Boston 2020 was going to be her second Boston Marathon. Runner, teacher, and author Vanessa de Hoog reflects on the journey it took to get there and the impact rescheduling the race has had on her own personal growth. This is the first of a three part series. The author would like to dedicate this story to Fitzgerald—for inspiring her.
For as long as I can remember, being a runner has been a massive part of my identity. Behind each mile, black toenail, chafing scar, and worn out Nike’s is a story. Each step across a finish line, whether my face be painted with tears of pain or happiness, has shaped me into the individual I am today. More so than anything else, my journey in running has created the map of my life.
In September 2007 I had the privilege of crossing paths with Sean Clancy, my high school cross country and track coach. He has forever imprinted himself into my miles. Clancy is a three-time Boston Marathoner and during our two years together as athlete and coach, I looked forward to each anecdote he would share about his experience as a Boston marathoner. As I eagerly hung onto his every word, my own goal and dream to complete a Boston Marathon in his honour began to take place. Ten years later, in May 2017, I was toeing the line at Ottawa’s Tamarack Race Weekend as I made my first attempt to make that dream come true.
My first step in ‘training’ was researching the qualifying standard for my age/gender. At the time, qualifying for Boston 2018, required me to complete my debut marathon in 3:35:00. However, given the competitive nature of Boston, I knew that I would need a generous buffer to secure my entry. I set myself the goal of finishing in 3:30:00—hoping that this cushion would be enough. As a seasoned 5km and 10km road racer at this stage in my life my training had been focused primarily on speed. When I calculated that I would ‘simply’ need to maintain a 5:00min/km to achieve my goal—it was a welcome change of pace. Throughout my training cycle I ensured to stay in touch with my former high school coach. When schedules allowed, we met up for some long ‘easy runs.’ Despite the passing of time, I have never passed on the chance to log miles with Clancy and get his fatherly advice on running and life.
The night before the race my nerves were getting the best of me. Despite having had a solid training cycle with no injuries or illness, the fact that this was my first marathon had me doubt whether I could actually finish.
What if I randomly cramp up with a new injury?
What if the gels make me sick?
I’ve only trained up to 32km – how will I feel the last 10km?
When you think about it, there are so many things that can go wrong in a three and a half hour race. That night, I’m almost positive I mentally listed 99.9% of them. Eventually, at some odd hour over the morning, I finally fell asleep in my sports bra and red shorts—dressed for the success I was hoping tomorrow would bring.
I woke up to my alarm and the sun peeking in through my curtains. The weather had promised to be ideal and so far mother nature was holding up her end of the bargain. With my hair tied up, shoes laced, and my fists full of gels, I headed out my apartment door and began the short walk from my downtown residence to the start line.
Packed into my coral with other runners who were nervously (or excitedly?) bouncing on the spot, I scanned the crowd until I picked out the 5:00min/km pace bunny. I went over my race plan one more time in my head. Just hang on to that bunny until at least half way—then run by feel to pick it up to the end.
Starting pistol? Fired!
That day, the race gods were on my side. I stayed glued to that pace bunny until the 21km mark and had been feeling comfortable, strong, and intelligently reserved with the pace. I started pulling ahead from that pack and ensured to keep checking in on my pace to keep it manageable and on goal. Running in my hometown, I was very fortunate to have the crowd along the race course populated with familiar faces of teammates and friends who encouraged me from start to finish.
Entering the final kilometre, while running in an underpass, I checked my watch and knew that I had officially qualified for Boston 2018— including the planned buffer. The wave cheers and the realization of my accomplishment simultaneously hit and I was overcome with emotion. I felt a sense of euphoria, as though I was flying through that final stretch. Each step was fuelled by the energy of the crowds and my flashbacks to listening to some of the first stories Clancy had shared with me all those years ago. I crossed the finish line and tried to regulate my breath between the (happy) tears. I did it. I couldn’t believe it. The dream of racing the Boston Marathon was on its way to coming true.