A Tale of Two Runners

26.2: Three simple digits offering more than what meets-the-eye. In binary, it objectively forgets the blood, sweat and tears of every 6 AM run in the sub-zero wind chills of Beacon Street, or the euphoria of running past your closest friends and family on Heartbreak Hill. For those living in Boston, the number triumphantly announces the arrival of spring—here for good after months of perpetual darkness.

As the saying goes: to each his or her own. For two students, the Boston Marathon takes on a whole new meaning. The number 26.2 proves a lifelong link between two complete strangers: a Nantucket native and a girl who calls the Sunshine state home.

Meet Karina Mann, a sophomore here at Boston College. Growing up on Florida’s east coast,

Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Karina learned to appreciate the Boston Marathon much like a Bostonian celebrates Fenway Park. “The Boston Marathon just has so much culture around it than anybody would think until they actually live in Boston,” says the Floridian. “My freshman year, I totally wanted to run it. But I never brought myself around to doing it because of the huge commitment.”

A tri-sport athlete in High School, Karina never dared shy away from a challenge. The thought of crossing Beacon Street’s finish line gnawed at her, watching from the haven of St. Ignatius Church while runners poured down Comm Ave last April. While the 2014 Boston Marathon proved the perfect motivation for 2015, she understood the daunting uphill battle the moment she proclaimed, “Sign me up!”

“I probably run three times a week, upping the mileage every week. I’m more of a low-key trainer I think,” claims Karina. “I ran 18 miles straight once. Usually I go from main campus to the Newton Firehouse.

The challenge? Try earning a bib. Luckily for Karina, she found a charity willing to offer her one. “I actually found Dana-Farber which is an awesome cancer research institute, one that I really care about.” Since its inception in 1990, the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge has raised over $69 million, with their goal set at $5.2 million for the 2015 Boston Marathon. The organization seeks donations that raise critical funds to benefit the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, according to the Dana-Farber website.

Well, with a bib all taken care of, what to expect from Karina at around 9:00 AM on April 20? Just ask Brianna Beaumont, a ghost of Patriots' Days past. As a matter of fact, the two might just recognize each other—in passing actually. After all, Brianna, a junior here at Boston College, ran both the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons.

Brianna’s path to the Marathon involved quite a few detours. Growing up on the small New England island of Nantucket, Brianna played a number of different sports. If anything, she resembled a big fish in a small pond. Making the jump to BC felt more like a plunge into the ocean. “I actually kinda hated running,” recalls Brianna. “When I got to college I had tried out for a few of the sports teams and never made a single one.”

Unable to meet the lofty expectations required to play a Division I collegiate sport, Brianna set her sights on a different challenge—the Boston Marathon. As a freshman, she ran the 2013 Boston Marathon through the Campus School’s bandit runner program. No longer an option for Marathon Monday, “bandit” running gave those training for the Boston Marathon a chance to run even if they failed to earn a bib from any of the marathon’s sponsored charities.

“I originally tried to run for a bunch of charities associated with the Marathon. That said: You need to write quite a few essays. Back in 2013, you had to raise at least a couple thousand dollars on top of all that. Now it’s even crazier. It’s more like double that same minimum dollar amount just to earn a charity sponsor after the bombings.”

Brianna’s training started in December of 2012. “I had a couple of friends who wanted to run the Marathon too, which helped with the training,” reflects Brianna. “You usually have your running schedule perfectly timed into your classes. Like, keeping track of the 15 minutes within it takes to finish the run before making it back for class makes the day a lot more regimented.”

Say goodbye to the perfect social life: The junior recalled running at least 15 hours a week, working out four days out of the seven. However, what she once viewed as her greatest virtue turned into her greatest vice.

“My first year running the Boston Marathon in 2013, I broke my foot as a result of over

Courtesy of Flickr / JD

Photo courtesy of JD / Flickr

training.” Her rigorous running routine heightened by sheer determination caused a stress fracture in Brianna’s foot to expand. Unfortunately, her foot completely gave in at the worse possible moment. “At that point you have such an adrenaline rush. When I got to Mile 23, the first bomb went off. I actually ran a little past Mile 26. By the time I stopped running, I was way closer to the bombs than I ever should have been.”

Chaos broke loose as Brianna’s dream of crossing the finish line turned into a cruel nightmare. Two bombs detonated at the race’s finish line killed three innocent bystanders, severely injuring up to 250 other civilians. In the midst of the carnage, already exhausted runners gave whatever food they received to those in need, even offering cell phones to call loved ones.

“My parents knew my training times and even calculated what time I would have finished. Based on those times, I was supposed to have crossed the finish line right around the same time the bombs went off. Knowing this, my parents completely freaked out.”

With a renewed appreciation for life itself, Brianna arrived back on campus late that day with two new things: crutches and a technical finish courtesy of the Boston Athletic Association. However, something felt missing to Brianna.

“It was a bit embarrassing. Everyone knew you were running the marathon. You never wanted to tell people you didn’t get the chance to finish, you know?”

Setting her sights to 2014, Brianna needed to cross that finish line once and for all. Instead of working harder, she trained smarter. “The 2013 Marathon taught me valuable lessons in how to train my body,” Brianna notes. “I learned how to combat stress fractures by taking calcium and vitamin D tablets. I learned new dietary habits that enhanced the way I ran future trials.”

To Brianna’s demise, qualifying for the 2014 Boston Marathon reached an even higher level of difficulty compared to years past. For safety precautions, the Boston Athletic Association banned non-qualified bandit runners from jumping into the race as a result of the 2013 bombings.

“Three days before the Marathon and I still had no bib,” she remembers. “I applied to a million different charities and never received a single offer.” Call it divine intervention, a miracle or just sheer luck; Brianna’s fortunes took a dramatic turn for the best. Out of the blue, a runner suffering from a stress fracture opted out of the race just days before the event. Seizing the moment, Brianna emphatically filled in.

The injured runner’s bib sponsored the One Fund Boston—a charity created by former Governor Deval Patrick and former Mayor Thomas Menino, to help those most affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. The One Fund satisfies the needs of the survivor community, ensuring that 100% of donations go directly to victim families and the rebuilding community.

“We had to raise $2100 dollars within like three days. I found out the news of the runner’s bib on Friday and ran on Monday.”

Arriving in Hopkinton that beautiful Patriots Day morning, Brianna knew what to expect. She had been there, done that. Of course, one imagines a flawless run: a perfect fairy-tale ending, right? Well, almost.

“I had an asthma attack,” Brianna laughs in disbelief, unable to catch a break. “At Mile 13, I rested in one of the tents and actually finished the race with a better timed pace after the asthma attack than before it. Who would’ve thought?”

Her dream finally fulfilled, Brianna plans to rest easy this year. She wants to watch the race from the comfort of the sidewalks. No more broken foot. No more asthma attacks. This Marathon Monday belongs to her: her time to gaze longingly from St. Ignatius and soak in the scenes of a united Boston College campus.

Who knows? She may even finally meet Karina—only a stranger in passing, of course. For a brief shining moment, their lives cross, their views of one another drowned by the immense ocean of people flanking Comm Ave. A reversal of roles that passes on a proverbial torch from upperclassman to underclassman: A natural rite of passage.

26.2.

Once she gets off the bus in Hopkinton, Karina Mann faithfully receives the values instilled in those three digits, running with them through the midst of tradition and history. God speed ahead!

Follow @BCGavelSports on Twitter for the latest updates on Boston College athletics.

Comments

Mike Kotsopoulos