Yeah runnin' down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream
~ Tom Petty
Calm before the storm
The one thing I noticed as I sat outside and caffeinated at 6:00am was the light breeze which happened to be on the cooler side. This was definitely going to be our best friend for the day. My friend and teammate, Kirsten, was also guiding for TWAV and her husband had offered to drive us out to Hopkinton so they came by to scoop me up around 8:30. We made it to the State park without incident around 9:00am, said our goodbyes and then hopped on the shuttle that would take us over to the Hopkinton Vision Center where we'd be meeting up with the rest of our team and hanging out for the morning. Given the typical chaos of this day along with the weeks leading up to it, it's almost ridiculous how easy this process was for us.
Andrea Croak...smiling, of course
This woman, the amazing Andrea Croak, has everything to do with this. She is the mastermind behind our team, the chief organizer, main question answerer, key problem solver and holder of all TWAV knowledge. She also happens to be one the calmest people I know, a key trait given that the rest of us on the team are often borderline freaking out come race day, and she's always smiling. I can not say enough good things about this gal. So much of our TWAV marathon experience banks on her and all that she does for us and she has got it so dialed in that we never have to worry. Not surprisingly, she was the first person who greeted us when we arrived at the Vision Center. She let me know that Joyce had already arrived, that there were bags for our gear over in the corner and that hot coffee was already brewed and available for us up in the kitchen. See? Amazing. I made my way in to find Joyce and put my stuff down. As I did this, I happened to notice that Scott Jurek was hanging out in the parking lot with his wife and baby and a group of our runners. I tried to act cool, but was totally starstruck because...well...because it was SCOTT JUREK, one of the greatest runners of all time. Later I learned that Scott's mom had MS and at the end of her life she had some vision loss so he has always been a big TWAV supporter and was out with us for the day simply to cheer us on and thank us for all we do. How cool is that? I wanted to grab Joyce and tell her he was out there as I knew she'd read about him and would be as excited to meet him as I was.
w/ Joyce and Scott Jurek
Scott has got to be one of the warmest, friendliest and most humble guys I've ever met. He applauded Joyce for all she does despite her vision loss and wished us well on our Boston journey. After our conversation, Joyce and I went back inside to grab some food and chill out for a while as we had a few hours before we'd be leaving. If Joyce was nervous, I couldn't tell. She was calm and cool as a cucumber as we ate pretzels, drank water and chatted about stuff both running related and non. Around 10:45 we headed back outside with our other guide, Bob, who would be running the first half with us, did some final stretching and took some photos before going over to the start.
As it was last year, the crowds in the beginning were tricky for us to navigate. Bob and I wove our way down the street with Joyce, working to keep her from bumping into people or obstacles like the corral gates. We found our section and planted ourselves in a shady spot to wait until we our wave took off. Bob has run a ton of marathons so he told us stories of past races which was a welcome distraction. Finally, at 11:15, they sent us on our way and we crossed the start as Tom Petty sang Runnin Down a Dream'. Just...amazing.
Joyce's plan was to run a 10-10:15 pace and it was my job to hold us there as she doesn't wear a watch. By the time we took off it was already in the 70s so we decided we would get water at every stop to avoid dehydration issues. Our plan was to have Bob get the water and bring it over to us rather than try to fight the crowds at the tables ourselves. We did this last year and it worked well so we figured we just stick with it. Our first few miles were relatively smooth. We were right on target for pacing and Bob and I wove through the people and got vocal when we needed to pass them. At mile 5, Bob ducked in to get us water and, as we had been doing, Joyce and I kept going. After a few minutes, Bob hadn't come back, so I managed to get water for both of us and we plowed on assuming Bob would find us eventually. I continued to look behind me to see if I could spot him but it was a bit of a distraction to do both this and to focus on Joyce. After 10 minutes or so I told Joyce that we were on our own for the time being and that we'd be able to make it work between the two of us which she seemed good with. It was right about here that I was thanking the stars above that this wasn't my first time guiding!!!
at Mile 6 w/ Joyce (and officially on our own)
Okay, so Bob was totally out of the picture and we'd decided that it was not likely that he was going to find us so we forged on and didn't stress about it. It's worth noting here that the BAA gives every TWAV runner one registered guide. The rest of us who guide have qualified for Boston and are basically donating our numbers to TWAV so that the athletes can have at least two to three guides with them at all times. So, case in point here as to why this needs to happen. Joyce and I laughed a bit as we wondered out loud what she would have done if she'd only had Bob to run with and lost him. She claims that she would have just linked arms with someone else around her and hoped for the best which I'm pretty sure would have worked though I hate to think of her having to deal with that at all. From this point on we made a new system for the water stops. I'd bring us right over to the volunteer and Joyce would hold her hand out for the cup directly. After doing it a few times, we found it worked well so this is how it went for the next few miles. The heat was taking it's toll on us and we were both having to drink 2-3 cups of water per stop. But, we made it to the transition area without incident and scooped up our second guide, Tony, who would be running the remainder of the race with us.
@ the half with Tony & Joyce
Getting into Wellesley is always a blast no matter what condition you're in and for Joyce it's even more intense because the volume rises ten-fold. She smiled as she heard the crowds going wild and we both laughed as I read all the various "Kiss Me" signs out loud to her. The next section to get through was the hills and they were really, really tough. Tony and I talked Joyce through each one, letting her know when we could see the top and telling her how well she was doing. She was struggling but she was also fighting like nobody's business. Toward the end of this section we heard her son shout out so we turned back so she could give him a hug and they could take a quick photo. That was a HUGE boost for her and put a new skip in her step for the next few miles. The timing could not have been more perfect.
Joyce, smiling just after seeing her son
Finally we were in the home stretch. Joyce was insanely tired and she'd slowed down but she was still okay. We heard a group shouting "TEAM CRON" over and over and realized it was her husband and daughter. They had riled up the crowd around them and everyone was yelling it which was awesome because I'm not sure we would have found them otherwise. Again, we circled back so that Joyce could give both of them hugs and kisses. It was another massive boost to her spirits and exactly what we all needed to get us through this final stretch.
The crowds through the last 10K of the marathon are insane. People are 10 deep and all of them are cheering at the top of their lungs. Tony and I did our best to get people to yell even louder, pointing at Joyce and lifting our arms up so they knew to raise the volume for this amazing woman. When we turned onto Boylston, I turned to her and said "Do you hear that, Joyce? That's for YOU! They're cheering for you. We did it. YOU DID IT." She wasn't smiling as she was laser focused on getting to the finish line. I, however, was smiling from ear to ear and couldn't stop.
Place:5th Visually Impaired Female
We heard the announcer call out Joyce's name as she stepped over the line and then immediately turned to each other and hugged. We both cried a little, too. We'd done it. Again. And though she didn't PR, she was damn close in some really tough conditions. Though Joyce was totally wiped, she was in great spirits and she, too, was now smiling ear to ear. All three of us were floating as we made our way to the family meeting area. And, of course, despite the fact that it was hot as hell for the entire race, it was now windy and cold. Only in New England. We hugged again and then said our goodbyes as we were all freezing and ready to put our feet up. The next day I got an email from Joyce. It was long and made me cry (again) but some of it is worth sharing.
What a marathon journey! I am thinking back to the challenges of training. Would my foot injury cause me grief? Could I get enough training totally depending on others to run with me? How much time do I rest a piercing pain after a long run and keep with my training schedule? And then the flu during tapering!
Joyce had some serious hurdles to get over in order to make this dream a reality. But it was never a question of 'if' for her, just 'how'. How could she stay healthy, get the help she needed and get to Hopkinton? And damned if she wasn't going to figure out.
I am just so excited to finish Boston and qualify to run it again. Next year's Boston? To do this, I need to be able to get enough training in and this is very, very difficult as I now depend on a team of runners all the time. (Thankfully) One of (the main) TWAV goals is awareness so that I and other low vision runners can run, not just races but training runs. A team is so much fun with having company on runs, sharing run stories and developing a team strategy. I hope to be back and I would love to run with you.
To which I responded
Joyce, if you want to run Boston next year, I'm in. For now, put your feet up and enjoy your hard-earned break. When you're ready to get going again, I'll be ready, too.
It's hard for me to put into words how much I love, respect and admiration I have for this woman. But, after reading this, I'm guessing you get the gist. Once again, I got so much out of this experience and regardless of whether we run again, I will be forever grateful. Though, I'm pretty sure we'll see you back on Boylston Street in 2018. Stay tuned....
Listen to this:
Runnin' Down A Dream by Tom Petty