Spring has sprung and no one is happier about that than me.
I love the warmer temperatures, the cleansing rain, the promise of sun tans and poolside rendezvous. But what I love most about this time of year is the Boston Marathon.
This year will be my third running of this famed course, and I couldn’t be more honored to be there. I’ve run a lot of big marathons — including New York and the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco — but Boston holds a special place in my heart.
I’ll admit that running in New York was exciting. There wasn’t a mile that went by without hundreds of cheering New Yorkers and upbeat bands battling each other to keep your legs surging forward. I loved New York. Where else can you run next to a guy from Paris, France speaking Italian to a guy from Florence, Italy while running through an Hasidic Jewish neighborhood? It was like running with the U.N.
In San Francisco I was buoyed by the inspirational women who took charge of a hilly course and showed the world that women are in this sport to stay. I ran behind a personal hero of mine, Joan Benoit Samuelson, for a few miles as she ran with her daughter. If my legs hadn’t felt the pain of those hills, I would have had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t running in a dream.
So what makes Boston so special to me? It’s simple. I earned it.
As a child, if I wanted a toy and it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, I had to earn it. I would dust, vacuum, sweep or make beds to earn an allowance. Paying for that toy out of my own wallet made it worth even more than if it had simply been handed to me.
As an adult, Boston is my new toy. It’s not that I don’t work hard for all of my other races, but you have to prove yourself just to get a bib number to run on Patriot’s Day. And the standards are only getting tougher.
Since the 2011 Boston Marathon sold out in record time, race organizers have changed the way runners can register. Simply put, the faster your qualifying time, the sooner you sign up. Not only do you have to meet qualifying standards based on your age and gender, but this year you had to beat those standards by over 90 seconds to ensure you got in before it filled up. Next year, all qualifying standards will be lowered by five minutes, so it’s only going to get tougher.
Some claim that this is elitist and have voiced their disapproval. It is elitist, but that’s what separates it from all the other races. Boston is a reward for the fast. There’s nothing wrong with that. Granted it’s easy for me to say since I’ve qualified the last four years in a row, but I don’t think my opinion would change if I hadn’t qualified.
Boston raises the bar and gives runners a carrot to run after. For some, this chase is a lifelong dream. Many have no intentions of ever going to Boston, but simply want to qualify to say they did. Qualifying gives runners a tangible goal to work towards. The reward here isn’t the finishing medal — it’s the bib number.
That’s not to say that being slower is a bad thing. On the contrary, I have nothing but awe and admiration for those in the back of the pack who struggle to make it to the finish line. There is nothing so sweet as to fight hard for a finish.
But to BQ, well, that’s just the cherry on top.
Boston is a celebration. I don’t take my invitation to this party for granted. I feel blessed to have legs that have not only earned me many marathon finishes, but have had enough speed to take part in this moving dance. There may come a day when that gift is gone, but today is not that day.
In a few short days I will make my way to Massachusettes in a plane dotted with Boston Marathon jackets, new and old. I will board the bus and make my way to Hopkinton, Mass. to camp out with my people and celebrate the glory of our sport. I will listen to stories of inspiration and hopefully pass along a few of my own. I will soak in the cheers of the crowds and allow myself to feel like a rock star. I will celebrate the potholes I overcame on my road to Hopkinton and revel in the strength and determination of those around me. I will wear my marathon jacket with pride.
This everyday, average mom will be, again, a Boston Marathon finisher.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner and soon-to-be three-time Boston Marathon finisher.