Quinn Strong: Running with the power of purpose

I didn’t choose to go blind. But the choice I made after going blind, that’s what defines my life. On a cold, gray April day, running into a headwind and then steady rain, this choice led me to the hilly, grueling Boston course. Here, on this most unlikely day, I beat my previous personal marathon best by almost 24 minutes.

A week after the race, while I’m still basking in an exuberant glow from the race itself, as well as the thousands of congratulations, at this point Boston feels like a lifetime ago. There is, however, a potent take-away message for me I thought worth sharing here.

My Boston Marathon team: Running coach Greg Hallerman, first-half guide Peter Houde, second-half guide Christine Houde and myself. (Courtesy 2020visionquest.org)

Before I share it, I want to yet again commend the incredible work by my Guides who make it possible for me to undertake such an amazing experience. Peter and Christine Houde split the course as my official Guides, with Greg Hallerman assisting throughout. I did not give fair estimate to the enormous work of managing so many fellow racers on a difficult course, especially with fairly challenging weather conditions throughout. My friends and Guides were simply stellar, and we were, I think, an incredible team.

Quinn guiding me to the finish line in the BAA’s 5k in 2013.

My story must begin with a former partner/ teammate who was with me in spirit. The Mighty Quinn, was a noble yellow lab who not only served as my guide dog, but for seven years was my 24/7 companion. In 2012, through snow and ice and wind, Quinn led me to the successful completion of an epic goal of climbing all 48 New Hampshire mountains over 4,000 feet in a single winter season. And then in warmer weather, we accomplished the feat a second time. Soon after, The Mighty Quinn fell ill with terminal bone cancer. His death was one of the hardest days of my life. As I moved forward to my next goal, running the Boston Marathon, he was constantly in my thoughts. His memory became my motivation for the 2015 race. I ran Boston to honor The Mighty Quinn for his years of loving loyalty in guiding me to walking, hiking, and running during each day of our too short lives together.

With the training behind me and my intent clear, I lined up in Hopkinton for the start of the race. The rain picked up and a chill wind made me eager for the heat of the run to come. We started moving with me tight behind Pete and my legs eager to find a stride. For the first 2-3 miles that stride was in check tight behind Pete, as we simply were in a wall of people moving fairly swiftly down the hills into Ashland. Greg’s voice projected to help us ease a space to move through and ensure other runners understood a little space was safer for us.

It was a constant effort to keep our pace a little slower as the energy level was incredible. Thousands of spectators stood along the route, despite the far less than ideal conditions, and continued to encourage all the runners. Finally in Ashland I was able to emerge and run beside Pete with Greg weaving back and forth to support us in pacing and spacing. With my arms marked with “Quinn” and my shirt in his honor as well, many shouts for Quinn buoyed my spirits along the way. Each time I heard a “Randy,” it told me there was someone who knew me rather than someone reading my shirt. And there were oh so many of those times all along the route, because of the incredible friends I have in my life. The mental burden on my Guides and especially on Pete as primary was intense, and before the 12-mile mark we reached the transition point for Christine to join the race and Pete to depart as the rules dictate. I was sad for his loss but strong in my focus – we never even paused for the transition as they switched in mid run with practiced ease.

2020-Boston2015Wellesley-320Christine was strong and eager as we shot through Wellesley and into the infamous Newton Hills. Even effort suggests a slight slowing of pace for the uphill’s and a slight increase on the downhill’s, and our overall pace stayed strong as four successive up and downs brought us close to the crest of Heartbreak Hill at mile 21. Many runners suggest a marathon begins at mile 20. It’s where the hardest effort begins, but in Boston the race starts with Heartbreak Hill and often drives the point home.

We had a pack of friends together, and I was buoyed by the group effort. I knew if I reached the summit of Heartbreak Hill still strong, then my marathon had just five mostly downhill miles remaining. Still, I knew those would be the miles that break many runners. As I crested the hill, my purpose was surging within me and I gave two significant efforts. I tossed my head back and shouted to the skies “You did not break my heart!” because the hill had not broken my will or my heart. Quinn’s death had wounded my heart but his gift of love and loyalty had made it strong enough to survive. My own gift of love and loyalty had helped me heal, and my purpose was a demonstration for me, and somehow to him that this was so.

With 21 miles of the Marathon having stripped away so much of the decoration which surrounds our essential being, I was finding in myself the raw and real passion of my purpose to honor him. I threw my head back once more, and shouted “I love you, Quinn Boy!” with all of the fervor and strength I had. The potency of that shout was cathartic and I was energized in a way I’d have never thought possible deep into such an epic race.

R Pierce CollageI knew then without doubt I would finish the race as strong as I’d run already. There was no thought of quitting or slowing, but instead a calm, steady, confident determination I would stride out the rest and Quinn would be with me, as he was in the moment of shout. I didn’t waver the rest of the route; there were hard miles left for certain but I realized then with crystal clarity that the power of a purpose can ignite a fervent drive.

My Marathon has so many moments worthy of sharing but the message for me was this: Find a purpose in your life, find a purpose to drive your small and your grand goals. If that purpose is truly your inspired choice, you very well may find as I did that it can take you to incredible heights. I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 50 minutes, and 37 seconds. I crossed with so much support from so many places but I crossed strong enough to run further and faster if needed. I had more to give, not just in that moment, but in the many moments ahead because I know how to infuse purpose into my goals.

The Mighty Quinn on Mt. Flume, Franconia Ridge, New Hampshire

Quinn, my beloved boy, will not be the only purpose in my future endeavors. He’ll always be a beloved part of my life and may at many points be an inspiration. The purpose in each goal will vary, but I always know that finding the right reason, the right motivation for me and for that next moment is how I can fuel myself to be strong, to be Boston Strong on this year’s race… to be Quinn Strong as my boy was so many times… as any of us can be… with purpose.

We love you, Quinn Boy!

Randy Pierce
Nashua, New Hampshire
April 20, 2015
Age – 48
Bib # 25485