Essay: Why I'm not lacing up for the Boston Marathon

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Chasing a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon isn't for everyone.

"When are you getting to Boston?"

"Will I see you in Boston?"

"What's your goal for Boston?"

I've been emailed this question so much that I've considered setting up an out-of-office that says no I'm not going to Boston. No one will see me in Boston because I am not going to Boston to run the Boston Marathon this year, and I doubt I ever will.

Nearly 11 years of running has shown me that I probably haven't been blessed with the right body shape, pain tolerance and blend of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers to put me in a position for 14 or 18 weeks of training to get me across a marathon finish line in under 3 hours, 37 minutes, 51 seconds, which is what a woman who is 35 to 39 years old had to run in a marathon to qualify for Boston this year.

I have friends for whom a 3:37:51 is a bad day. For them, my best marathon time -- 4:18:30 -- would be an absolute disaster.

Even though I have trained in stretches when running took over my life to the detriment of my job, my relationships and my social life, on race day I have run hard and still come up 40 minutes short.

Earning a Boston qualifier, or a BQ, is a mark of amateur marathoning excellence. It's fast enough that not everyone can do it, but those times set by the Boston Athletic Association, which vary depending on gender and age, are still within reach for a lot of good runners.

Just over 26,000 people applied for the 2017 Boston Marathon with qualifying times.

Of course, I've felt Boston's pull. I'm a competitive person. I want to be the best at anything I do. When I was in my mid-20s, I thought I could qualify if I put in the miles and trained hard. A BQ would prove to myself, and anyone else, that I was serious about running and that I was good at it too.

So I trained for the 2009 New Jersey Marathon, which would have been my first, with the goal of grabbing a BQ. Instead, I overtrained right into my first big running injury and spent what should have been my debut marathon lying on the beach in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, trying not to think of where I should have been that day, and the accolades I could have achieved.

When I finally got to the starting line of a marathon healthy, in 2011 in Philadelphia, I limped to the finish line. I did the same thing a year later in Chicago. Finally, on my third shot, at the 2013 New Jersey Marathon, I ran well and smashed my personal record by 15 minutes, but still fell 40 minutes short of a BQ.

Three years later, when I hit the same course with a wonky foot, I managed to run a 4:18:30, shaving 37 seconds off my best marathon time -- a solid effort given my foot and bad weather, but still far from punching my ticket to Boston.

Now I've realized the limits of my legs and shifted my goals. 

Last summer and fall, I hit the trails, finishing as the third female in a 30K trail race run over rocks on a 90-degree day. I then ran my first ultramarathon -- a 50K trail race -- followed by two road marathons in one month with a hike halfway down and up the Grand Canyon.

Those two marathon times were slower than my personal record, but that cycle of running was my best stretch yet because I did more than I ever imagined this body could do, even if it wasn't done in striving to qualify for Boston.

Holding myself to the standard of a BQ -- a mark set by a race in a city I've been to only three times -- would have sucked the joy from the achievements I have made over the course of running eight marathons and one ultra, so I let the BQ goal go.

But I'm not done setting goals yet, so I will keep running, toward what I want my running to be.

Jen A. Miller is the author of Running: A Love Story.

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