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  • Writer's picturecoachmk

"Is it Worth it?" Boston Marathon Straight Talk.

I had three different iterations of the conversation I outlined in this post yesterday.  In each, the person said something that provokes an immediate, emotional response from me: "I'm starting to wonder if it's worth it."   I probably yelled at you.  #sorrynotsorry  

Here's why:

When I joined my first run club in 1996 there were 5 broad categories of runners: pro, elite, sub-elite, local competitive and recreational.  When I met everyone for the first time I suddenly grasped the wide gap between local competitives and recreational runners.   I didn't know anything about marathons and was too proud to ask; this was the only run club I was aware of and I was scared these serious runners would tell me to go home.  "Oh, you run 8s?  You belong with the MARATHONERS.   No one else here is that slow."  These guys were mostly collegiate track stars, and a few had decided they preferred winning marathons instead of placing 8th in the 3k.  "Can't get faster, run farther!  You'll win eventually!"  So deciding to run a marathon, to 'real' runners, was giving up.  

"WAIT WAIT DON"T TELL ME, you wanna qualify for BOSTON, right??????  Didn't make the track team so you'll show them! REACH FOR THE STARS!!!" 

The humiliation of that moment still washes over me.  I just glared in response.  The only qualifying standard worth anything in 1996 was the Olympic standard.  You had to be a USATF member to qualify for The Trials, and also for Boston (that is no longer the case).  a 30-year old woman had to run a 3:40 to qualify, and coachless, unloved amateur that I was at the time, I thought I was faster than that.  I was the slowest person in the group by far and their frustration with my insistence on showing up was palpable.  Several of you commented that a 16:30 5k was fast?  Not in this circle.  Compared to these guys I sucked.  I didn't know any better.  I ran with that club off and on for 2 years and allowed their snobbery and my pride to shape my outlook and goals.   

I moved abroad after graduation and wouldn't give Boston a second thought until 2003. That's when the questions would start again, "are you trying to qualify for Boston?"  I would always give a condescending "GOD NO!" in response.  See how cool I am?  Who cares about Boston? NOT ME I"M SOOOOOO COOL!  I'm a real runner!"  The person asking was never a runner themselves, but they had heard of Boston and knew that qualifying wasn't easy.  That really should have been my clue that the running world was changing. 

When I returned to the US in 2007 for grad school, the world had palpably shifted.  All of a sudden I wasn't the slow kid anymore.  My PRS would make eyes pop instead of roll.  All of a sudden, in hindsight, I had nothing to be ashamed of.  I ran and trained but for a variety of reasons mostly due to the demands of grad school didn't enter an official marathon until 2010.  I trained, mind you, but I knew I couldn't put A-race effort behind my training so I didn't sign up for a race, knowing I would just frustrate myself.  The 2010 marathon didn't go as planned, then just as I decided to care about Boston the world shifted again. 

In 2011 Boston changed its qualifying standards and would do so again in 2013 after 27,000 runners met the new qualifying standards and spots sold out in under 8 hours.  When I became a coach in 2014, "how many times have you run Boston?" would become the bane of my existence.  The running world had grown, Boston now had credibility and since I hadn't run it I had none as a coach.  Instead of 5 categories of runners only 2 were considered: those who had BQd and those who had not.  In an odd way, I had come full circle.  I hope to change that this year, then go get pregnant and never have to think about Boston again.  And here I am, scared to death that I won't do it.

I make a point not to set your goals.  I ask what you want, I probe if I think you are selling yourself short, I test you to see what's possible in 20 weeks, I tell you if your goal could be yours in this time period. I continuously monitor your progress to make sure you are on track. I live for the flash of excitement that comes when I tell an athlete that the audacious dream of BQ is within reach.  If I said it to you, I meant it.  

So you've taken the pace test.  You've spoken to Ellie.  You've seen Alex Lanton.  You aren't afraid to work hard but boy you wish I'd told you exactly what "Hard Work" meant back when we got started.  You are tired.  You want to quit.  You hate meal planning and leaving work mid-afternoon to get dry-needled.  You don't want to talk to Ellie, to Alex, to think about the deficiencies in your diet and your strength because YOU ARE FINE.  Boston is the problem, God, IS IT WORTH IT??!?!?!?!?!?!?

I have no idea.  I haven't run Boston.  I cannot answer that question for you.  I can say that the running boom shows no signs of slowing, and there are no guarantees the standards won't change again.  I can tell you that if you are close, if I have told you that you are close, that it definitely isn't worth quitting.  You will regret quitting.  You will never regret trying.  

I can also tell you this:  no one will ever believe that you didn't run Boston because you were just too cool, too fast for it.  You will sound like a loser, like someone who didn't want to do the work.  And if that doesn't sound like you, then you need to fucking prove it. 

To all my runners getting ready to head to Boston this week, GOOD LUCK.  The hard part is over, go enjoy the run.  I hear it's a great one.

You are coached, even when you think you don't need it.  You are loved, even when you don't want it.  And you are WELCOME even when you are not grateful. 

Coach Fleming

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