April 16, 2018, the day I hope to cross the finish line on Boylston Street, becoming a Boston Marathon finisher, as well as a Six Star Finisher, completing all Abbott World Marathon Majors. This was a goal, set for myself back in 2011, when I ran the Chicago Marathon, my first of the six World Marathon Majors. It was then when I decided to run all the major marathons in the world. Honestly, I didn’t think it would ever be possible but I thought: “What the heck. Why not set an unattainable goal to give me something to work for?” And so, I did.
One by one I crossed off each race: Chicago, London, Berlin, New York and Tokyo, leaving only one left to conquer, Boston. Not wanting Boston to be the “one that got away,” I wanted to run a qualifying time. My first marathon finish was 5:45 so, as you can see, I’m not a naturally fast runner. Standing upright at 4 feet 11 inches on a good day, I have small legs, and though I’m small in stature, I stand tall in fortitude and determination. Figuring if I worked hard enough, one day I just might reach my goal. I even joked about running Boston when I was 75, with a requirement of running a 5 hour 10 minute Boston Qualifying time, cause that might be when I could actually get in.
Well, it happened sooner than I could have ever expected or imagined. Honestly speaking, I tried my darnedest to run a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time in two races. The other races were just practice races to get my times down. But I really tried twice to run a BQ, and on my second attempt, I did it. (Read my post: 10 Things I Did to Qualify for the Boston Marathon).
Nearly 19 months ago, I ran my BQ and come April 16, I will proudly pin on my Boston Marathon bib. Back in 2016, I took running for granted. Since then, I’ve had knee surgery, numerous setbacks, including physical, mental, situational and spiritual ones, and through it all, I’ve become a different runner.
But this post isn’t about the adversity I’ve had to face, it’s about celebrating my weaknesses and discovering where my strengths lie within.
Series of (R)unfortunate events
After knee surgery in January 2017, I developed scar tissue and wasn’t able to regain the range of motion I once had. Call it what we will, running became more difficult after that. Due to the lack of full range of motion, other joints overcompensated, leading to further injuries. Prior to surgery and my subsequent injuries, I was always marathon ready. Running back-to-back marathons or ultramarathons was never a problem. Running was never too difficult for me; I rarely got injured. Now, it’s different. My sights were set on Boston 2018, so I knew I had some time to recover after surgery and become marathon ready.
Fall 2017 brought with it the bad news that my mother’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma had transformed into a more aggressive kind. Her cancer spread to her bones, and in November, she unfortunately fractured her tibia, requiring surgery. This was probably one of the hardest seasons of my life. At the time, my mom was going through all of this, in and out of the hospital, I was trying to train for the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon.
If you’ve read my blog before, you’re familiar with the organization Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA) and Team Corey. To recap, I run with ASA, empowering athletes living with disabilities to compete in running and multisport events. In November 2016 (after I ran my BQ) I promised my friend Corey that we’d run a marathon, and we chose to run the Disney Marathon this past January. It was my first marathon post-surgery. For our full inspiring story, see my post: Don't Stop Believin': A Wheelchair Athletes Journey to 26.2 and the People She Pushed Along the Way.
When you see pictures of Team Corey crossing the finish line, you’ll see nothing but beaming smiles on everyone’s face. We were extremely proud to finish. Our planning, preparation and training took over a year. For me, personally, finishing the WDW Marathon was a miracle.
I say it was a miracle due to the fact that during the time I was supposed to be training, I was flying back and forth to Boston to be with my mother as she underwent cancer treatments and surgery. She was constantly on my mind, as I worried about her 24/7. Concentrating on training or enjoying our upcoming journey to Disney was nearly impossible. I’m not ashamed to admit, I was an emotional and physical wreck.
My other knee had become my “beast of burden” for so long, it finally started to fail me and, as a result my “good knee” became my other bad one. My training and preparation suffered, only running three half marathons, never going beyond 13 miles in training for Disney. If you’re a runner, you know training long run miles for a marathon usually go up to 20-22 miles (at least three times) in preparation for race day. Before my knee surgery, my weekly total miles were around 50. During training for Disney, I was lucky to get one weekly run in. I tried to smile and keep a positive attitude, but inside I was falling apart of many levels. Emotionally and mentally I was not ready for the race because I was so worried about my mom. Physically, I was falling apart because I didn’t give myself the proper rest I needed after surgery, and things were out of my control.
Adding more confusion and chaos, while in Florida for the marathon, I got sick. Unaware, I’d contracted an upper respiratory infection before leaving, I lost my voice and had a bad cough. I felt terrible. While Team Corey was enjoying a beautiful day in Epcot, my mother’s oncologist called with more concerning news. He said my mom’s cancer was more serious than we originally thought, and she’d need to start an additional, more aggressive treatment. So, picture me, sitting on a bench in front of The Land in Epcot, after I had to excuse myself from a ride we were on, crying ugly tears in the most magical place on earth. People were staring at me, probably thinking I was upset because the wait time for the Soarin’ ride was 120 minutes or something like that. Having lost my voice, I couldn’t even communicate properly to my mother’s oncologist while on the phone. All I could do was cry and “yell” in a whispering screech. I was a mess.
Logically, I knew that I couldn’t run 26.2 miles, let alone run while pushing an athlete. Along with everything else, my Achilles tendon had started to bother me a couple weeks before the race and it was on fire from all the walking we did in the Disney parks. So, if I wasn’t already worried enough, I felt I was not physically ready at all, nor should I attempt to run a marathon. I was beside myself. I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t about to give up on this journey that had taken us a year to plan, and I wasn’t going to give up on my friend Corey or other Wingman, Jen.
Bright and early, Sunday morning, Jan. 7, we toed the line of the 2018 Disney Marathon, and this was the first time I honestly thought: “I don’t think I will finish.” I told my friend and fellow Wingmen I probably couldn’t finish. They understood. I had so much stuff going on. My mom, my bad knees, Achilles tendon, lack of training, upper respiratory infection, etc. Plain and simple, I was in bad shape. Ready or not, I decided to take it mile by mile. I would go until I couldn’t go any further. From an outsider’s perspective, you may be thinking: “This should be a piece of cake for you.” Trust me, it wasn’t. Never was I more afraid, and for the first time I felt I would DNF.
With each mile, I prayed that God would give me strength for just one more mile. Every mile marker I said a silent prayer, touched my mother’s lime green cancer ribbon and briefly looked skyward, as if to say “Thank you, God.” The miles flew by as they often do in a race. It became difficult, but it was never as bad as I imagined it would be. This was a miracle.
For when I am weak
In the two to three months leading up to the race, I kept coming across this scripture verse in 2 Corinthians 12.
7 …Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Prior to my surgery and subsequent series of unfortunate events, I was a proud runner who could do just about anything. When I promised Corey, we would run the Disney Marathon, I never once thought it would be difficult or challenging. In one year, I ran my fastest marathon, ran my fastest 50k, a 50-miler and three marathons. I was in my best shape ever. It was my peak year. Nothing was impossible, taking both running and strength for granted.
Though it was incredibly difficult, everything that transpired last year, was meant to happen. God has a plan bigger than me, and He wanted to show me the importance of knowing my weaknesses, and experiencing His strength in me, and why I say finishing the Disney Marathon was truly a miracle.
For the first time in a race, I felt vulnerable, weak and insecure, keenly aware of my weaknesses, lack of training, injuries and emotional absence. Not many times in my life have I ever felt that way. I’ve always been sure of myself. I’ve always trained for races, showed up ready to go, and finished them. Goal setting, preparation and execution are my strong points. This time I honestly thought “I would be glad to make it to the 5K mark,” thinking 26.2 miles while pushing my friend would be impossible. I was scared, weak, and painfully aware.
I’m not writing to brag or to boast in our accomplishments, because my own strength didn’t get us to the finish line. Yes, we were inspired by Corey and we had a great team. I was completely inadequate and ill prepared to run that race. You may wonder what got me through it and simply, it was God. I would be neglectful if I didn’t give credit where credit was due. God got me through it.
The scripture verse came to life when I ran that race. In my weakness, His strength carried me. His strength was made perfect in my weakness, so I’m here to boast about God’s grace and strength that got me to the finish.
So, what’s next? After we finished Disney, I soon began training for Boston. And well, that’s going as well as training for Disney did (insert a smirk face emoji). But I am neither shaken nor stirred. I’m doing my part. Injuries, interruptions, illnesses, whatever. It sounds like the same song, but a different tune. I’ll do what I can. I’ll put in the work to the best of my ability, and trust that God will give me the strength. Those thorns are still there, but when I am weak, it is then I am strong.
I will try my best to cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and I mean it. I don’t know what will happen. None of us ever do. I will trust that in my weakness, God’s strength will be made perfect, like it was for the Disney Marathon, and I hope to finally be able to say I am a Boston Marathon finisher and a Six Star Finisher, and finally close that chapter in my life.
Unapologetically, I write all this to be transparent and give God the glory, not myself, because my abilities and strength come from God, and hope my story can inspire you. If you’re feeling down, weak or vulnerable, know that God can give you the strength you need. If you’re going through a season that is disappointing, know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t be discouraged, whatever your struggle is, hold on to hope. Whatever your mountain is, God can give you the strength to climb it or move it. I know He helped me and I pray He will do the same for you.