Shirley Ann Allen
Class of 1967
As I arrived at Heartbreak Hill--twenty-two and one-half miles into the Boston Marathon--I asked myself, "Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this pain and agony?" After the marathon was over, I would look back on the experience of qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon as a major accomplishment and challenge in my life; something that I would remember until the day I died. But, at Heartbreak Hill, I wasn't really sure why I was there.
This desire to run in the Boston Marathon began in 1985. I had run a few marathons and decided that it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Then my running friends began to tell me about the ultimate challenge for a marathon runner, the Boston Marathon.
The Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon in the world as well as the only international, long-distance race in the United States where the spectators out number the participants 100 to 1. It was first run on April 19, 1897, and women were not officially allowed to participate in it until 1972 (this alone was enough to motivate me to run in it). Boston is the only marathon in the United States that has a physical requirement of running a qualifying marathon. It is traditionally run on Patriot's day to commemorate Paul Revere's ride in 1775. This is quite an impressive history, certainly enough to make it the goal for thousands of runners every year, including myself.
The first challenge was qualifying to run in the Boston Marathon. I would have to be able to run 26.2 miles in three hours and thirty minutes or better. This translates to 26.2, eight minute miles--not an easy accomplishment. It took me two tries and three years to meet this qualifying time.
On April 18, 1988 I ran the Boston Marathon in three hours and thirty-six minutes. The day was cold, rainy, and gloomy. I remember taking the train downtown where I caught a bus that took me to Hopkington where the race would start. It was such a miserable day and I was so cold that I didn't want to give up my sweats. But I knew I would be able to run a better race without them. So, about thirty minutes before the race I shed my sweats and went to the starting line. Once the race was started, I warmed up pretty fast. The first thing I noticed were the people on the sides of the roads who were yelling and cheering for the runners. Later, after the race, I would read that there were over 100,000 spectators. These spectators had a definite uplifting and motivating effect on me. Without them, I am not sure I would have been able to finish the race.
It definitely wasn't an easy course, especially the dreaded Heartbreak Hill I had heard so much about. I was exhausted by then and not sure if I could make it up the hill, let alone finish the race. At that moment when I looked up Heartbreak Hill from the bottom, I was truly asking myself why I was there, why I was putting myself through the pain and agony.
Seeing the finish line was probably the second most thrilling moment in my life--knowing I had almost completed the famous Boston Marathon. All I had to do was hang on for a few more minutes. After crossing the finish line, I had to walk through about one-half mile of people who were giving away food, drink, and solar blankets. Finally, I reached the busses where my sweats were. By the time I found my sweats, I was so cold that I almost couldn't put them on. All I wanted to do was sit down and get warm. But, I knew that I had to keep moving and make my way back to the train station. If I had sat down, I probably wouldn't have been able to get back up.
The excitement was over, but I was still on an emotional high and would be that way for some time to come. Even then, right after the race, I was already forgetting the pain and only remembering the accomplishment. This was the successful culmination of three long years of work. It was definitely worth it. I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I actually ran the Boston Marathon. I will always be able to look back in time and say--I did that--I ran the Boston Marathon.
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