Becoming Boston strong—a memoir by local author, Amy Noelle Roe

Image by Mary Grace Long

Becoming Boston Strong is a runner’s memoir—Amy Noelle Roe’s journey of falling in love with the Boston Marathon and its community, for better or for worse.

Amy is a marathon runner and writer based in Seattle. Her book dives into a unique perspective of the greatest marathon in the world, and the compelling power it holds over the runners who come back to it, year after year. The book releases on April 9 and you can pre-order it here.

Photo credit: Skyhorse Publishing

Amy is an award-winning former newspaper editor and reporter. Her essay on “sweat-shaming” in the Guardian, went viral. That prompted the Washington Post and CBC Radio to interview her. The media company ATTN: produced a video based on her article. Currently, the senior writer at the ACLU of Washington, Amy’s essays on the role of civil liberties in everyday life have been featured on the national website of ACLU and in its social media.

We had a chat with Amy to know about the Boston Marathon, her motivation and her intriguing life as a runner.

Seattleite: Tell me a little about your childhood days. Growing

                                    Image by Mary Grace Long

up, did you ever imagine becoming a marathon runner?

Amy Noelle Roe: Growing up, I loved to be outside. I would spend hours riding my bike or swimming in the lake or pool. I never imagined being a marathon runner, or any kind of runner. Running didn’t appeal to me, but I walked or rode my bike everywhere. Back then, I had a lot of patience for walking. If I wanted to go over to a friend’s house and I didn’t have a ride, I’d walk or ride my bike, no matter how far it was. It didn’t matter to me; I had nothing but time.  My friends’ parents were sometimes shocked when I showed up at their door by myself. They would usually give me a ride home.

Seattleite: What made you sign up for the Boston marathon? Did you have a support circle?

Amy: Many years ago, I happened to be in Boston on Patriot’s Day—the holiday when the race is always held— so I witnessed for myself the excitement of the Boston Marathon. I wasn’t a runner then, but the event made a huge impression on me. When I eventually decided to run my first marathon, the Portland Marathon, I started wondering about the Boston Marathon. I thought that you had to qualify to sign up for it, and I was right. I looked up the qualifying time for a woman my age and thought, “No way, that’s impossible.” But, in the back of my mind, I wanted to do it.

Seattleite: How has your running journey been like so far? What have been the highest and lowest moments?

Amy: I have a lot of support, and it’s grown over the years, as I’ve met more and more people who run. My husband and family have always been super supportive of my running ever since I started, and that has helped me so much.

Seattleite: Do you have a coach? If yes, in what ways has your coach helped and inspired you?

Amy: I have had various coaches over the years. Formal coaching has made a huge difference in my performance. I was in a running group for several years called Chuckit, which was coached by a well-known local coach, Chuck Bartlett. And I have also been coached by a couple other coaches, mostly online.

But a lot of the “coaching” I’ve received has come from my running friends. They’re the ones that remind me that I don’t have to hit my target paces in every workout, or that I need to take a rest day if something’s not feeling right. And I like to think I return the favor. After you’ve been running a while, you know what you should do, but it helps to have people who hold you accountable.

Seattleite: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Specifically running long distances?

Amy: I would say that my relationship with running is always changing, just like everything in life. I think some of the highest moments have been not just reaching my goals, like qualifying for Boston or running a PR (personal record), but also the relationships I’ve formed through running. My running friends understand how much I put into training for and running a race and they’re always there to congratulate me when things go well and console me when they don’t. They help me see that although goals are important, my value as a person is not based on my performance. I would say that the biggest highs are not so much achievements as just being able to share running with other people.

It’s hard to pick one thing that is most rewarding about running long distances. For me, there are many things. But I think what I keep returning to is the sense of freedom I get from running. When you are strong enough to run for hours and doesn’t faze you to get dropped off in Renton and run 23 miles home to Seattle, it’s liberating. I always want to be faster, but to know my two legs can take me wherever I want is just as thrilling to me today as it was when I was a little kid.

When I’m deep into an hours-long run, I sometimes feel like I could do anything. It’s like, “Go ahead, world. Try and stop me!”

Seattleite: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the sport or runners in general?

Amy: I think the biggest misconception about running, specifically recreational marathon running, is that everyone who does it is “skinny.” Runners come in all shapes and sizes.

I think my lowest moments in running are related to injury. It’s difficult to feel like a part of the running community when you can’t run. You miss out on group runs and seeing your friends. You wonder if you’re ever going to heal and get back to normal. You worry about all the fitness you’re losing.

Seattleite: What is your biggest source of motivation?

Amy: My source of motivation has changed over time. When I started running, my motivation was extrinsic. I was running to achieve a specific goal, which was to run a marathon. And then it became, to run a faster marathon, and then to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was a form of status-seeking.

Somewhere along the line, I started to enjoy running for its own sake. I am now motivated to run mostly because it’s fun for me. It’s no longer a means to an end; It has intrinsic value. This has been the biggest and most surprising transformation.

Seattleite: How do you prepare for a marathon—both mentally and physically?

Amy: My marathon preparation usually starts months in advance. I try to maintain a baseline level of fitness year-round, but even so, it can take several weeks of increased running volume before I feel like I’m ready to begin formal training.

I usually have a coach write a training plan for me, or I follow one I’ve used in the past. It’s important to remember the plan is not set in stone. It’s more of a guideline and should be flexible. That’s challenging for me, as I tend to feel compelled to follow it to the letter. Often, I’ll do a shorter race early in the plan to gauge my fitness. Then, I’ll base my workout paces off the time I ran in the race. About a month or so before the marathon, I’ll run a half-marathon, and this will help show where my fitness is at, and if I need to adjust my goal time for the marathon.

The mental preparation is fascinating to me, and I think it’s an undervalued part of marathon training. I try to train my brain just as I train my body. A lot of it has to do with managing my emotions while I’m doing a difficult workout, especially one where I’m running on a track, trying to hit a pace that’s challenging. A lot of it comes down to the ability to stay calm and focus only on what you are doing and accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable, but that’s okay. There’s always a time in a marathon where you feel discomfort, and you want to slow down, and if you can practice experiencing that in workouts, you can get a lot better at handling it on race day.

Seattleite: How do you feel when you’re running?

Amy: How I feel when I’m running depends on the day. There are days that I feel tired, and I’m demoralized by how slow I’m going. It’s a slog, and I’m waiting for it to be over. But other days, I feel strong, free, energetic, alive. I’ve had runs where it’s sunny, and I’m in a beautiful place, and I wish I could run all day. I don’t want the feeling to end. But no matter how I feel on a particular day, I’m usually grateful to be outside, and grateful that I have the physical capability to run.

Seattleite: What is it like to be part of the running community?

Amy: The running community has enriched my life in so many ways. It’s through other runners that I’ve learned how to run, how to get the best out of myself as an athlete and a person. You can do a lot on your own and certainly I enjoy solo training, but when we come together to train race and share the experience, that’s when running feels most meaningful to me.

Seattleite: What do you do when you’re not running?

Amy: When I’m not running, I like to sleep! Just kidding. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, and that includes my dog, a 15-year-old Italian Greyhound named Tinkerbelle. I love to travel, too, and spend a lot of time researching places to go and talking to people about places they’ve visited.