Keep the Flag Up

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Those four words rang in my ears as I struggled to get up off the ground after both my legs cramped up—again. I definitely questioned my decision at this point to grab the small flag from my wife's hand around mile 23. Then again, that's exactly how I had wanted to finish my first Boston Marathon in 2016.

There had been such a long road to get to this point. This was to be my best race, to prove that I belonged here—representing my challenges I had overcome to get to Boston. Things like my relatively new sobriety, making the BQ standard and all the tough training leading up to it. I was so proud to be there and with the bombing in 2013 still fresh in my mind, it seemed so fitting to finish with the flag.

As things go, it was a warm day and this Washington State native was ill prepared for it. I charged out too quickly, as many do, and quickly succumbed to cramps by mile 12. My goals of having my best race had quickly evaporated and it changed to a game of survival. Fighting my way forward as best I could, I saw my family waving, shouting and hanging over the barricades at around mile 23. I stopped, drenched in sweat, gathered hugs, a kiss from my wife and the small flag. I took off again holding that flag high with a renewed energy. I looked over to see my two daughters running down the sidewalk with me, that was a sight I'll never forget. Shortly after I lost them in the crowds, it happened, both legs seized and down I went.

“Keep the flag up! Don't let the flag touch the ground! Get up! Get up!”

As I slowly raised my flag arm and gingerly rose to my feet, the crowds chorus turned into a chant of "USA! USA! USA!" which in itself is quite motivating, even beyond my own goals and desires. The struggle to keep the flag and myself upright continued on from about mile 23.5 and didn’t end until I took the left at Bolyston. This was it, I could see the end and charged for the finish line. My legs were still cramping, my muscles were seizing and barely kept myself from falling down yet again. But disappointing the spectators shouting at me and my family who was there to support me wasn’t an option.

And then, just like that, it was over. I had finished my first Boston Marathon. I crossed the line still holding the flag high, feeling so alive, drained and proud all at once. 

Those last few miles were a fight for sure. But they were also a sign of my commitment to the Boston Marathon, my commitment to the crowd, my family and my own personal grit as a runner.

Susan Sidoriak