Boston Marathon, unscripted: Running dream becomes heartfelt reality

Turning the corner onto the final 500 metre stretch, Run Like A Girl Ambassador Zarah Hofer felt a flood of emotions pour through her as a shower of cheers rained down all around from the excited spectators that lined the course.

She felt like a rock star.

It was her first Boston Marathon, and she was almost there. A race three years in the making – and far from what she’d envisioned when that glimmer of an idea to chase this ambitious dream first entered her mind – it now holds a special place in her heart.

And she doesn’t remember crossing the finish line.

“I was very emotional and maybe even a little delirious,” says Hofer. “I just remember trying to find my mom in the crowd and feeling like I’d finally closed a chapter on a long and unexpected journey.”

Not only was the October 2021 race unusual in that it was the 125th anniversary and, coming out of the pandemic, took place in the Fall rather than its usual date in the Spring. But Hofer had technically qualified for Boston back in 2018 and then missed the official cut off by just 12 seconds when the time window was narrowed due to the number of qualifiers.

Undeterred, she rallied again in 2019 and made the cut with an even faster time. And then COVID happened and the race – like many events, activities, and just “normal” daily life – was put on hold for two years.

“When I first started running, qualifying for Boston was so far from my mind. But then once it got into my head, I just couldn’t let it go,” says Hofer, who began running in the early 2000s with triathlon training so she could keep up with her husband on his runs. Today, she’s completed 10 marathons and, as a holistic nutritionist, supports runners with their fuelling through her B.C.-based company Grounded Rootz. (Ironically, her husband has moved on from the sport!)

“Having Boston finally within reach…to be so close to accomplishing a goal like that…it was so amazing and exciting. I just wanted the day to finally arrive. When the Fall date was announced, I couldn’t wait.”

But the bumps in the road weren’t over yet. Two weeks before race day, Hofer was hospitalized with appendicitis. The first thing she asked her doctors was whether they thought she could still race.

"There were several different residents that came to check on me every day. I asked each one of them if they thought it would be ok if I ran. No one said no, but none explicitly said yes either,” she laughs. “And so I decided I would do it, and that I’d just enjoy the experience. I’d run a kilometre and then I’d walk a kilometre. I knew that as long as I came in under six hours I wouldn’t DNF.”

While Hofer knew a Boston Marathon would be memorable, for her this race was unlike any she could have imagined. She says there was something about just allowing herself to be in the moment that made it incredibly meaningful.

It gave her the opportunity to chat with the charity runners, many of whom were in their very first marathon, raising dollars for important causes so close to their hearts and others. She had the time to thank the tireless volunteers who kept the course and the participants safe and supported. She even met a runner who’d planned her race schedule so she could do seven major marathons back-to-back, spanning the globe and culminating with Boston as her final event.

“Going into a race and not having any expectations or pressure gave me a different perspective. I met so many inspiring people. The woman who ran seven marathons was so impressive and she was having a blast – her spirit was contagious. And the runners who were doing this big, amazing thing for their charities had huge cheering squads. Running is seen as an individual sport, but this marathon really drove home just how much it’s about community,” she says.

“I was able to make these unforgettable connections and even take photos along the way. There’s no way I would’ve been able to do this had it been the race I’d originally planned and pictured in my mind. As much as things didn’t go as scripted, experiences like this really touch the soul.”

What kept Hofer motivated during unexpected setbacks?

Here are her top 5 tips:

  1. Be consistent with your training
  2. Don’t give up
  3. Be flexible
  4. Let go of expectations
  5. Make the best of what you’re given

Written By RLAG Ambassador - Connie Smart. 

Story from RLAG Ambassador - Zarah Hofer

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