Most marathoners worth their salt have at least one bucket list of the majors. New York City is attainable, Berlin is made for a PR but Boston has a special place as the first marathon run in the US in 1897 and the site of the devastating bombing in 2013. I ran my first marathon in Fort Worth at the Cowtown marathon in 2014 and the spirit of the three runners killed and the hundreds injured hung heavy in the air. I had never had the experience of standing with thousands of people gathered for one single purpose and take a minutes silence for those lost and irrevocably changed by the actions of a few. It was a holy moment, set apart from the silly signs along the route and the ridiculous shirts that runners created for the event. For most Americans, Boston is the pinnacle of achievement. If you can manage to run fast enough to make it in, you are almost guaranteed a world-class experience in one of the oldest cities in America.
As daunting as getting into Boston can be for some runners, there is a group of Denton area runners that are making their annual trek north for what has become something of a ritual.
Rhonda Foulds, a finalist for the Runner's World Cover Search in 2016, has been a fixture of the North Texas running scene since she discovered that intense exercise was a palliative for the Parkinson's Disease that had left her wheelchair-bound with a deep brain stimulation device to keep the effects of the disease at bay.
Since re-discovering running in 2009 after a long break from college, Rhonda has run over 50 marathons and completed Boston an amazing 4 times, Monday will be her 5th, and built an online community almost 500 strong that encourages, and sometimes challenges, each runner to achieve goals rather than let the "I'd rather..." take over. Rhonda's story is endlessly inspiring and those around her, either through Team RWB, the Denton Area Running Club or Team Sloth have all risen to the occasion when a new challenge is laid before them; to keep moving forward.
I spoke with Rhonda ahead of this year's Boston Marathon and asked her about what keeps her motivated with new challenges after damaging her shoulder in a bad fall at a race this winter.
What has motivated you over the last 7 years to keep getting out there and logging miles that most runners would be proud of?
"My favorite saying, in my head, when things get tough, is “don’t let fatigue make a coward out of you."" Also, due to Parkinson's being a progressive neurological illness, I have to constantly come up with ways to stay ahead of it. There are numerous long-term studies in place now that prove difficult exercise slows the progression of PD. This alone is enough to keep my momentum going forward always.
How about adding in a shoulder injury into the mix?
I have had to be much more careful when I run because without being able to swing my left arm completely, it throws off my balance and cadence. I started using cycling as a cross-training tool and specifically the Peloton Bike program that allowed me to push myself. My body had been so used to running lots of miles that it was no longer challenging me unless I kept adding distance to my runs. That is dangerous for me because it's difficult to regulate my medications over really long runs. Peloton makes me sweat like crazy as long as I put my all into the workouts and really push myself. You actually "run" quite a bit on the bike so I haven't had the boredom factor.
So without the cycling being a part of your exercise regimen, were you seeing a decrease in the effect of intense exercise as a bulwark against PD symptoms?
Yes and I was looking for another exercise to help with this that didn't put me in so much danger of falling and injuring myself (which I've done many times). Running 5Ks used to work up until about 5 years ago because I could really push my pace. Now, as PD is progressive, my legs and brain don't work as efficiently together. So I can't really rely on speed while running to help with my symptoms.
Finally, what is it about Boston? I know that you ran in 2013 when the bombing happened, what keeps you going back?
I spent a great deal of time in a wheelchair prior to 2004 and my first brain surgery. It left me with emotional scars. When I was accepted to run the Boston Marathon in 2012 (for 2013), it helped ease a lot of that pain. I was going to run with the world's elite runners. It was thrilling. I actually run Boston in the mobility impaired category. They are one of the few marathons that has this category. They understand that for people like me, we train just as hard as an able-bodied person. I told myself in 2013 (despite the bombings) that I would run it every year that I could qualify. I missed 2015 due to 3 brain surgeries in 2014 which didn't give me the opportunity to qualify.
Little Bean Runs Boston
For Gail Sweeney Short, the journey to Boston is taking a little longer than most. Almost 9 months pregnant with her first child, Gail is riding the Amtrak from Dallas to Boston because her doctor has said "no" to flying. Setting off on the train 7 days before the race, Gail and her husband Jason are taking the time before the race to reflect on the journey that brought them together and to the 2018 running of the Boston Marathon.
I asked Gail and Jason to talk a little about their experiences as athletes and expectant parents:
How have you had to recalibrate your training and what kind of new challenges have you faced as a pregnant athlete?
Gail: Training while pregnant has been a challenge. From the start my doctor wanted me to continue running saying it’s best for both momma and baby to keep up the exercise routine but to watch my heart rate. Yay doctors orders, no tempo runs lol! Last year (2017) was my first Boston and it was everything I’d hoped for and then some. I requalified for this year before I knew I was pregnant. Once I did the math and realized how far along I would be I was a little worried but honestly thought I’d be good to go.
Being my first I really had no idea how this would affect my body. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to race it I tried to BQ this fall in Fort Worth for 2019. At already 15 weeks that’s when things changed and it didn’t happen. Since then I’ve continued to run and even completed the St. Jude Memphis Marathon in December, Louisiana Half (with a brutal face plant fall and all) in January and Surfside Half in the beach in February. I was able to maintain my pace through 6 months but then it was time to listen more to my body and slow down. Mileage dropped as well, especially in this last month. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. I’m stubborn and run through discomfort but have been happy to have been able to have kept myself active as long as I did. I'm excited for Boston and knowing that this is going to be a completely different experience, there is no time goal, only to finish.
I’ve lost a lot of endurance but one foot in front of the other and I’ll see how it goes. I’m proud to make it to the starting line and to have come as far as I did. At 37 weeks on race day I will be happy with as many or as few miles as I can make it. I’d be thrilled to be able to complete Boston but if Little Bean has other ideas then I will make it as far as I can and won’t have any regrets. After our little one arrives I hope to get back in the swing of activity and training and hoping as Little Bean grows up that they will follow in mommy and daddy’s running footsteps.
Can you talk a bit about your history as an athlete?
Back in the day I was a sprinter in high school, 400m and less. My coach wanted me as a distance runner and I laughed at him. Fast forward many, many years after moving back to the Boston area I had a roommate convince me to do a 5k with her. I thought I was going to die but I didn’t. Turns out I liked it. I moved to Florida after that and found a running group which helped me keep going. I ran my first half marathon with my dad and he left me in his dust. Bring on the determination and some actual real training and my dad and I ran side by side at the Hartford Half finishing sub-2 which was his fastest in 20+ years. He ran NY when I was really little and has always been my inspiration. Finally tackled my first full and it continued from there. After meeting Jason I now have a partner to share all these journeys with, along with an incredible running family that continues to grow each year. We are 26 states into our 50-state marathon goal now and excited to see how our journey and adventures continue.
Jason, can you talk about what it has been like to support Gail through this process of training and running while pregnant?
Jason: We met on a Ragnar team (long distance road and trail relays), so we both knew what we were getting into. It's been tough to watch sometimes because she has been so much stronger than her body will allow as she gets farther along. Her head and legs say "go harder" but she has had to mind the rules so that she doesn't risk herself or the baby. The key seems to be having a doctor who isn't anti-running.
She ran the half at Louisiana in January. The goal was a 2:15. Conservative, but she had a full in December that was in the low 4 range. I was at the finish when I heard her name called and I could see that the clock was sub-2. I was excited until I saw her. She ended up taking a bad fall on some broken pavement in the shadows. She was able to protect the baby but sacrificed her face in the process.
Even though her times have slowed and distances have been shrinking in month 8 and now 9, she kept up for a long time. She had taken a shot at her 2019 BQ at the Fort Worth Marathon in November, but luck wasn't with her. The weekend before, she had a great last long training run, but about 2 days before the marathon, things started shifting and it just wasn't meant to be. She hasn't made as many Wednesday night runs this spring due to work, but she has kept up co-hosting duties on our Thursday social run in Highland Village and has been active with Oiselle and Run Texas.
She's a stubborn, determined runner, man. She is as fun as anyone, but when she really gets her gameface on, you can't slow her down. The most worried I was for her was at Ragnar Hill Country, really. Running rocky trails in the dark, and she had fallen at least once every year before. But she came out clean and I let her go from there.
So get ready to cheer on our DARC runners from afar as they take on this historic and electrifying race. You can track runners on the BAA app and on the Boston Marathon Website. Make sure to buy them a drink after the social run when you see them.
Well, not all of them! #drinkingfortwo