Saturday, January 4, 2014

Boston to Charlotte and Back

Nicole Gross speaking at pasta dinner

Charlotte will go down as one of my better marathon memories. Not that my race time was all that good - it wasn't - but because of all things running with friends make even those bad times, well, joyful in life.

Jennifer had months earlier planned to run the half, but bronchitis had been lingering so she did not pack any running clothes. From the moment we walked into the expo she headed to the clothes rack to - you guessed it - buy togs to run the race in the morning. We call this S.M.O.T., a.k.a. the Starrett Method of Training. Jennifer and her brother Gary have spent many years perfecting this art: plan to run a race, don't train (insert injury/illness here) show up at race and run, lick injuries until time for next race. Thing is, if they make it to the starting line they usually do okay and often better than that. For that race. Then repeat. I've seen elites/Olympians do far worse.


We arrived Friday and headed directly to the expo. I was anxious about missing any of the pasta dinner and hearing Nicole Gross speak. Nicole would be there along with other members of her family who were at Boston this year, including Erika who was lost one leg to the FBers. (And that's not shorthand for Facebook.) The family was surrounded by people so I did not intrude on their conversations as much as I wanted to speak to them.

We sat with Mike and Janelle with Cadie Jessup was one table over. Running in a prosthesis, especially for distances, can be very challenging. Both Janelle and Cadie have had more than their share of frustration trying to run, Cadie more so because she is a high AK (above knee) amputee. Janelle's leg was healing and not comfortable and we were unsure she'd be able to run the half, her first effort at that distance.


In the weeks leading up to Charlotte I finally felt some distance - and less physical emotion - when thinking to April 15. As Nicole spoke the day came rushing back to me, more real than being there as it happened. I drifted in and out of the present and past, seeing the faces of Krystle, Martin, Lu, and Sean in my mind's eye. How can this be? Yet there is Erika, missing a leg, moving gingerly with her walker.

How can this be? It is too real and not at all. Such is life, our short time in this sacred place. A place where evil lives, is embraced actively or passively, and where the strong hearts of good resist to the end that has no end in sight. We fight the good fight for all time.


Team G2T Alumni - Me, Jennifer, Mike, and Janelle
We meet up for the early start which Jennifer and I took. Mike and Janelle would go with the "official" start 30 minutes later. Janelle was going to run the half after all, and I knew with Mike at her side she would get to the finish line.

We are off with a checkered flag wave. There are quite a few early starters so we were not running alone for the first few miles. I had decided to try the run/walk (aka Galloway Method) for the first time. This being training for the Boston hills, I wanted to avoid beating myself up too much. So every 5 minutes my watch beeped and I walked for 1 minute. I noticed many around me doing variations on this, and I had dreams that I could maintain this pace for the entire race.

That did not happen. I was good for about 14 miles and then my pace slowed and the walk breaks began stretching out. Despite this, I had a good, no great race. The why was my fellow runners and the great communities we ran through in our circuit about Charlotte.

The number of runners from elite to back-of-packers who took a moment to say a word to me was astounding. Fortunately I was running so slowly that it really did not affect me like it would in a 5k where the need for air precludes speech. Sometimes it was a short conversation and sometimes it was a raised hand. To think I would not run again, to not be here, to never hear the sounds and words of my fellow runners, it is impossible. Impossible is nothing.


As we passed through joyous and occasional inebriated clumps of community celebrations I began to love this course. Once again the marathon had beaten and reduced me to walking, yet my adversary could not claim victory unless I quit. Fat chance. None at all.

Near the end of the race a volunteer joins me carrying Old Glory. We talked about Boston as I tried to run up a short but steep hill which I could not reminded me of the attempt to run the overpass at mile 25 of Boston. Shortly thereafter Juan pulls up alongside and we walk and run the last mile or so of the race together.

Juan is a big guy and something about him seems familiar. As we talk I start to see a faint resemblance to a brother and my dad. Again I have a sense of the little miracles I have seen so many times of late. We run a little and walk a lot. He tells me how I inspire him; I tell him we all have challenges and many are far harder and less visible than mine.

I tell him of Jason Pisano.

The end of the race is uphill. We walk until we think we can run to the finish. I see Jennifer to my left holding my Boston jacket. Juan insists on pumping up the crowd for me even though I wish we had crossed the line together. I hear my name. I did what we could not do on April 15, 2013. I have finished my second marathon as an amputee.


Jennifer completed her half with a very good time despite recovering from bronchitis and lack of training. What's a little adversity that can't be resolved with a bit of expo shopping? Unfortunately after the race she still had some residual effects from the illness and then got a stomach virus that weakened her more. She's is starting to come back with a mix of running and walking and I hope to enjoy some Saturday morning runs with her soon.


That evening we meet at Janelle's parent's house and then head over the Mike's sister's place for dinner. Such great people all around. And again the thought traverses my mind of how my life changed to be here, in this here and now, among people I would have never known I had taken the pain pill and kept the foot.

Isn't life strange.


It is now January and I am starting my Boston Marathon training plan. After Charlotte my right hip flexor and then left forefoot became quite sore so I backed off training. I've worked on strengthening the hip flexor which works harder with the prosthesis, and it seems a cushioned insert helps with the foot pain.

I abandoned my Daniels inspired training plan where I should have been near max mileage for the intermediate marathon plan the BAA has developed. It was a perfect fit for my current mileage and I am running with it.

So I train. Work is very stressful and my mother was in and out of the hospital over Christmas. All of us working stiffs have the same battle with time to get our training done. In years past I could run at lunch, an option no longer available to me. For me running itself should not be so stressful and why after this Boston my marathoning is over until retirement.

April 21. It will be a day of remembrance and a day of honor. And it should not be forgotten, a day of evil that lives and is embraced among us. As long as we breathe we cannot be deterred.

We chose to live.


Best friends Mike and Janelle

And Janelle...she decided to run the half marathon despite her severe obstacles in getting to the starting line. There is a wonderful story here about the picture above. Over and over I am reminded how my life changed for the better in meeting such courageous friends. I know firsthand that this half was extremely hard for Janelle, far beyond the "runner's distress" we all feel.

Everything about the race helped ease the pain I still feel over Boston, knowing the glory of the human spirit over the deep well of mortality. We make this journey worthwhile, we who chose to live.

To Help.

To Love.


  1. Thanks for this wonderful report, Richard.

    1. Thanks Grace, I wasn't sure I was ever going to finish it but glad I did. After I saw Juan's video I had to make time.