On the morning of April 15, the Vera Bradley social media team sent a tweet wishing our International Design Specialist Ashley S. good luck as she neared the starting line at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. But as news of the explosions circulated, excitement gave way to concern for the runners, volunteers, spectators and emergency responders involved. In the spirit of celebrating the accomplishments of the athletes who participated, we sat down with Ashley to hear about her experience.
Inside Stitch: Congratulations! Welcome back. How are you feeling?
Ashley: It’s been an emotional roller coaster.
IS: Overall, how did Boston compare to other marathons you’ve done?
Ashley: This was my sixth, and definitely the hardest. People talk about Heartbreak Hill around Mile 20, but every mile there’s a hill! Luckily, it’s Boston so there’s a great crowd to keep you going. I can’t even describe how fast the miles went by; that’s how awesome the community and fans are. You know, running is the only sport I can think of where everyone truly supports each other. If another runner goes down, I guarantee the other runners would be there to help.
IS: How did you prepare for those infamous hills?
Ashley: I did about 8 weeks of hill workouts. It’s so worth it. When you get towards the end and see fans, 4 – 5 rows deep and you see the flags of all the countries represented, it’s amazing.
IS: Who came on the trip with you?
Ashley: My fiancé and his family. They arrived at the finish line at 9 am and stood in the exact same spot where the second bomb went off. I thank God I finished when I did, and that they left to meet me.
IS: What was your time?
Ashley: I really wanted to PR (Personal Record) there, but everyone told me not to expect it because the course is so difficult and it’s so emotional. But I did! At my first race in 2007, my time was 4:30. My official time in Boston was 3:22:38.
IS: You mentioned your fiancé. How did he propose?
Ashley: It was at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota. It was a big race for me because I was trying to qualify for Boston. I put a lot of pressure on myself. When I crossed the finish line, I’ll never forget, a volunteer handing out water bottles said, “Congratulations, you qualified for Boston.” So, I was bawling. My fiance met me on the other side of the runners’ shoot and he said, “Are you OK?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Are you happy?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Could anything make this moment any better?” and then he proposed. It was nice because my family was there, too.
IS: So, will you take some time off now?
Ashley: I’m actually doing Chicago in October and then the Indianapolis the weekend after. In fact, I don’t usually do this, but I’m running the Country Music Marathon in Nashville next weekend, but, that one is just really relaxed and fun. I would love to do all the World Marathon Majors including New York, Tokyo and London.
IS: What is your schedule like leading up to these races? Ashley: I do a 16-week training program. I typically run 5 times a week, and do strength training 3 – 4 times a week. And then I maintain a pretty protein-heavy diet.
IS: How did you get into running?
Ashley: Actually, I took a marathon class at Ball State University. It was awesome. You did some work in the lab and ran outside, and studied muscle fibers. It really sparked my interest. In high school, I played soccer and ran track, and I loved it, but the first time I crossed the finish line after completing my first marathon I knew this was the distance for me.
IS: So, your first race was …
Ashley: A full marathon, yeah. I had never done a road race, but I figured go big or go home.
IS: So have you set a wedding date?
Ashley: Yes, August 31. So, I’ll be training on our honeymoon, but it’s worth it. I was signed up for Chicago in 2009 and found out I fractured both of my legs 3 weeks before the race. So this one’s been a long time coming.
IS: If someone were thinking about running a marathon, what advice would you give?
Ashley: First, Find a training plan. Second, Gather a support system. And third, set aside the time to train properly.
IS: Do you listen to music while you run?
Ashley: My playlist has everything from Eminem to Frank Sinatra. I took it to Boston, but the crowd was so amazing, I left my music off the whole time.
IS: So, what was your experience after the race?
Ashley: I crossed 40 minutes before the first bomb went off. Luckily my family had gone to our family meeting point. I was cold, so we decided to head to the hotel. We were on our way there when the explosion happened. We turned on the TV and all sat and watched for at least 20 minutes before I became very ill. I don’t know if it was being on such a high and then such a low, but I was sick for at least an hour.
I don’t think my heart has ever hurt that badly. I know that feeling of crossing the finish line in Boston, but there were so many runners who didn’t get that, who were stopped in their tracks along the course. It’s devastating to think of those killed, or injured, but also of all of those people who were so close. Every runner knows that at mile 25, you’re home. That’s when you kick it in. You have to qualify for Boston, so I know every person there had trained and worked so hard. It’s heartbreaking to think of that being taken away from them.
But if I know Boston, next year’s race will just be bigger and better. And I’ll be there to run for those people who were stopped. There was actually a movement on Twitter asking people to run for 26.2 minutes in honor of those who didn’t cross the finish line. So, I landed, got off the plane, changed my clothes and went to run for 26.2 minutes.
IS: Will you go back next year?
Ashley: I qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon, and I will run it for those people who did not get the chance to finish. And I will come away with happier memories.
It was funny, the night before the race, we were eating at this Italian restaurant and the woman sitting next to us and I started talking about the race. She had done it before, and I hadn’t and was there alone. She invited me to meet up with her group that morning and be at their camp in Athletes Village, which was so amazing. As soon as everything happened, I got a text from her asking if I was OK, and I asked her the same. It proves there are still good people in the world.
IS: Thank you. This is so inspiring.
Ashley: I truly think everyone should run a full marathon once in their life. It’s so life changing.
Please join us in congratulating Ashley and all of the Boston Marathon participants on their amazing accomplishment.