Before Elizabeth Boylan did her first half marathon after open-heart surgery last June, her ultimate goal was to run the New York City Marathon in 2020.
And while the Whistler runner lining up in the Big Apple this November is currently up in the air due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's looking a lot more promising than it did just weeks ago.
That's because after the ball didn't bounce in her favour during the general lottery, Boylan found her way in through a spot on Team Heart & Stroke.
"I'm pretty excited," she said on May 28.
When Boylan's application to the lottery failed, she donated the equivalent of her entry fee to the Montreal Heart Institute, where she had her bicuspid aortic valve replaced in February of 2019 after collapsing on the Valley Trail while jogging during the summer of 2018 (See Pique, "Quick comeback" May 30, 2019). Just three months after surgery, she completed the Whistler Half Marathon.
Even though the lottery route was blocked, Boylan tried to find another way in, applying to a team raising funds for the American Heart Association.
"I reached out to Team Heart & Stroke," she explained. "They didn't have a spot, but [then] a spot opened up."
When completing the Whistler Half Marathon last June, Boylan acknowledged she was initially comparing her accomplishment to her pre-surgery days, but then after thinking about all that her body had been through, she accepted that her time of two hours and 12 minutes was something to be proud of. The realization, she recalled, came as she was checking into a local hotel the evening of the race.
"I was saying, 'I did the half marathon and I just had open heart surgery,'" she said. "The desk agent said, 'Oh, what was your time?'
"Only in Whistler," she chuckled.
"I said, 'It was two hours and 12 minutes,' and I wasn't looking, at the time, at that being such an accomplishment, but then I said, 'Looking at the time, that's pretty good. That's good.'"
Later that month, Boylan trimmed five minutes from her time at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon.
Heading into New York, Boylan is feeling confident, reasoning that though it's double the length of her 2019 races, she's had time to train and she isn't just coming out of surgery.
"I should be OK," she said.
Boylan explained that her training is looking similar to last year, as she seeks to ensure that her trip is worthwhile.
"Last year, because my body wasn't used to running as much, I was running in water and building up," she said. "I've started doing that, too, because the stakes are so much higher with the travel and everything like that."
A typical run, however, will look a fair bit different than it did before as Boylan regularly consults her Apple Watch to keep a close eye on her pulse as she looks to avoid overtraining. Her main target, used for 70 per cent of her training, is the Maffetone method, which calculates the goal heart rate at 180 beats per minute minus one's age.
"That conditions your heart so that when you're running faster, it's at a lower rate. I've just been monitoring my heart rate to watch when I'm overtraining and overstressing or overreaching because that's when you have an injury," she said. "What's happening during my long run is my joints are getting used to the pounding for a longer distance.
"I'm checking, so when [my heart rate] goes above 136, I'll slow down or I'll walk and my heart will recover and then I'll go back to get it back up."
As part of her 16-week training plan, Boylan also mixes in Fartlek runs, which involve short bursts of speed training followed by walking.
If this year's New York City Marathon does not happen, Boylan said she will run in either Vancouver or Whistler on race day to mark the occasion. As well, she has three years to enter, though she would eye 2021.
"I will do it next year in New York if they cancel it at the last minute," she said.
Boylan is eager to run in New York, as she'll have a friendly face cheering her on. Dr. Ismail El-Hamamsy, who performed her surgery in Quebec, is now the Director of Aortic Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital.
As of June 2, Boylan had raised $1,485 of her $4,000 goal to support her event. For more information or to donate, visit https://www2.heart.org/site/TR/Marathon/FDA-FoundersAffiliate?px=19568429&pg=personal&fr_id=5375.
If Boylan surpasses her goal, she will hold a separate fundraiser for the Montreal Heart Institute.
"They were so good to me. It's my hometown and it was so nurturing and such good care I received there," she said.