Some Boston Marathon hopefuls had to deal with heartbreak long before they reached the eponymous hill in Newton.
While Boston always carries a special significance, runners this year were even more determined to prove the running community’s resilience after two bombs went off at the finish line in 2013. Some, however, were sidelined by injury after months of training and anticipation for what they expected to be one of the most emotional and memorable marathons of their lifetime.
“It wasn’t until I signed up and was registered that I started to really feel the impact of how special an opportunity it would be to run this year with everything that has happened and just how emotional and special it’d be this year,” said Phoebe Markle, an Alexandrian who was set for her first Boston. “To be a part of that, I don’t take that for granted.”
She made it through 13 weeks of training when she ran a 22-mile long run a little too fast and felt some pain in her calf. She tried to push through, not wanting to miss out on training so close to the race. But eventually, she had to confront the reality that she may not be able to run. She went to the doctor and the problem was diagnosed as a strained calf.
Whether she would run was up in the air until just a few days before the race, when her physical therapist told her not to run, worried it could be a stress fracture. Discouraged, she felt like all the hours and miles logged were for nothing.
“That was my priority, training through the winter. I got in every workout through the polar vortex, in the ice, wind, snow,” she said.
She has already qualified for the 2015 Boston Marathon and said she will try again then and “train smarter.”
With plans to drive to Massachusetts with her boyfriend and stay with friends, Markle was, financially, just out her entry fee. Others weren’t so lucky and had far less flexible travel plans. When Emory Ford of Kensington got hurt about a month before the marathon, he forfeited his entry fee and the cost of his travel plans and hotel for the weekend.
“It was an expensive choice to not run and to cancel my plans,” he said.
Ford was skiing with his son in West Virginia when he landed wrong and injured his back.
“Something I probably shouldn’t have done — a ski jump,” he said. “I landed on my back. I’ve been having issues with my sciatic nerve, it’s hard to stand up and sit down and it causes my calf muscles to tense on the left side.”
He wasn’t able to run at all with the injury and realized he would not be able to do the marathon, though he said he’ll likely try to run it next year.
“It’s too bad I couldn’t go this year, though, because I’m sure it’s going to be extra special,” he said.
For Mike Gorfinkle, running Boston this year was about finishing what he started in 2013. He ran for a charity in honor of his cousin who died of cancer and was about half a mile from the finish line when the the bombs went off. Now an Ellicott City resident, he grew up in Boston watching the race, and was one of 5,000 runners who couldn’t finish last year and was invited back in 2014, but ran into trouble when he strained his Achilles tendon playing with his daughter after a long run.
“Any other race, I would just wait for the next one and get better,” he said. “But for this race, I’m not by any means a professional athlete, but it’s like playing in a big game.”
His doctor told him that under any other circumstances, he would advise Gorfinkle not to run, but that he understood this was a “once-in-a-lifetime” race. Determined to run the race, Gorfinkle abandoned his sub-four hour goal and planned on taking walking breaks every two miles.
“I figured I’ll run as far as I can until I can’t anymore, and then I’ll drop off at a medical tent,” he said before the marathon. “Normally when I run races, there’s some competition to it, but for this race, it’s more about being there for the day and celebrating and remembering what happened last year.”
Gorfinkle finished the marathon in 5:46. He said it was very difficult to run through his injury and even had to stop at a medical tent along the course to ice his Achilles tendon for about 20 minutes.
“But I made it,” he said.
Arlington’s Daryle Lademan also managed to cross the finish line in Boston, despite battling injuries for almost three months. In February, she was out of training for about three weeks with shingles, then just a few weeks later, starting having pain in her IT band. Though her coach didn’t approve, she made a last-minute decision to run, “because it was Boston.”
While she initially just flew in to pick up her number and maybe run the B.A.A. 5k two days before, she ended up on the bus to the starting line in Hopkinton the morning of the marathon.
“I had a $20 bill in my sports bra. I figured, worst case, I pop out at the halfway point and take the T back to Boston,” she said. “I got to the halfway point and (her IT band) was doing alright; it probably was adrenaline. I just sucked it up and went all the way to Boston.”
In addition to wanting to participate in this year’s marathon to take back the finish line, Lademan had the added motivation of having to pull out of last year’s marathon two weeks before the race with another injury.
“I thought ‘No, damnit, I’m not sitting this one out,’” she said. “I was bound and determined to pull out all the stops to make it happen it year.”
She went out without a time goal and ended up finishing in 3:42 – not a personal best time by any means, though it was definitely a personal best race experience.
“It was absolutely the hardest race, but also the most life-affirming race I’ve ever run,” she said. “The thought that I might have not run it, or might not have given it a try because I wasn’t well trained, or I wasn’t going to PR, my heart just breaks thinking about that because I would’ve missed out on the best running experience of my life.”
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2014 RunWashington.