After a lifetime of imagining the day, West Hartford native Elizabeth Lynch was awed as she stood at the starting line, ready to compete in her first Boston Marathon last year. Ever since she watched her mother first run the race when Lynch was 7, she dreamed of the day she too would tackle the route. At 15, she sprinted Heartbreak Hill with her older brother as he ran the marathon. Then in 2013, at age 22, her nearly lifelong dream came true.
“Last year when I walked to the starting line with my mom and brother, I couldn’t believe I was there,” Lynch said. “For 26.2 miles I felt like part of the Boston Marathon family. It was better than any dream.”
In The Aftermath of An Unanticipated Tragedy
Her older brother met Lynch at the finish line, but within minutes the race was forgotten, she said. It was then that the unfathomable happened—two pressure cooker bombs exploding during the marathon, killing three and injuring approximately 264 others.
“I couldn’t understand how a bomb could go off at the Boston Marathon,” Lynch said. “And as I realized that it was real, I was completely terrified by the sheer violence and destruction at such an innocent event, and my own helplessness and inability to protect or help anyone.”
Her brother was able to find their mother less than a mile from the finish line. Lynch’s best friend, also running the marathon, was out of contact for about three hours.
After the bombing, Lynch could not immediately feel any of happiness, excitement or satisfaction of fulfilling her dream. “It was almost like the race itself, and anything I felt during it, hadn’t really happened,” she said. “All I could think about or remember was the aftermath.”
Then, Lynch felt the solidarity and sense of community among the other runners and spectators at her hotel. She was buoyed by the generosity of strangers looking out for strangers. Numerous friends allowed her talk about that day, which helped her heal.
Celebrating the Fulfillment of a Childhood Dream
Eventually after talking about the race enough times, ripples of good memories from the marathon began to filter back into her mind. She realized she wanted to celebrate and enjoy the accomplishment of her dream.
“It was also great to have my Mom and brother helping me work through it, she said. “They helped me to realize that it was okay to feel proud and it was okay to be happy about the race instead of just feeling guilty about it.”
While last year’s race was not Lynch’s first marathon, it was her first Boston Marathon. Ever since she was 7 years old, she watched relatives and friends running the marathon every year. She and her brother were the little kids on the curb along the marathon route banging pans together and cheering until we were hoarse, she recalled.
After her older brother graduated, he too began running marathons, participating in his first Boston Marathon when Lynch was in high school.
“I have the most vivid memory of running up Heartbreak Hill with him because that is where we were cheering for him. He was so fast even at mile 18 that he beat me up the hill! And now I am finally following in their footsteps and running the Boston marathon with them,” she said.
“To step up to the starting line, to be one of the runners instead of the little kid on the sideline was surreal,” Lynch said. “I had become the person I wanted to be. I was a Boston Marathon runner. And to start with my mother, the very person who inspired me the first time I saw Boston was the most beautiful experience.”
Lynch says she felt she was running through her hometown during the entire race. People whom she did not even know were excited as she ran by.
“That is what I love most about marathons. For one day, for 30 seconds when I run by a stranger, they cheer for me like I am their sister or cousin,” she said. “Every one comes together to support each other. Boston is the epitome of community support. The only feelings I remember during the race were happiness, sheer happiness—and really sore legs at the end.”
The Family Legacy Of A Love For Running
Her aunt started the family tradition of running the Boston marathon, and Lynch’s family always went to cheer her run. When her mother turned 40, she decided to start running marathons. Her mother has been running the Boston marathon ever since Lynch was 7. “She has been a marathon machine ever since,” she said.
Lynch’s already strong relationship with her brother, now 29, grew even closer when she started running with him. “The time we used to spend playing around in the back yard together we now spend running and catching up on each other’s lives.”
Running is Lynch’s main sport, but she enjoys most athletic activities. In addition to running indoor and outdoor track in high school, she played field hockey. In college she was on the Marathon team at the University of North Carolina for four years.
“I also love swimming and hiking too,” she said. “Basically anything that lets me be outside!”
Lynch enjoys cross training, so she doesn’t run every day. “I usually run 5 days a week and do cardio cross training on the other days, or take the day off,” she said. “I am a strong believer in the importance of letting your body rest and recover so I take that seriously during my training!”
She typically goes on 5- to 7-mile runs, with one long run per week. “Depending on where I am in my training schedule the long run will be between 12 to 22 miles,” she said.
She does not listen to music or bring her phone. “I just let me thoughts wander wherever they go when I am running and that distracts me so much I don’t even notice how long the run is,” she said. “It is the only time I really feel free to disconnect from everything else and just be with myself. That is all I need to get through a run!”
Lynch loves training in her childhood hometown of West Hartford, Conn. Long runs take her by favorite neighborhoods and all the schools she attended as a child, which makes the exercise more enjoyable. “It reminds me of the days when we used to run laps around the soccer fields for the mile test in gym class,” she said. “It is amazing how much I have changed since then and yet still love running just as much!”
Training for a Marathon
The 2014 Boston Marathon takes place next Monday, April 21, on Patriot’s Day. Lynch said that training for any marathon requires as much mental preparation as it does physical preparation.
“I can tell when I am thinking negative thoughts that the run is harder,” she said. “I really just have to convince myself that I can do it, that I will make it through no matter what. Once I believe that inside I don’t let any negative thoughts or doubts creep in—or I try not to, at least. If I tell myself I can do it, if I mentally prepare myself to succeed, then the run is always easier!”
Marathon runners must train with discipline and commitment. “I like the structure and buildup of training because you can feel yourself getting stronger and making progress and that is a great feeling,” said Lynch.
She admits there are days when a marathoner doesn’t want to run or wishes she didn’t have to wake up early and do a 20-mile run in the cold. “But the day of the race, and crossing the finish line, make all those hard days worth it. The payoff is incredible,” she said.
For last year’s Boston Marathon, Lynch was an undergrad at UNC and was training with its Marathon Team. She had people to run with most days of the week, which definitely helped motivate her. Without the UNC Marathon Team, her runs are more solitary.
Helping to fill the gap of losing her Marathon Team camaraderie, this year Lynch will run the Boston Marathon as a member of Team Stonyfield. Her story about living through the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon and her fight to keep her spirit strong won her entry to an already sold-out marathon from New England-based company, Stonyfield Organic, the official yogurt sponsor of the race. Due to her winning entry, Lynch has also been receiving training tips from Team Stonyfield coach and nutritionist Heather Bauer.
“I am so excited to be running [the marathon] for Stonyfield Organic yogurt—another childhood staple for me—and with my Mom and brother again that I feel very motivated,” said Lynch. “I am reading Heather Bauer’s blog posts and am learning a lot more about healthy nutrition as I gear up for the race!”
She shares her training diet, which is much like her regular diet. “I try to eat a lot more protein after long runs to help my muscles recover and get nice and strong!” she said. “I can’t eat dairy any time before running, but I love to have a Stonyfield Organic Greek yogurt as a high-protein recovery snack for a regular run—and ice cream after my long runs—as a reward!”
Before every marathon, she eats a bagel with peanut butter and half of a banana for breakfast. “I get very nervous if I don’t eat that exact meal,” she said. Lynch also stays very hydrated by drinking water “all day, all the time.” She said she only has a few sips of Gatorade if she is feeling very dehydrated during a race.
For Lynch, training this year is a lot different from last year. “I have a much greater emotional investment and personal attachment to the Boston Marathon this year than I’ve ever had to any other race,” Lynch reveals. “That has helped make the training more meaningful and less of a challenge.”