Qualifying for the Boston Marathon
By Joey Lee
Boston. History buffs think of the tea party, foodies think of crème pies and baseball fans see the Red Sox. But for runners, Boston means one thing, the Boston Marathon, the race most of us dream of. And you can’t just go run it; you have to qualify.
I’m proud, and relieved, that I’ll be competing, or I should say, “participating,” in the 117th running of the Boston Marathon in April. I’m relieved because not only was qualifying extremely tough, but my journey has been a long and winding one. When you hear about the patience of the long distance runner, think of me.
I began running at the age of 10, my Dad ran, so I ran with him. I was at the line when Dad finished his first marathon, and I’ve been a runner ever since.
Six years later, I ran my first marathon. Two years after that, I took detour number one by completing my first triathlon. The godfather of triathlon, Dave Scott, once said, “I wasn’t great at swimming, biking or running, but put them together, and I’m pretty good.”
I’m not comparing myself to Dave by any means, but that’s how I felt, I wasn’t very good at any of the three, but I sucked less when you put them all together. So for the next 20 or so years, without realizing it, my focus was on triathlons and I did marathons to keep in shape.
About three years ago, I realized that by concentrating on triathlon, I had never run a marathon to see how I could do. So I decided to try to qualify for Boston. I selected the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, not Mississippi) Marathon as my qualifying race because it’s a fast course, it wouldn’t mess up my triathlon training, and I like cheesesteaks.
I worked with my good friend, and Millsaps cross country coach, Andy Till to develop a training plan and got to work. I logged a lot of miles and did a lot of speed work but it all paid off. The week before Thanksgiving, 2010, I ran and qualified. It was a beautiful day, cool and sunny. I felt good the first 20 miles, the last six I had to really battle to keep my pace, but I qualified by about seven minutes.
Unfortunately, the 2011 Boston Marathon had reached its maximum field size, but qualification is good for two years; so I planned for April 16, 2012, made hotel reservations and anxiously waited for registration to open.
Then my journey took a wonderfully exciting detour. My wife and I found out we were going to have a baby, and guess what the due date was? April 16, 2012! I have a really cool wife who is very easy going, but she wasn’t really hip to my idea of having the baby at Boston General while I ran the marathon.
So I asked the marathon organizers if having a baby justified a waiver on my qualification. They congratulated me and politely let me know I would have to qualify again.
“Qualify again?” I thought. It was hard enough the first time and now it would be tougher because qualifying times had been made five minutes faster (read: harder) than they were.
I decided I’d give it another shot. But, I’d have to qualify before the baby arrived or put it on hold a few more years.
This time I picked the Albany (Georgia) Marathon. It was close enough to drive, another fast course and long enough before the baby was due; only no cheesesteaks. When marathon day came, it was horrible weather; hot, humid and storming. I hurt from the time the gun went off and had to use every mental trick I could think of the entire 26.2 miles to keep the pace I needed. The roads were slick and my feet slipped every step of the way, tornado sirens blared from mile seven to nine and it was about 15 degrees warmer than normal.
Of my 20-something marathons, this is the hardest one I’ve completed, both physically and mentally. I wanted to quit from the start, knowing that I’d see my wife and parents at spots around the course and my desire to qualify were the only things keeping me going.
No matter if you’re running your first marathon or you’re running your 100th, you’ve got to respect the distance. Twenty-six point two miles is a long way and no matter how ready you are, or how experienced you are, it can sneak up and bite you at any time and this one was biting hard.
I worried the entire time that I couldn’t keep the pace; I felt my legs locking up beginning at mile eight, but I managed to push through. I ended up crossing the line about two minutes under my qualifying standard, hurting and happy.
I was sorer from this race than I’ve been from any other race in my 35 years of competing. But who cares? I QUALIFIED!!
So now, we’ll be going this spring and I’ll complete this 35-year journey to run the Boston Marathon. We’ll celebrate my daughter’s first birthday there and the first marathon she sees her daddy run will be arguably the best marathon in the world.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series. Part two will chronicle Joey’s training efforts leading up to the Boston Marathon.