by Tara Gidus Collingwood
Running. Every couple has that “thing.” The thing that brought them together in the first place or that they developed as the relationship grew. For me and my late husband Stephen, it was running. I met him at the local running club’s marathon training program. I was training for my first marathon, and he had a few already under his belt. I ran fast enough in my first marathon to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon. He had qualified earlier that fall, so we both ran Boston in 2004.
We ran the Paris and the London marathons a week apart on our two-week honeymoon in 2005. So yes, we were crazy about running but even more crazy about each other. A few marathons later, we decided that our next race would be parenthood. I took a break from running for a few years while we had two children together.
Running is what bonded us, but it’s also what gave Stephen his first indication that something was seriously wrong. He was winded and felt pressure on his chest. He went to get checked out and after quite a few tests, they found fluid surrounding his heart. We later found out that the fluid was accumulating because he had Stage 4 cancer that had already spread to the lining of his heart.
My marathon-running husband fought the cancer with everything he had, but ultimately he lost the race 11 months after diagnosis. I had stopped running when the kids came, and had not picked it up again. They were 2 and 4 at the time of his diagnosis. I needed some stress relief, and running once again became an outlet for me.
Stephen had signed up for the Kiawah Island marathon in December of 2012, which was 13 months after his diagnosis. He figured he’d have the cancer beat by the summer, which would leave him 4 months to train for the marathon. Unfortunately he passed in October of 2012. I hosted a Funeral 5K run from my home on the day of his funeral and burial. It only seemed appropriate. Then I got a group of friends together to run Kiawah in his honor. I ran the half marathon, and I put his full marathon bib on my back.
I tell you all of this background to set the stage for the Boston marathon, which is coming up on April 18, 2022. Boston is a legendary marathon for numerous reasons, and it’s a very tough course because of the hills. The downhill is just as torturous as the uphill. I ran the Boston marathon in 2004 with Stephen, and then again in 2014, 2016, and 2018. I want to tell you about my experience in the 2014 race, a mere 18 months after I lost Stephen.
I went into the Boston marathon that year without a lot of really long run training, and zero hill training. Even though I wasn’t as properly trained as I should have been, I wanted to run Boston in 2014 because of the inspiration and significance of the race that year.
The Boston bombings of 2013 were horrific, but instead of tearing a city apart, it bonded the people of Boston and unified runners from around the world. #BostonStrong is the social media tag repeated millions of times to show solidarity and strength.
I went to Boston alone, and although I met up with fellow running buddies, I couldn’t help but reminisce of the time I had come 10 years prior with Stephen for the first time. As I walked the Expo and met with the running friends we had shared, I felt a hole in my heart of his absence.
The race began with intense emotion—everyone who was there was out to prove that the terrorists who placed those bombs were NOT going to get us down. The crowd was millions strong. Every single step of the 26.2 miles was taken with a spectator cheering me on, encouraging me to be #Bostonstrong.
My legs were heavy at about mile 14. Not good. 12 more miles to go. My lack of hill training was coming back to bite me. As the miles clicked by, I continued to slow more and more. By mile 18, I grunted my way up a large hill. “Was that heartbreak hill?” all the runners were asking each other. Nope! Wait until mile 20 and you’ll really know what a hill feels like.
I barely made it up heartbreak hill. I wanted to walk so badly, but I knew that if I did it would only prolong the agony even more. I started to talk to Stephen in my head. I asked him to give me fresh legs. “Please rejuvenate my legs so I can get through these last 5.2 miles,” I begged. He must have been really busy upstairs because my legs got no relief. He already fought his battle, and I knew I could fight this one.
As I plodded along in those last 5 miles, I dug deep. I thought about the fight that Stephen put up against the cancer. I thought about the people who lost their lives and the loved ones left behind from the bombings. My agony was palpable. I was audibly grunting and groaning through every mile. I knew there were people who had lost limbs in the 2013 bombing running the marathon just one year later. If THEY can do this, I can do this. I have no excuse.
I was humbled by the Boston marathon. Not only did it kick my butt physically, but I saw a city come together like I’ve never seen. I saw people push themselves to incredible limits. I felt a comradery with perfect strangers, a coming together for one common goal.
Stephen would have been so proud. Proud of me finishing Boston, but he would have also been so proud of every single runner who proved to the world that we are indeed #BostonStrong.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7
Tara Gidus Collingwood, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer, and fellow Wister. You can find her at dietdiva.net.