Boston Marathon Diary

Courtney and Mike Barnes at the staring line for the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

Courtney and Mike Barnes at the staring line for the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass. Photo courtesy of Courtney Barnes.

For Arlington couple Mike and Courtney Barnes, the story of their Boston Marathon run began over five years before when Mike told friends that he would wait to enter until Courtney could join him. We spoke with Courtney and asked her to share her journey.

A real estate agent and insurance investigator by day, Courtney and Mike are both experienced runners and Road Race Club of America certified coaches. In addition to private clients, Courtney coaches Arlington’s LiveFit Running Group. Mike coaches as T3 Running, and also holds a United States of America Track & Field (USATF) level I coaching certification.The Boston Marathon is the only open marathon that requires qualifying times for participants. Only about 10% of runners will ever meet a Boston qualifying time. Even rarer is a married couple who qualifies together. Runners must meet specific times based on their ages on the day of the Boston Marathon.  Just meeting the time limit doesn’t guarantee entry, as the number of participants is capped and faster runners are allowed to register before slower.

Courtney: I NEVER thought I would be able to obtain the qualifying time necessary to get in. It wasn’t until my husband said he wasn’t going to run Boston until I could run the race with him that I started to wonder if I could actually do it. “I’m just thankful that he waited on me. He could have done it long before me. He coached me to do it.”

In 2010, Courtney’s best marathon time was 4 hours, 35 minutes. She would need to shave off 45 minutes in order to beat the 3 hour, 50 minute qualifying time. But then the Boston Athletic Association tightened up the requirements in 2011, cutting five minutes off and dropping the magic time to 3:45.

(We’ll do the math for you: that pace is just under an 8 minute, 35 second mile. But remember, it’s actually running 26.2 of those 8:35 miles, one after the other.)

By February 2014, Courtney was ready to make her qualifying attempt. The couple traveled to Greenville, Mississippi for the Mississippi River Marathon. A flat course, the race is a Mid-South favorite for Boston hopefuls. Unexpectedly, snow and ice covered the course, making footing treacherous and jeopardizing her attempt. Mike had beat the qualifying pace several times in the past but had to requalify for the 2015 race. The weather conditions increased the risk of injury and a dreaded “Did Not Finish.”

Courtney: “[Greenville] was one of those races where God just gave me wings. It snowed and ice; we went over ice on the first bridge and it was freezing and it was wonderful. I felt so awesome, it was almost surreal. I knew at mile 22 that I was on pace to beat my BQ. I didn’t hit my wall. I never felt my body running out of steam.”

Now the waiting began; entries for the 2015 Boston Marathon wouldn’t open until September 2014 . Because his time was so much under the requirement, Mike was able to register a week before Courtney and received his notification right away.  Courtney’s time put her entry in with the bulk of the applicants, forcing her to wait three weeks before receiving the news. But they were still six months out from the actual race.

The Barnes kept busy in the intervening months. In February 2015, they won the Overall Couple Award in the Bartlett Valentine’s Race with Mike winning overall male Master’s and Courtney taking 1st place in her age group. The next month they both won the overall Master’s division at the Jackson Half Marathon in March.

We caught up with Courtney before she left for Boston and asked her to record some of her thoughts and impressions of the trip.

Courtney: My goal for Boston is to soak up every second and every mile: to embrace the blessings God has given me.  I’ve decided not to place undue emphasis on my performance (i.e. running a certain pace) and fail to appreciate the pleasure of the accomplishment. 

April 18th, 2015

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Boston Marathon Bombing survivor Rebekah Gregory at the finish line days before the 2015 marathon. Photo courtesy of Courtney Barnes.

We arrived in Boston at 2:30pm. We checked into our hotel and then went straight to the Expo. We got our bibs and then we purchased the coveted “Boston Marathon 2015 Official Jacket.” The jackets are one of the cool things about the race because each year the jacket is a little bit different. It’s neat to see other runners from years past walking around in their race jackets from the previous years. After leaving the expo, we walked down to the finish line of the race.

As we were walking past the site where one of the bombs went off in 2013, we saw Rebekah Gregory sitting and weeping at the site. She was injured in the explosion and lost her leg. It was so emotional to watch her weep and grieve what happened to her just two years prior. That was a moment where we were reminded that the race is so much bigger than us.

 April 19th, 2015

We took a bus tour of race course. The race is a point to point course. It starts in Hopkinton. The bus drove us out to the start line and we were able to take pictures and explore the area. Hopkinton was a neat little town, very much like Arlington. The bus then took us through the race course giving out historical information and showing us what we would be running the following day. I must admit, it’s a bit of a reality check when you see just how far 26.2 miles is just driving it! After we finished out bus tour, we went back to our hotel.

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The Barnes with Dick and Rick Hoyt. Photo courtesy of Courtney Barnes.

As we entered the lobby, Team Hoyt (Dick and his son Rick Hoyt) where standing right in front of us. We’ve both been huge admirers of this amazing father-son team from the first time we saw their story on ESPN for completing an Ironman. They had just thrown out the first pitch at the Red Sox game. Mr. Hoyt was so gracious and kind as he spoke with us and allowed us to have a picture taken with them. It was truly one of the highlights of our trip!!

April 20th, 2015: RACE DAY!!!

We woke up to cold, windy and rainy conditions. Not ideal…but who cares….we are running BOSTON!! We made the mile walk to Boston Commons to catch the bus to the start line. The BAA buses took us out to Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton. Wow! Athlete’s Village.

The energy here was incredible. Leading up to this point I felt a lot of nerves, but once we got there it was impossible for me to feel anything but excitement. Surrounded by so many runners that worked hard to get there, it was like Disneyland for runners. This is where Michael and I said goodbye because he was in a wave ahead of me. He started over 30 minutes before me.

Going into this race there were obviously some obstacles due to the weather but I decided that those things weren’t going to stop me from enjoying every mile of the race and taking it all in. I wanted to celebrate the blessing that I had been given to run this race. I realize that my ability to run the race before me was only because of God’s grace and not because of anything I had done. He had orchestrated it all and I was determined to embrace His blessing.

There were actually a lot of points along the course where I would think something like, ‘I only have nine more miles of this race. I don’t want it to end because of how amazing this all is.’ It really is hard to not be positive though when you are at your dream race! When you realize those that would love to be exactly where you are or those that have believed in you and supported you along the way.

I wish I could give you a mile by mile recap but I can’t remember what happened at each mile. The race all kind of blends together now, but here are some of the highlights:

The crowds were remarkable. Even in the pouring rain, there were people cheering the entire 26.2 miles!! There were so many times along the way that I got a random boost of energy just from all of the cheering. Seeing so many people out there to support the runners with signs, food, water, high-fives and smiles. Just wow!

Running through all of the different towns was amazing. The scenery was gorgeous and there was never a boring minute. I did my best to high five people along the course. Each time I did, it gave me new energy.

The Newton hills which lead you to Heartbreak hill were the first real test The first part of the course is net downhill which really tires your legs out if you’re not used to this type of running. Time to see what they had left. In addition to this hills, the wind was getting worse. There was a headwind almost the entire race but I really remember thinking during these hills about how strong it was. I slowed my pace down and just kept pumping my arms. My legs were pretty shot at this point from the pounding but I completely expected that to happen. I don’t even know how to rate Heartbreak hill. It was easier than I expected, but the timing of it being at mile 20 made tougher than I expected. Once I crested the top of Heartbreak hill, I realized that the toughest part was behind me and now it was time to celebrate the journey to the finish line.

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Mike Barnes and Courtney Barnes during the 2015 Boston Marathon. Photo courtesy of Courtney Barnes.

Left on Boylston Street. I never understood how powerful that statement would be until I took MY “Left on Boylston Street.”  I could see the finish line up ahead. As I was making my left turn, the song “Grace Like Rain” began playing on my iPod. The rain that had been covering me for entire race, was still covering me like God’s amazing grace. I was overwhelmed by His goodness! Everything around me seemed to recess almost like a mirage, and although a post-race viewing of the finish line cam revealed many runners around me, I felt completely solo in the broad avenue. Like it was just God carrying me to the finish line. Crossing the Boston Marathon Finish line was a reminder of my favorite verse “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” 2 Corinthians 12:9

In closing…..

The people of Boston are incredible. Everyone we met was incredibly nice, friendly and helpful. Everyone in the city made us feel so cool after the race by giving us congrats/high-fives and telling us “thank you!” The people that we met always asked so many questions, they smiled and they were so interested in our race experiences. Also, being in a town full of excited and happy runners was pretty much the best. It was like nothing else I have ever experienced.

Courtney: “When you wait so long—it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to train for, work for it, set it as a goal. It’s easy to be let down because your expectations are so high. Boston met and exceeded all of them. I now have an ignited passion for helping other people get there and do it.”

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