Early this year I received a Boston Qualifier Questionnaire from a Elizabeth Clor. In her write up she mentioned that there’d been some ups and downs on her road to a BQ, including some performance anxiety in trying to get to the race. Well now, Elizabeth has written a book, Boston Bound, about her experience qualifying for Boston. Elizabeth was kind enough to send me an excerpt of the book and answer a couple of questions I had about her racing history, struggles with sports performance anxiety, and her eventual run down Boylston street.
Here’s the excerpt:
Participating in the Boston Marathon is considered to be the epitome of a successful running career by many. Because only the fastest marathon runners can secure an entry into this race, it’s extremely prestigious within the running community and a goal for many recreational runners with a competitive spirit.
That’s how I initially approached qualifying for the Boston Marathon—as someone who enjoyed the personal satisfaction of running marathons and wanted to get to the next level. But at some point, things progressed far beyond having a “competitive spirit.” What began as a far-away dream gradually transformed into a vicious cycle of self-inflicted torture. Depression, sleeplessness, starvation, anxiety, isolation, and a slew of other “symptoms” characterized my pursuit of this one prestigious race.
It took me seven years to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Ironically, if I hadn’t tied myself up in knots trying to prove that I was worthy of the Boston Marathon, I probably would have already run the race several times. And I wouldn’t be writing this story. But now I have a story to tell, and it’s about much more than a sporting event. It’s about chasing after a dream, and how it can define you, destroy you, and rebuild you.
Sound dramatic? Well, it was. I had a love/hate relationship with the Boston Marathon, with running, and with myself. The word “neutral” wasn’t part of my vocabulary, but over time I’ve learned that neutrality is the key to success in the sport. Ultimately, if it weren’t for my relentless attempts at qualifying for the Boston Marathon, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Just like running a marathon, the only way out of it was through it.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself? What do you do besides run?
I’m a 37-year-old marketing professional living in the Washington, D.C. metro area, with a passion for writing and music. I play the piano by ear and compose my own music and I also maintain the blog Racing Stripes. I enjoy spending time with my husband and traveling to new and exciting places with him.
How far into your running career did you decide to try for a BQ? Do you remember when you first started thinking about trying to qualify?
I had been running marathons for two years when I started to think about qualifying for Boston. I had six of them under my belt, and all of them had been PRs. Running a 3:51 at the Shamrock Marathon in 2008 after just seven weeks of training made me believe that I had the potential to qualify. I had no reason to believe that my PR streak would end, particularly if I started training harder.
You mention in the book that the drive to qualify can turn into an unhealthy obsession. When did you realize you’d taken your desire to qualify too far?
When I stopped being able to actually finish marathons. My anxiety became so intense that it impacted my running performance. I would have amazing training cycles and see significant gains in fitness, but I put so much pressure on myself to actually qualify on race day, that my physical ability became irrelevant. After a 3-year period of DNFs and bonks, I finally realized that my anxiety was destroying my marathons. Looking back on it now, I was so obsessed with BQing, that the only thing that made me aware of my anxiety was my failure to achieve my goals.
How were you able to dial things back to a more reasonable level?
I had to chip away at it bit by bit, and I sought the help of a sports psychologist. When you have anxiety and you know it, simply telling yourself to not be anxious doesn’t work. You have to have an alternative mindset, and I didn’t know what that even looked like. I had always assumed that the most successful athletes had to be obsessed in order to motivate themselves to train at such high levels. It turns out that I was wrong! Ultimately, I needed to learn how to focus on the things I could control in running, not on those I couldn’t.
What do you think finally put you in a position to qualify?
Having a healthier mindset. Focusing on “the process” of running instead of my race results. I believe I was physically capable of qualifying five years before I actually did, but my own mind was standing in my way. I needed to take a step back from the obsession, focus on running for the love of running, and learn to be okay with not hitting my goals. Once I had a mental breakthrough, it still took me two years to qualify, and I think that’s because I had to “practice” not attaining my marathon goal time, and still find joy and satisfaction in what I did accomplish.
What was it like to finally run down Boylston street after all of this?
Surreal. It almost felt like a dream and it took me a week or so to actually process the experience. At the time, it mainly just felt painful! Boston was hot and I didn’t adjust my pace as much as I should have, so I paid for it at the end. But given that I was doing something that I had set my sights on eight years prior, I was determined to feel joy and excitement despite how badly every part of my body hurt. The spectators and the atmosphere at the end were a great distraction from how I felt physically.
What are your future running plans? Are you still setting time goals?
Yes, I am still setting time goals. In order to overcome my mental barriers, I needed to set those aside and focus solely on the process of running. But now that I have a much healthier mindset, time goals are back in the picture–they just aren’t the whole picture. I was able to train at a level I never imagined possible for Boston this past spring– running 65-70 miles a week. However, with the heat of Boston I missed my time goal by a significant amount, like most runners that day. Now I’m hungry to see how fast I can run a marathon when the conditions are more favorable. Instead of chasing a 2017 BQ by running another warm race before the September deadline, I am going to wait until November. Long term, my main goals with running are to enjoy training and racing, to prevent injury, and have new experiences.
Many of us struggle with anxiety in our personal and professional lives. I really appreciate that Elizabeth took the time to share her experience in grappling with, and over coming, her anxiety related to securing a BQ. I’m definitely going to check out Boston Bound, maybe you should too.