The Boston Marathon epitomizes defiance, resilience, and excellence for both those who have the tremendous opportunity to run it as well as to those who celebrate this event so steeped in tradition. The heart of the Boston Marathon is the 30,000 runners and the soul is 9,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators cheering along the 26.2-mile route.
“Marathon Monday” is on Patriots’ Day (the third Monday in April). The original course retraced the Ride of Paul Revere and commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, which launched the American Revolution. Boston is the world’s oldest marathon, beginning in 1897 and marking this year as the 127th annual race.
Earning a spot to run from the start line in Hopkinton to the finish line in historic downtown Boston demands the highest standards. These are the fastest runners in the world – elite professionals and runners who qualified by running a pre-approved marathon at a fast pace. (And having a “BQ” – a Boston Qualifying time – is still not a guarantee you will gain entry!)
There is a special cohort of runners at Boston known as the “overqualified.” We are charity runners who run and fundraise for one of the select charities. Jack Fleming, the president and CEO of the Boston Athletic Association, said the 2023 Charity runners were on track to raise $40 million for these community non-profit organizations.
Why I Run
I have been running shorter distances since I was a teenager. My doctor prescribed it to me to help manage my depression and anxiety. Running proved a reliable friend I turned to off and on throughout my life. After my son was born in 2012, I had “mommy weight” I wanted to shed,so I would put my precious newborn in his stroller. We would run two miles to Starbucks and run-walk the two miles back. He loved it – bouncing around and passing other people!
In 2013, I was trying to find out why my son was missing his developmental milestones. We were actually at a Children’s Hospital working with neurologists when the horrors of the Terrorist Bombing unfolded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that year. Everything was a blur – what the doctors were (and were not) saying along with this atrocious attack. However, I kept running with my son because he loved it.
Fast forward to 2017, and my son was simply too big for a standard jogging stroller. Truly Nolen’s Controller Sean Dreis introduced me to his friend Eugene, who served on the board for Team Hoyt Arizona. I remember seeing some videos of Team Hoyt – a father who pushed his son born with cerebral palsy in a special wheelchair – in races and triathlons, including the Boston Marathon and Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. It is amazing how much you can learn and be inspired by searching “Team Hoyt” online and watching videos of them – especially when they were honored with the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award at the ESPY Award show in 2013.
Fate was on my side. I reached out and discovered Dick Hoyt was coming to Tucson, Ariz., as a speaker at a fundraising event and would be running one of the local races here the next day. That same weekend was Truly Nolen’s first Community Car Show, an event near and dear to my heart as it was the last project I talked to my father about before he passed away. That special weekend felt like my father connecting me to the man who showed me how to be the parent my son needed me to be.
Dick Hoyt is a special man. Like his running-partner son, Rick, he has a wicked sense of humor and is humility personified. They say “never meet your heroes,” but they are wrong. As amazing as he is as a father and athlete, he completely leaves you feeling that you, too, can do these things. In fact, the motto of Team Hoyt is “YES YOU CAN!”
I connected with Team Hoyt Arizona — our local chapter of families and volunteers that make running and racing available to everyone. They let me use one of the special racing chairs at races until I procured my own. My son and I started with 5K races, but we escalated quickly to the 10K distance followed by the half marathon.
We traveled to Carlsbad, Calif., in January 2020 and raced the Carlsbad Half Marathon with about 50 other “duo” athletes from Team Hoyt Arizona, Team Hoyt San Diego, and Ainsley’s Angels. My son and I found our tribe! My son loved running such a big race, especially with so many other chairs like his. Enthusiastic spectators cheered for us as we ran; his joy was palpable and contagious. We were both hooked to this life and lifestyle.
Getting to Boston
I had my eye on the marathon distance and my heart set on running Boston, just like Dick and Rick. Also, that goal scared me, so I knew I had to do it! My first marathon in December 2020 was canceled, due to COVID-19. I found another marathon that offered a “virtual” option so I ran 26.2 miles alone with two friends cheering me along the way.
In 12 months, I ran four marathons — including the virtual Boston Marathon in October 2021 with my son’s caregiver. I earned my first Unicorn medal (the symbol for the Boston Marathon). Our finish line had a balloon arch and confetti. The Boston Marathon included our picture online in their social media posts and in their finisher’s program.
I researched the Boston Marathon and what I had to do to earn a spot for my son and me. My stomach tied in knots when I read the qualifying times I needed at my age just to apply – it was an hour faster than my best time; shedding an hour off seemed impossible. My son would have to be 18, like all other athletes. I shared my goal with Team Hoyt Arizona and Dick Hoyt during our team Zoom meetings and got an email from Team Hoyt that I could be a charity runner for them!
When Dick Hoyt passed away in March 2021, I felt like I was punched in the gut and my mind raced. Would Team Hoyt go on without him? True to form and the “YES YOU CAN” spirit, Dick and Judy Hoyt’s sons Rick, Russ and Rob began leading Team Hoyt and the Hoyt Foundation. I applied for the honor to run for the Hoyt Foundation at the Boston Marathon, setting a $10,000 fundraising goal. I got my acceptance letter from Team Hoyt on Sept. 28, 2022, at 6:20 a.m.
Later that same day, Hurricane Ian made landfall on mainland Florida. It hit Charlotte County and attacked my family, friends, coworkers and customers across southwest Florida. All our focus had to be on our people making sure they were accounted for and safe. The photos of the devastation to Fort Myers Beach, Fla., were hard to see from the other side of the country. I knew we would rebuild and take care of each other – my Truly Nolen family (both my actual family and my work family) has a long history of doing that, beginning with Hurricane Andrew through today.
They inspired me to chase — well, run — after my goal. I shared my good news about Boston and started my fundraising efforts in November. I was truly humbled how many people supported me. My family, friends, coworkers, people throughout the community and other runners I connected with through social media and at other races all encouraged me to keep going.
I worked with my running coach so I could run Boston well and make my son proud. I trained with my son – pushing him in training runs and at races. I had to train “solo” as the mechanics and muscles uses of pushing a chair (about 115 pounds with my son in it) are quite different. As silly as it sounds, I had to learn how to run with my arms, something I learned the hard way with my first few marathons.
The 127th Boston Marathon was on April 17. It was the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist bombing I watched from my child’s hospital room. I made it to the start line healthy and injury-free and exceeded my $10,000 fundraising goal. Now I just had to run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton, past the Wellesley “scream tunnel” at the halfway mark, up “Heartbreak Hill” and into Boston, not forgetting to make a right on Hereford and left on Boyston Street.
But all I really had to remember was “YES I CAN” and yes I did!