Monday, September 17, 2012

BQ Number Two: With A Little Help From My Friends

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.~Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Where do I even begin???

Yesterday (Sept 16th) I ran the Fox Valley Marathon in St. Charles, Ill. This was one of my most emotional races thus far in my 40 years of running. I had no idea what it really meant.

Last year when I qualified for Boston it felt easy. Everything went perfectly, and I felt good all the way to the end. Not so this time. This race was different. Good different and bad different in different ways.

And it all began with Boston 2012 - The hotter than hell Boston that left me feeling that I had to come back so that I could run it and actually "enjoy" it. This new goal seemed to grip me by the throat and shake me silly. And gradually too much began riding on this single goal.

So I headed off to Chicago on Saturday feeling the weight of expectations (mine and those of others - at least my perception of those of others) weighing on me. My feet were a mess and killing me. The weather forecast was for hot, humid weather - not my cup-o-tea. My training for the race was uneven at best, and I really began to doubt myself.  I gave myself an 'out' - if it sucks I'll just call it a training run for New York. But in my heart of hearts I wanted it to be more. I had come here with one goal in mind.


The morning is cool, but too warm for 7 a.m. Standing around comfortably in shorts and a jog bra at the start of a marathon does not bode well for me. As Danica (of Boston or Botox) and I drive from our motel to the start (both of us have, within the week, been diagnosed with foot conditions/injuries and have been feeling fairly apprehensive. We spent most of yesterday reassuring each other that if everything went pear shaped we'd still be okay!), I ask her if she ever feels "ready" when facing a marathon? I wish I could say I'm one of those runners who goes into a marathon without any doubt that I'm gonna rock it - but I'm always a little scared - or a lot scared - and I always hear that voice in my head: "Why am I doing this???" I try to ignore that voice, but I'm always shaking under my skin.

We make our way to the start. I'm meeting up with a new friend - someone I feel I know well but whom I've never actually met. We're 'facebook friends' and I'm currently coaching her for her first marathon - Chicago -  She ran her first 20 miler the day before and got up at 4 a.m. to drive an hour and a half to cheer me and some other friends on. I see Sandra and her neon yellow sign. We hug like old friends.

 Danica, Sandra, and me. Before...

Soon I find myself moving toward the starting line  - I cross the mats and start the Garmin. And we're off. Things click along fine, as it should be early on in a marathon. It's feeling easy and I'm feeling good. The air is still cool and the trail is shaded from the rising sun.

I run into other people I "know" via social media - other Marathon Maniacs - facebook friends - Say what you will about social media - but for me it has lead to some real and meaningful friendships and a connection to the larger running community that I never had in the old days.

As we approach the halfway point my feet are crapping out on me and my energy is lagging. I cross the 13.1 mat and there's Sandra, small bottle of HEED and a Clif Shot in hand - I stop and grab them for the loop turn around where I'll hand them back off to her. That friendly face, that offer of assistance means the world to me at this point and I pick up my pace.

 Mile 14ish. I'm still upright, and my motion still resembles running!

As I return to her after the mile and a half loop, I hand off the bottle. I want to stop to hug her, but I keep going. She yells "Do you want another one?" I yell back "No. I'm good. Well, maybe later!". 

Things are uneven at this point. I jump into a porta potty for a quick pit stop (something I will regret later). And I keep moving through those difficult miles where you have run far and still have much left to do.

Somewhere around the 20 mile mark it's pretty clear that everyone around me is hurting. I'm hurting. My feet are killing me, though my legs feel really good. I'm trying to ignore the fact that I feel I'm running on club-feet - numb, painful, burning. The sun is now high in the sky and we're on the sunny side of things. You can see the humidity in the air. I look at my watch as we pass 20 miles: 2:58. The split written on my forearm in ballpoint pen says I should be at 2:56:40 - but I added a cushion to that so I'm behind where I want to be, but I'm still okay.

And then there's Sandra, holding out another bottle filled with fresh cold HEED. I fight the urge, again, to stop and hug her, but I feel a deep sense of gratefulness welling up inside of me. I grab it and go. She yells after me "You look strong. I'll see you at the finish!" I do not look strong, but what else can she say? It helps to hear the lie.

As we pass 25 miles I'm frantically doing the math in my head. Can I still do this? I can, or maybe I can, if I really push it, but as I push it I feel I'm running through the thickest molasses. I keep seeing myself crossing the finish having missed the mark by seconds. It's now or never and I have to fight ever ounce of my self-doubting soul to keep from stopping and giving up.

And then I think of Sandra, and I think of my husband (who calmly, or not so calmly, puts up with my craziness) and I think of my daughter who will ask me how the race went - and we pass mile 26, and as I round the corner for the last .10 mile I see that I have to push harder than I ever have (though from the perspective of an observer I'm barely moving), and I see Sandra out of the corner of my eye and I can't hear what she's yelling but I hear her voice, and those last few steps actually feel like a sprint...After crossing all the mats I press the Garmin: 3:54:54 (eventually the official time is 3:54:53 after being told that it was 3:55:07). A BQ (Boston Qualifier) by 6 seconds.

I thank Sandra for her help. I tell her I couldn't have done it without her, and that is the absolute truth. Her help gave me those crucial seconds. Her being there and supporting me gave me the motivation to push when I wanted to just say "screw it". She dismissed my claims, but I know better. I really would not have done it without her. I really would not have done it without the support, day in and day out, from my husband and daughter, and from all my friends. And, even if we can reach our goals on our own, they are more meaningful with the support of others.

We have lunch and say our good-byes for now. At this point I still believe that the official time is 3:55:07 (which means I missed the mark by 7 seconds) - but as I drive to the airport, radio blaring (because Chicago actually has a good station) I actually don't care because I've had a great day.

I get to the airport and look up the official times. I stare hard at the screen which seems to say: 3:54:53. I scan the screen trying to see if I am missing something - but that is what it is:

2439  Caolan MacMahon          F4549          336           13/73              107/492


I want to jump out of my seat and scream but that might cause some security uneasiness. I text Sandra (she asks me if I screamed when I saw it ;), I call my husband, and I tell my daughter when she asks "How was your race mommy?". "Fantastic", I say. "It went very well."

And as I sit on the airplane flying back to Colorado drinking a Fat Tire for dinner (the first time I have EVER bought a beverage on an airplane!) I begin tearing up and am thankful for the darkened cabin lights - as I think of all the people who stand behind me and support me in this insanity. For me this is what is important in life. We all have our own personal challenges which matter so much to us. And it adds so much when we have other behind us. Then it is full, and great, and unforgettable. 

There are so many others, not mentioned here, but I hope you know who you are. Thank you. I love you!


  1. Wow! That is so awesome... so happy for you! I hope I have 1/2 of that determination you carry in January.. :-)

  2. VERY happy for you! I can only imagine how that must have felt. I'm glad you had that celebratory beer, too.

    1. That was the second beer - I had one at lunch with Sandra! What a lush. I never drink beer, but it did taste goooood ;)

  3. Amazing! Tears are rolling down my face for you!!

    1. Thanks Cecilia! You're running the Denver full this weekend, right?? I'm running the half and then I'll be at the mile 21 water station - So look for me - and I will look for you!!!!!

  4. Wow - gutting it out all the way to the finish for that BQ - fantastic!
    I hope to meet you there!

  5. wow! GREAT post!! So awesome you hung tough and BQed!!! I can't even imagine the roller coaster of thinking you missed the BQ by 7 seconds to seeing the official result that you hit the mark.

    I hear you about the feet thing...when mine kicks in - it feels like I'm running on a stump instead of a foot.

    Big congrats!

  6. What a wonderful post!!! This is my first time checking out your blog and what a wonderful start!! Thank you as I continue to pursue my own BQ dream!!

    1. Thanks for checking it out! I love new readers ;) And here's the story fro the one that went a whole lot smoother. You really never know what you're in for!

  7. That quote of Emerson's is so right. We wouldn't be able to do the things we do without the help of very special friends. As Donne said - No man is an island.
    Well done for running a really great race and achieving your BQ. I'm very happy for you. And as for those two beers - Cheers!

  8. very inspirational and I like your choice of beverage too!

  9. YES, what an amazing way to push through pain, fatigue, etc. What mental toughness you had. So impressed!

    1. Thanks Beth! The pain was as mental as it was physical ;)

  10. Way to push it Caolan. I need to find that push and drive myself. I ran on Saturday and am mad at myself for not pushing hard than I could of. I let the fact of running over a steep bridge 2 times psyche me out. It's cool that you have the friends and support, it does make a difference. My first half I saw my husband and kids (though they were bored out of their mind waiting for me to come to their spot and it showed), it helped me push through my knees and ankles killing me and finish up strong. I need that at all my races and I'd probably find that push you got

    1. I can not tell you how tempted I was to stop and walk during that last mile! I mean, what's the point of pushing for something that you think probably won't happen. It was a real mental battle. One I've never experience, to this extent and with this intensity, before.

  11. Oh congratulations!!! Very happy for you! Thanks for the inspiration and the preview of what it might be like when I can actually try for BQ (not there yet).

    Love your top quote AND the cyber-bullying warning - your blog is the first/only place I've seen that...if I ever get myself blogging I would want to have the same on my blog.

    1. MJ - I've had some not-so-nice people say some not-so-nice things. This seems to keep them at bay. Disagreement is fine. Name calling and threatening is different.

      Thanks for reading! And I really hope that your BQ experience IS NOT like this - at least the last mile ;)

  12. This is great! Congrats on a race well run! Back to Boston...hopefully with better weather. ;) How did we ever survive Boston 2012?!


Any comments that could easily fall under the definition of "Cyber-Bullying" are promptly deleted.

Cyber-Bullying is a crime punishable under Federal Law and in some cases Individual State Laws. By posting a comment to this blog, you acknowledge that you understand and accept these laws and are aware that you will be prosecuted for offenses under the full extent of these laws. By posting a comment to this blog you also agree to waive your anonymity, and any rights associated with that anonymity, by having your computers I.P. Address tracked.

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...