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Location: Fayetteville, NC US 28305
In The Spotlight

 MY JOURNEY TO BOSTON by Shan Tang

I am so EXCITED to be bringing you this member spotlight on Shan Tang, our FRC Community Outreach Coordinator. She has really been working hard to become a Boston Qualifier. If you're like me and have been keeping track of her journey, it's been a very exciting one. She has traveled to some really cool places to run marathons and she has kept a very good photo diary on her social media pages. I hope you all enjoy her story as much as I have. 

Part One: The Surprise of Being Runner

When I think about my running, my initial thought would be to say that I was not a natural. Growing up, I was very ambitious but not at all athletic. As a teenager I joined the track team because I wanted my college application to be more well-rounded and track was the only sport at my high school where you could just show up and be on the team. I was seriously not good at it and I didn’t like it at all, but I showed up.

However, if I think even back further to when I was a little kid, I remember that my favorite thing to do with my friends was play tag. We would run around chasing and racing each other outside all the time, and that felt like unadulterated joy. So maybe I’ve been a runner all along and that physical joy just got buried for a long time.

After years away, I picked up running again during med school and started building up some casual miles during residency. That was a crazy busy time and I liked running for the peace of it. I lived in New York City and I spent my rare free weekend mornings “park-hopping” across Manhattan. New York is funny because when you go on a long run you will pass by literally thousands of people and no one will ever make eye contact! It was perfect because running was my time to myself. I did it to relax and refresh, never thinking of pace or competition.

After residency I came to Fayetteville for my job and continued running by myself for a little while. One of my partners at work then told me I’d better either carry some pepper spray or find a group, so that’s how I came across FRC. I never imagined that the club would end up giving me so much more than safety in numbers!

Part Two: Goals and Lessons

A major development in my running was when Ray Helton started the Marathon Training meetup. Ray taught a whole bunch of us in the club that marathons were within our reach. He built up our mileage and confidence slowly but surely, and all along the way he sprinkled in bits of wisdom, encouragement, and kindness. I remember one frigid winter morning, he showed up to a water stop at mile 18 or so with hot chocolate! That was the best day! What was even more important than the actual training advice was the camaraderie Ray fostered in this group. The long run gave us hours upon hours of shared training time. You really can’t spend that many hours talking and running together week after week without becoming fast friends! (That was a pun.)

In the Fall of 2016 I ran my first full at the Marine Corps Marathon. I followed an 18 week Higdon plan and my goal was simply to finish. I ran with a sensible effort during the race and was very happy with my time of 4:29. At that point I had never heard of the concept of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and even if I had, I would never have dreamt of it. Cutting an hour off my time to BQ sounded nuts! 

Over the next couple of years I ended up running a marathon every spring and fall, mostly because I loved hanging out with my long run buddies. I also started to appreciate the structure of following a training plan through to a race. I was rewarded by seeing my times drop by a few minutes each time. Every new marathon was a PR and that was awesome! Eventually, the BQ idea went from being entirely insane to just a BIG stretch of the imagination. Not so bad, right?

Beginning in the Fall of 2018 I started really pushing to reach my big scary goal. I did the long miles. I put in the speedwork and strength training. I ate well and tried to sleep enough. The cycles I trained with friends were motivating and the cycles I trained alone kind of sucked but I pushed on. It turned out to be a lot more frustrating than I expected. In spite of traveling all over the country to run races widely advertised as top Boston qualifiers, I missed my BQ time by about 2 minutes… FOUR TIMES IN A ROW! Each time I was foiled by something new and unexpected. 

I learned that unlike a lot of other situations in life, putting in the work for a marathon definitely doesn’t guarantee that race day goes the way it should. It’s important to accept that this is ok because you still take away a valuable lesson from each race. From Richmond I learned to take salt tabs to prevent cramping (fyi this doesn’t always work). From Snickers I learned to pinch my cup to get fluids in while running through a water station. From Erie I learned to take it easy and enjoy the scenery if it’s too warm/humid because I just don’t race well in those conditions.

From Steamtown I learned the 10/10/10 method (Run the first 10 miles with your brain, meaning rein it in even if you are excited and want to run fast. “Banking time” doesn’t work and will only hurt you at the end! Run the second 10 miles with your training and stay on the pace you trained for. Run the last 10k with your heart and give it all you have left!).

Finally, at the Mesa Marathon in the Spring of 2020, the stars aligned. I knew I had fueled well thanks to fanatic use of Shalane Flanagan’s cookbook in the 6 weeks leading up to the race (btw these recipes are delicious). I had splurged on the magic Vaporflys which were officially not even illegal! The weather was perfectly cold and dry. A huge full moon was setting behind big Saguaro cacti in the first predawn miles. Gatorade didn’t go up my nose at the water stations. The waffles sat well on my stomach. I still had good control of my breathing at mile 18. I cruised through mile 22 without cramping and knew I had it this time. Miraculously, nothing went wrong! For the first time ever I had the energy to run negative splits and that last 10k was pure joy! I rang that PR/BQ bell like I’d been waiting my whole life to do it!

So that’s my BQ story. I don’t know if I’ll ever run that fast for that long again, but I know the things I’ve gained from the journey are mine to keep: discipline, strength, patience, gratitude, and most importantly, truly beautiful friendships.

I will end with something cheesy but so important. Dream big, never give up, and keep running with joy in your heart!

TO READ PREVIOUS FRC SPOTLIGHTS CLICK HERE

 


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