Merry Go Round Finishes and the Boston Marathon

I have run the Boston Marathon 6 times.

Each time…a very special memory:  the rolling hills of the route and the 20-mile gut check at Heartbreak Hill forever etched in the memory of my “soles”.

Each year… an honor to qualify.

Each race…an honor to run on Patriot’s Day with three of the most notorious patriots I know…Admiral Eric Olson [Retired], Colonel Fred Dumar [Retired] and Colonel Mike Sullivan…These three running machines kept me on pace and moving towards what they tell me was the finish line.

Man, I love that race!

As every athlete knows, the finish line is always bittersweet. The immediate gratification or vilification of yourself based on a few numbers on a clock.  Those numbers defined your race… your past year of training… and in some cases… defined your next year.

If it was a slow race…. I rationalized how happy I was just to finish the race.

If I was close to my PR…I harshly judged myself and others on how much better I could have done if my guides wouldn’t have run me into 5 other people on the route. [Only joking, Fred and Mike are the best guides in running and in life.]

In 2013, the year of the Boston Marathon Bombing, a year never forgotten.  I am grateful we did not have our families waiting at the finish line.   My heart still aches for those who lives were lost and forever changed by that day.  We never crossed the finish line that year, instead we wondered the streets of Boston uniting with other runners, working together to navigate the chaos and make it back to our loved ones.

But every finish line has looked the same to me.

Every crossing the same ritual:

A look at my finish time, a comparison to who I used to be, and the never-ending question “What’s next?”

Fred, Mike and I would discuss the answer for hours.  And that question has undoubtedly led me on some crazy journeys across the world.  However, being older, wiser, and with a hip and knee replacement, I realize that question needed a bit of refinement.

What if I have been trying to answer the wrong question all along?

To be completely honest, I never really sat with the “what’s next” question very long…Immediately thinking of the next impressive sounding finish line.  It was like I was ordering a meal at fast food drive-up which demanded an answer in ten seconds or less.

My last marathon finish line was the Berlin Marathon in 2019.  In reflection, I am grateful for every one of my journeys.  However, what I have come to realize was that I was on a merry-go-round of never-ending finish lines. I needed to stop the ride…I needed to get off…ground myself…and take a breath.

Instead of asking what’s next? I asked, “What was it about those finish lines that kept me coming back?”

My answer:  the purpose.

Ultimately what I love about a marathon life is that your daily purpose is simplified.  If you do the work, your days are defined by training, proper nutrition, and rest.  Everything else is noise.  These three things in the purest form give me purpose which translates to joy.

But the reality is that life is never about those three things.

Add in demands of a job, travel, and children, and your 24-hour clock has whittled away.  Let’s not even talk about what a binge worthy Netflix series can do to your time crunch conundrum.

As I sat with the question of finish lines, I asked myself what I liked about running?

After my injury life became messy and hard.  I lost a huge part of my identity.  Running gave me focus and most importantly, purpose.  It gave me a reason to get out of that hospital bed.  It gave me a definition…If I’m honest I didn’t like the definition of “blind.”  To me it was a word that implied loss and a feeling of “less than.”  But ahhh, the definition of a “runner” was one that immediately invoked images strength, speed and endurance.  Little did I know at that time, being a blind person is not weak.  Being blind is the personification of patience, strength, flexibility, and endurance.

Now that is a definition and an answer I like.

If you really think about it, questioning yourself is hard.  It takes fortitude.  Better answers essentially demand better questions.

I needed to get off the what’s next merry-go-round to really understand what I needed in my life

I am fortunate enough to have had experiences in my life to provide me with knowledge that I can endure whatever life is going to through at me.  But that is because I have tested and strengthen my resilience.

In these last few years of exploring and living my questions I have started to work on a life set with intention. My day starts early, as I have crafted a morning routine that provides the scaffolding for what’s to come.

I am not dismissing the power of a run, a commitment fulfilled, or a Boston Marathon finish.  All very powerful life events that test and strengthen one’s resilience.  After all, it is these finishes that made me look at how much I was fighting blindness.  In the discipline of asking thoughtful and deliberate questions of myself, I am working to create a life built on my passion and my intentions rather than living a life that can never be seen.