Friday, April 15, 2016

Flashback Friday: My 2009 Boston Marathon Run

Seeing all the posts from the Expo and bib pick up and the energy and excitement in the City brings back memories of our 2009 Boston Marathon run. There is really nothing like the experience of running the Boston Marathon.

If you would have told me in December of 2006 as I sat in a leg brace, using a wheelchair at times for mobility and facing a rather grim and uncertain future shortly after being diagnosed with post polio syndrome that I would cross the finish line of the 113th Boston Marathon I would have said you were crazy! Yet there was an endurance runner inside of me just waiting to make my debut on April 20, 2009.

I foreshadowed running a race in the first poem I wrote in February of 2007 in response to being told that I should prepare to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair after the diagnosis of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease:

Running the Race
Early summer 1959 my kindergarten year
everyone around me filled with nervous fear
despite the Salk vaccine hope polio would disappear
the polio virus crept right up and knocked me in the rear.

Dancing all around the gym feeling free just like a bird
I dropped to the ground just like a stone and no one said a word.
The pain it was so searing-the diagnosis even worse
"It's polio" the doctor said...he was abrupt and terse.

Called one of the 'lucky ones' I had a 'mild case'
but with the other athletes I could never keep their pace.
Miss Holly physical therapist, curly hair and a warm, broad smile
it tempered the pain of being apart - to walk I'd take awhile.

I always wore those 'special' shoes the kids they poked and teased
With no support and much abuse with childhood I wasn't pleased.
But put nose to the grindstone and learned all that I could
I couldn't kick a ball but my grades were always good.

Years went by and no more thought to polio did I give
I accepted the limp and everything else and decided my life I would live.
But symptoms of weakness and muscle pain did grow
I kept a stoic face hoping no one else would know.

Life no longer was my own I struggled through each day
Suffered in silence, isolated from friends- trying to keep depression at bay.
And with the grace of glorious God my world it opened wide
I discovered there was a Post Polio team and they were on my side.

Using wheelchair to travel, set limits on what I could do,
resulted in joy to realize I could live life anew.
Celebrated my body- creaks, groans and need for a brace
While in my mind I focused on winning a 10K race.

Sought out paths for healing and my spirit flew free
for the first time in life, I could truly be me.
The chains are gone and possibilities abound
I'm a tree with my roots planted firmly in ground.

I'm now off the sidelines, no need to sit and whine
So much gratitude fills my heart and love and beauty shine.
After all these years I can join the loving human race
I exceed all expectations and now I set the pace.

I went through outpatient treatment at Spaulding Rehab and then hired a personal trainer to build on the program I received from Spaulding. Despite warnings from the medical community, I just knew I needed to move and so I told my personal trainer in February of 2008 that my next goals on my health and wellness journey were to feel free in my body, to dance, to walk outside unencumbered and I said, as Janine had her hand on the door knob ready to leave, "Wait I have one more goal. I want to run the Boston Marathon for Spaulding next year."

She was totally non plussed and said, "Okay but you are going to need a pair of running shoes." I was still wearing black tie shoes with a toe up leg brace.

And the rest as they say is history!

Here's a recap of our Boston Marathon run:

I thought that right after I ran the Boston Marathon I would be jumping on my blog to share all the magic of the day. I needed some time to really allow the enormity of what I have just accomplished to sink in. When I look back on April 2007, I was still wearing a leg brace and using a cane. When I look back on April 2008, I could not run for a minute straight and I remember running on Eliot Street toward home just for a minute and feeling as though I were really pushing myself. Janine, my beloved trainer, said - how are you going to handle it when the going gets tough during the Marathon? I remember seeing my heart rate at 168 - from just a minute of running. That was a far cry from the hill training we had done in preparation for the Marathon when my heart rate would go up to 175 and I was able to keep on with the training session. Sheer grit, faith, courage and determination and an amazing support network led Team McManus to the finish line of the 113th Boston Marathon - you know it had been such a long road of preparation and signing off blogs with see you at the finish line and everything pointing to Monday that there is a surreal quality to the Marathon run now being behind me.

The going never got tough during the Marathon. I felt the love and prayers and support from so many friends and people I never met face to face but who sent loving prayers for the 26.2 mile journey of Team McManus.I knew with every ounce of my fiber that once I made it to the starting line, I was going to finish. I knew that I was running for Spaulding Rehab patients, I knew that I was running for polio and post polio patients everywhere and....I knew I was running for me. I knew that my year of hard work was now coming to fruition and I had one mission - to reach the finish line in under 8 hours so that there would be someone there to take the chip off my shoe and give me the medal signifying that I had run the 113th Boston Marathon.

The day began like any other - not! The alarm went off at 5 am. Weird dreams and waking up at 1, 3 and finally 5 did not distress me because I had slept so well on Saturday night - the important night to get a good night's sleep. Team McManus was in perfect rhythm making oatmeal and coffee, getting toast and water, putting the chips on our shoes - no arguments about me wanting to leave too early - we were all very eager to just get to our bus at Spaulding Rehab. There were hugs in the lobby and the mixture of excitement and nervousness. On the bus ride out I listened to Bernie Siegel's Meditation on my iPod. I closed my eyes to hear his voice to focus on preparing for the day but also because I did not want to see how long we were traveling to get to Hopkinton. Spirits were high on the bus ride out and after finishing my meditation, we chatted about just about anything we could think of other than what we all were about to do.

Spaulding's team shared the tent with Mass General. It was a heated tent with pre race refreshments. We took team pictures and at 8:30 walked to the start with Ashley Bronson, our incredible events coordinator. The sun was peeking out and warmed the cool morning air. I was drinking in the entire scene in awe that I, Mary McManus was at the starting line of the 113th Boston Marathon. Dave McGilvrey, race director, had us take our place at the start - we were not going over the mats and I had a wonderful focus for my anxiety - how would people track us if our chips did not go off and most importantly, how would they know our time? But those thoughts were quickly dismissed as we received the oral command - runner take your marks, get set, go.....

The first several miles felt like any other training run - the crowds were sparse through Hopkinton and there was a chill in the air reminiscent of our February training runs. As we approached Framingham, we saw one of our friends exactly where he said he would be but he couldn't see us across the street. No matter, we knew he was rooting for us. And on into Natick where we knew more friends were near the corner of Speen St and 135. Their presence was felt even though we did not actually see them and we journeyed on. Once we got to the Natick Reservoir, we knew that we had done this route before and that the hardest part of the journey was behind us - taking those first steps into unfamiliar territory.

From Natick it is a long stretch into Wellesley but the rewards of the Wellesley College girls is indescribable. You truly can hear the screams from a mile back. Somewhere around Wellesley, our dear friend Alison, store manager from Marathon Sports had caught up to us - how did she ever find us in the crowd? and said I love you Team McManus and went on her way. Tim Doiron aka Derv from Just Finish had also found us - he gave me a huge hug and even ran a little way with us. Members of our Race for Rehab team had also found us and we all wished each other well as we journeyed toward Boston.

The crowds are truly amazing. They could see that I was not a fast runner and unlike any other road race we have been in, the crowds seemed to sense that I had a special challenge. They would chant "Go Mary Go Mary" (ahh the benefits of Ashley patiently writing on my singlet and down my arm- the weather had warmed enough so I could run in my short sleeves). The generosity of the crowds was overwhelming - orange slices and bananas - these families took their time and resources to peel oranges and bananas and some even had their orange slices in individual baggies so we could carry them along. There were also cups of water and as we got closer to Boston - bottles of beer - but I digress.

Once we were in Wellesley, we knew we had it made. I know, I know all that talk about Heartbreak Hill and all. The motto slow and steady wins the race is so true! We did a four hour half - runners may cringe at a four hour half but there was a 27 mph head wind and it was chilly. I knew that today with the weather, a 15 minute mile was not possible for me and no reason to risk an injury now. Our goal was to make it to the finish line healthy and happy. I also ran the entire way walking only to go through water stations - amazing - absolutely amazing.We had run the route from Wellesley to Boston so many times and had an incredible psychological edge. Our team trainer, Dom, made us run up Grossman's Hill going from Brookline to Wellesley; what a joy to only have to run down the hill and then to know that Newton was just up ahead.

After turning from Rt 16 to Commonwealth Avenue, I looked for my friends, the Reilly's in front of the fire station. I thought that perhaps with the cold and wind and their two little ones, they needed to go home but shortly after we had turned, Sharon called me. Everyone on Twitter was frantic because we could not be tracked. As one of my dear friends, Nicole Shuman said, God works in creative ways. So Sharon got on Twitter and email'ed my friend Nicole to let them know we were almost at mile 20 and goin' strong.Somewhere before mile 20, my husband saw a sign that said, "Go Team McManus, Go Mary" and there was Janice Wesley and her husband waiting patiently for us to come by. She gave me a hug and a kiss and gave us the sign to carry to the finish.

At mile 20, there was Dom, our team trainer. He had tears in his eyes as he embraced Team McManus. He put his hands on my shoulders and said, 'you're gonna qualify - go finish. I'm so proud of you.' And then my cell phone rang - it was Janine and we found out where she was - as I saw her standing atop one of the inclines on Heartbreak Hill with her Spaulding Rehab t shirt and a white long sleeve shirt underneath, I saw an angel who was coming to take us to the finish line. She said she was amazed at how well I looked; I told her we went out slow and steady so we could finish. She was so proud of us and told me to stop even thinking about not doing a 15 minute mile - she said I needed to leave that and all the baggage on the marathon course. She was right!

At Cleveland Circle, my son Tommy, Joe Presser, our documentarian and Johannes, a BU photojournalism major were patiently waiting for us to come down Chestnut Hill Avenue and as we crossed to the Dunkin' Donuts our neighbors were waiting with another sign. Oh and speaking of signs - Bernie Siegel, MD sent me an email telling me that I would find a penny - it would be from him and God telling me everything was all right. I found a penny in Wellesley. I told Janine this story as we were walking from the finish line back to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and just then she looked down and there was another penny. I added it to the 27 cents and the Six Sense that I carried with me in the back pocket of my capris. The air was getting colder and more raw as we approached Kenmore Square but the crowds were really heating up, and we knew the finish was in sight. Running under the underpass on Comm Ave, Janine let out a scream and encouraged us to do the same just as we had at the Tufts 10K. And when we came up out of the underpass there was Hereford Street and one of Ruth Anne's dear friends, CG who had been a staunch supporter in so many ways during our journey. After getting a hug, Ruth Anne joined us to take the left on Boylston Street. I began to sob seeing the lights of the finish line in the distance. I ran down Boylston Street with all of my might and Team McManus crossed the finish line at 7:45 I believe. We don't have our official time yet and even though the chips could not be tracked, the BAA had all of our splits starting with the 5K. We went over to have our chips removed and receive the prize for which we had worked so hard - a pewter medal signifying that we ran 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston on April 20, 2009.

To your health and wellness!

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