October 18, 2010 mattered for two reasons. It was my sister’s birthday, and the online registration for Boston began. Forgetting the former would result in family drama. So I didn’t. The latter slipped my mind until midnight. I was screwed.
It’s hard to overestimate what the Boston Marathon means to long-distance runners – in the United States and elsewhere. The oldest continuously run marathon has been legendary ever since its first running in 1897. I used to follow it on television as a passive smoker with secret marathon dreams, and later as a new runner with respect for the distance in general and Boston in particular.
In 2009 I finally qualified, and in April 2010 I ran the race. It went so well that my publisher and I couldn’t resist the temptation to note on the back cover of my book that I finished as the 3rd Dutchman in ‘the notorious Boston Marathon’. In the book I did confess that my impressive ranking had little to do with my time –an insignificant 3:11– and everything with the volcanic eruption in Iceland, preventing most Dutch folks to fly in.
In any case, I later ran a 3:03 in Amsterdam, ‘honestly’ qualifying (as Eddie would say) in the open field. A second appearance on Heartbreak Hill alongside my speedy Flyer buddies, nearly all of whom qualified, was in the works.
October 18 came, two days after that 3:03, and I was still in Holland recovering, trying to sell my book and attending a birthday. I finally got to my email at midnight. My running friends had been group-communicating feverishly. Did you get in? What about you? I can’t log in. Try this link. Why can’t I get in? And some worried notes to me: Where are you, man? Sign up now, dude.
The year before I signed up a few weeks after New York, some time in November. This time I was one of many missing my chance, because I wasn’t paying attention for a few hours. Runner’s World recently had the story of heartbreak across the United States.
Training through the New York winter is a challenge. Most runners who are now back in Central Park, enjoying the sunlight and blossom, went inside for 4 or 5 months. This year was bad. The cold wouldn’t let off. All sensation disappeared from my hands during most runs. Snow and sleet and rain kept me from the trails. Getting through this, one needs a goal.
It wasn’t going to be Boston, so I looked for an alternative from the growing circuit of ‘not-Boston’ races all over New England. I ended up picking the small Gansett Marathon, which boasts that it’s the only qualifier-only marathon in the U.S., aside from the Olympic trials. Fewer than 200 starters have signed up so far; the opposite of Boston.
During this tough winter I gained some confidence from two solid half marathons and a sub-4 50K. Now I’m off to Narragansett with Eddie, whom will hand me gels (or so I hope) and yell at me if and when my form will start to fall apart (so I know).
And I can answer the October 18 question about my whereabouts: I’m here.
My new Dutch column is here. Good luck to my New York friends who will be conquering Boston on Monday. I’ll be there to cheer and push them, and run a few miles with them as a bandit – assuming I will be able to walk after Narragansett.