Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Journey from Boston to Buffalo Marathon by Ryan Mills

My journey to the 119th Boston Marathon April 20th, 2015 started in 2013.  I qualified for Boston with my first marathon in North Carolina called, “Peak to Creek” in October 2013.  Peak to Creek was a gut check the last 10k, like any marathon but magnified after the downhill portion of the course, which left my quads shot. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was an incredible feat for me for two reasons: first, being such a prestigious race, and second, the fact I was able to compete at that level after hip surgery in 2009.
I started training at the end of December for the 2015 Boston Marathon while I was studying abroad in London.  I was in the UK studying their healthcare system (the National Health Service) for my Comparative International Health class at Pfeiffer University.  Every morning before lecture, I would run between 7-12 miles. The highlight of my day was running along the River Thames – where I met some of the friendliest people.  Runners passing by would wave and nod or run with you a few miles just to chat.
After coming home from London, I increased my mileage and dedicated more time to be ready for the Boston Marathon in April.  I switched up my diet to optimize my nutrition, even though eating healthy is the hardest part.  I stayed in on Friday night’s, and stepped up my track and tempo days.
In Boston I felt incredible. My taper couldn’t have gone better, and I was at the goal weight I wanted to be at to compete.  Everything was going perfectly until the night before the race.  The evening of the race I ended up getting gastroenteritis (a stomach virus), which kept me in the bathroom all night.  I should never have run the race, but I had trained so hard.  I just had to give it a shot.  I woke up that morning and found the closest Walgreens by the buses at the Boston Common.  I got a bottle of Imodium and chugged (which probably was not the best decision but I was desperate).  When I got to the starting point of the race at Hopkinton – I tried my best to rehydrate myself, however, it was too late.
When I started the race first, I stayed on pace the first 5-10k but my stomach virus progressed.  If this had been any other race, I would have thrown in the towel but this was Boston.  Boston Marathon is one of the most prestigious marathons in the world and I just couldn’t bare to give up on my dream of running it.  Recently before the race, I watched the movie "Unbroken" directed by Angelina Jolie with my girlfriend.  I had the phrase from Louis Zamperini, “If you can take it, you can make it" replaying over and over in my head, which set up the stage for bad decision-making.  Plus, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to run with 30,000 of the most elite runners in the world with more than a million fans cheering.  I changed strategies, turned off my GPS, and decided to give it all I had.  
My pace fell off target significantly from stopping at multiple porta johns along the way and the feeling of general weakness kicked in. I vividly remember a runner tapping me between my shoulder blades after witnessing me pulling off to the side to puke.  He asked if he could run with me a few miles to help get me through.  I was shocked; it's hard to fathom a stranger sacrificing part of their race to run with you.  However, this was not just a coincidence.  I had two other runners run along beside me for short stretches as well, encouraging me to push through.
During the race, there were brief moments, such as when I passed Wellesley College where women held massive signs that said “Kiss me” and provided deafening cheers, which encouraged me to dig deeper and made me push through it. However, the cold rain, dehydration, and not being able to take any gels without getting sick, caught up to me at mile marker 17. I did my best impression of Roberto Duran when he fought Sugar Ray Leonard, throwing in the towel and yelling, “No Mas." My body was physically unable to continue and I asked for medical help.  At that point, I had hypothermia from the cold rain and I was unable to heat myself up, and had a temperature of 102.6 degrees with a stomach virus. After the medical team assessed me, they decided it was best for the Cataldo Ambulance Service to take me to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.  At the hospital I was diagnosed with dehydration and gastroenteritis.  Luckily, my hypothermia was easily reversed and went away by the time I got to the emergency department.
At the hospital, I took a nap and upon awakening I saw the most important thing to me: my family and friends.  I had multiple family members and friends who traveled from out of state to come me run. I always preach that your circumstance is all about perspective, and seeing my family and friends changed my perspective. Everyone has a bad race if you run long enough. My first Boston experience didn’t end up being about my race but was more about the kindness of others.  The camaraderie amongst the runners during the race and my family and friends served as my motivation to continuing training once I returned to Charlotte to requalify for Boston.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself post-Boston (which was easy to do with all the posts on Facebook of other runners with great races or focusing on having a “did not finish (DNF)” on my resume), I decided to jump in the next marathon that worked with my work schedule, which was Buffalo's Marathon. Going into Buffalo I had two goals in mind: to qualify for Boston and redemption.  I was able to do that with a time of 2:52, which was 13 minutes under the Boston Qualifying time.  My Boston experience in 2015 was quite unique.  I was able to experience the compassion of other runners, family and friends, who lifted me up when I was down. I can't express in words how humbled and grateful I am for that experience.  Hopefully, I get the opportunity to pay it forward to another fellow runner who isn’t having a particularly good race. A marathon is like life, with its ups and downs.  The trick is to stay positive and never give up.   

1 comment:

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