This post is written by Greg Weintraub, Captain of Team Joslin for the 2016 Boston Marathon.
I looked around, runners stretching, posing for pictures, and smiling in every direction. Police directed traffic and coach buses pulled into a parking area nearby. I was standing in Hopkinton at the start of the Boston Marathon. I was on the verge of running the longest run of my training in the months leading up to the marathon. I was on the verge of running 20 miles. And as I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was nervous.
This is an important date as every year local runners training for the Boston Marathon come together on the last weekend in March.
Every year, these amazing local runners come together in Hopkinton, only to push on towards Heartbreak Hill over the ensuing hours. This run is important, both physically and emotionally.
This run tests our ability to physically complete a marathon. The cramps, aches, and pains that occur over the course of 20 miles provide a clear indication of where we stand and how our training has progressed thus far. There is no hiding over the course of this run. The only way to complete this run is to face the nitty-gritty hard work, to forge onwards, to dedicate oneself completely to the relentless forward motion.
This can be difficult while managing type 1 diabetes. I stopped at mile six, mile 11, and mile 16 to manage my diabetes. Each of these stops lasted several minutes. I spent the time at each stop testing my blood sugar, eating enough food to keep running, and drinking water with salt tablets to stay hydrated.
I always look forward to these stops. I know that I will see my family at each stop. Spending a few minutes with my family provides me with the motivation to keep running. However, stopping for a few minutes brings any momentum to a screeching halt. It is often said that the first time one stops during a marathon is the moment the marathon ends. Each time I stop to manage my diabetes, I lose my rhythm and momentum, my focus and my flow. And I know that I will have to spend at least a mile recreating that rhythm and momentum. Each stop I take during this long run simulates the marathon that I will run on Monday, April 18th. But each stop creates a significant physical barrier to success, as I have to work hard to start running again once my diabetes management comes to a close.
I often look straight ahead when I start a 20 mile run and I often finish this run looking straight down at the ground. The sheer distance covered on foot is difficult to comprehend. But the longer I run, and the closer I progress towards the finish, the more difficult this run becomes. And so I often look down, focusing on where I am instead of where I have to go.
This run tests our ability to emotionally complete a marathon. A secret of long-distance running is that this is not, in fact, a physical sport. Instead, long-distance running is an emotional sport. Long-distance running requires the participant to control their emotions over significant distances. This is no small feat, neither for the veteran marathon runner or the first-timer. Long-distance running is a sport of very high highs. And even lower lows. A sport comprised of moments of lightness and ease. And a sport comprised of unexplainable depth, of difficulty and often physical pain. And yet it is in those moments of difficulty and despair that one learns of the value of long distance running.
The 20 mile run on Saturday, March 26 was unavoidable. I knew that I had to complete this run – not just for myself, but for the incredible people on Team Joslin and the patients who visit Joslin for their care. I had to complete this long run to show that Team Joslin will complete the 2016 Boston Marathon. I was nervous, but I was motivated.
I started my run on my own. I was by myself. I crossed the starting line of the Boston Marathon by myself, facing a seemingly insurmountable obstacle without company. I took the first two miles easy, hoping to conserve energy for the remainder of the run. Yet as I approached the two mile mark, I saw a group just ahead of me. I decided to catch up.
I looked around when I caught up with the group. The group was filled with friends and neighbors also training for the 2016 Boston Marathon. All of the anxiety I felt about the marathon and the long run that day disappeared. I was in good company.
I stayed with that group through the entire run. We pushed each other towards the finish line. We motivated each other to the finish line. We ran through the flat streets of Natick and the hills of Newton, together every step of the way.
The Boston Marathon is a straight course. But this long run was a turning point for me. This long run provided me with the confidence that I am ready for the 2016 Boston Marathon. I have always felt confident that Joslin will continue to shape the future of diabetes. And now, as I look around in the days leading up to the 2016 Boston Marathon, I feel that same confidence about how I will perform on Marathon Monday.
To learn more about or support the 2016 Team Joslin Boston Marathon team, click here. To become more involved with Team Joslin, please contact: Martha.Ho@Joslin.harvard.edu.