On Trying for Boston

After running my first full marathon last year I knew that I wanted to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  But even telling people that makes me nervous.  I fear failing, especially publicly.  I often only do things if I’m fairly confident that I can succeed.  I went back and forth in my head about whether to try for Boston this time around or to do another marathon first before actually trying for a BQ time. In order to qualify I have to cut 33 minutes from my time.  I have some reasons to believe that I’ll be able to do this, but it’s still a really lofty goal.  I still could very easily not qualify.  When I thought about it though (and gave myself permission to try to do something that I didn’t know if I would succeed in) I remembered that many people try for years to qualify for Boston and that I would in no way be failing if I didn’t make it.  I would still have run another marathon, and likely beat my time from Athens.  I decided to just go for it and see what happens.

When my training plan was starting the doubts creeped in.  I put my long runs and my speed workouts on my calendar in pen (no going back now) and thought to myself: “There’s no way you can do this.”  “You definitely aren’t in good enough shape right now.” “Three twenty milers!  You’ve got to be kidding.  I probably can’t run more than ten miles right now.”  But then, once again, I pushed the doubts away.  I reminded myself that of course I couldn’t run a marathon well right then- for the simple reason that I hadn’t been marathon training.  Of course I wasn’t in marathon shape.  It’s okay to not be able to run twenty miles at the beginning of training.  You have to build up to running that far.  That’s why the twenty milers come at the end of the training plan.

Training for this marathon is honestly going really well so far.  I’m proud of where I am and think I have a good shot at a BQ time.   If I had written this post a few months ago I would not have been nearly as confident about my ability to qualify.  You never know what could happen between now and race day and during the race itself.   I could get injured.  I could go out too fast and die.  I could go out too conservatively and not be able to make up the time.  I could hit the wall.  Although I feel good about my chances, there’s still a lot that could go wrong.

Things I’m felling good about:

I ran my first of the three twenty milers last weekend at two minutes per mile faster than my only twenty miler last marathon.  On race day in Athens I ran a 9:27 average — about two and a half minutes faster than my twenty mile training run here in Nairobi (the hills and altitude here are no joke).  If I drop my race day time by the same amount in Chicago, I will qualify with about 20 minutes to spare.

The Athens course was half uphill (one quarter flat and one quarter downhill).  We’re talking a nine mile uphill stretch during the middle third of the marathon.  I was exhausted from staying up too late talking to my friends I hadn’t seen in six months.  I started the race sore from walking too much while sightseeing.  There are few feelings worse than the dread of being on the starting line of a marathon and realizing that your quads and knees are ALREADY sore and you haven’t even begun to run.  I still managed to run a 4:08 marathon – a great first time and good for a difficult course.  I didn’t hit a wall and felt much better than expected throughout the whole race.

It’s hard to train in Nairobi.  I’m at 5,800 feet above sea level.  The hills are long and steep.  I knew that  it would be great to try to qualify for Boston while living here.  It’s an automatic advantage.

Things I’m nervous about:

Thirty-three minutes is a LONG TIME.  I have to race over a minute per mile faster.  Yikes.  Just yikes.

Jet lag – there’s  an eight hour time difference between Nairobi and Chicago.  I’m giving myself a few days to adjust, but honestly who knows what could happen.  Sometimes I barely have any jet lag and others I feel like I got hit by a truck for a week straight.

Hitting a wall – I’ve never hit a wall before, and if I do this time around it would seriously throw off my race day plan.  I don’t have a contingency plan for this.  My race day plan is usually to go out fairly conservatively and then speed up.  I don’t bank time at the beginning.  This worked really well in Athens.  I ran a negative split between the first two halves and my last 10k was my fastest.  But if I hit a wall this throws everything off.


I know ultimately whether I qualify or not that this experience will be good for me.  I am trying to accomplish something that I don’t know if I can do.  I am stepping out of my comfort zone.  And I’m even telling people about it.




Cheaper than therapy – but really

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Running is a luxury.  One of my friends was back visiting the US recently and asked if there was anything I needed that she could bring back.  I ordered a pair of running shoes on Amazon and had them sent to where she was staying.  I had a minor heart attack when purchasing the shoes.  I have been buying the same shoes for the past several years.  I know how much running shoes cost.  I’ve been running for over half my life now.  Still, at this point in life– living in Kenya and ballin’ on a budget– to spend $86 dollars on a pair of shoes (even though they were on sale because they are last season’s model) felt extravagant.  To have the time and energy to spend on dedicated time to exercise, to have the money to spend on good shoes and clothes that are comfortable to run in, to spend over $100 on one race entry feels frivolous at times.

But then, I remembered how much each of my counseling sessions costs.   And then, I remembered how much better I’ve slept since starting my marathon training program and how little anxiety I’ve had.  After that I did the did the math and realized that in each pair of running shoes there are approximately 70 hours of stress and anxiety relief. If I were to spend that same amount of time in therapy (which I also find to be really valuable) it would cost me well over $4000.  I see lots of posts on social media about running being cheaper than therapy.  For me this is a reality.  For me it is worth buying the new shoes so that I don’t injure myself.  For me it is worth spending money on race entry because often having the pressure of a race is what gets me to run well.

Running for me is a preventative medicine.  I have known for years that running helps with my mental and emotional health, but I didn’t realize just how much it helps until a couple of months ago.  Long runs (8-20 miles) rest a deep place in my brain.  Running allows me to process through the things that have bubbled up during the week.  The things that I don’t have time to think about during the week because otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done.  It relaxes me and wears out my body in a way that ensures my body turns off when it is supposed to at night instead of buzzing like a neon sign.  I live so much in my mind that I can forget that I have a body and that it has needs but running reminds me to take care of myself.  Running quiets my mind and reminds me of my whole self.  In part because of running, I haven’t had to be medicated for my anxiety.

I think that part of why running helps with my anxiety so much is that it makes me feel in control.  It makes my life feel more purposeful.  In order to run well I have to plan ahead and make a series of healthy choices.  I go to bed early.  I drink lots of water.  I nourish my body with enough calories to make it through a 20 miler and not hit a wall.  I am choosing to run.  I am choosing to be the most holistically healthy version of myself.  I am more active in my life instead of just going with the flow, allowing my FOMO (fear of missing out) or loneliness to make decisions for me.  I am choosing my pace and distance.  And living in a new country where there is so little that I can control, where everything feels chaotic at times, running gives me a hold so that I don’t feel like my life is spinning out of control.  Running gives me stability in a new and often scary place.  It was a part of my life back in the US and it is a part of my life here.  It’s like spending time with Jesus and my morning coffee– so much changed but those things remained the same even 8000 miles from home.

So, yes, at times running feels like a luxury.  I spend roughly 10 hours a week dedicated to exercise and I know that not everyone can do that.  I know that it is a privilege and a grace given me to thrive in this season of life.  However, for me, right now, running is a necessity.