If you asked me 5 years ago what the letters BQ stand for, I would have had no idea. Back then I was overweight, out of shape, and the idea of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or even running a marathon period, was nowhere on my radar. Sure, I ran from time to time, but it was mainly to justify my nasty eating habits, and to reduce the guilt I felt about my growing waistline. I’ve come a long way since those days, and I owe a lot of credit for my transformation to the mystique surrounding “Boston.”
The Boston Marathon played a major role in my becoming a runner. I teach at a small college in New Hampshire, and every year our college’s cross-country coach trains a group of students (as many as 50 or more) to run Boston. Most of them are not qualifiers, and for most this represents their first marathon and the longest run of their lives. It’s an immense and inspirational accomplishment, and every April I anticipated requests from students to miss class on Marathon Monday so that they could run in the race. I always gave my permission, but I never really realized just how important this day was for those students. I had no concept of what it was like to run more than 3 miles, let alone 26.2, and the mere idea of running a race that long seemed like pure insanity and the worst kind of self-punishment.
After a few years of watching student cohorts train and run in Boston, a few students that I knew particularly well had joined up with the marathon group (thanks Christen and Sarah!). That’s when the little marathon worm began to burrow its way into my mind – I began to think: “If they can do it, why can’t I?” Shortly after our commencement ceremony in spring 2007, I started to run. And when I say run, I mean run. My mileage ramped up quickly, and every run seemed to bring along with it a new distance PR. I began doing races, and after my first 4-miler, I was hooked – my intensely competitive self had been reawakened. Running had become a firm part of who I am, races became a huge motivator, and there was no goal that I couldn’t reach. It was time to up my game.
In Fall of 2007 I ran the Manchester Half Marathon, and then I made the jump – I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon in May of 2008. There were lots of reason why I chose that particular race on Memorial Day weekend, but mostly it was to commemorate a personal tragedy that my wife and I experienced (you can read more about my first marathon and my motivations for running it here). Needless to say, I survived my first 26.2, and immediately was on the lookout for marathon #2.
It was about that time that I first started thinking about running in Boston. I’m an extremely self-competitive person, and I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t run Boston unless I actually qualified for it. It’s not that I don’t respect those who run it for charity or other reasons (all of which are good), but rather that I view it as an immense personal challenge and a long-term goal. When I toe the line at Boston (and I will do so!), it will be because my legs carried me for 26.2 miles at a pace that allowed me to earn it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this goal is entirely about me – I want a BQ, and I want it as proof that I can put in the work and effort needed to accomplish a standard that is genuinely difficult to meet. I get asked from time to time what makes Boston such a pinnacle for runners. My answer is simple: it’s a pinnacle because it’s hard. There’s no lottery, and you can’t simply just sign-up for the race. You need to earn your way there, and that is exactly what I’m determined to do.
Now, three years after becoming a runner, I’ve run 5 marathons, and I have yet to qualify for Boston in any of them. I’m making slow but steady progress toward the time I need (my BQ time is 3:15:59), and don’t think for a second that I don’t know exactly what pace that requires, or that I don’t make a mental note when I’m humming along and feeling good at a pace of 7:28 min/mile. These numbers are constantly in the back of my mind. Right now, my marathon PR is about 9 minutes off pace (3:24:49), but I think I can get there. Scratch that – I know I can get there. It’s going to take a lot of sweat, a lot of runs in the cold and at night, and a lot of runs when I just don’t feel like getting out there, but I will get there. Maybe it won’t be next year, maybe not even the year after, but sooner or later, I will toe the starting line of the Boston Marathon, and I will do so because my legs carried me to it!
Peter L. is a runner, blogger, and podcaster from Concord, NH. You can view his dailymile profile here, or read more about his running adventures on his personal blog at: http://www.runblogger.com/. You can also visit his Runblogger Podcast page on Itunes.