Friday, April 4, 2014

Finding Meaning in 22 Miles

Last weekend I went home to complete my final crazy long run with the Dana-Farber team.

I didn't know what to expect from this run other than that it would be 20-22 miles and on the marathon course. Team members who live in New York assured me that this was a run not to be missed, so I took their word for it and decided to give it a try.

I stayed overnight with college friends and appropriately carbo-loaded with them. My friends are really supportive and willing to participate without much coercion in the pasta-eating portion of marathon prep, I've noticed. 

One of my new DFMC friends -- Betty -- and her boyfriend Andrew picked me up in the morning and drove me to the meeting area at the Boston College gym. (DF team members become like family so quickly!) There, we could use the locker room bathrooms, prep for the run, and mingle with some other fellow runners before we started our little jog.

Me and Cassie -- another kick-ass New York DFMC runner!

If you are training for a marathon, about three weeks prior you will have your dreaded long run of 20-22 miles on the schedule. If training in any city, you can tell who else is doing this run. In New York you can see the determined look as they run by you on the West Side, or the limping fatigue through Central Park. They're with friends, or solo, or sometimes with one of the charities like Team For Kids or Team in Training. They're all over Manhattan and the bridges and the boroughs, and you come across them and you know...they're doing it too.

Last weekend was that weekend for all those prepping for Boston. And turns out it's a very, very different experience.

Before we set out on that crisp, running-perfect morning, the team made some announcements and awarded recognition to those -- like myself -- that had achieved certain fundraising milestones. 

Then a woman spoke. Her son Matty had been treated for cancer and passed away several years ago. She told her story and explained the importance of remembering her son, but also thinking of those -- like the siblings of children who are treated for cancer -- that need support too. She asked that we run and remember, as a team. 

Up next was a guy who was running for his friend. She has breast cancer, and it has spread to the brain. She is 31 years old. He asked that we sign a banner for her to show our support for her. As a team. 

I could barely hold back the tears. THIS is why we donate. This is why we ask our friends and family. This is why we run. We are doing something important here by trying to raise $5 million in 2014 to make the lives of people better. I know that this act of giving back is -- quite possibly -- the most meaningful thing I've personally ever done.

And, just as I write with tears now, I started running with tears in my eyes. We were off.

D-F had fueling stations for us spread out every 2 miles or so for our run, so we'd hit each station twice (if we wanted to). Stations were amazing. Volunteers had water, different Gatorades, preztels, was a bonanza of fueling fun!

But it wasn't just us out there. Dana-Farber is the largest charity for Boston at about 700 runners. But it is by no means the only charity. There are thousands of charity runners collectively raising millions of dollars for amazing causes. It is the only way in to Boston if you can't quality for a really fast time. A lot of charity runners didn't finish last year, because it was us slow-pokes who would have finished after that infamous 4:09:43 on the clock last year. (Check out this wonderful ESPN article for a great write-up on unfinished business for charity runners). This year, charity runners like my friends Meghan (Samaritans) and Ashley (Boston Medical Center) as well as those with my D-F team will get a chance to go at it again. They'll finish what they started.

All the other charities too had tables set up, with volunteers manning the stations and cheering us on! I learned that some small charities started at the beginning (a very good place to start) and ran to Mile 20-ish. Others began around course Mile 6 and ran to the Finish. Because Dana-Farber started at BC (~Mile 20), ran backwards along the course to Mile 9 or so, and then turned around to run back. If you did the full out and back without turning early, you'd therefore complete 22 miles. And we were running head on into fellow runners coming our way at first. Head on into charity runners like the indestructible Meghan and the unstoppable Ashley, both of whom I saw as we each conquered the hills of the course in our separate directions, 

Running stores and even major companies like Saucony got in on the fun and had set up fueling stations for us runners.

A hysterical poster from inside of a Saucony-sponsored port-o-potty. After needing an emergency stop on the way back at Mile 14, they will have some brand loyalty from me FOR LIFE

What got me most, however, were the random people who were there cheering. People! Cheering a training run! It was insane. There were several cars pulled over that had even set up their own make-shift fueling stations and were offering free food and beverages to runners. And there were families with kids holding out fruit. They were smiling, and they were cheering, and they were supporting our every step.

It was amazing. The energy was contagious. It was like nothing I've ever experienced. Put it this way: if Saturday had been the main event? It would have been enough. It was that good. I can't even fathom what race-day will be like. 

What I'm doing here is so much more than "just" another marathon.

I know that this is a special year and it's bound to be more than "normal." But there is just something about Boston any year. About running The Boston Marathon. 

It's difficult to put in words what last Saturday did for me and meant to me. Raising money for Dana-Farber. Running the premiere, most distinguished, and most famous marathon in the world. Joining in with my home city as it shows strength, dignity, courage, and the willingness to overcome. Its's like being there on that course with my team finally allowed it to sink in. The emotion I have felt since Saturday sometimes just swells and I have trouble holding it back.

Even on, like, crowded subway cars. Or in line waiting for a salad. Awkward.

I'm glad our 22-miler run -- which I finished without any issue -- did not allow me to practice crossing that now infamous finish line in Boston. Because I've never been so glad to participate in anything as passionately and fully as I am to be running this marathon for this charity in its 25th year of running. And I know that Monday, April 21st is going to be one of the best days of my life. I'll cross the finish then, and I'll know that every glorious, hard, painful, beautiful step will have been worth it. 

We run Boston in 17 days. Together with the support of over 100 donors, we have already raised $10,200. Join me on behalf of Matty and of the 31-year old patient. On behalf of my Dad who -- healthy -- drove an hour to pick me up from my run and drive me back home. On behalf if the loved ones in your life. We run to fight cancer. And we run Boston Strong.


  1. Great job, Meri! I've never run 22 miles--you are amazing. My favorite part of Team in Training was the mission moments before every training run where someone would share their story. I cried every time! You are going to have an amazing marathon--I'll be cheering from afar.