Boston and Beyond
By: Asia Shah
The inescapable truth is that the Boston Marathon is less than a week away, which most of you probably know already, either because you are running it yourself or you have been trapped in the nervous chatter of “how many gels to take and whether or not arm warmers are necessary” from your running friends. See? INESCAPABLE. Over the years I realize that my tendency is to withdraw from this uber-analysis as much as possible and that this extends well beyond my running circle. No, I do not want to endlessly discuss the possible questions on the exam because it is pointless and somehow manages to take me from my usual state of confidence to a jittery, bug-eyed, freak of a student who JUST WANTS TO KNOW IF THAT EQUATION WILL BE ON THE EXAM!!!!!! Serenity now, people…
What I am getting at here is that before a big race it is natural for our brains to wander towards every possible worry about every single aspect of the weekend. Weather, fueling, bathrooms, 22 different clothing options, race shoes, germs, food, water, too much water, the wrong food, blah blah blah…and then, the really scary ones creep in: expectations, pressure, blow-up, humiliation, pain (well, that one is a given), injury, sickness, FAILURE. And then, just to make sure there is no shred of sanity remaining, there is the thought I have at least once before almost every race: why the F do I do this to myself. F. Many people might deny this in themselves or think I’m just insecure, but I am humble in the face of 26 miles as it has annihilated the best of us. If you happen upon a trembling, chattering, twitching marathoner who just wants you to weigh in on their choice of sock-weight and discuss their attempts to pee while running without losing pace (thankfully this is one of my skills) please, be gentle friends. With only ten days to go I felt myself giving in to the aforementioned state of runner dumbassery, but thankfully I was plucked from my free-fall after a night out with some like-minded friends. Rogue friends, duh!
Last week, we attended the Boston & Beyond get-together benefiting the Rogue non-profit, Marathon High. Besides scoring some sweet Asia-style (spandex) Boston shorts we got a mega-dose of humility and inspiration. I won’t go into the details of the program here, but please check out their website for the whole story…The fact that 29 high school kids participated in the Austin Marathon weekend is nothing short of remarkable. 17 finished the marathon and 12 the half, and they did this before most kids their age tackle a 5k. Going into Boston this year, it is understandable that I would be emotional and nervous given my unlucky past at the race, but I am trying to take a page out of the book these kids wrote so poignantly with their experiences. Photos of the kids starting, running, and then finishing their races are striking because they are utterly thankful, appreciative, and proud of their accomplishments and you can just feel it. They radiate off the page a sense of accomplishment, even in the midst of their post-marathon hobble. I met two of the girls in the program and their enthusiasm and excitement for running made me realize how valuable it is to foster that joy and then work to protect it, Gollum-style, because it is precious. We “serious” runners tend to get caught up in our goals, splits, miles, GPS bullshit, and egos when all the while the joke is on us. There are 29 (actually, even more) kids out running as early, as long, and as “seriously” as we are but who are keeping the joy with them all the while. I’m not sure how Ryan Hall defines “joy” as he has written a book about it, but I use it to refer to the feeling that little kids (toddlers?) embody when all they want to do in life is run around and smile like their manic. That MUST be a good feeling.
NOT JOYFUL: “Damnit! I deleted my GPS data wahhhhh!”
JOYFUL: “OMG YAY!! 16 miles left! A blister of happiness is forming on my heart!!
Now, I will admit that it would take more than good intentions, or even a 12-step program to get me to run without my watch, but I am committed to the Boston Marathon this year in a way I have not been in the past. My goal, aside from times and paces to maintain, is to get to the starting line with that youthful enthusiasm, excitement, and confidence that I have so many times left in my hotel room. The Marathon High kids definitely did not forget theirs on that cool morning in February. Just as the juggle-thoners (or whatever the hell they’re called) have to work to maintain balance and not drop a ball, I will be working to juggle my thoughts and emotions as I hit the inevitable peaks and valleys of the marathon. And if need be, I will drop a ball or two, but only the negative ones (but seriously, I can’t juggle).
As my good friend Garrison Keillor says, Be well, do good work (running), and keep in touch, because I know I will want to hear about all those JOYFUL runs in Boston and beyond this spring.