The Road to Boston – Part 6

Hello from Boston Everyone!

Matt and I arrived last night, met up with the rest of his family and spent the day at the Boston Marathon expo and wandering around this incredible city. If you’ve never been to Boston, I highly recommend putting it on your bucket list of places to go. It’s such a beautiful city with a lot of personality and culture even when it’s totally over run with 25,000 tourist marathon runners wearing brightly coloured striped Adidas jackets!

With the race only two days away, it’s time for the second to last installment of Matt’s Road to Boston. Being here in the city that inspired it all has made this all seem so much more real. Looking back at that kid with blood-soaked feet at the finish line of the Manitoba Marathon in 2005, it’s really incredible that we are here, and the transformation that has taken place over 8 years.

But I digress.

We last left off with Matt missing his Boston qualifying time by 6 minutes. After nearly 8 years of ups and downs, he was so close, he could nearly taste it. Due to his injures and his bitter disappointment at missing the qualifying time by so little in Kelowna, he decided to take a break from running. In that time his 3 year contract with the army ended and he moved across the country to Southern Ontario, just down the street from me! After 2 and a half years of long distance, we were finally going to be living in the same town! He started school again as a Millwright, and finished at the top of his class.

Between 2011 and 2012, the Boston Athletics Association decided to lower the qualifying times by 5 minutes, essentially meaning that Matt’s new qualifying time was now going to be 3:05, down from 3:10. The number that had haunted Matt for the last 7 and a half years, 3:10, meant nothing now. He had to be 3:05; and he had a lot of work to do once again.

In 2012, Matt’s father and 3 of his running friends from his home town all qualified for Boston and ran the 2012 Boston Marathon. We all flew in for the weekend to watch. Funny enough, Matt actually had to leave Boston the day before the race to go home and play a playoff hockey game and go to school on the Monday. As I edit this post, sitting in the hotel in Boston, Matt has still never seen the Boston Marathon course in action or felt the excitement of race day.

It had now been nearly 2 years since Matt had run the Kelowna marathon, and with his disappointment and injuries well behind him, 2 months before the 2012 Boston Marathon, Matt’s uncle asked him if he wanted to run a 30km orienteering race with him and his fiancé. Matt agreed. He enjoyed the event, and being back in competition reignited his desire to qualify for Boston, and get running again. But he knew that he would need some guidance and some help.

Based on a recommendation from his uncle, Matt emailed a group named the NOMADS, a running group in Mississauga. A man named Bryan emailed him back immediately and asked Matt if he was game to go for a run with him. This jump started running again for Matt. The NOMADS became a huge part of his running and qualifying plan. The plan was this; he had 9 weeks till the Manitoba Marathon, with the goal to be around 3:10. Then 14 weeks later he would run the Quebec City Marathon and be under the 3:05 mark and qualify for Boston once and for all.

The training began, and there was no easing into it. He went from lying on the couch to 77km in his first week of training. Then 80km the next week and then went on to average 95km a week through most of the training for Boston qualifying. The first 2 weeks hurt, he spent more time icing, stretching and just trying to recover then the time he was running. He was running 3 days a week with the NOMADS and 3 days alone. He was behind most of the NOMADS in fitness level so he was playing catch up once again and he was making big gains fast.

In the blink of an eye he was 2 weeks out from the Manitoba Marathon. After one of his long runs he was having coffee with one of the guys that he had grown to be close friends with, also named Brian (hereafter referred to as “Crazy Brian”). Brian had narrowly missed the Olympics when he was in his prime (he was now in his 50’s) and Matt felt that he really knew his stuff when it came to running. Crazy Brian said to him “Matty you are faster than 3:10, I think you can run a 1:32 first half and 1:31 second half”. Those that can do math realize that that’s a 3:03 marathon. That would be Boston Qualifying! Matt had tried to avoid thinking about trying to qualify in Manitoba that was supposed to be the Quebec goal.

For the next 2 weeks Matt thought about this non-stop. With his personal best marathon sitting at 3:16, he had 11 minutes to shave, and that wouldn’t be easy. His parents gave him the advice to play it safe. Matt is super close with his parents and respected their opinion a great deal. The more he thought about it, the more it did seem that if the goal was to qualify in Quebec, it didn’t make sense to get hurt trying to qualify now. Despite all of this, Matt just had a sense that he could do it. Call it gut feel, call it stupidity, call it whatever you want to call it, but in his heart of hearts, Matt felt that this was the time. He decided that he was going to go for the qualifying time in Manitoba, in the place where it had all started 8 years ago. The Manitoba Marathon is on Father’s day each year and Matt had a father’s day gift idea of his own.

Matt stood at the starting line of the 2012 Manitoba Marathon, where it all began 8 years earlier. How much he had been through, how much things had changed since then. Oh Canada played, and with a bang, the race was on! He ran the first mile too fast, then the second mile too fast, and then third mile too fast. He was way ahead of his pace, but that wasn’t a good thing. It was a long race and he had learned a lot about pacing himself properly to make sure he had the kick at the end.
Finally by mile 4 he managed to get himself on qualifying pace and reset his watch as he banked a couple minutes in those first 3 miles. The run was smooth and uneventful; mile by mile he hit his pace. At the halfway mark he went through at 1:31 way ahead of qualifying pace, and exactly where Crazy Brian had guessed he would be. His plan was with 6 miles to go to “let the horses out of the barn” so to speak and bring it home hard.

At the 20 mile mark it was time to start pushing, but he decided wait, stay on pace a little longer and don’t get over excited. Before the 24 mile marker his watch beep went off to indicate that he should be at mile 24, but he wasn’t anywhere near the mile marker. That meant that he had slowed down and lost some time. How much time had he given back? 1 minute? 2 minutes? 3? Were the wheels falling off? Would this really slip away from him again?

With 2 miles to go, he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. He let the horses out of the barn. The 2 or 3 people that had previously passed him, he was now chasing down. One by one he caught them, with the last one being just before the 26 mile mark. He could hear the crowd now and he knew that he was almost there! He had held on! He had been knocked of the horse a few times but not this time! He entered the track for the final half lap. He looked for the clock and he saw 3:02:42. He was now in full sprint, and crossed the line with a victory fist pump! 3:03:02. His whole family and I were at the fence screaming (I was crying like a lunatic) and there was so much emotion that all Matt could respond with was a thumbs up. We were going back to Boston this year, and Matt had delivered on his Father’s day gift.

My side of the story from behind that fence is a little different. Matt’s dad, brother Scott, brother Troy and I had all ran the Half Marathon that very same morning, and Matt’s mom Dianne had ran the 10km race as well. While I was running the half marathon, all I could think was “God it would be embarrassing if Matt ran the full marathon faster than I could run the half”. I’ve never told him this before, but that entire race, I was running my butt off trying to make sure that I beat him to the finish line. I did. Hehe 🙂

Troy and I finished the half marathon around the same time and caught up with each other in the food tent. Together we found the rest of Matt’s family sitting up on a grassy hill just in ahead of the finish line, and most importantly, just ahead of the all-knowing and all-powerful clock that would dictate Matt’s fate.

I got to the hill when the clock said about 2:50. I knew that Matt would have been devastated if he didn’t qualify in this race. I knew that Quebec was no longer the goal race, this was it. I remember sitting beside Matt’s mom Dianne, and neither of us were really talking. Matt’s dad Roy was pacing around on the hill, Scott and Troy were sitting beside me on the other side. With every passing minute, my stomach twisted a little tighter. Where was he?

When the clock turned to 3:00, I stopped watching. I put my head down on my knees, stared straight down at the long grass and repeated over and over and over the word “please”. It was the longest 2 and a half minutes of my freaking life. Dianne put me out of my misery when she very calmly reached her hand out, put it on my arm and said with the calmness of a nun “There he is”.

My legs hurt like a mother, I had just run a half marathon, but I literally JUMPED up to my feet and screamed “WHERE?!” at the top of my lungs. I ran up to the fence and squinted at the track ahead. I could see a figure dressed in red like I knew Matt was, but I wasn’t sure it was him. Then the announcer ended it all, by announcing “And here comes Matthew Sidders!” I screamed like I had just been shot. I scared this lady beside me so bad that Matt’s little brother Troy swears that she jumped back with her fists up ready to swing. I still get a good chuckle thinking about that. After that I burst into tears like a total loser, what must the people around me have thought! We hooked up with Matt through the food area and headed out of there. Mission a-freaking-complished.

With a couple hours wait before getting on the plane home, Matt emailed 3 of the Nomads: Crazy Brian, the Bryan that he had originally started with, and his good buddy that we haven’t really talked about Sean. He thanked them and let them know that this was as much them as it was him. He even apologized to crazy Brian that he got his splits backwards. He did 1:31 first then 1:32 in the second half.

An 8 year goal accomplished, it was absolutely incredible. The weird part is that it left Matt with no goal to focus on. He never thought about if he qualified what he would do next. The first thing he did was cancel the Quebec City Marathon, he decided to extend his recovery and do another run later in the fall.

He decided that his next goal would be to break the elusive 3 hour barrier in his next marathon, which he had slated to be the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The DNF from all those years ago was still haunting him and he felt like he still had unfinished business with the course.

The very last installment of The Road to Boston is coming up this weekend. For now, I’m signing off to go and sit in a hot tub in our hotel. Life is good. Life is very, very good.

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