2001 was a tough year.  Yoshimi and I had just returned from an extended backpacking trip through Asia.  Our bank account was completely tapped out and the real world pressures were starting to sink in.  We were unable to afford a lawyer, so I ineptly tried to navigate my way through the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of U.S. Immigration in order to secure a Green Card for Yoshimi.

They make it look so easy in the movies.  An American falls in love with a cute foreigner, whose tourist visa is ready expire.  Uncertainty ensues, until one of them says, “What the heck, lets get married!”  It’s my own fault for thinking it would be so easy.

Yoshimi was forced to leave the country while her Green Card was getting approved.  I stayed in Portland and juggled three part time jobs to try and make ends meet.  All things considered it was probably the worst time ever to start training for a marathon.  But, you know, sometimes you don’t choose these things.  They choose you.  In hindsight, maybe I craved a regimented running program to help me deal with all the uncertainties of that time.  Running has always served as a pressure valve in my life and in 2001 I needed it’s stress-relieving qualities more than ever.

I set a goal to run the Portland Marathon in a time of 3:10 and qualify for the Boston Marathon.  First held in 1897, the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest and most famous marathon.  Its history and prestige make Boston is a mecca for marathon runners and because of this fact it is the only marathon other than the Olympic Trials that requires a qualifying time.  Some runners spend their whole lives trying (and failing) to make the cut.  The qualifying times are set at a level so that only the top few percent of all marathon runners get in.

I don’t know how I got it into my head that I would or could run a Boston qualifying time.  But for six months I put every extra bit of energy I had into training.  Yoshimi’s Green Card got approved right before 9/11 and around the same time I was offered a full time job at Powell’s Books.  Things were starting to look up.

With a mix of nervousness, confidence and excitement I rode my bike through the early morning darkness to the start of the 2001 Portland Marathon.  There was a pace group set up for runners hoping to run a 3:10, led by a guy named Dan from Runner’s World Magazine.  I wouldn’t even have to think.  All I had to do was stick with Dan and a coveted Boston qualifier would be mine.

The first ten miles felt easy and everyone in the pace group remained together.  We joked about all getting together for a lobster dinner and a Red Sox game in Boston.  The next ten miles were more of a challenge.  I was able to maintain the pace, but a few of the runners in the group couldn’t keep up.  At mile 22, I remember thinking, “All I have to do is hold on for 4 more miles, just 30 more minutes, that’s it.”  But just as that thought entered my head, Dan and the pace group started to pull away.  They weren’t going any faster…I was slowing down.

In the six months of training I had run close to a thousand miles in preparation for this one day.  And even though I was just 30 minutes of suffering away from achieving my lofty goal, I simply could not go any faster.  I had reached my physical limit.  Dan, the pace group and my dream of Boston literally ran away from me.  All I wanted to do was lay down in the street and cry.  Yoshimi was waiting for me at the finish, so I slogged my way to the end, missing the qualifying time by 5 minutes.

It was the first time in my life that I had fully committed to a goal…and failed.  At first I was devastated, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a great experience it was.  Goals are meant to be challenging.  If you hit all the goals you set for yourself, you’re probably not setting them high enough.  Qualifying for Boston is a worthy goal, one that usually takes more than a six month commitment to achieve.  I wasn’t ready at that point to try again, but I knew eventually I would take another crack at it.  And the next time, I knew I would succeed.

For almost ten years that race remained lodged in the back of my head.  I would think about it often when I ran through Laurelhurst Park or along the Willamette River.  Finally in the summer of 2010 I had the desire and stability to commit to another attempt.  It would take me a full year of intense focused training until I felt like I was truly ready.

Last summer at the Pacific Crest Marathon I ran a 2:58, finished in third place overall and qualified for Boston.  Afterwards I broke down, thinking about the 2001 Portland race and all the hard work I had put in since then.  It has been a lifelong dream of mine to run Boston.  Recently my mother found a short story I wrote in elementary school called The Runner.  In the story I run the Boston Marathon and win the race in a sprint finish, just barely beating out Boston icon, Bill Rodgers.  The first line of the story is, “My name is Shawn, but all my friends and fans call me Adidas.”

The 2012 Boston Marathon is on Monday April 16th.  I don’t think “Adidas” will be pulling off an upset victory over the Kenyans and Ethiopians this year.  My goal was simply to qualify and now I’m just going to savoy the whole experience: high-fiving little kids, collecting kisses from the cheering co-eds at Wellesley College, and soaking in all the energy from the million spectators at this historic sporting event.  I’ve been dreaming about this day for a long time and on April 16th I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.

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