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Why at 57 I decided to run the Boston Marathon — nine times (plus NYC once, too)

April 19, 2010 – 5:00 AM

That's me in the blue, heading up Heartbreak Hill

By Davi-Ellen Chabner

On this morning of the 2010 Boston Marathon, I‘m thinking about where I have been for the past nine years:  At the starting line in Hopkinton, wondering if I have it in me to run through pain and 26.2 miles to the finish line.

Why, one might ask, did I — at age 57, never a distance runner, not in the qualifying-time group, and on the heels of breast cancer treatment – decide in 2001 to run Boston?

In the summer of 2000, my daughter (who usually motivates me) had said, “Mom, you should start running again.”  I had run in the 1970s and 1980s, but stopped after knee problems and followed that up with 20 years of non-aerobic activity on the golf course.  So my husband and I entered a 5K race supporting “Friends Fighting Breast Cancer” for the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

By some great fluke, I came in first in my age group (50 and up) and was handed a huge trophy! At that race, the woman organizing a Boston Marathon team for MGH approached me to join them. I was doubtful about accepting the challenge. I had never run 10 miles, let alone 26.2!

So, why did I say “yes?”  Looking back on that decision these are my thoughts:

— Growing up in the 50s and 60s when there were few opportunities for women to play sports. I had wanted to be “in training” and do something extraordinary athletically. I saw the marathon as a great challenge and that chance – even at 57.

— Of course, I also wanted to convince myself that I was still strong and healthy, even after surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer.  I thought about other women who had faced serious illness and wanted to prove something for them as well.

Bottom line: I was passionate about the challenge and not afraid to put myself through the grueling training, including daily runs in winter cold and wind, painful stretching, and cross-training. I read Jeff Galloway’s book on marathon training and believed him about being able to train ANYONE to run a marathon.  I believed in myself.

Once I started down that first momentous mile in Hopkinton and heard the crowd cheer, I knew it WAS all worth it — every minute, every hamstring and piriformis twinge, every screaming quadriceps and hip flexor. When the going got tough, I chanted my “YOU CAN DO IT” mantra and with conditioning, endurance and mental toughness on my side, I willed myself through the miles to the finish that first time in April 2001.

So why do it again – nine more times? (I did New York in 2002). Sure, I craved the excitement and euphoria that I knew would be there on race day.  But, what I really discovered was that the marathon had became a metaphor for my life. It was about meeting serious challenges to the body, mind, and spirit in both training and race – and deciding to summon the determination and courage to finish, and finish strong.

And because I received my number by raising money for the pediatric oncology unit at MGH, I was not just doing this for myself. I was helping kids fight cancer. That was a huge motivator.  Over the years, those brave kids became a part of my life and journey.  Knowing that they were battling more than 26.2 miles, cheering ME onward, and counting on me to finish, propelled me forward – and inspires me today.

Look for me. I’ll be cheering.

Davi-Ellen Chabner is an avid golfer, photographer, instructor of medical terminology and author of 3 books: The Language of Medicine, 9th edition, Medical Terminology: A Short Course, 5th edition, and Medical Language Instant Translator, 4th edition. She has run 9 Boston Marathons and 1 New York Marathon in the past 9 years. She mentors in an after-school program for inner city girls (Mellon Academy of Goodwill Industries) and is on the board of The Boston Conservatory and Friends of the MGH Cancer Center.  She is perhaps best known as grandmother to Bebe, Solomon, Ben, Gus, and Louisa Rose.

  1. One Response to “Why at 57 I decided to run the Boston Marathon — nine times (plus NYC once, too)”

  2. I’m back again, so soon, but I needed to offer a great big applause to Davi-Ellen for her very honest and inspiring account about a time in her life that surely tested her mettle, confidence and endurance. What a remarkable woman. Her contribution to Fair Game News is timely and appropriate because it demonstrates and underscores one of the most important traits of the natural athlete and that is the sheer drive to overcome obstacles. This woman seems to have done this and in the process has found a meaningful script for managing her busy life in spite of some very difficult bumps. I hope that her impactful life will make a difference in the lives of so many who search for a purpose particularly as the demographics keep changing to welcome all the 57 year old Boston runners.

    By AFL / NFL on Apr 20, 2010

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