Three hours in the company of Angels

For several days after running the Boston Marathon, my emotions were still high, but nothing like the morning waking up to that day. I was overpowered by intense emotion when I woke up on Monday, Patriots’ Day. I was struggling to keep my focus being bound by all these extreme and binding feelings. Some of the emotions I am able to sift through, read like this:

NERVOUSNESS: Gotta be on time. Do I have everything? Did I get enough to drink? Should I wear the brand new shorts or the old Capri’s? Should I eat more? Drink more? Drink Less?…

FEAR: What if something happens and I miss my bus? What if there is no taxi driver? What if my IT Band flares up?

LOVE: Thank you God for my husband Andy. Thank you for my family. Thank you for their love and support. The love from my friends and family. I am so blessed to have such an incredible cheering section. Why do all these people love me so?

Pre-race Vender Hot Dog with Everthing!
Pre-race Vender Hot Dog with Everything!

EXCITEMENT: I cannot believe I am about to do this. Pinch me – is this for real. WOW – Really!!

ANTICIPATION: OK. Now is where it all comes together. Let’s see what we are made of.

HUMILITY: I cannot believe I am about to run the BOSTON STINKIN MARATHON!! Thank you Jesus. I do not believe I get this opportunity. I am so thankful and so grateful and totally not worthy of such tremendous blessings.

So what does a girl do with these emotions (to name a few)? CRY. As Janis Joplin put it best, “Cry, cry baby.” I would regain my composure for a minute and then feel the waterworks all over again. Poor Andy. He did not know what to do with me. I could not focus on whether I should get dressed or eat. If I should put on my bib or tie my shoes. I was incapacitated. I could barely function. Poor Andy looked helpless as we went to the lobby and he kissed me off, sending me into a cab at 6:30 in the morning. Not to be seen again till the afternoon if all went well.

It was a $25 dollar cab ride from our hotel to the five mile meeting place. And worth it. The cab driver dropped me off at the Back Bay Hilton where I took my ticket to get on my charter bus purchased by Baumans Running store in Flint. This was a $35 dollar luxury. This bus took me to the same location as the courtesy buses only they were school buses. We had reclining seats and bathrooms and the best part was we did not have to get off them until we had to get to our corral.

We all developed instant friendships with one another based on one common denominator: Running the Boston. We could have all been on the same bus and never said one word to each other, but now we were all picking meeting places, exchanging phone numbers, emails and lunch dates within a matter of just a couple of hours. These friendships developed instantly from knowing the sacrifice, commitment, pain, and dedication with which only another runner could truly emphasize. We each know the feat to get to this level, and respect one another based on this shared experience. Instant love.

Melissa, the woman sitting next to me, qualified two years ago. Only to get breast cancer and not be able to run the following year. She wore her hair short as it was still growing out. What I had also seen grow was her desire, what with overcoming cancer and being a wife, mother of two, and while still working hard to fulfill her dream. Inspiring…

She followed me out of the bus where we did one last bathroom stop, and went our separate ways as they yelled our corral was leaving. At that point we were both running, my corral was fenced off and I was going to have to jump it to get in. I started to climb up the gate and the crowd, seeing how small I was, reached over and picked me up and carried me over. Everyone clapping and yelling. What a welcome committee!

Walking slowly towards the starting mat, I was awe struck. I crossed the starting line about seven minutes after our corral let go. I went to start my Garmin and noticed it was not showing my pace or my distance. UGH. I am not techy at all. This was new. Andy just bought this for me and spent Sunday night programming it to be perfect and now I could not get it to work. OHH I wished Andy was here to fix it. That is Andy, always the one to fix my screw ups. I pushed buttons and tried everything and only made things worse. Now I couldn’t even get the time on. I was asking others our pace and knew I was way off fussing with this dumb thing. After two miles I turned my Garmin off, then turned it back on, and voilà! It was working.

As soon as I got it fixed I heard my name, “ANITA! Anita.” I turned around and there was Danielle Majors. Danielle, a girl I have not seen in 20 years from Brandon High School!!! I knew she was going to be running, but never in a thousand years thought we would find each other. What were the odds?

We spent the next couple of miles catching up. Talking about where we were going to see our families and what time we would like to finish in. I told her my husband had given me a goal of 3:38, but I was skeptical. Her goal was four hours. Danielle asked me if she could stay with me and let me try and pace her in. I said absolutely. Funny how that worked. As soon as I got my Garmin to work I run into an old classmate asking me to help pace her. We both reminded each other how happy we were to have one another. About four miles down the road, this girl comes up on my right and says, “NITA.” Ok, I am thinking who else knows me. I did not recognize the girl, who looked about my age. She must have known I was confused and reminded me I had my name printed down my arm. She asked me what pace I was running and what my goal time was. I told her we were at about 8:23 pace and wanted to finish in under four hours. She then asked if she could stay with me and if I could help pace her in, she wanted to finish anywhere in the 30’s. She didn’t not want to finish past 3:39. Her name was Carrie. I introduced Carrie to Danielle and told her we were doing this together. We stayed side by side, the three of us.

The crowd was astounding. It never let up. Families, college students, churches, and businesses. They all came out, bands and deejays, radio shows and television broadcasters. They lined the streets cheering us on. Danielle was getting excited to see her family as we approached Mile 10. It was Carrie’s and my new challenge to help find Danielle’s husband in the town of Natick, at around the ten mile mark. We all looked on both sides of the road. He said he would be on the left, but then we heard a voice yelling all the way on the right. I was heartbroken for Danielle, as she could not get across three lanes in time to kiss her husband, her number one fan. She held on to her pace and smiled and kept forward.

We had been on a ten mile descent the last hour and a half, and as we were coming into the town of Wellesley, the course was flattening out a bit. I asked Carrie where her family would be and she said her boyfriend would be somewhere on the course but she did not know where. She returned the question and I told her my husband would be at Mile 16. My brother and sister-in-law should be with him, but I did not know for sure. All I knew was I could not wait to see them. I would be feeling the course at Mile 16 and was going to need some family support by then.

I kept the girls informed of our pace and time. We would get cooking down the hills at a 7:50 pace and I would hold us back remembering everyone’s advice to keep the horses in the barn. As much as you want to blow down those hills you have to use your head. Advice that was given to me and I gave to the girls was this:

The first part of your marathon is all HEAD. Run with the knowledge you have learned.

The second part of your marathon is all LEG. This is when you go into auto pilot. Just cruise.

The Third part of your marathon is all HEART. This is where you dig deep. You run the pain down. You go for it all, remembering why you do what you do and how you have gotten where you are. If you have to, you cry yourself to the finish.

Danielle was starting to struggle around Mile 14. She was not beside me as much. I kept encouraging her. I told her I could carry her to about Mile 20, but then I really needed her to carry me. She stayed close. I would look behind me and see her within three or four feet. “Come On, Danielle! Today is your day. You can do this,” I would yell. I was getting excited to see my honey and family. As I was encouraging her, I was slowing my pace down a bit.

Mile 16 approached soon. I was so excited. Carrie asked what they looked like, what they were wearing, and where they would be. She looked on both sides of the street as if they were her family. I changed running spots with her. I told Andy I would be running on the right hand side. We were coming up to the NEWTON HILLS. These are a set of four hills over four miles. Heartbreak Hill is the last of the four.

Before the hills was basically Death Valley. The temperature had reached 57 degrees at this point and all sun. This is where your training shows itself. Now as for me, my training did not consist of any hills because of my injured IT Band. So I knew I was going to have to dig DEEP. When you train, you are not just training your body, you are training your mind. My mind and heart were reminding me I was a fighter and I could do this.

Then I heard him. [I can hardly type this through the tears.] Andy was yelling my name. He ran right out onto the course. Smiling and kissing me. He screams, ” You gotta pick it up, honey, you are behind, YOU have gotta pick it up. How do you feel? What do you need?”

I yell back, “My Chia Water, I need my Chia water.” He gets into his sack and grabs my water and says in reply, as he is running the course right next to me “Can I take anything?” I remember I tied my jacket around my waist, I quickly untie it and throw it to him. “Go Anita, go! You can do it. Pick it up. You gotta Pick It Up!!”

As he moved away I noticed he had run so far with me he could not get back in. Oh well, he would figure that out. Now that is a coach, that is a cheerleader. I saw my brother and his wife cheering me on not far after Andy. I left them all with a consuming love.

I looked back and saw Danielle behind me, she must have heard Andy as she waved “Go, Go.” I did not want to leave her, but I knew I had to. Reluctantly, I pressed forward with Carrie still at my side.

Carrie was teary eyed. Having never met my husband, she was already in love with him. She was impressed with his coaching and support. As he ran along side of me, she was watching and soaking it up, as if it was for her also. When we moved forward, I shared my Chia water with her and Danielle slowly closed the gap back to us. I was happy to see Danielle and reunite with her.

We cruised up the first hill and then the second. Danielle fell back and we never saw her again. I was in a lot of pain and could not retrieve her. We were now approaching Heartbreak Hill. My quads were on fire and my glutes were cramping. This is Mile 21. Now I began praying harder. And Carrie could tell I was struggling. There were so many spectators. They were screaming and stretching out their arms for just a quick touch as though you were Kara Goucher. You felt like a Superstar. You had to stop smacking hands because you were losing momentum!

By the time I got to Mile 22, I was spent. Carrie looked amazing, but kept asking “Nita, do you think we are still gonna finish in the 30’s?” I felt sure we would. We had increased our pace to 8:15. And I could feel it, the hills were becoming unbearable. I was wanting to tell Carrie to just go ahead. But I knew if I did I would probably not do as well. I NEEDED her.

I was hot and sick of the hills. Even when it flattened out there were little rollers and it was like running in the Rockies at that point. I felt so discouraged as I saw the smallest elevation. Any of them could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Carrie knew. She started with words of encouragement. “Nita, you can do this, Come on.”

At this point Carrie was grabbing water for both of us. I went ahead to keep our pace and she shared her water with me. Who was this Girl? Why was she staying with me? I was holding her back. Yet she never left my side. I continued to pace her, sharing our pace and bringing the horses back in because she wanted to have a hard push the last two miles. I did not know if I could follow. But she stayed close, slowing down when I reminded her to not go too hard, hydrating me, and continuing to encourage me through words and companionship.

MILE 24. I knew this is where Carrie wanted to hit it. I chucked the rest of my Chia water from Andy and had chewed my last Juice Plus gels. OK, Carrie, I will give you all I have. I did not want to let her down, I did not want to let Andy down, and I wanted to finish knowing I gave my all. I put my arms in front of me and let my legs follow. I stayed mechanic. Letting the burn drive me. We were pulling 7:15 minute miles. “15 minutes Nita and we are done.” We came onto one of the last water stations. Carrie grabbed the water, took a drink and handed the rest to me, I finished the water and chucked the cup. Move, Move. Look up and stay focused, I told myself.

A remembered banner from the day before...
A remembered banner from the day before…

MILE 25. One mile to go. Carrie is still next to me. She has a lot more in the tank then me. Why doesn’t she just go? She could blow me away. Instead I hear her Angelic voice,” Come on Nita, we are almost there, you can do this.” How can she talk? We are doing seven minute miles. We have just run 26 miles. We make the turn onto Boylston Street and she asks, “Nita is that the finish?” I knew it was because I recognized that big blue overhang from the night before, it was about 600 meters in front of us. “Yes, yes it is.”

She stays right next to me for about 300 meters and slowly inches forward. I can see her. I am right behind her. I see the mat and the Finish banner and, with my hands in the air and a smile on my face, I run after my little Angel. It is finished, I have finished. I have just finished the most amazing race in my life. The biggest Marathon of my life, and one of the biggest challenges.

Hebrews 13:2 “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained Angels unaware.”

photo ahCarrie and I walked back towards the family visiting station. Her last name starts with an “S” and mine with an “H.” I am sad to see her leave. I did not want her to go. Over the last three hours she stayed by my side. I paced her and got us to where I could not go any longer. And she rose up and carried me. She never left me and picked me up when I needed it most. She had more wind then me, but stayed there cheering me on and trusting me that I had gotten her to her goal. She believed in me and never left me. I was feeling the pressure. I had to know if I got her to her goal. What if I didn’t and she held back with me?

Leaning on Brother Bob and Sister-in-law Leeanne
Leaning on Brother Bob and Sister-in-law Leeanne

When I got to my family I was so happy. As I went to hug each of them, my calves tightened up into charliehorses. My brother had to pick me up as I fell. OUCH. We ate and went back to the hotel. I told them about Carrie, but they didn’t get it. I just wanted to get back and look up her results.

I could not remember her last name, I could only remember it started with an “S.” We got a newspaper on the way home. I found her. Carrie from North Richland Hills, Texas – 3:38:57!!! Under her 3:39! I was so happy. Mine was 3:39:44, and Danielle’s 3:50:51.

There were many times I wanted to entertain thoughts of discouragement and doubt, but I was accompanied by Angels. That encouraged me and cheered me on. I am so grateful and humbled by this experience, Glory be to God.

Anita Harless
Holly, Michigan
April 18, 2011
Age – 37
Bib # 15962

My first Boston Marathon!!!!!!!
26.2 Miles.
Temperature: 55 Degrees.
Starting time: 10:20
Pace: 8:23
Official time: 3:39:44
Official: 10503
Gender: 2698
Division: 1967

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