Calais Native Runs Boston Marathon

By Lura Jackson

 

Nearly 30,000 runners from all over the world traveled to Boston on April 16th to take part in the Boston Marathon, one of the most famous events of its kind. Among those runners on that particularly cold, rainy and windy day was Heather Farrell, a former Calais native, participating in her personal “dream.”

Farrell was born and raised in Calais, where, bolstered by the community, she developed her affinity for athletics from a young age. “When I was a little girl, the Lady Blue Devils were truly stars in my eyes,” Farrell recalls. In high school, she carried the Blue Devil banner herself, playing basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball.

After she graduated from Calais Middle High School in 1997, Farrell attended Thomas College to earn both her BS and MBA in Business Management. In college, she continued pursuing her interest in sports, playing soccer, basketball and softball as a Thomas Terrier. It was around then that she picked up the practice of running as a means to get in a quick workout during the offseason.

While at Thomas College, she began working for them as a recruitment specialist around New England, a role she performed for a total of six years. A few years after graduating, she took a position with TC Hafford Basement Systems, where she remains employed today as Operations Manager.

It was when Farrell’s working career began in earnest that she turned to running more seriously. “It was a way to get a solid, quick, and sweaty workout in whether it was before work, after work, or on the road,” Farrell said. She soon met a group of friends near her home in Old Orchard that helped to propel her interest in the sport a step further. “All of them are into endurance athletics and encouraged me to start running organized races: 5k’s, 10k’s, half-marathons, and eventually full marathons.”

Farrell ran her first marathon in Washington County during the inaugural Bay of Fundy International Marathon in 2013. The course offered the most difficult terrain of the total of five marathons she has since run, but the experience didn’t deter her. She continued to train and run, and in 2016, she put her name in to a lottery to see if she would be among those selected to run the New York City Marathon, and she was.

Farrell began training in earnest in anticipation of the New York City Marathon to meet her goal of earning a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. She had been utilizing an online training regimen, but as her times improved, she decided to hire a coach. Her fellow “endurance junkie” friends recommended Denise Goode with The Sustainable Athlete. 

“Denise had me in the best shape of my life and I earned a qualifying time of 3:30:52,” Farrell said. “When I learned that my qualifying time earned me a spot in the 2018 Boston Marathon, I was over the moon.”

Training for the Boston Marathon proved to be a greater challenge, however. Farrell’s then-boyfriend has been coping with a relapsing pancreatic cancer, and she has been his constant support. “Spending time with him, as well as battling a foot injury of my own, changed my mindset on Boston,” Farrell said. She knew she would be participating, but she also knew she couldn’t commit to the same training program she had followed for the New York City Marathon. “In the end, I followed somewhat of a watered-down version of Coach Denise’s regimen and entered the race with strong legs, a huge heart, and lots of amazing friends and family to think about and keep my mind busy and inspired for 26.2 miles!”

As the marathon approached, Farrell became increasingly reflective of the other portions of her life. Her mindset was affected by a trip she took the week before to Omaha for a work conference, and a celebration of life she attended for a dear neighbor, Ann. “I believe those two things kept me pretty occupied and distracted from over-thinking the marathon.”

Arriving at the Boston Marathon, Farrell was amazed by the energy surrounding the event. “Oh my gosh, the people were the best part! And that goes beyond other race participants – the volunteers, law enforcement, spectators.... the people are what make the Boston Marathon so incredibly special.” The event is attended by 500,000 spectators each year, indicating the level of enthusiasm and excitement present despite the typhoon-like conditions.

As she was being shuttled to the starting area, Farrell met one of the two women that deeply impacted her experience at the marathon. Her name was Kerri, and she had brought along what Farrell describes as the equivalent of a convenience store in supplies, while Farrell herself had only brought a small plastic bagful. “She ended up sharing her tarp with me in the tent – which was a mud pit – to sit on and rest up until they called our wave. She also gave me hand warmers.” In exchange, Farrell offered Kerri ibuprofen and an electrolyte/caffeine tablet.

The cold temperatures, high winds and rains made the run challenging for every participant. The handwarmers proved to be incredibly helpful, keeping Farrell’s hands warm for the first ten miles of the race. She ran with a poncho on until the last mile, though she couldn’t bear to toss it aside at that point, describing it as having become her “Wilson” (referring to the volleyball from Castaway). 

As the miles went by, the runners began struggling as injuries mounted up. A young woman began crying as she ran, and sought help from nearby law enforcement. At one point, Farrell heard a sickening noise and a gasp from the crowd, and turned to see a man holding his head. “He had slipped and I’m pretty sure the noise I heard was his head hitting the pavement,” she recalls. Another woman was walking down the middle of the road “like a zombie,” which Farrell says was probably due to shock and hypothermia. “Running is a mentally challenging sport. There is such a fine line between pushing your body to its limits and recognizing when you need to back off a little in order to protect yourself for the long haul,” Farrell said. Recognizing what was happening around her, she became very mindful of her own condition.

Three miles from the finish line, Farrell met the second woman that impacted her significantly during the run. She was walking, but something about her stride made Farrell stop and ask if she was okay. She said she thought she was, and asked the same of Farrell. Farrell replied that she was okay, and, after assessing the situation, said she wouldn’t leave her. “I knew by her response that she was a true runner and was going to finish this race,” Farrell said. The duo made it to the top of the hill, and the woman broke into a run as if she was fully recharged. “We stayed with each other throughout the final mileage and crossed the finish line together.”

After the race, Farrell learned that the woman had fallen and hit her knee and cheekbone on the pavement; both were swollen and bleeding. Perhaps most significantly, she learned the woman’s name was Ann – just like the dear neighbor Farrell had recently attended the celebration of life for. The discovery was a welcome delight. “You look for signs like that when you are mentally and physically exhausted,” Farrell said. “I have been wondering what my 26.2-mile journey would have been like without meeting those two wonderful women.”

While Farrell did not break her personal record in the Boston Marathon as a result of the various complications involved, the experience of participating in “such a cherished event” of New England made it more than worthwhile. Capping off the achievement of a lifetime, Farrell’s boyfriend proposed to her Friday night.

“That was one exciting week!” Farrell summarized with characteristic enthusiasm.