Thirteen months ago. That's how long it has been since a group of friends prodded me into chasing a dream I had long ago given up on. But now the dream had come true and I was heading to the Boston Marathon. However this was not going to be the way I had envisioned it would be. No, as fate would have it, this would turn out to be the most memorable run of my life. Let me explain.
Many of you are familiar with the stories I wrote about my quest to qualify for Boston over the past year. For those that may have missed them they can be found at www.ncultra.org titled Chasing Dreams and the Power of Friendship. Part 1. Part 2.
One big part that I alluded to in the second story, which I am now making public changed the story quite a bit. Nine days before running my qualifier at Myrtle Beach on Feb. 18th, it was confirmed by a biopsy that my training partner Karla has breast cancer. She decided to wait until after we ran there before having surgery and had every intention of still going to Boston if it was humanly possible to do so while undergoing chemotherapy.
This put my qualifier in a whole new perspective.
On the one hand my heart wasn't really into running because of my concern for her but I knew then that I had to qualify so I could be there to support her.
So now we found ourselves in Boston on Saturday April 15th and headed to the race expo. Between Feb and now, Karla had two surgery's and was into her 4th week of chemo with only 12 miles of running in between. Her medical team had given her the Ok to attempt the race so we were eager to pick up our race packets. We were accompanied by Karla's husband Frank and son Eric. Our friend Jerry from the stories was here also but Margo missed the trip to go to see her son and grandchild in Germany.
We spent most of the weekend resting as the treatments are very tiring for Karla and we wanted to save as much energy as possible. We were fortunate to arrive at the athlete's village on a charter bus the morning of the race so we were able to rest and stay warm on the bus right up until time to march to the starting line. Our hope was just to make it to the finish by the offical cut-off of 6 hours with as little stress on Karla as possible. The plan was for me to run with her the whole way. After all her inspiration and help getting me here there was no way I wasn't going to be there to share the whole experience with her. I would also be able to moniter her condition as we went along. I carried a cell phone, something I never imagined I would do in a race, but as you can imagine, Frank was a bit concerned so I had it just in case.
The temperature at the start was in the 50's so at least we had pleasant running weather and we soon found ourselves on the way out of Hopkinton and on the way to Boston and the finish line. We started out at an easy pace, just trying to enjoy the atmosphere surrounding such an historic event. We hoped to run as much as possible and attempt to get to the half in 2:30. I figured that if we had to we could walk it in from there. We walked just enough to make sure we were getting plenty to drink and took a gel at 5 miles. We were having a great time taking in the sites along the course and enjoying each others company.
It was just after 10 miles that the reality of the situation set in. Although she had hoped to run most of the race, the effects of the chemo and lack of training were taking their toll. It was now obvious that we were going to do a lot of walking and she wasn't too happy with that. But being the speciial woman that she is, she was more concerned with me having to run my first Boston so slow after training so hard to get here. I assured her there was nothing I would rather be doing than sharing the day with her and after a little emotional moment we forged ahead with determination to go claim our medals.
We settled into a nice run/walk routine and although she was tiring and getting sore legs and feet we were on pace. I continued to monitor her condition and felt she was doing fine. We continued to drink and started eating gels more often to keep her energy up as muchas possible. At times I could see that she was concerned with whether we would make it, so I tried to keep the mood light and assure her that as long as we were moving in the direction we were going we had it in the bag. As you can see from the pictures, even late in the race she looked great and we were doing a lot of smiling and laughing.
We saw Frank and Eric along the course about the 16 mile mark and this boosted her spirits but soon afterwards as we got into the hills the pace was slowing. We were going to be cutting it close if the pace got any slower. She was asking me how we were doing at every mile and I just told her not to worry and just keep moving. After a 16:32, 20th mile I knew we would have to pick it up or we would miss the cut-off. That's when I gave her the "dig deep" speech. I told her if she could walk faster, then I wouldn't make her run as much. I said, just pretend that those shoes she wanted on sale were first come first serve and walk like she was going after the last pair. She liked that idea as she had gotten comfortable walking. We would run about 5 minutes then walk 5. This strategy seemed to work and we were soon walking a good pace, and our overall pace again dropped below 14 minute miles, the magic number for a 6 hour finish.
It was great to finally see the infamous Citgo sign up ahead as we new we were in the last few miles. All day long we had seen a lot of charity runners supporting the Dana-Farber Cancer Center. It was somewhere near this point that we saw one of the ladies passing us. She had written on the back of her shirt" If you think 26.2 miles is hard, try chemo" How appropriate for the moment. For Karla it was 26.2 miles AND chemo at the same time. But even so Karla was inspired by all the other runners in the race that were overcoming the obstacles that life had thrown in their way.
Finally we made the turn onto Boylston Street and the finish line. We were able to muster up enough energy to run across the line holding hands in 5:47:10. This was the slowest race for either one of us but as for me, this was the best race of my 28 years of running. It was such an honor to run with such a courageous and gracious lady that I am proud to have as my friend.
The marathon for Karla to beat ths cancer is still in the early miles but I am sure she will continue to face it bravely. I look forward to her recovery so that we can share many more miles and smiles.