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Boston, Finally...
by Tzatzil LeMair on June 19th, 2018

The First Encounter

My dream to run the Boston Marathon began 22 years ago when my friend Amy and I happen to walk by the final mile of the 100th Anniversary of the race. Something about the human drama we were witnessing right in front of us called my name and I said, “I want to run this race!” Inspired and motivated by the Boston Marathon, I started running daily during study breaks while pursuing my MBA and MS at Boston University. Little did I know it would take me more than 20 years to achieve that goal and that running would shape the next two decades of my life, not just personally but also professionally.

Becoming A Runner

A year and a half later, I ran the New York City Marathon accompanied by my then boyfriend, now husband, Marc. Tip: If you really want to know if you’re compatible with someone, train for and run a marathon together! That race was epic! There was a hurricane moving up the coast and we had torrential rain for most of the race. As a newbie, I was over-trained and struggling with IT band issues from the start. We managed to finish the race in an unimpressive time of 5 hours and one minute - soaking wet, shivering, limping, but elated at having finished our first marathon together.
After running the New York City Marathon, I started doing triathlons – I was hooked. As an executive at an advertising agency in New York, I was traveling constantly. I’d pack my running shoes and run every chance I had. When not traveling, I’d train before and/or after work and run races in Central Park or triathlons in Long Island on the weekends. Two years later, Marc and I got married and moved to Austin, to work at a startup and start a family.
Austin was endurance sports’ heaven and I saw an opportunity. Combining my marketing expertise, leadership skills, and passion for endurance sports, I started Tough Cookie Fitness in 2002. I dedicated the next 15 years to my growing business and growing family. I was coaching women, giving lectures, organizing races, running marathons, competing in all-distance triathlons from sprint to Ironman all the while raising my four boys. It was a blast! However, qualifying for Boston, with its increasingly faster qualifying times, remained an elusive goal which I had given up after narrowly missing qualification in 2006.

​​Unfinished Business

One summer day in 2016, while visiting colleges with the boys, we found ourselves sitting outside a Starbucks on Boylston Street in Boston. I noticed ribbons tied to a utility pole and suddenly I realized we were right at the site of one of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It hit me hard and reawakened the deep desire to run Boston. After a moment I said “I need to run Boston. Somehow, someday, I need to run it!” Marc and the boys assured me I would one day run Boston.
I came back to Austin determined to train for and qualify for Boston. I recruited my partner in crime and experienced Boston marathoner Lorena Devlyn to help me qualify. We signed up to run the California International Marathon. Neither of us was quite in marathon shape and we had some pathetic long runs that hot September. I was nowhere close to the pace needed to run a sub 3:55, the qualifying time for my age group. Nonetheless, I stuck to my training and as the temperature began to cool I started to see progress. I cleaned my diet and I trained harder than ever. By race day I was feeling confident and strong. The weather was perfect and with the help of Lorena’s pacing over the last flat, fast 10 miles I was able to finish the race in 3:51:31! I did it! I had qualified for Boston!

Then the Wheels Came Off

Having run a qualifying time did not mean I was in. I needed to wait 9 months to see if I had enough of a cushion to get a spot in the race as they let faster people register first and every year it fills up faster and faster. I decided to take time off from racing and give my body a break while waiting to see if I got in. The ironic part of this story is that during my time off I ended up developing a serious case of plantar fasciitis. I tried everything under the sun to treat my injury; physical therapy, manual therapy, yoga, stretching, icing, rolling, sleeping with a brace, but nothing worked. September rolled around, and I received the email I had been waiting for: I was in!
Panic started to set in as the weeks and months went by and my foot was not getting better. I had multiple steroid shots and wore a boot for 6 weeks. In January, 9 months after my first symptom I had an MRI and two different doctors recommended fascia-release surgery. Boston was 3 months away, which was not enough time to recover from surgery. My podiatrist suggested getting a stem cell injection. I had nothing to lose at this point, so I went for it. For the next four weeks, I let my foot heal and even experimented with intermittent fasting as researchers found it can trigger stem cell regeneration.
Two weeks after the shot I noticed my first steps out of bed became less painful. Four weeks after the stem cell treatment I got the green light to try running. My first run was a 3-mile loop around the Capitol with future Texas Senator Beto O’Rourke. I ran pain-free for the first time in almost a year! There was hope! I had 5 weeks to train for the Boston Marathon!
My 5-week training program consisted of running 3 times a week using 2:1 run/walk intervals and spending 45-60 min. on a “zero runner” elliptical machine the other days. I was only able to get up to 6 miles before race day. I was undertrained but healthy enough to show up to the starting line. I was going to Boston!

The Boston Marathon

The streets downtown were lined with little pots with yellow flowers celebrating the Boston Marathon, street banners hung from every light post, enormous window decals decorated storefronts celebrating the race, waitstaff in restaurants and bars wore special edition Boston Marathon shirts, elite runners from all over the world shopped in Newberry Street, I was in runner heaven.
Marc and I had a fantastic relaxed and romantic weekend leading up to the race. As race day approached, the weather-forecast turned from bad to worse predicting temperatures in the 30s with torrential rain all day and headwind up to 30 mph. Somehow, this was not worrying me one bit. I was happy to be there with no goal other than to see how far I could go. We had a fantastic pre-race dinner with Lorena and John at “Limoncello” Marc’s and my favorite Italian restaurant in Boston. There were no pre-race jitters, just lots of laughter, good food, wine, and limoncello.
The wind was howling race morning. Marc observed from the window people fighting the wind and umbrellas turning inside out. It was going to be a tough day for sure. I took my time getting ready and layering; running tights, the “Tough Cookie” long sleeve shirt my fashionista cousin Elena designed for me adorned with silver wings on the back, and my Gortex running jacket topped by throw-away warm layers. By the time we got to the buses heading to the start line in Hopkinton, I was drenched through and through from the waist down. Water poured out of my shoes with every step and icy water flooded back in. The wind made it seem like it was raining sideways, and I had to just laugh at the insanity of the feat ahead.
During the long bus ride to Hopkinton, Lorena and I reminisced about all our previous adventures and laughed again at the situation and the fact that I had not run more than 6 miles in over a year. The chances of me finishing the race seemed slim, yet I was not concerned. My mission was simple: Put one foot in front of the other for as long as I can. And when I couldn’t anymore whether due to my injured foot, lack of training, or hypothermia, I would hop in an Uber. Lorena announced she would stay with me since it was going to be a long day for everyone due to the weather so “we might as well suffer together!”
The race started, and I stuck to my plan to run 2 minutes and walk 1. Despite the relentless rain and wind, I was feeling great and the first 8 miles flew by! Since the longest I had run was 6 miles, every mile marker was a victory in my book and I celebrated accordingly. Before the race, I had made a pact with myself that no matter what, I was not going to complain about anything. I knew it would be a long painful day, but I wanted to stay as positive as possible. Every time Lorena asked me how I was feeling I replied “Great!”. I never mentioned to her that I was developing a blister on my big toe, and as the race progressed the burning and stinging became quite intense, but after everything I already had going against me 1) the weather, 2) my injured foot and 3) lack of training, I was NOT going to let a blister stop me from accomplishing my goal!
Soon we reached mile 13, I said to Lorena “We are on the other side of the mountain!” And she said, “Yes, but the other side is uphill!” I knew the hills were coming but I was unfazed, I could always walk if needed. At that point, I started paying careful attention to my nutrition and electrolyte intake to prevent cramping. I stuck to my interval and dug deep through the hills. My legs felt heavy and my heart rate would escalate quickly as I climbed, but I managed to recover quickly during walking intervals. Finally, we reached the top of the infamous Heartbreak Hill and to my delight, Marc was there! I was feeling absolutely ecstatic to have made it to mile 20! Marc was equally amazed, and his excitement gave me the burst of energy I needed to push through the final 6 miles of the race.
I must admit that the last 6 miles were a blur. I was exhausted, and my toe felt as if it had split in half at that point, but I kept my 2:1 interval. I could feel my pace slowing and my stride shortening as every muscle in my body tightened and twitched threatening to cramp. I envisioned the medal around my neck and focused my sight on the blue line painted on the middle of the road taking me to the finish line.
The final two blocks were pure bliss. Despite the torrential rain, the finish line grandstand was packed with spectators cheering so loud even the heavy rain and wind couldn’t drown them out. I wanted to soak it all in, after all, it had taken me 22 years to get here. I reached for Lorena’s hand, raised it over our heads and stepped over the finish line.


Posted in Running    Tagged with Running, boston, marathon, women's running, tough cookies, New York City Marathon, Boston Marathon, run-walk, Marathon Training


2 Comments

Malinda - June 29th, 2018 at 3:44 AM
Thanks for sharing your story! It took me 12 attempts in 3 years to qualify and I'm grateful for every step it took to cross the finish line this year!
- July 2nd, 2018 at 2:42 PM
That's perseverance! Congrats Malinda! This year was EPIC! Way to go!
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