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What the Boston Marathon has done for me

Posted April 19

Boston.

The word has always had the ability to conjure up a whirlwind of emotions. For runners who qualify to run the marathon it’s pride.

For runners who missed qualifying by seconds, it’s disappointment and renewed conviction.

For almost everyone in Boston during marathon weekend, it’s about celebration.

I’m not running Boston this year. To be honest, I’m not sure when I will go back. I’ve run Boston five times. Every year from 2010 to 2014. Each year changed me as a runner and a person. Each year broke me down and built me up in the most unexpected ways.

What is it about this place, about this race that captures our attention? What’s so special about these 26.2 miles? What is it about those streets that have people reaching and striving, dreaming and planning for years to toe that starting line?

I can rattle off the usual reasons: high qualifying standards, historical course, Boston strong.

But if you’ll allow me to get a little personal, here’s why Boston will always hold a special place in my heart.

As a young, new mom, I found myself struggling. After dreaming of quitting my teaching job to stay home with my own children, I found myself living the dream, but it felt like a nightmare. I felt utterly lost. One minute, I was Mrs. Cowart, 10th/9th grade Honors/ Journalism teacher. The next minute, I was Mom (or just the woman who responded to screams). I didn’t miss my teaching job, but I felt like I was trying to find my way through a foreign country without a GPS.

One morning was particularly dark. It was a Friday morning. I had just arrived home after teaching a 5:30 a.m. strength training class. I raced home so my husband could leave at 6:45 a.m. for his job that actually paid the bills and kept us from starving. I walked upstairs hoping Ali, our 3-month-old, would be sleeping, only to be greeted by screams before I reached the third step. Kaitlynne, our 3-year-old was up, too, ready to get on with her busy day of Wiggles watching and setting world records in the “Messing Up Each Room Faster than Mom Can Clean” category. There would be no shower for me, I knew, until nap time, a mere six hours later. Maybe.

I don’t remember what words my husband and I exchanged, but I can’t imagine they were kind. He had to rush out of the house to get to work, and I was left sitting on the edge of our bathtub sobbing, holding a baby who was screaming and listening to a toddler who had shut herself in her closet crying because everybody else was crying. Actually, I don’t know why she was crying. I don’t even know why I was crying. All that matters is that the tears flowed from every eyeball.

Overwhelmed is not a big enough word to describe how I felt. I was staring in the face of 18 more years of feeling inadequate. Empty. For the first time ever, I was unfamiliar with myself. I didn’t know who I was. I was cracking like a chipped windshield, feeling powerless to stop it.

After 15 minutes of wallowing in the depths of despair, I took a deep breath and said out loud, “I’m done.”

At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was done with, but “this” was over. Something had to change, and I knew it had to be something in me. My kids were just kids doing what kids do: eating, sleeping, playing. My husband was doing what he had to do: working, coming home and working more, listening and consoling. The change needed to come from within me.

The next weekend, I went for my first run. I never ran track in high school or college. I didn’t even run on the treadmill at the gym. What prompted this run, I don’t know even now. But as spontaneous and out of the blue as that decision was, it felt almost natural to get up early and run.

I was alone. It was a warm summer morning. The only sound was that of my breath and the birds. I felt light on my feet, like a physical block of cement had been lifted off my chest, and I hadn’t even realized it was there. It was as if someone had told me to relax my hands only to look down and realize they’d been balled up into fists the whole time. Relief washed over me as the anxiety of the last few months drifted off behind me. Thirty minutes later, I walked up the front porch steps somehow different.

Fast forward two years. That 3-month-old was now one week shy of her third birthday. The four of us stood in front of the Boston finish line on Boylston St. I had qualified and was about to run the 2010 Boston Marathon, my first.

Running had given me and outlet, and Boston had given me a goal. A specific, concrete destination to help guide me through the hazy, confusing and oh-so-difficult early days of motherhood. Boston helped me realize that there was still a part of me unclaimed by others. It helped me see myself as a whole person. It filled the well that had been so dry. It didn’t make motherhood easy, but it did give me the confidence I needed to do hard things. More importantly, Boston helped me find joy in doing those hard things.

So the emotion Boston evokes for me? There are many: strength, confidence, joy. But most of all, gratitude.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner.

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