At Mile 23: “Come on, Stay strong just a little longer.”

We took the family on a road trip to Boston trying to make running the Marathon into a family vacation. We headed out Friday morning for eight hours of driving towards New York.

Just the day before I had run with my son’s cross country team and had tweaked my knee. That was my first distress call. I was quiet at first about sharing it but I knew I needed prayers.

As we arrived in the hotel the first night my stomach was not feeling settled. Again I tried to keep it silent.

That evening I woke up several times with a fierce case of the stomach flu. Unable to manage my body through the night I fell victim to vomiting and …ugh, yes, diarrhea.

This is where I began asking yet again for prayers.

I am not shy when it comes to asking for prayers. Praying for one another is one of the most powerful things we can give each other. It is a gift that costs you nothing and can give everything to someone else.

By Sunday night I was a witness to the miraculous power of the many, many people who were praying for me. I had NO knee clicking or aching.

I had no fever and NEVER got sick again after Friday night!

I was so grateful and humbled by so many who volunteered to pray for me. For all those who signed up to pray for me throughout my marathon as well.

Off to catch a train…
On Monday morning, Patriots’ Day, I had to get up at 5 a.m. I was more nervous about boarding the train alone than running the Boston Marathon.

Andy got up early with me and drove me into the train station. “Andy, you’re going to walk me into the train station, right?” I asked a dozen times.

Calmly Andy replied, “Yes, Nita, you will be fine. Remember you take the green line into Park Place, then switch trains and take the red line into Copley.”

AHHH… It sounded easy enough… Easy for any other person BUT ME. I am directionally challenged. In most cases I could care less. If I get lost, I would just stop and ask. But today I could not afford to get lost. “Please God, calm my nerves, direct my paths, give me courage and knowledge to get to my destination,” I prayed. And together in the car Andy gently held my hand praying for me.

Andy walked me up to the train station where together we got a coffee at Dunkin Donuts. Andy gave me some cash just in case I needed a taxi and kissed me goodbye.

Stepping on the train, I located other marathon runners by their bright yellow Boston Marathon baggage claim totes.

“Just follow them, Nita.” I told myself.

As we stopped along the way to our destination, many more runners boarded the train. The excitement was elevating as we all were bonding with one another.

I asked the runners if they were all getting off at Park Place as well and they were too. I had a sense of relief until I heard most of them also say that was their exit point!

As I stepped off the train panic set in. Whether or not to follow them, or to do what I was scheduled to do.

“Stick with the plan Anita,” I told myself.

Finding my next train, I nervously jumped on and felt a little more at ease when I sat next to a city worker. Not shy, I confirmed with her I was supposed to get off at Copley. Having peace of mind I relaxed…

UNTIL the train passed right through Copley without stopping!

I glanced at her and I could tell she was confused.

She was so kind in helping me. She told me where to get off and which direction to go. Apparently Copley was closed on race day, therefore the train did not make that a stop.

As I got off I headed outside the train station all mixed up and lost. I walked out and had no idea where to go. But then I saw another City Official. Nervous I put on my nicest face and interrupted her morning with a touristy question. “Ma’am, I am so sorry, I was supposed to get off the train at Copley only it was closed and I have no idea how to get to the Back Bay Hilton, can you please help me?”

At first she brushed me off mumbling something I could not understand. She pointed and gave me directions that could not be understood either. I gently tried to repeat what she said back, pointing in the direction she showed me only wrong.

She then removed her ear buds and kindly looked at me, speaking to me and walking me to the road where she wanted me to turn. She took me to where I could see where she was pointing… “HILTON.”
I was so grateful, I did my best expressing this without jumping all over her with hugs and kisses!

Father D
Father Daniel and his sister

“I have to meet Father Daniel” I told myself. I was so excited to see his familiar face. Even though I had just met Father Daniel four days earlier, I loved the idea of having that believers bond. I could feel that in him as well. We were not just running the Boston Marathon together, we were running it in Christ. We knew where our strength would be coming from, where our stamina would come from, where we would have to dig in and who we would cry out to.We knew nothing was impossible without HIM, and that we could do ALL things through Christ.

Arriving 20 minutes late at the Back Bay Hilton, I located Father Daniel within the first couple minutes.

After just a few minutes together, we joined the others and loaded the “Bauman’s buses” we had booked weeks prior.

We had a 50 minute drive towards Hopkinton and the start of the Boston Marathon.

Before Father Daniel and I separated I asked him if we could pray. We both shared prayers different in words, but the same in meaning. It was such an honor to have Father Daniel not only pray with me, but also to be asked to pray with him.

“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Even in the nervousness of so many runners we all shared smiles of joy. Runners lined up and down the streets of Hopkinton. This is the Matriarch of Races. The Grandfather of them all. The Boston Marathon has entertained the fastest runners in the world. I was humbled by the thought of it all. Runners from all over the world have come out here to run, and over 500,000 spectators and volunteers make this race iconic.

The warm sun brought even more cheer to the runners. We had the most perfect day to run 26.2 miles.

I was eager to start. I could feel God’s comforting hand removing any anxiety and giving me his perfect peace.

Just like clockwork, at 10:20am we moved forward towards the starting line and the next thing I knew I was crossing the starting mat.

I had a plan: Run sub eight minute mile pace, and the first ten miles, stick to my pace and PASS NO ONE. The crowds were deafening, at least five people deep, holding signs and cowbells. And with every “high five,” the crowds roared. The children put their hands out like you were a celebrity, squealing when you clapped their little palms.

For the first six miles, I kept hearing “GO MARK!” Hundreds of times people were shouting his name. Who is this “Mark” guy? I looked all over trying to investigate who this popular runner was who was stealing the show?

At Mile 7 I located him. He was wearing a sleeveless tank for a nursing charity, and on the front in very large bold lettering it said “MARK.” It did not hurt that he was also about 6’2 and as bald as a cue ball. He had the look! I came up next to him and said “Your stealing all the crowd! Everywhere I run I keep hearing your name!” Mark laughed and in an English accent asked “What pace are you running?”

I responded, “Trying to go for a 3:30 marathon.”

“I am too.” he said.

“Well, Mark, I think I need to stick near you because you have the best cheerleaders!” And it was just like that I found a running partner.

Mark had never run the Boston Marathon before and he was doing great. I was a little nervous about our pace at times because he was running around a 7:45 minute mile, and running it strong. Between the two of us watching our watches, we coached each other with our pace and our miles.

Around Mile 10, another gentleman came up on my left. He was about the same age as Mark – late 50’s to early 60’s. And also like Mark he too had an accent. This man was very jolly. He was laughing and full of conversation.

I soon discovered I was running with one man from Holland and the other, Mark, from England. This was a first. We decided to help one another to get to the finish line.

Wellesley College would soon be approaching at Mile 13. The excitement of running through this section would carry us for a few miles. As we approached the all girls college, there were so many signs you could not read fast enough!

Kiss me I am from BOSTON!

Kiss me I am From MICHIGAN!

Kiss me I am a ZOMBIE!

Kiss me I love Nerds!

And it was there I lost the two gentleman!

I decided to keep pace. I knew they would catch up and would have needed me to stay on target.

And I was right. As we passed all the yelling, Mark approached first. “Yeah, I think we may have lost the Dutchman back there with all the gals!” Laughing, we continued moving forward, where our lost kissing bandit rejoined us about a half a mile later.

We would soon be coming up on Mile 16, where I was really looking forward to seeing my family.

I felt pretty good, just still concerned when Mark took the lead because he was pacing at a little faster pace than I was.

I know to run my own race, but I always pick someone to run with. Every marathon I have run, I have picked out a runner to pace off. Although I was going faster than I planned, there was something in me that said “Stick to this, Anita.”

We lost the gentleman from Holland again about Mile 16. I began looking for my family on both sides of the street.

Team Harless Cheer Squad
Team Harless Cheer Squad

Mile 17 was approaching. I still had not seen them. I was getting sad I might have missed them. The crowds were so thick with spectators it was very possible I had passed them unseen.

“ANITA!!!” I heard Andy yelling!! There he was running right out unto the course. “You are KILLING it!” Andy screamed with intensity. Running alongside me, he asked how I was doing. He was full of encouragement and that is what I was going to be using to help fuel me the next four miles.

The Newton hills started here. I knew I had banked some time, but I still did not want to dip into that reserve if I didn’t have to. Let the HILLS come! This is where you have to start digging deep.

I was concentrating on my breathing and my plan. I wanted to maintain an 8-8:30 minute mile up the first couple of hills.

Together we moved forward towards Heartbreak Hill. But before we got there, “Mark” was really struggling. I kept turning around up the hills to check on him. Seeing me trying to find him, he waved me to go. “Anita… Go!”

I knew I had to go. I put my head down and climbed to the top of the hill. I thought of all those who were praying for me. I looked at my arm where I had written those who had dedicated miles.

As I looked up, there lay Heartbreak Hill. Right in the middle of Miles 20 and 21. The tears shook my body. My Ariel. I had just lost my sweet niece Ariel six months ago. What a name for the pain I was feeling, Heartbreak Hill. How appropriate. I had dedicated mile 21 for ARIEL and here I was running the most difficult part of the race with her at the forefront of my heart and mind. I could hear her. I could almost touch her as I crested towards the top. And yet she was not there, and it just hurt so very bad. My emotions all wove together. The tears began flowing down my cheeks and my shoulders were heaving. Everything hurt so bad … “Ariel” I cried.

So many people all over. I heard my name several times...
So many people all over. I heard my name several times…

As I came to the top, I knew I needed to get it together. I knew in order to finish this race I had to be strong. Swallowing hard, I straightened my shoulders, put my head up, and prayed for strength.

JUST five more miles to go! I was feeling fatigue at this point. My quads were beginning to burn.
The hills were not done. I had a couple more rollers to go.

There were so many people all over. “Go Nita” I heard my name several times. People were reading my arm and cheering me on. I whispered “thank you” or gave a thumbs up to conserve energy.

Through each water station I went to the side, walking and sipping. After five to ten seconds I chucked my cup and headed back among the runners.

By Mile 23 I was feeling my legs heavy and tired. “Come on, NITA, Stay strong just a little longer.”

“CITGO”… This is IT! I could see that large sign ahead of me marking one mile to go.
Looking at my watch, I had more than ten minutes to make it to the finish and a PR.
Everything hurt. It even hurt to think.

“MAMA, NITA!!!!”

What? WHO? NO WAY!! There was Andy and the boys again! I could not believe it. How did they get here?

“Andy is amazing, How did he make it here?” I was totally in AWE!

I felt all those who were praying for me. I had no doubts, I had no voices of defeat. In all my pain I knew I was going to finish. I cannot describe the comfort of knowing God was going to give me victory. He was not going to give it to me without me fighting for it, but he was going to give me what I needed to accomplish it.

My ears were ringing with the shouts and cheers of the hundreds of people lined up on both sides of the road. Music was in the background of the cheers. Cow bells were ringing with the thrill of the finish just ahead of me.

I could see the bright blue finish. My legs were like Jello, but my body was on autopilot. “Nita, you can finish this, stay strong, keep moving.”

I could hear the announcer and the cameras were like paparazzi. There is was, the finish. My emotions were driving me. Tears of happiness came welling down my cheeks as I ran over the finish mats. I looked at my watch, 3:28!

IMG_3309[1]This was my fastest marathon. I shaved over ten minutes off my last Boston Marathon in 2011!

I could hardly move as they corralled us towards the Mylar shawls they gave us runners to warm up.

I headed in line to get my recovery food bag barely able to walk. My legs were burning and cramping.

After getting my food I slowly moved around the corner to the family meeting area. I knew I would be there a while after seeing Andy and the boys so close to the finish.
Shivering and cold I just relaxed and waited.

I spotted the boys coming through the crowd after about 25 minutes of waiting. They showered me with hugs and kisses. “Mom, you ran so good,” Alec said.

family IMG_3310[1]“Mom, how did you keep your pace so well? We watched you all the way and could not believe how you paced yourself!” Austin shouted so happy.

I just smiled and laughed. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and extreme joy. I had come through the Boston course and I was a victor! The crowds around me were all the same. Wall to wall people on the streets, all taking pictures of their loved one’s victories. I thought nothing could diminish this joy!

How quickly this iconic event was sabotaged by evil. Our reunion was just minutes before the bombing took place. We would be less than a block away.

Two evil men sought to strip away victories, laughter, families, joy, and a barrage of beautiful emotions. In the immediate aftermath, I felt so guilty even smiling. As I passed other runners after the race, we all gave each other the same look of sadness. Those sad looks were our shared way of grieving for those who were lost.

At this Boston, I had so many people praying for me, before, during, and after.
With each prayer, I could visualize God sending his angels out to guide me, protect me, comfort me, heal me, and fight for me. Now our prayers were for those same angels to heal and comfort the many victims and their families.

God sent many heroes, many angels to Boylston Street that afternoon. Their courageous, selfless acts proved again and again evil cannot triumph over good. In the end, terror could diminish, but not extinguish, the many positive things to celebrate about the Boston Marathon…

There is Evil out there. There will ALWAYS be Evil in this world. But there is so much Good. So much Beauty and Kindness. Compassion and LOVE.

And LOVE Conquers ALL.

Anita Harless
Holly, Michigan
Age – 39
Bib # 13936


[Follow Anita on her blog  “RUNNING AGAINST THE OdDS”.]