Tuesday, April 10, 2012

boston bound

I head to Boston this week, to run the marathon next Monday! 

Last fall my friend Susanne suggested a girls' trip, to celebrate fitness and friendship.  "I don't know about you," she said, "but I feel more fit at 40 than I did at 21!"  (she is on Team Timex and a three-time Ironman!) Susanne and her training partner Mandy are flying in from California, her sister Beth from Wisconsin, and me from Arizona.  Should be a fun weekend.  I'll kick it off with a visit to Maggie, a cherished friend I rarely get to see who I know from grad school.  She's a physician now, living and working just north of the city.

The last time I was in Boston was seven years ago.  I was there for a very special reason, to run the marathon in memory of Lillie Haskie.  Lillie was of the Toaheedliinii (Water Flows Together) Clan, born for the Totsohnii (Big Water) Clan; her maternal grandfather's clan was Honaghahnii (One Who Walks Around), and her paternal grandfather's clan was Tabaahi (Water Edge).  She had a deep passion for public health and took me under her wing from the moment I arrived in the heart of the Navajo Reservation in February 1999.  I would not have been able to accept my position with the Indian Health Service had it not been for her, as there was no government housing available.  A complete stranger (to her) at the time, she had me follow her home to Lukachukai, Arizona one day (the hospital I worked at was near Canyon de Chelly, about 45 minutes away).  She led me to a furnished house which even had a washer and dryer, pulled out a drawer and said, "Here are the forks" then disappeared into the night.  Her own home was nearby.  Before I knew it, Lillie was inviting me in for meals, then ceremonies, and suddenly I had a Navajo family of my own.  On the work front, Lillie was a registered nurse whose integrity, courage and vision made her the administrator of the Tsaile Health Center.  I could not have asked for a better person to learn from.  We worked together in Chinle Service Unit for over five years and shared many, many laughs.  Her tireless energy and dedicated efforts to make things better for the people in her community inspired me greatly.  She was an absolutely beautiful, strong example of the Navajo Way.
Lillie and I in 2001
So it was my great privilege to run the 109th Boston Marathon in her honor.  I collected pledges for every mile I ran.  Through this, her family and I established a memorial scholarship at her alma mater, Dine College (which is adjacent to the clinic she ran).  She was always encouraging further education and this scholarship (established in June 2005 as an endowment) now provides annual assistance to those pursuing life sciences.  The scholarship is aptly named Shandiin ("morning rays of sun"), reflecting Lillie's traditional values.  
Singlet my Navajo family made for me to race in

As you can see, my Navajo sister Cindy (on right in above photo) and her friend Carrie were the perfect cheering squad at my last Boston!  A great surprise that year was getting a hug from my heroine Uta Pippig just before the start of the race (she also signed my number, which mostly got washed away during the race, by wonderful people along the course who cooled us down with their garden hoses!).  Another highlight was attending a service at the Old South Church the day before the race, which lifted the spirits of all with songs, poems, and prayers geared toward running, from nations around the world; I sat next to a woman Coley there who not only made a significant donation to the scholarship but offered me her spare apartment in if I ever came back to Boston to run.  Somehow I also met a doctor from Kansas on the subway race day morning whose mother worked at a school near me on the reservation; we ended up riding the school bus shuttle together.  By the time we arrived in Hopkinton, we were friends.  He even snapped a photo of us with his disposable Kodak, which he later mailed to me (of course I had lunch with his mom when I got home, too!).  After the race I took my first ice bath ever (Runners in my hotel elevator were talking about this foreign concept...I didn't think I could do such a thing, but they said, "If you can run a marathon, you can stand six minutes in the ice bath."  So Cindy prepared one for me from the ice machine in the hotel hallway.  However, she didn't feel it'd be a good idea for me to take a hot shower afterward...BRRR!!  I was cold for a long while afterward, but it certainly did wonders for speeding my recovery!).

Boston PR
My first encounter with Boston came while I was a graduate student at the Tulane University School of Public Health a decade earlier.  Back then I ran the levees, roads, parks, and streetcar line of New Orleans every chance I got.  My training consisted of squeezing runs in between classes and jobs.  I often had to wear running clothes to class to make this happen.  A gracious friend-of-a-friend (Anthony) hosted me in Cambridge.

Just my second marathon, I went out way too fast then crashed and burned.  At the half marathon mark I pulled off the course to regain my composure.  It had become emotional.  By the time I reached the Newton hills I was seriously considering dropping out.  I wanted someone or something to make the experience easier.  I went into an aid station, only to have a medic tell me that if they touched me I'd be disqualified.  I contemplated this and found myself back on the course, resolving to finish no matter what.  Walking up that first hill, I starting "hearing" what the spectators were saying for the first time.  They were cheering.  For me.  And I was walking.  Wow.  I learned a valuable lesson that day, about what effort means.  They truly didn't care that I was not moving as fast as the others.  I was still out there doing it, and this is what they were celebrating.  The kindness of so many touched my heart that day.  I did a walk-run combo the rest of the way.  A woman I didn't even know helped me to start running again when I thought I could not..."C'mon, we're going to do this together," she said as we approached the final miles where spectators were six deep along either side of the course. 

After finishing I bumped into Peggy Keller, a Brookline native who bandited the race.  We had first met that morning in Hopkinton, in the extremely long bathroom line at the high school where runners used to hang out before the Athletes' Village was established.  I congratulated her and in her thick accent she said, "You don't understand, I've been watching this race my entire life."  She was one of the happiest persons I have ever seen, having accomplished her goal of someday doing the race.  She felt it was fate that we found each other again amidst the crowd, so we became penpals and kept in touch for years.  There was also a mixup with Anthony, my host, meeting me at the designated area (he thought I was still out on the course), so Peggy and her boyfriend gave me money for the train, which I took back out to Cambridge.  Donned in a mylar blanket and moving very slowly, I felt like an old woman since I could barely negotiate the subway steps and hobbled up the steep street to Anthony's place.  When he finally came home, after waiting for me on the course for hours, all he had for me was a huge smile and warm congratulatory hug, saying, "I'm so glad you're okay."  I will always remember Bostonians as some of the best people around.

That town goes all out for runners in a way I have never experienced elsewhere.  Favorite memories which swirl around when I hear "Boston" are subway signs that are changed to encourage marathoners, countless little hands after little hands (of kids) waiting for high-fives along the course, a story I heard about a $100 bill someone had under an orange slice on their hand for a runner, and the genuine support that comes in many forms from Sox fans spilling onto the sidewalk after the race...it's hard to beat marathon weekend in Boston and the special kind of love one gets out there on Patriot's Day. 

This year I'm in yet another phase of life, doing Boston for the first time since I've been living in Flagstaff.  I have a coach now, know so much more about training, and have awesome friends who sent me off in grand style last Saturday....I had asked my friend Janet to pace me for 10 miles of my final 16 miler before the marathon.  She not only said yes but invited a friend, who invited another friend...pretty soon I had four runners much faster than me carrying me along Lake Mary Road for my workout, making the run so much fun.  They helped me to dip under my target pace too (THANK YOU again Janet, Jeffrey, Ryan and Chris!), which is a great feeling. 

I am excited.  Like Susanne, I'm more fit than ever.  It will be great to see old friends and make new ones (inevitable at Boston), to watch Janet race the B.A.A. 5K the day before the marathon, and to experience Boston once more.  Who knows, a new marathon PR may even be in store...regardless, I can't wait to see what the East Coast brings this time around.

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Live the way you run. Run happy.

Live the way you run. Run happy.
Thanks to Kevin Riley at Action in Solitude for this Buffalo Park (Flagstaff, Arizona) photo