Crossing the Boston Marathon Off Her Bucket List

By Gina Otterbein, Co-Owner, Physical Therapist, and Athlete

It’s true what they say – you start running, you get hooked, and the journey becomes one that you just can’t shake. The Boston Marathon was on my bucket list and that experience will be with me forever. People will often say running is 90% mental, and I totally agree. Sure, there’s a ton of training, miles, and planning for the big day, but truly my inspiration, energy and mental focus are what propelled me forward, especially when the race got tough – and it got tough. 

People often assume that I’ve been a runner my entire life, but I didn’t actually start until 2007. At that time I had an energetic dog that needed to release some energy and morning walks seemed to do the trick. My kids were still young and I didn’t have a lot of time so I started to jog at the end of our walks so I could make it home to start my day faster. From there I gradually began running more and more and by the time I was in my 40’s I was pretty serious about the sport. To enhance my training I began to eat more greens, veggies, fiber, and limit my dairy intake. I built the habit of core and strength training into my weekly routine. The combo of strength, fueling, cross training and recovery time allowed me to progress and maintain a pretty good fitness level. This combo would ring true for any age but becomes more apparent as we get older. 

As my training progressed I could see Boston at the end of the tunnel. I qualified for the race at the Bayshore Marathon and finished first in my age group with a personal record of 3:39. Boston would ultimately become my 4th marathon. My training program was pretty intense, but I loved every bit of it. I always tell others that while the road is long, you still have to listen to your body. Mine tells me it needs a break by giving me a sore throat. That’s my signal to rest and recover or I will get hurt or sick. There is a limit and if you keep pushing the limit or never have a down period, you’ll struggle to progress. I trained on a cycle of 3 weeks building up then 1 week of lighter mileage. The key is finding what works for you and having someone there that can objectively tell you to take it easy when you can’t see it yourself.

Gina is pictured with a Northern patient, Erika, who also completed the Boston Marathon. 

The Big Race – Boston, Here We Come!
The entire Boston experience was jaw dropping for this country girl, and a week that I’ll never forget. The race itself is so big, but the volunteers and staff have it running so smoothly that you could almost forget there were 27,000 other people racing right along with you. The energy was intense all week long and the city was so alive. My first night there I went out for a run and suddenly I was in the middle of a running flash mob involving a guy with a mic, a boom box, and 200+ runners who just rolled along. Now that was cool. The support of the town was amazing too. Strangers congratulated me and asked about my race, people are genuinely excited about it.

Race Time
My mantra has always been “Faith Overcomes Fear” so when the race gets tough you need to be able to rely on what you know in your mind to get you through it – this is exactly what happened at Boston. It was not the run I had hoped for, but nonetheless, was an awesome running experience with lots of challenges, learning, inspiration and definitely a lot of Faith.

I had been in the Dominican Republic about a week before the race and although I didn’t “drink the water”, my body just didn’t adjust well to the food. Upon returning home my doctor cleared me to race but his last words were get hydrated and eat carbs! Long story short, I started the race feeling ready mentally and hoping my gut was too, but my body had other plans for me. I began to tire around the 8 mile mark. I wasn’t absorbing enough fluid and so as my heart rate rose, my pace slowed and the calf cramps hit. I kept a balance of trying to pick up the pace while trying not to over-exert because I knew if I pushed too much I would tear a muscle or end up not finishing. I’ve never experienced trouble like this in a race so it was a new challenge to overcome. I kept the faith, adjusted my goals, learned from the experience and fortunately recovered quickly with no injuries. When things got tough, I began to think about the people I know who are suffering with illness and how my marathon training is nothing compared to them. I thought about my friends, family, and clients that work out, try something new, keep pushing it and when they fall down with an injury or life happens they get back up and keep going. The hardest part of this entire process was staying focused and positive when bad things happened. But at the end of the day I can say that despite the ups and downs I completed the Boston Marathon, and that’s a great feeling.

Post Race
After the race I was pretty sore in my calves and quads for 3 days, but beyond that I actually feel pretty great. After this race I vowed I would rest and recover for 2 days and this helped tremendously. In fact, within five days I was able to run without pain and it felt great. Running does break down your tissue so the key is to build it back up and that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve been working with one of our physical therapists, Diana, who specializes in runner rehabilitation and she’s been helpful in getting my strength back and working with me on my form and quality of running. I also took advantage of our amazing massage therapist, Janeen, and that’s been really helpful, too. I’m very lucky to have a team of therapists that I can go to anytime, so it’s been easy for me to deal with small issues before they really surfaced.

Think You Want to Run?
I didn’t start until well into adulthood, so I say it’s never too late. I tell people to be realistic and set your goals with enough time to complete them. I gradually picked up my training over 2 years before my first marathon and 3 years before my first triathlon. Sure you can do it faster, but if you want to prevent injury and continue to have fun, take your time. Be able to adjust your goals based on life too. I suggest seeking the support of other runners, attend educational events, and talk to coaches or experts that help you with the bumps – learn from as many people as you can.

What’s Next?
The Fifth Third Riverbank run is this weekend and I’ll be running the 25k. Beyond that I’ll start focusing my efforts on a few triathlons this summer, which I also love. I will definitely do Boston again, I loved it but I want to have an “A race” finish and beat my time from this year.

A Personal Thank You
To my friends and family that were with me on sidelines and in my mind, reminding me that I could do this. To my sister and sister-in-law that ran along the race way for the last five miles to cheer me on when I needed to walk. To my husband, John, who studied the subway systems so he knew where to go. To Janis and my sister Julie who showed up at mile 18 and reminded me that despite my struggles, this is an awesome day and I just needed to keep going and finish strong. To my entire Northern team, clients from Coopersville, my running and exercise classmates, my friends close and far away, Rotarians, and even the strangers in Boston encouraging me on with “Gina you can do this” just because my name was on my arm! Finally, to my friends who drove all the way to Boston to be there with me…now that is friendship! I’m so happy I got to share this with so many incredible people that inspired me along the way. I have read and appreciated all the texts, cards, Facebook posts, VM and other creative ways you’ve shown support. I wish I could individually respond to all of them…but I have get back to work so please accept my heartfelt thanks to you. You are the inspiration and energy that got me to the finish and made this journey not just a race.

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