I had always dreamed of making it to the Olympics, but as a kid I'd thought it would be as a skier. I broke my leg in high school, though, and part of my rehab was running. I couldn't get enough. I loved it because I could run anywhere, anytime, and I didn't need any special equipment. I had found my passion.
Even in the early days, I challenged myself with longer distances and faster times. When I ran my first Boston Marathon, in 1979, I was just 21 and totally unprepared for the sudden attention that came with my victory. The outpouring of requests overwhelmed me. I'd become a public figure overnight, and because I was shy it was hard to deal with.
In the 1984 Olympic marathon, I took the lead early and ran alone for much of the race. It was very quiet when I entered the tunnel before the final lap around the track of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; for a second, I didn't know if I wanted to face the other side. The applause that hit me when I came out was deafening. Just five years earlier, I couldn't have handled it. This time I knew what to expect.
After I won, my mother said to me, "Now can you quit?" I was getting married the next month, and she thought maybe I would just settle down.
"No," I responded. "There are other goals out there."
One of them was to run a sub-2:20 marathon, which motivated me for a long time. Though that never happened, I came close, with 2:21:21 in Chicago in 1985. Another was to run this year's Olympic trials in Boston. I wanted my career to end the way it started. And I thought it would be cool to break 2:50 at the age of 50. I ran slower than I did 24 years ago, but I came in under my goal, at 2:49:08, and set the American record for my age group.
This time, I told my mom, "Now I can quit." But I'm not sure I meant it. I'd do another marathon if I had a special reason, or was running with a friend or one of my kids, both of whom are runners, or if my husband, Scott, would do it again.
These days, people ask how I do so much so well. Well, I don't! I've got a wonderful family and amazing friends, and I live in a very supportive community [Freeport, Maine]. I run, and then I move on to the next thing. It can get stressful, but I've learned over the years that most of the time, I can get through it. I've figured out a lot since that first win in Boston. Here are a few things I would have loved to know then:
Let passion drive you. If you're passionate about something, you'll do anything to accommodate it. For me, sometimes that means running really early in the morning, sometimes it means skipping a day, sometimes it means running at night. You figure out how to do it.
Be ready to change direction. I refer to my career in two stages, B.C. and A.D.: Before Children and After Diapers. There's a huge difference. B.C., I'd plan my day around my running. A.D., I'd plan my running around my day.
When our daughter, Abby (now 20), was 3, and our son, Anders (now 18), was about 6 months old, Abby came into the garden with two baby dolls in a stroller and said, "Mom, will you watch my babies while I go for a run?"
"No problem," I said.
So she ran around the house and came back. "Mom, will you watch my babies for a little while longer while I go to a meeting?"