Boston Report #4: The Roller Coaster Called Boston

by Niccole Crank

First of all I am incredibly thankful for being a part of Boston and Team Rogue, and I am thankful to the many people that support me, coach me, guide me, direct me and encourage me or even slap me around. I truly am blessed you all are what amaze me and inspire me every day. I really did not think my performance was worthy of a race report (perfectionist) but I owe it to myself and the ones that want to know what happened. It is way too long but it is good and worth the read, I love you all, you are why I run in the dark and through it. For without you it’s not worth it.

Was Boston a great race? mmmm. A great experience, definitely.

Okay to appease my family and number freaks…..I did PR, I ran only two minutes slower than each of the half marathons I competed in added together in the last 6 months (3M 1:24:18 + SA 1:27:13= 2:51:31) (Boston 1:25:10 + 1:28:19= 2:53:29), I PR’d in the 10K in Boston, I came in 42nd amongst national and world class athletes, 2nd in Texas…. And so on. These are stats my husband tells everyone (thanks honey), they make me feel a little bit better, but my time at Boston was a smaller step than intended, I am ready to move forward. I want to start competing. I am ready to jump, now I understand the requirements. I ask a lot of myself and others, maybe too much but that is part of who I am, I push the limits.

“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required: and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” Luke 12:48

You can dress it up and phrase it however you want to, but Boston #1 was just not the performance my body indicated I could do if it had been an “on day” and if my start had gone smoother, if my mind was stronger. I slipped for a few minutes, my time was disappointing, but not devastating; it is fuel for the hard work to come. In a nutshell, I was on pace to run a 2:50 or better but the fighting through the corals in the first half took the wind out of my sails, and left me more depleted than we had planned. It is what it is. Similar to a turkey sandwich, it was good but not satisfying.

On a positive note, Boston is my starting place, a new beginning. I showed up on an off day, I fought hard, I stayed with it regardless of my circumstances and pain, I did not give up, I put a dot on the radar map with my name on it. I am much more proud of the fight and coming back from the edge than of my time. The experience was life changing but my time left me with a stale taste in my mouth; it left me thirsty for a really awesome time. I did not break world records or shatter my goals, but I did find out what I was made of and also what I thought I was lacking, what I am really disappointed with, and what needs improvement.

Most importantly is learning to deal with how my perception changes when my body and mind are weak, when I am fighting off injury. I hesitate and my mind lies to me, takes me to dark places I have not been before and I begin to question myself, my abilities, I question everything. Which is unlike my bolder half, it leads me to wonder if my convictions are accurate, and if I really have what it takes… if I am really talented. It is now obvious that I have two sides to my personality, the yin and the yang. While the yang is dominant and present most of the time, I have to deal with the yin side if I want to run free and break my own barriers. Run to win. So Boston was my first race where things were wet, slimy, messy and more complicated than I liked them, but learning to deal with the mess will make me much tougher in the end. Life gets interesting when you least expect it.

yin and yang n. (Chinese philosophy)

the two fundamental principles, one negative, dark, passive,

cold, wet, and feminine (yin) and the other (yang) positive,

bright, active, dry, hot and masculine. The interactions and

balance of these forces in people and nature influence their

behavior and fate. –[RHUD]

Boston-

I was going along in good spirits until about 8 weeks before Boston. Suddenly things shifted. My body was weak (Austin?!) and other little things that need changing in my life, personality flaws, nerves, mental doubts, fears, hesitation, selfishness, past regrets, past wounds, old injuries, well, they all surfaced in full force unexpectedly in the month or two leading up to the race and put a full court press on my hopes for Boston, for my future aspirations. There almost was no Boston. I hope to look back and say those weeks and that race, this time was and is one of my defining moments, because it is the grit of life and how you respond to it and how you grow from it that truly shapes you. Stretching, growing, shining, dreaming, loving, recommitting are all a choices made at the uncomfortable times.

You see, running is more than running for me. Racing, pushing the limits, breaking down barriers, expanding my dreams are metaphors for my life. There is double meaning. If I can do these things in my running life, if I can make sense of it all, if I can accomplish things I never thought possible, then I can do all those things in every area of my life. Then this is just the beginning. You see I have great dreams and great plans…. and running is the road to a map that takes me there. It is not meaningless; it is not just one foot in front of the other. It is essential, just like God is essential in my spiritual life, just like the air I breathe. I run, I pray, I breathe, I dream, I race, I believe…. therefore I can. Therefore I am.

So amongst these obstacles, I challenged myself to be honest, fearless and optimistic so I could feel great leading into Boston and hopefully have a great race. It was definitely a challenge. As the race drew near my body became weaker, my passion was slipping, and I was starting to feel alone in my struggle. Other people’s doubts were starting to follow me around like a wet lost dog wherever ever I would go, and their doubts were starting to smell.

I felt conflicted, I swam around a little while with my doubts, with the sharks, then I had enough and looked for the shoreline. Steve and a few friends gathered around and threw me a life line. I swam back to shore. I made my choice, I chose my passion amongst unbelievers. The smell was gone.

You come to that place, that line in the sand where you stand on one side with your dream, and the world stands on the other, and you have a choice to make if you are brave enough. Which is intimidating, because if you lose what you love; you lose part of what defines who you are.

When you put yourself on the line for something or someone you truly love, you risk failure, you risk rejection, in a sense you risk everything. What you love defines you, it is scary, it is real, and only the brave want to go there. It is easier to hide and not know the answers and play life safely, than to put it all on the line, risk failure and find out that you may not be good at the things you love and you may not can have the things you love.

But that is the thrill of the race. It is worth going after. It is worth the risk.

Sunday night Before the Race-

It is the night before the race I sit and wait quietly, patiently.

I am empty. I wait, I listen for God and don’t hear him….and I don’t get it………….I am running out of time, so I just pray about it anyway.

I am not afraid…. I don’t think…. I am ready, but my body is in a haze? With everything prepared and quiet I look into the mirror one last time, for courage I guess, and lay down to pray and find conviction before drifting to sleep.

I will it to be a great race, I do believe… even if I can’t feel it, I still believe, I still love, I still trust, I still pray, I will try my best until I fall to the ground is what I decide. … I will go with my pace band I hope my body will get in check, if it does not I will adjust in the race, or I will die trying.

The Race-

I realized a few hours before the race that the start might be a real issue. The time I submitted was my Portland time of 3:08 and there had been a cut off date that did not allow me to submit my Austin time of 2:55. Steve and I really had not talked about it too much, because there really was not anything I could do about my coral. I needed to run quite a bit faster to be in the elite coral range (and be competitive) so I was stuck with coral 4. When Mike had told me his pace, I knew he would be aggressive for his seeding and he was just ahead of me in coral 3 which worried me because his pace was 7-10 minutes slower than mine and those around him might be even slower. I did not realize each coral held 1000 runners, and my training partners and competitors were in coral #1. After some thought, a new plan emerged. I knew I had to fight my way up through the crowd early on if there was any chance I was going to PR. I just did not realize the cost of the wrestling match that dance was going to be.

The gun went off and I shot as far as I could, 5 whole feet, once I crossed the starting line I tried to pass people but held back a little as to not kill my quads. It was packed, there would be no weaving in and out of people for many, many miles, so I briefly thought. One guy shot to the sidelines and I followed him. “Adam” was running for a cause, I will not forget his orange shirt and his conviction, or his large quads. We had to off-road it. In the ditch, around gutters, against the guard rail, past an infant (seriously), around barricades, shoot across the road, then back… you get my drift. Some groups in Coral 3 were happy with 6:50-7 minute or more pace and running shoulder to shoulder chatting happily. I really was not there for a fun-run, people were not letting me pass, so off-road it stayed for a while.

I did that for the first 6 miles and my back, left hip, and quad seized up and locked down from the uneven surfaces. I knew that was bad news and decided not to push quite as hard, the pain was a level 7-8 and holding. I hoped it would eventually go away and tried to focus and regroup on what my plan should be. I was worried and decided to PR in the 10K even though it was an old slow fun run PR. If all went to hell at least there was one slow PR to celebrate. It was silly to do that but I needed to smile about something and I definitely got a kick out of it even though my new time was barely faster ( 39:56).

Back to the marathon, the current was strong and the waters were deep that day. Yeah that, or the crowd was rowdy, smelly and unruly. The universe was testing me to see how badly I really wanted to chase down my dreams and there I was… wanting, and scrapping with what I had. I was around 9 miles or so, I had been fighting for over an hour and my body was about to get tired. Mentally it was difficult to continually pass everyone so I focused on pressing toward the half and pictured how crazy Wellesley might be.

People around me were so happy, but I am not sure they were living two strange realities like I was. It seemed like I was running a challenging race against the front runners in one reality but doing pretty well, and in another I was stuck in the back with a mob rough handling me, pushing me around, and keeping me from racing. It was like that movie “Bounce” with Gwyneth Paltrow. Where she missed a train in the beginning of the movie and her life had two different realities paralleling each other at the same time, one being much more difficult and troublesome. In one universe I was running a race that started in coral #1 or 2, I was following my race plan and things were going according to plan, and I would have just enough fuel to kick it in at the end and maybe break 2:50. In the other I was in my current state.. surreal, limping, locked up, still fighting but tired and dredging through each coral hoping to break through the madness or see Steve shortly after 14.

A few things to test my skills- My Garmin was really far off the mile markers, it was 20 -50 yards early (from all the weaving around) so I was not sure how reliable it was, I somehow stopped my stopwatch accidentally, I think it hit my Garmin, and my pace band was optimistically for 2:47:59. Things were interesting, but I tried not to acknowledge any negativity and stay positive in hopes it would turn around with a second wind… or a third, or a shot of tequila.

When Wellesely came up I could hear the girls screaming from a mile away and my spirit lifted. I decided I would take advantage of all that energy and hoped they could magically transfer some of it to me with each person that I touched. I slapped every hand and took in all the energy that passed along with each five, each smile, and each scream. The crowd roared as I held up my arms. It was fantastic and worth the energy expenditure. I gained much more than it took to participate entertaining the crowd. I did not kiss anyone but did blow one or two kisses and yes everyone freaked out. I regained a little bit of my stride for another mile and then I felt my pace start to fade.

I started praying that I would see Steve sometime soon, my spirit was briefly lifted for a few minutes and for the first time my mind ran out of energy and went a drift. Suddenly I was scared. I was starting to drown.

I felt empty. I was an impression of myself and I hoped that my strong will would break through somehow. I found myself fighting off my own doubts as well as Steve’s from the months before, which surprised me because he was 150% supportive the weeks leading up to the race and yet I remembered the few doubts he had (1-2 months before).. Those lies again.One minute you are happily running along, the next a mountain lion attacks you and you are fighting for dear life. I had prepared for that after mile 22 or 24 but I did not expect it so soon, with the constant physical fighting for good positioning early on I was uncertain.

I was starting to lose my vision of what was next, which is fatal for me, so I grasped and fought with what I could and I hoped I could knock myself out of it or pray my way through it. Sometimes my instincts will take over and my body starts racing again, if I am challenged by someone, if I find the passion.

I was like a boxer that had fought 9 really hard rounds and almost knocked out their opponent, and was briefly excited till the opponent got up again, then and had to go another couple rounds maybe overtime. It is the not knowing how long the suffering will last that can defeat you. You may be at the end of it, a second from relief or just the beginning. I was like the salmon swimming upstream just before the top….. Tired in a way I had not felt in a long while, like the tired when my husband had left the country I had 3 kids under 5 years and it is was day 13 or was it?… delirious a bit.

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. -Harriet Beecher Stowe

Who am I in this weakened state, I know what I want, I still believe, but how long can you go before passing out? Can I believe? Can I have faith when my mind can’t breathe?

The world rushes in like high tide and floods life and weighs you down so that your strong dreams and convictions and your positive attributes are really hard to hang on to, the current can be really strong and in that flash flood of a tide I find myself wondering,

Where is your faith now?

I answer-

I know what I want, I still believe! I start to pray.

But how long can I go before passing out?

Can I believe, can I have faith when my mind can’t breathe? – Yes… I think.

I ran up the first Newton hill unsure if that was actually it and Steve popped out of nowhere. God love his soul… The Tide Turned!! Answered prayer!

He was going slow and I could barely catch him. After a few hundred meters I felt his pace, he encouraged me asked me what was going on, reset my stride, ran me up Newton #2 and #3, and tried to talk me back into my happy place again. I was incredibly grateful (he saved me). He glued me back together and I was fragile but hopeful and with a glimmer of inspiration just maybe I could do it. 2:51?,2:52?, 2:53?

It was a long 8 miles to go. When he said good bye I was optimistic and scared but I held on to that grain of mustard seed and prayed I could hang onto it until the finish line. Steve told me to drop if I could and in the worst case use other girls to race to the finish line if that was my only motivation. He gave me a a 6:35 prance…. My vision was shaky, but at least there was one and I pranced to the best of my ability up heart break hill.

The rhythm in the past weeks was 10-15 seconds faster so my body did not like it, and I was not sure if a little faster would reset my body or if I would completely fall apart. Heart break hill was 10 seconds slower than I hoped, but I was really excited to be done. In awe of the great crowd support I picked up the pace on the downhill and hit 6:20 ish. I kept passing people and I really thought I might be on pace.

That was the deceiving thing about the race especially the last half, I was always passing people except for a few minutes here and there and yet my pace was 10 seconds off. I think that is largely where I was unprepared, I need to work on my own pacing rhythms when I run with Kamran I find it… but on my own when I am tired my body awkwardly falls into old marathon pace or the pace of the pack, and painfully so. That pace feels like defeat, well only because it is.

I kept up a steady pace until 23 or 24. Right after 40K I just really wanted to go with the flow of the runners, I was so tired that I could feel my back grind with each step I took and I really thought I might eat pavement. A girl came out of nowhere and it seemed like she was sprinting, I suspect I had been the bunny rabbit for quite a few miles unknowingly… I went with her and after half a mile or so I was truly scared to kick it in at mile 23 or 24. I think it was 24, the long…. Long … long flat stretch and it seemed like the longest mile or two in my entire life, the crowd seemed to close in on me and was a little oppressive. I was truly in a dark place and my husband jumped out and yelled at me, answered prayer #2. I decided that I would hold my pace until 25 and then surge with what I could. Unfortunately that pace was unknowingly 6:45 or so as everyone around me was fading, I went with another girl that was attempting to pass me and I let her be the bunny for mile 24, It seemed like we were running much faster because again we were passing people. I knew to hang on a step behind her, mile 25 was just right, then I would pass her and she would break. So the 25 mile marker hit and I took off, my body thought it was 6:15 pace but really it was just 6:30 and I was flying by people. We finally rounded the corner to the finish line that was a million miles away, I really did not know if I could make it, it looked so far away. I thought I might eat the pavement again, but I kicked it in again (or tried) and I dropped to 6:15 ish pace and passed guys all the way to the finish.

2:53:29 just glad to be done is what I thought, happy to be alive, excited I did it with all that went on. Conflicted and happy. I congratulated everyone around me and shook their hands. We just shared a life goal together whether they knew it or not.

I was happy for a little while that race was so hard on so many levels, “Welcome Back” I thought…. Walking down the chute to get food some thoughts were starting to emerge. “Overcoming the conflicts of this race is what separates the wannabes from the winners, and I will have to overcome those challenges without hesitation to go where I want to go.” It’s not glamour, it’s grit,” I thought. “Now the real racing begins!” “Now it gets real.”

Then Miles 22-24 really started to bother me. I made a choice to let someone pass me in fear that I may get hurt and it would cost me a few weeks or a month rehab, or that I would just eat the pavement, or hit the wall…..but that decision cost me 35 seconds.. maybe a minute, maybe more.

It cost me my pride and my goal. Am I running or am I racing?

At that moment at least 10-15 people told me how amazing I did, and that I propelled them through the last part of the race, they hung on when they saw me run by. Random people came up congratulating me asking me my time, they seemed amazed so I decided that if even for 1 hour or maybe even that day I would go with it and enjoy it. I fell a little short or a hell of a lot short, but that was my best that day weak or not that is all I can ask for. Count the blessings in the short run, be thankful for everything, and analyze the disappointments later. Spend my energy making myself stronger. Today my best may have reached surpassed my “A” goal but on that day B or C was all I had.

The start I could not change, it probably added 2 maybe 3 minutes to my time, I did my best there, but the hesitation bothers me. I made good choices most of the race but the feeling of inadequacy even though I was thankful and persevered was disturbing… that stale taste of loosing.

So it is a bitter sweet PR, it was so perfect and unsatisfying at the same time. It is just what I needed to make me a better runner. If I had been in coral 1 and the race had gone according to my plan I would have learned nothing, I would be more resistant to Steve’s coaching, I would be more selfish, I would be cocky and most importantly I would have a harder time believing in the face of fear and the feeling of abandonment. Now I know those feelings are a choice. Faith, hope, and love conquer all whether you can feel it or not. If you step up or pick it up in faith you may get something from nothing.

Believing even in a vacuum creates energy that can ignite even the darkest places.

When you put yourself on the line for something or someone you truly love, you risk failure, you risk rejection, in a sense you risk everything.

But that is the thrill of the race. It is worth going after. It is worth the risk.

Only the brave will win.

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4 thoughts on “Boston Report #4: The Roller Coaster Called Boston

  1. Hi Nicole, i also read the article “Return to running feels right for ex-UT athlete” after reading your blog. For someone that is so gifted & got burned out in college, I can understand now how much you must have trained and endured. ……….I have no doubt you will qualify for the olympic trials….you are almost there; just pick a fast marathon that is not crowded……..Having grown up in the east, I will share something from someone I love….”The real sportsman’s spirit is not that of winning or losing, it is not his real question. He enjoys playing; that is the real player. If you are playing to win, you will play with tension, anxiety. You are not concerned with the play itself, its joy and its mystery; you are more concerned with the outcome. This is not the right way to live in the world.”………good luck!!

  2. By the way Rogue Rocks. I am thrilled with my performances, the competitor comes out in me, Miss Type “A” has a hard time when her results are slightly off. On paper the times are amazing, I owe that to an awesome coach and staff in Team Rogue. After a few weeks I look at my race times and I am so thankful, I truly am blessed. Thank You Steve, Ruth and Carolyn for making us all Rock Stars! Rogue Rocks! Go Team:) In 18 months 3:29 to 2:53, thank you!

  3. Pingback: Boston Report #4: The Roller Coaster Called Boston – The Bashful Bohemian Literary Notes

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