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Don't let not getting into Boston Marathon get you down
The Boston Marathon is an incredible race, and if you get the chance to run it, don't pass it up. But if you never qualify, or if you do qualify and can't go, there is still so much you've accomplished to take pride in. - photo by Kim Cowart
Living in a small Oregon logging town will make a little girl dream big.

Books gave me a glimpse into worlds beyond my reach. I would sit in my room on rainy Saturday afternoons reading about far-off places and plotting my escape once I was old enough to buy my plane tickets. I was convinced that croissants would taste better if eaten on the Left Bank in Paris (I was right). I wanted to walk in the footsteps of history, searching for ghosts still lingering on cobblestone roads and behind high stone fortress walls.

As soon as I graduated from high school I began making plans. I worked three jobs in college, not just to pay tuition, but to also give myself the gift of travel for graduation. I squirreled away money and poured over travel brochures as if I were an explorer commissioned to discover new lands.

Obtaining my passport was one of the most exciting days in my young life. Getting that first stamp was exhilarating, and I immediately began testing theories Id concocted in my Roseburg, Oregon, bedroom. I discovered that European chocolate is better. The lights are brighter in Paris. And I think I heard Anne Boleyn was whispering to me inside the Tower of London (probably telling me that life is short, eat more chocolate).

But I also discovered something completely unexpected. Something that I continue to experience even as an adult sailing to new countries. The travel is great, but its the planning and anticipation that excites me most of all. Saving my pennies, devouring travel guides and packing my suitcase are more thrilling than a drive through the Scottish hills.

Sometimes I build something up so big in my mind that disappointment is inevitable. The Mona Lisa was one of those somethings. In my mind, Id built her up to be bigger than life, but in reality she was just so, well, small. The anticipation of seeing her far outweighed the experience. I dont regret making the trek to see her, but I realized then that so much in life isnt as big as it seems, literally and figuratively in Mona Lisas case.

Almost as soon as I embarked on my first real run (i.e. one not required by a gym teacher), the Boston build-up began. Tales of the excitement at Athletes Village in Hopkinton, the history-making runs of some of the worlds greatest athletes, the infamous Heartbreak Hill and the hope of only one-mile-to-go at the Citgo sign swirled together making Boston an absolute must-do race. Having never run a marathon and not really understanding the effort it would take to make it to Boston, I began dreaming and plotting my way there, nevertheless.

And I did it. With 55 seconds to spare, I qualified to run the 2009 Boston Marathon. I bought plane tickets, paid the registration fee and booked the hotel. Then I got injured. And the injury got worse. And I got real. I dropped out a month before race day. Disappointment isnt a big enough word to describe how I felt, but I was able to turn that disappointment into drive, got myself better and made it back to Boston for 2010. All the frustration of the previous year had turned a must-do race into the race of a lifetime race. In other words, Id built it up big time.

Was it wonderful? Yes. Was it emotional? Given the long road it took to get there, yes. Was it all it was hyped up to be? Well

What makes Boston special isnt the course. Its not the most beautiful course or the most challenging. The crowds are pretty spectacular, but Ive heard crowds just as loud and colorful in New York. No, what makes Boston special is the effort it takes to get there. Feeling a part of an exclusive community with a steep membership requirement is a huge rush. Its the only marathon in the country that accepts runners solely based on a previous marathon time charity runners excluded.

No doubt, theres hard-earned prestige attached to a Boston Marathon jacket. It tells people youre fast. Youre serious. Youre a real runner. You deserve respect.

Im kidding, but not everyone is. Ive talked to a lot of marathoners who belittle their achievements because theyve failed to conquer Bostons qualifying standards. When asked if shed ever run Boston, a friend whod finished over 20 marathons said, No. Im not a real runner. Ill never be that fast. Insert jaw drop here. Really? Finishing 20 plus marathons isnt enough of an accomplishment? Finishing one marathon is more running at one time than most people will ever do. And this marathoner brushed it off like she was just scrambling eggs.

Heres the thing: Real runners run. Period. Fast runners arent better people than slow runners. Speed is impressive, but dedication is inspiring. If chasing the BQ unicorn gets you out of bed and on the road every morning, embrace that. Concrete goals keep us moving in the right direction. They rev that motivating engine. But if that BQ never happens, realize you are not a failure.

Running Boston is a unique experience, and if you qualify, dont pass up the change to go. Wear the Boston jacket with pride and own that accomplishment. You worked for it and you earned it. And even if you qualify for Boston and dont run it, you qualified! That in itself is an incredible accomplishment that deserves accolades. Boston is the only race where volunteers congratulate when you pick up your bib, not just when you finish.

But if you never set foot on the start line in Hopkinton, there is still so much in which to take pride. You are still a part of an exclusive club. You cant fake a marathon. It takes months, even years of hard work and dedication to run 26.2 miles at once, whether you do it in three hours or seven. Wherever you run, make that experience special. Pride comes from doing your best, not being the best. Dont let others standards disparage yours.

When it comes down to it, the Mona Lisa, while significant, is just a painting. And the Boston Marathon, while an incredible race, is just a race. Its the dedication, drive and strength of spirit it takes to get there that makes it special.
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