“Funny thing is that I was just starting to feel warmed up -- lungs feeling good, and my mind was set, but my knee was telling me another story. 13.1 [miles] in, and it looked like I was finished. I told myself ‘just keep going, just keep going. Mind over matter.’”
It’s nothing short of amazing that the self-proclaimed non-runner Stephanie Nekoroski, MCAS ‘18, was able to successfully complete her first Boston Marathon this past Monday. Her tenacity, strength, courage, and resilience is not only a testament to her character, but to the magic that is Marathon Monday.
Growing up, Nekoroski never considered herself a runner. In high school, she focused on ice hockey and crew, and just dabbled a bit in cross country for a couple years. Though she “ran,” she never was passionate about it, even admitting to faking shin splints before "practically every race."
Living in the Massachusetts suburbs, she always knew how special the Marathon was, and actually watched both her mom and dad complete it a handful of times. But, she never thought it was something she could accomplish herself.
However, once she came to BC and experienced Mile 21 for the first time, Nekoroski knew that she wanted to experience it from the other side of the fence one day. In preparation, she immediately signed up for a few half marathons following Marathon Monday 2015.
After successful completion of a couple of half marathons, Nekoroski said that, “it was such a positive experience that I knew I wanted to take on an entire one. I just didn’t know it would be so soon.”
Nekoroski found out just four months ago that she would be running in the 2016 Boston Marathon alongside her mom. As the race becomes more and more popular, it becomes increasingly more difficult to find an available bib, so Nekoroski knew she had to jump at the opportunity presented to her.
At first, training felt great. Having never run 5 miles before her half marathons, Nekoroski noted how accomplished she felt after her first hour long run. “I was like oh my gosh, this is so cool. I never thought I could run for an entire hour without stopping,” said Nekoroski. Gradually, she saw herself improving, and was even able to run for over two hours at a time.
However, running miles and miles at a time in addition to cross training is not the best recipe for a healthy running body. Nekoroski found that you are just not supposed to go directly from never running a day in your life to training for half and then whole marathons in a relatively short period of time, never really giving her body appropriate rest.
"My body basically shut down and was like why are you doing this to me?” said Nekoroski. She found that after all of the strain on her body from training, she was diagnosed with IT Band Syndrome.
Despite the news, Nekoroski continued to train, ignoring the pain. However, over Easter break on an 18 mile training run with her mom, the pain was just so unbearable at mile 10 she had to stop.
With strict instruction from her physical therapist to lay off running for three weeks, Nekoroski found herself barely able to train for the last month leading up to the big day. But she was determined to carry on. “Come hell or high water, I was running in that race. My body was screaming no, but I was so committed to making it to this race, that I would do anything to see it through,” said Nekoroski.
It took tremendous mental and emotional training for her to come to the realization that completing the race would involve a fair share of a walk/run combo, in addition to coming to grips with the fact that her desired finish time pre-injury was no longer in the realm of possibility.
Despite any problems leading up to the race, Monday morning she woke up excited and ready to bring it. "[The Runners Village was] nothing short of amazing, and honestly one of the most encouraging environments I’ve ever been in. So much support from complete strangers,” said Nekoroski of her time waiting to start the race in Hopkinton.
Feeling excited and ready to go, Nekoroski crossed the start line just shy of 11am. She made it nearly halfway -- almost to Mile 14, before her IT Band came knocking, looking to make the already challenging feat even more trying. Described by Nekoroski as a, “knife constantly stabbing your kneecap, and not letting up,” it was clear that she had her work cut out for her for the next 12.6 miles. It took a lot of grit and courage to muster up the strength to keep going.
Though she was definitely not in the top gear looking to finish the race, some of her ability to finish was from the strong encouragement from her mom at her side, and from her BC family at Mile 21.
Arriving at Mile 21 was no easy feat, and walking up Heartbreak Hill was certainly not an option for Nekoroski. She felt a huge burst of adrenaline which allowed her to propel forward and jog into campus. First, she was greeted by her Arrupe group, and then by her current roommates, who had been through it all and witnessed her journey.
She only stopped at BC for a brief minute, but it was enough to give her the strength to carry on. "I have never felt more loved than I had ever felt in my whole life,” said Nekoroski. However, her burst to get through Mile 21 proved to add difficulty to her finish. She was barely able to run the last couple of miles, but was determined to make it through the last 0.2 miles running, no matter how trying.
Though it was definitely not the picture-perfect Marathon Monday with her dream finish time, Nekoroski is ecstatic she had the chance to complete what she started and cross the finish line in the 2016 Boston Marathon. She has plans to run it in the future, maybe even as soon as senior year. She found that “being on the other side of the fence is a whole lot more fun and rewarding.” Nekoroski has aspirations to run on a charitable team and raise money for a good cause.
Nekoroski said that when looking back on it, “it was not so much about the race day but getting to the race day.” She learned so much about herself during the process, about her resilience, endurance, strength, and courage within. Her parting wisdom to all non-runners is that, “literally anyone can do it. All you have to do is sign up, and having your name on that registration list forces you to push yourself beyond what you thought was possible.”
“It completely changed my life and taught me to learn to live in the present and take everything for what it's worth. To love the process and journey in life is the biggest takeaway,” reflected Nekoroski.
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