythm, so to speak. I had changed the tether to my other hand so I could give my right arm a rest and thus was now running to Joyce's left which felt a bit odd. There were sets of two timing mats every 5K throughout the race and up until this point, Alex had been letting Joyce know when they were coming so she could lift her feet up to avoid tripping. The first set after the transition zone snuck up on us and neither Seth nor I were ready for them. Thus, Joyce wasn't expecting them and immediately got tripped up which resulted in a shot of pain to her calf, enough to make her stop completely. She told us it felt like a charlie horse and began to massage it to get it loosened up. Seth and I were both worried and not quite sure what to do so we waited for Joyce's cue. Slowly, she eased back on the course, but she was struggling now. She asked me what our pace was (it was the same) and told me she was really fading. Again, I panicked not quite sure what to do. I suggested that she stop and take some fuel which she agreed to. Seth ran ahead and got us water and Joyce took some electrolyte tabs and when she was ready we started back up. We crept along slowly, letting Joyce take her time and hopefully find her flow again. Thankfully, she started to feel good soon after this and decided that she must have just been too low on fuel. For the rest of the race we stopped every 2-3 miles to make sure she got the fuel she needed.
Finally, we made it to the Newton hills. Joyce was hanging tight, definitely tired, but still holding steady. Seth and I talked her through each hill, letting her know how well she was doing and bobbing and weaving around the many other runners who were walking through this section. Between the crowds, which had thickened, and the water stops, where the cups on the ground were piled high, making it tricky for Joyce to feel the road, getting through these miles was incredibly challenging for us. And yet, Joyce powered on, never stopping as we passed people left and right and eventually made it up and over Heartbreak hill. Shortly after that, we heard Joyce's name and looked over to see her husband, her son and several of the runners on her son's track team waving and jumping up and down. Seth and I turned Joyce around so she could go back and give hugs and high fives to everyone in the crew. It was one of the more touching moments that I've ever been a part of.
After that, all three of us were totally re-charged and ready to bring it home. Seth and I knew Joyce could do it. Joyce knew it, too. At one point Joyce told me she smelled mulch and that the smell was making her wish she was at home gardening instead of finishing a marathon. That made us laugh. I told her she could mulch all she wanted in just a few short hours. The rest of the way in Seth and I were pumping her up, letting her know that she had it in the bag, that she just had to dig in and hold on. She told us she could make out the outline of the Citgo sign so she knew we were close. The crowds were wild at this point and that helped propel us along. She saw the MA Ave. overpass and asked us if that was the finish line. We both cringed as we let her know that she still had to get down to Hereford and then turn onto Boylston. She let out a big breath and said something like, Ok, we can do this. And finally, we made the turn. I looked at Seth and we both nodded and grinned from ear to ear. This was it. Joyce smiled the whole way down Boylston street. The spectators were screaming YAY TEAM WITH A VISION and going nuts. I literally got chills as we cruised toward the end. I could see the clock which said 4:29 and was clicking away. Joyce had wanted to run a 4:30 and damned if she wasn't going to make it happen. We crossed the line in 4:30:45 and all three of us went bananas. We hugged, we high-fived, we stopped and looked up to the sky in disbelief, and the Joyce and I hugged again, this time for a long one as tears rolled down our cheeks. We had just done something bigger than big and we felt the impact of it from our heads down to our blistered toes and then some.
We slowly made our way to the water which all three of us grabbed and chugged. Next, the medals. Joyce and I automatically got one because we were qualified runners. Technically, Seth wasn't supposed to get one because he was a guide and didn't have an official number. But the woman who was giving them out said something like You take this medal. You earned it as much as they did! That was awesome. I wish I could have grabbed one for Alex, too, as he deserved one as much as the rest of us. The four of us were a team and we couldn't have done any of it without each other. Eventually, we made it back to family area Z to meet up with the rest of the TWAV crew and our families. Joyce and I had major post-race chills and were wrapping ourselves up in anything we could find. But, we were still floating on our high so we weren't too worried about it. It's virtually impossible for family members to get through downtown Boston on marathon day, particularly since they are not allowed to cut through the finish area, so we had a while to wait before everyone made it to us. We just plopped ourselves down on the curb and soaked up the sun and each other for a little longer. Truthfully, I didn't want the day to come to an end so I was happy that things were slowing down a bit. Finally, Joyce's family, Seth's wife and Jeff were able to get to our meeting area so we all said our goodbyes, our thank yous, and hugged several more times and then we went our separate ways.
I can honestly say that this experience was like nothing I've ever been through before and that my life will be forever changed because of it. Joyce has thanked me several times since Monday, but it's her I should be thanking as I got as much out of it if not more than she did. Running a marathon is such a huge accomplishment for anyone. Running a marathon as one who is visually impaired, one who has to trust and depend on others from the first day of training all the way up through the race itself? It's mind-blowing, really. But it was clear from the minute I met Joyce that if she wants to do something, she will find a way to make it happen. Her handicap has always been just a minor hurdle in her life, one that has never stopped her from successfully reaching her goals. One that never will. The whole adventure was a much needed reminder for me that anything is possible if you want it badly enough. To Joyce, again, I want to say 'thank you'. You are such an amazing woman and I am so damn lucky to know you and to have you as my friend. I will gladly be your teammate any day. #TEAMCRON
Listen to this:
BELIEVE - ROMES