This week we continue our series featuring Chaski coached athletes. Today we hear from Janel Peralez of Hermosa Beach, California. Janel is an avid runner and outdoor enthusiast. She chronicles her first BQ in 2018 and the roller coaster of emotions that comes with the qualifying process. Some of you might remember Boston 2018 as the year of freezing rain, gusts of wind, and the first American woman winning since 1985 (congrats Des!). It was all that and more, and we hope you enjoy hearing Janel's Boston story.
The first time I heard about the Boston Marathon was in high school. Our cross-country team had the typical running coach who would nerd-out on all things running. Don’t get me wrong, this is totally me now as an adult, and it was my coach’s passion for running that ultimately led me to be a lifelong runner. He coordinated a movie night for our team to get us pumped about our upcoming season and screened Saint Ralph. The movie is a classic coming of age film about a boy in an all-boys high school who doesn’t seem to belong until he finds running. The story follows his training and attempt to win the Boston Marathon and perform a miracle.
A few of my teammates talked about one day running the Boston Marathon, and I agreed without realizing what that meant. I didn’t know you had to run a marathon in a specific time to qualify to even apply for a bib number. That’s right, qualify to apply. Qualifying does not guarantee you a spot. And I didn’t even know how to train for a marathon. In high school, I didn’t log miles or time. Our coach did it all, so I didn’t even know how much I was running every week.
I seldom found time to run in college and it took me years post-graduation to pick it back up consistently. I found myself at an 8-5 job sitting for most the day and coming home to a new city with no friends. I don’t really know how I pushed myself to commit, but I found an 18-week training plan online and signed up for a race.
My goal was to feel like I was racing the marathon. I knew I wouldn’t win, but I wanted to feel that competitiveness I had back in high-school XC races. I dusted off my old high school Timex and hit the local track. This was the only training block I have ever done where I didn’t miss a single workout. I ran every workout to the .1 mile and hit all my paces.
When I got to the start line, I knew I had done all the work and it felt good. I started with the 3:37 pace group and immediately felt that they were going too slow. I picked up the pace and ran by myself around mile 7. I know, a total rookie mistake to make a move so early in the race, but it felt right. The miles clicked off and I couldn’t believe that I was running a marathon. Running. Not jogging and not walking. Running!
I hit mile 18 and looked at my newly purchased budget GPS watch. I was on pace to qualify. I looked up and could see the 3:32 pace group ahead. I slowly made my way up to them and then proceeded to pass them. I knew qualifying was in my wheelhouse and I let myself get emotional mid-race, which seemed to give me more adrenaline. With 3 miles to go, my quads never felt so destroyed. The race I had chosen was net downhill and I could feel it. I was borderline cramping, but I willed myself to keep pushing. I crossed the finish line in 3:31 and my legs immediately melted into jelly on the floor. The qualifying standard I needed to hit was 3:35. I had a 4-minute buffer.
Come September, it was time to submit my 3:31 qualifying time online to the Boston Athletic Association to run Boston the following year. The first week of signups was reserved for people who qualified with a 20-minute buffer, then a 10-minute buffer, then a 5-minute buffer, and then the rest of us (if there was space left). I waited weeks for my confirmation email. When I got it, I reread it multiple times. I didn’t get the confirmation email; I got the rejection email. I missed the cut off by one second. One second. I was immediately in tears.
I called the BAA and they told me, “Sorry, no exceptions. Try again next year.” I was heartbroken but quickly got motivated to crush the qualifying standard the following year. I picked up where I left off and started another training block.
One month before the Boston Marathon that following year, I got a very interesting email. It almost looked like spam. I had to read it multiple times. It was an email from Clif Bar telling me that they get a certain number of entries into the Boston Marathon to use as they see fit since they sponsor the race. This year, they decided to give 4 runners the opportunity to run the race that missed the qualifying window by one second. It turns out there were only ten of us that missed it. They told me if I was willing to run the marathon in one month, the spot was mine for free. To top it off, they gave me a bag full of swag, a private happy hour with them in Boston, and a free shakeout run with massages, beanies, snacks, etc. The beanie is still my favorite one today.
I can’t explain how much running Boston that first year meant to me. My entire family and boyfriend made the trek from California to support me. The kindness and generosity of Clif Bar made it extra special. I didn’t even mind that it was the year of the storm and I ran through sleet, high winds, and freezing temperatures; I ran the entire Boston Marathon with a smile on my face.