On the race day, unfortunately, my sleep was not good because of nervousness and too much thought before the race. I had to wake up at 4:30am. Dr. Ahn and I took the T to the downtown where there were buses waiting for the runners which was the only assured way to get to the start line in Hopkinton. I arrived in Hopkinton at 7:15am. With thousands of runners, I was loaded out. I was in the middle of the country where you would never stop by unless you are in Boston Marathon. What I did was basically waiting, a waiting for a coffee, a waiting for a potty, and a waiting for moving to the start line. The twenty-six thousand participants were resting, eating, waiting as well. The time finally arrived. I found the bus that had my bid number on and left all my belonging there because the bus was to take it to the finish line. It was a symbolic gesture to me, thinking to myself, ‘I have to finish the race at least because of my bag!’
I was in the wave 1 that was divided into corrals. Each corral contained one thousand runners. Just before the gunshot, two Thunder Birds flied over us. Someone said, “It will take only three minutes to get to the finish line.” We laughed together. Our hours running started at 10am and I passed the start line at 10:03am. I felt floating with runners because the road was narrow and a steep downhill. At 1-mile point, I looked at my watch. It indicated 7:45. My planned pace was between 7:00 and 7:10 per mile. If I would like to make sub three, I was supposed to make 6:50 per mile. But I knew I had to hold back for the preparation of the Chain Hills including the Heartbreak Hill at 20.5 mile. My plan was to put my all effort to run last five miles after the hills. So I steadily ran 7:00 per mile. It was chilly, so I wore the long sleeves given by Dr. Ahn which was very helpful. People were cheering loudly, giving water and oranges. At 10-mile point where I passed by St. Patrick Church in Natick, I took off the long sleeves. My tank top race jersey revealed. It said, “The Glory of God is the Living Man” St. Irenaeus on the back and the priestly collar with Living Man V on the front. I felt I was ready to enjoy running, passing by the huge cheering crowd.
It was a long and steady run—7:00 per mile—before the first hill after the sharp downhill at mile 15. I thought to myself, ‘Here it is!’ The first hill was not easy for the previous continuous downhill made me uncomfortable with the uphill. But I had to move on. After conquering the first hill, I entered Newton well known for the series of hills after 17 miles.
The crowds were much bigger to cheer for the struggling runners. At mile 18 and 19, I passed two more hills. After mile 20, people got bigger and louder as if they knew the big battle was about to begin. When I got to the Heartbreak Hill, I talked to myself, “It is the beginning of real marathon!” For the first time, I started focusing on my breathing and strides. I knew I was in good condition because I passed by many runners as I climbed up the hill. Honestly it was runnable not as hard as many said. Reaching the top of the hill, I became confident in the good race. I let myself freely go down the hill for the first time. I was running like the wind, feeling great to know that I conquered those notorious hills!
As I ran into the Cleveland Circle, my pace slowed down because the flat last four miles were up. Besides the chilly weather, it was a beautiful weather until I pushed myself for the great race because the strong wind from the sea started hitting my face. The harder I pushed, the stronger the wind was. I recited my favorite prayer and thought of my hero, Gi-Jung Son Sr. Making the world record by 2:29:39, he was the first and last Asian marathon winner in 1936 Berlin Olympic until 1992 when another Korean runner won the gold medal. But the tragic history forced him to run for Japan that violently occupied Korea at that time. I watched his last 100 meter. Although there was no one behind him, he ran as if he were a sprinter. During the ceremony, he slightly lifted up the winner’s laurel pot to cover up the Japanese national flag. After the race, he wrote a postcard to a friend in Korea, just saying, “I’m sad.” The story of Sr. Son inspired my heart again, giving me strength to endure the wind. I knew I was running like the wind against the wind. People cheered. The famous CITGO sign came closer and closer. When I passed Fenway Park and got into Boylston Street, there were great multitudes shouting along the road. I was able to see the final line. I looked up to the sky. It was water blue. My heart was filled with a strong sense of fulfillment, thanking God. I immediately knew what I needed to do next. My mission was complete temporarily: 3:07:35.
It was the best race ever. I ran as I planned, attacked the hills well and finished the last five miles with the great speed. And I truly enjoyed so many Bostonians rooting for the runners, giving water, oranges and high fives, cheering with their hearts. I won’t forget the feeling of the screams by Wellesley and Boston Colleges. It was great as well to see Team Hoyt at mile 13. But, above all, I had my supporters— the friends, family and children who waited for me at mile 17—unfortunately we couldn’t find each other—and the finish line. Surely a good part of the joy came from them. We were enriched by one another.
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” (2 Tim. 4:7)