When I tell people I’m running the Boston Marathon as part of the Boston Children’s Hospital Miles for Miracles team, the standard reaction is the same. “I could never run 26.2 miles.” My response never varies. “Yes, you can … with the right training, anyone can do it.” My kids can’t give up when they don’t feel like doing something, and neither can I. ~ Lance
My feet ache. I’m often exhausted. I’m hungry all the time. And committing to a long run every Saturday — rain, snow or shine — isn’t always fun. But my efforts pale in comparison to what drives so many others on this team. There’s Lance, a non-runner channelling his children’s determination. And Hazel, a Boston Children’s operations manager and one of the fiercest runners I’ve ever met. And Melissa, a quiet presence, shouldering constant, unimaginable grief.
There’s no way I can acknowledge every single person who has been — and will be — part of this journey, so I’m approaching it the same way I think about the marathon … in 5-mile increments.
Miles 1-5: Beginning and beginning anew
For the first few miles of the marathon, you feel like you can fly. The atmosphere and the momentum of the runners around you get into your blood and you feel like pure energy. Hazel Boyd, the operations manager of Boston Children’s operating rooms, is energy personified.
Hazel is a completely enthusiastic runner. She doesn’t just smile — she glows — and she doesn’t merely encourage our team, she shouts her support, dances, air drums and sings. When you’re near her, you can’t help but smile and keep running.
You’d never guess Hazel’s spirit was nearly broken when she was a finish-line volunteer in 2013, the year of the Boston Marathon bombings.
“I remember being so jealous of the runners that morning. They were running the greatest race in the world on a glorious day.”
After the bombings, Hazel vowed to take back her life and her race. She joined the Miles for Miracles team in 2014, and two years later on her third Boston Marathon, she’s the heart of the team.
Hazel lives (and runs) with passion and purpose. She runs for two children: her patient partner Zachary and her daughter Cynthia, who was treated at Boston Children’s following Hazel’s 2014 race.
Miles 6-10: Where it all clicks
When you’re training for a distance event, it takes a several miles to find your groove. I think of Brian, my patient partner’s father. Brian is a runner and ALWAYS makes it look effortless. But I’m well aware of how he struggled.
After his son Elijah was born and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Brian found himself in a very dark place, mourning all of things he’d never be able to do with Elijah.
A chance meeting with Boston Marathon legend Dick Hoyt changed the course of his family’s life. Brian and Elijah discovered running, and their family found its center. I couldn’t be happier than when I’m watching Brian pushing Elijah in his running chair, ear-to-ear grins lighting up their faces. It’s magic.
Miles 11-15: When the going gets tough
This is where it sinks in. Twenty-six point-two miles is far. You feel tired. Maybe even exhausted. You are so far from the end. You need some support. Judy Zuckerman provides that support every week during the Miles for Miracles team training run.
An avowed non-athlete, Judy started running in 2011 in the wake of her mother’s death. She joined the Miles for Miracles team, finding solace and companionship and clinging to a somewhat irrational thought that she would run the Boston Marathon at age 50. Battling through patellar femoral syndrome in 2012, she finished it in seven hours.
Though Judy was determined to run again in 2013, a strained Achilles tendon kept her on the sidelines, and while she was devastated by the bombings, she was inspired by the runners of all shapes, sizes, abilities and disabilities.
Since then, Judy has volunteered — managing water stops where she doles out water, Gator-Ade, smiles and encouragement. She is always there, providing nourishment for bodies and spirits, until she can get back on the streets as a running member of the Miles for Miracles team for her next Boston Marathon.
Miles 16-20/Heartbreak: If you’re going through hell, keep going
I think of Lance, a self-professed non-runner. “I wanted to give up,” he says, recalling his only half marathon. Then he thought of his twins, Luke and Lily, 12. Luke was diagnosed with type 1 juvenile diabetes at age 1, and Lily has juvenile arthritis.
There were days when Lance, a single father when the twins were young, carried his daughter up the stairs, because she couldn’t make it to the bathroom. “My kids can’t give up when they don’t feel like doing something, and neither can I.”
And Lance hasn’t given up.
“I remember our first long run, when I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill. I didn’t know where we were and when the coach told me, I hugged him. I felt like I had climbed a massive mountain and could do anything.”
Lance is going on with the journey, dedicating the Marathon not just to Luke and Lily but also to his mother, who passed away in March and would have celebrated her 76th birthday on April 18.
Miles 21-26.2: Dark and light
You wonder if you’ll make it. You start breaking your miles down into half-mile increments, quarter-mile increments. Maybe less. It’s so painful. Finishing feels impossible.
I met Melissa on the day of our 17-mile training run. She wasn’t running with us. She had done her long run the day before, so she and her husband could be together on their daughter’s Leyden’s birthday.
They greeted us on Heartbreak Hill with water, Gator-Ade, oranges and a giant poster of Leyden.
I was swept up with other runners but learned a little more later that afternoon.
Leyden was born on Feb. 19, 2014, with a congenital heart defect. She had surgery, and her prognosis was excellent.
Two years ago, as Melissa and her husband prepared to take Leyden home, she promised her daughter they would run the marathon together.
But Leyden struggled to gain weight and ultimately went into multi-organ failure.
“Leyden put up such a fight to live,” says Melissa.
In Leyden’s memory, Melissa kept her promise and ran the marathon in 2015. Running again in 2016 was a difficult decision.
“There are parallels of persevering through a second marathon and another year of bereavement. The longing and emptiness have not ceased. The rigors of 26.2 miles and Heartbreak Hill have not diminished.”
And that’s where my head will be though much of those last miles. The pain in my feet, in my hamstrings and quads is real, but it can’t compare to the ache in Melissa’s heart.
And yet she keeps going.
Running, Melissa tells me, is a way she can spread Leyden’s light and feel like her mother.
When I decided to run with the Miles for Miracles Team, my goal was simply to run the Boston Marathon. But this journey represents much more than 26.2 miles. It’s about re-building, about running and living with purpose, about connecting with something far greater than the Boston Marathon. This amazing community of parents, staff and volunteers who make up this team and the Boston Children’s community has fueled and inspired me for months. Every one of them, whether named here or not, will be with me every step of the way.