Boston Marathon 2022 – Maybe the Majors are not for me.

 Why has it taken me so long to sit down and write about my first Boston experience? Partially because life gets away from you when you are traveling and juggling a career and life. But mostly because I have had a hard time processing all that it was, and the emotional dump that followed hit me harder than expected. Between my first qualifier, the world essentially coming to a stop, and having to qualify again for 2022, just getting to the starting line was a struggle 3 years in the making – including the decision to leave a stable job and moving to a new state, among other challenges. The emotional high and subsequent low took me for a bit of a ride, but finally here we are trying to make some sense of it. 

I get it now. I get why people not only run this race but keep coming back despite the hoop jumping required to get in. I get why it is “the” marathon to so many people. Running the actual race is just one part of a greater experience, almost a movement. That city breathes excitement and celebration for the entire weekend, and it’s impossible not to be swept up in it. 

I have never seen a city that embraces an event more wholeheartedly than Boston does for this marathon. Even during the walk down to the start line from the staging area, there are people out cheering from their front porches and lawns. Imagine the most crowded parade you have ever been to, in the thickest and most popular segment, and that is the marathon route – basically a 26.2 mile party lined with spectators, and not just for the pro field. You are never alone on the course, and the crowds only get deeper and louder the closer you get to the beating heart of the city. The energy generated is present throughout the race, attempting to shield and provide temporary refuge for the suffering minds of runners trying to ignore fatigue and pain. From the moment the gun went off, I was swept away with no choice but to follow the pace of the pack. 

I have to admit there were many moments when I enjoyed and appreciated the crowd. The screaming ladies of Wellesley College who almost erupted when I started giving high fives, and the last 5k racing down to Boylston street as the crowd became so thick and loud they almost couldn’t be contained by caution tape lines are unlike any race experience I could have imagined. But I was not prepared for how overwhelming the crowd was for me, and not always in the motivational way.

I need to preface this with the understanding that I was a different version of myself going into this race than I had been at any other before. I have been struggling with depression in varying intensity for the last year, including leading up to Boston. It has a pervasive effect on every aspect of your life, and can be incredibly isolating. It is even more difficult, I think, to work in a people-facing career and in a small town where my business and livelihood relies on my ability to be the bubbly, helpful, and caring PT people expect and need each time they come in to see me. 

After the excitement of the start gun began to wear off, I found myself almost in tears at the 6 mile mark. Not because of physical pain, but because I felt exposed and yet so alone in a sea of celebrating people. Why was I not enjoying this and grinning ear to ear like everyone else? Why was I so anxious every time my watch sounded for another mile mark? I have never felt a stronger urge to drop out of a race and disappear than during those early/middle miles. I felt so much pressure on myself to perform, questioning why I even went through so much to be here.  Surrounded by so many people who had no idea how much I was struggling internally and emotionally on a daily basis, I wanted nothing more than to be alone. Not even to stop running, but be alone on a trail somewhere feeling like I could maybe breathe easy again. I’m not sure if it is even possible to have a panic attack while running, but in my imagination that is the best way I can describe it.

It took a near meltdown and a lot of mental gymnastics to get me to the point where I could focus outwardly. Slowly I started to ignore my watch. And then I came up on Shalane and Adrianne, both beaming and providing almost more inspiration than the entire event combined. I started to engage with the crowd as it grew louder and louder up Heartbreak Hill. And I was smiling again. I let the magic of seeing the sign for Boylston street take over. 

As a physical therapist and a coach, I am a constant hype woman, a confidant, and try to provide hope to those who might not otherwise see it in the face of an injury. It’s rarely talked about in our world how high the rate of burnout, anxiety, and depression is amongst caretakers, both work-related and not. Maybe it was the emotional downs of my personal life that plagued the build up for this race, or me just not being prepared for the experience to be more than just “a marathon.” Either way I feel as if I am still struggling to right the ship of the last year, and find some semblance of emotional “stability” as they call it. 

But maybe the Majors are not for me. Or maybe I just need to try again when life is a little more gentle. Depression is still a daily struggle for me, and I am so grateful for the support of my friends and family. But I don’t think at Boston even those closest to me had any idea how dark things had become. Maybe that’s why I felt so exposed and alone amongst layers of runners and cheering spectators, and if only one person understood, it could provide miles of comfort. I now have a much more intimate understanding of how depression and emotional wellness pervasively affects every aspect of training, healing, confidence, and our ability to be successful even in the smallest daily actions; along with an even greater appreciation for my profession, where I have the opportunity each day to maybe be that one person who offers understanding to someone alone in the crowd.