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Boston Marathon participants raise their hands in celebration of completing the race.
Lessons from the Boston Marathon

This year’s Boston Marathon churned up limitless frozen precipitation and perspiration to serve as inspiration. Nearly 30,000 runners faced possibly the worst weather in the race’s 122-year history.

On the women’s side, the race brought an end to a 33-year American winner draught, with Desiree Linden proving that the sixth time down Boylston Street is the charm. 

On the men’s side, the race was won by a man who transcends marathoning both as a runner and human. Yuki Kawauchi races-- and wins-- everything from blisteringly fast half marathons to brutally fierce ultramarathons in addition to working fulltime as a Japanese government clerk. 



Here are our top four lessons from the 2018 running of the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the world:

1. Listen to your heart. After taking fourth at the 2017 Boston Marathon, queen of consistency and two time Olympian Linden was severely burned out. She didn’t have a bad day, but she had wanted to win. Just like she had wanted to win Boston in 2011, when she missed out in a heartbreaking sprint to the finish. After 2017’s race, she didn’t feel like running for five months, so she mostly didn’t.

“I hated everything about running,” Linden told Runner’s World last fall. It wasn’t until September that she felt compelled to lace up her sneakers again. Turns out this hiatus may have been a necessary ingredient to this year’s success.

“I think you throw yourself into the next big thing so you don’t [feel it],” Linden said. “Then it kicks you in the butt at some point.”

She let her butt-- and the rest of her body, including her mind, recover last summer. She floated around a lake in Michigan on a kayak; fished; read; took care of her puppy, Boston.

“I feel like I’m not getting any better, which is totally normal,” Linden said. “And fourth at Boston, 2:25, is a totally fine place to plateau. If I could ride off into the sunset there, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. But I feel like I would rather try to shake things up and fail miserably, but at least try, than just keep doing the same thing and getting the same result.”

After her protracted break, Linden eased back into running with some shorter distance races, including the U.S. 5k Road Championships and the Manchester Road race, the historic 4.748 mile “turkey trot.” 

“I can just have fun and race often and try to be competitive without super high expectations,” she said of this foray. The spark began to rekindle. By Thanksgiving, she was itching to run another marathon. Five months later, she won the most prestigious one in the world. 

If you’re feeling burned out and not super motivated to get out the door, maybe you just need to step away. Whether that entails switching it up and racing something shorter or longer, trying the trails, or taking a complete break from the sport, don’t be afraid to tone it down so you can ramp it up in the future.

2. Others’ success is not your failure. In fact, it serves as fodder. Success is generative-- we can use other’s accomplishments to fuel our training, and also as proof we can strive higher. After Shalane Flanagan broke a 40-year drought to become the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon since 1977, Linden tweeted, “In tears. Thank you, Shalane Flanagan, for giving us something to believe in. Congratulations!” 

To which Shalane responded, “Now it’s your turn.”

“Really love looking back on this, not just because it’s prophetic. It shows being a killer competitor isn’t about being jealous of other’s success. For so many in our sport, toughness and generosity go hand in hand,” says, Bowerman Track Club in response to Linden and Shalane’s Twitter chat. 

Toughness and generosity go hand in hand. An hour into the race, Flanagan took an unexpected detour to dive into what the announcers termed a “portable facility”-- a move almost unheard of for an elite runner.

Even more unheard of, Linden held back to wait, helping Flanagan eventually rejoin the field after her 13.86 second pit stop. When asked why she jeopardized her own race to help her compatriot, Linden said she was feeling so bad at the time that she thought she might drop out of the race, to the point that she had asked Shalayne, “If there’s anything I can do to help you out, let me know because I might drop out.”

Of course, Linden went on to win.

This is a pivotal moment in female American distance running, and sport at large. As two time Olympian and World Champion Emma Coburn tweeted after the race, “Women supporting women, especially in sport, is so important. Others success doesn’t take away from your success. Use it to inspire and motivate!”

Use friends and role models as sources of inspiration and confidence. Success is not a zero sum game. And in fact, helping others may give you the courage to dig deeper, too.

3. Keep showing up. 

Hard work eventually pays off. Six-time Boston Marathon veteran Linden posted “keep showing up” on her Instagram account 10 days before this year’s race. Turns out, she had showed up enough. The highly decorated yet always the bridesmaid marathoner finally won her first Marathon Major.

“6th time’s a charm. Keep showing up,” was her response. 

“In 2007, no one thought I would be sitting here,” she said at the winner’s press conference. “I definitely used experience to my advantage. This is my sixth time here and I picked up something every time.”

Like her career at large, Linden had to flight and claw her way through a storm to get there. After slogging through just a few miles of buffeting rain and a blistering headwind in just above freezing temperatures, Linden was ready to quit. 

"My hands were freezing, and there are times where you were just stood up by the wind. It was comical how slow you were going, and how far you still had to go," Linden said.

But on her sixth run of the course, Linden-- who knew every turn and hill with her eyes closed-- persevered through the insanity.

Men’s winner Kawauchi also embodies the reward of hard work. He raced 12 marathons last year-- twice the number of most elite marathoners. Kawauchi also holds the world record for most marathons under 2:20 (79) and under 2:12 (25). While both exceptionally fast and durable, Kawauchi’s mentality can extend to all of us. 

Put your head down and keep grinding. You will reap the rewards eventually.

4. Adversity is an opportunity for growth. Boston vanquishers actualized Wu Wei, the ancient Taoist philosophy of going with the flow. Rather than fight the inclement conditions, they embraced them. “For me, these were the best conditions possible,” Kawauchi said after the race. Mindset matters.

“I’ve always been strong in cold weather,” Kawauchi elaborated through an interpreter at the winners’ press conference. “I ran the Marshfield [Massachusetts] Marathon in January. It was a little too cold but instrumental in pulling off this victory.”

Kawauchi faces adversity on a daily basis. A full time Japanese government clerk whose job prohibits him from accepting sponsorship deals, he only has time to train once a day. Most elite marathoners, by comparison, train twice a day, rounding out the remaining hours with rest, massage and gym time. 

Unsponsored, unknown second place finisher Sarah Sellers corroborated the power of a positive attitude facing the fierce wind and frozen rain, and the testament to surmounting obstacles on a daily basis.

“Obviously the conditions were the wild card that everyone got dealt, but I think it played to my advantage,” Sellers said. “Looking at my time going into the race, I shouldn’t be on the same page as any of the top 20 women. …they’re in a different league than me.” 

"I had a strategy going in, and it all kind of went away with the weather forecast,” she continued. “I just decided to race as smart as I could and tried to conserve as much as I could and have as much as I could at the end." 

Like Kawauchi, Sellers contends with adversity on a daily basis. A full-time nurse anesthetist, she does most of her training at 4am or after 7pm. 

Flip your perspective from fear to eff-yeah. Limited time to train? Bad weather? Life stressors? You’re training yourself to contend with adversity. 

 
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