Back to Boston—This Time to Run

Jim Thelen, WMU-Cooley Law School’s Associate Dean for Legal Affairs and General Counsel, will toe the line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on Patriot’s Day, Monday, April 20, 2015, to run his first Boston Marathon. He will cross the finish line on Boylston Street in downtown Boston, just like his wife and WMU-Cooley Professor Kara Zech-Thelen has done the last three years and WMU-Cooley Director of Communications Terry Carella has done for the last 10 consecutive Boston Marathons. But this Boston, it’s his turn to talk about his journey and to make his own history.

Jim Thelen, WMU-Cooley's Associate Dean for Legal Affairs and General Counsel

Jim Thelen, WMU-Cooley’s Associate Dean for Legal Affairs and General Counsel, training to run his first Boston Marathon, Monday, April 20, 2015.

As I strode through an eight-and-a-half-mile morning run earlier this week, the Boston Marathon only days away, my mind wandered, reflecting on my preparations for the race.

I’ve been training for more than four months now. I’ve run over 500 miles in that time, roughly the equivalent of running from here (Lansing, Michigan) to Nashville, Tennessee. Oddly enough, when you’re training for a 26.2-mile marathon, the farthest you run is only 20 miles, and then only once. Come race day, adrenaline carries you through the final 6.2 miles—or so the theory goes.

I’m under no illusion that those last 6.2 miles won’t be painful. Indeed, the pain will likely set in by mile 17 or 18, and the thought of running eight or nine more miles at that point is downright haunting, especially when your legs and feet are basically numb. Well, numb except for the silent screaming coming from your quad muscles, which want nothing better than to revolt against your mind’s dogged commands to keep running.

Just keep moving, your mind directs. No!, your every muscle screams defiantly back.

Knowing all of that lies ahead of me on Monday, I still think I’m ready to run and finish the world’s most historic marathon for the first time.

It’ll be an emotional run. I’ve cheered my wife on from the sidelines there three times. We were there in 2013, the year it happened. Kara finished the marathon about 25 minutes before the bombs went off, and she watched with horror as smoke and debris billowed into the street a few hundred yards away from her. Although safe and out of sight another block away, I felt the concussive thud but couldn’t comprehend the booming sounds ricocheting between the buildings around me. I’m still moved to tears by thoughts of so many victim spectators, doing the same thing I was doing there that day.

I don’t know if it would have been so important to me to run Boston had I not been there that day. I’m not a fast enough marathoner to earn a time-qualifying spot in the race, so my option was to raise money for a marathon-approved charity to run the race.

That’s right—I’m raising money for charity so I can run the Boston Marathon. I picked the American Red Cross, and they picked me for their charity team, Team Red Cross 2015. It was an easy choice. I’ve volunteered for the Red Cross as a lawyer, and my wife’s great-great grandparents were among the beneficiaries of the Red Cross’s very first disaster response in 1881, after a devastating forest fire ravaged the Michigan communities around which they lived.

This idea of linking marathons and charities, runners with fundraising, has been around since the ‘80s. Since the London Marathon first sanctioned a charity and offered the Sports Aid Foundation some race entries to help with its fundraising in 1984, followed by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training here in the United States in 1988, runners have raised billions—yes, with a “b”—of dollars for thousands of charities around the globe. Runner’s World magazine wrote in 2013 of Running USA’s estimate that all U.S. road races combined raised $1.2 billion for non-profit organizations in 2012 alone, and last year’s Boston Marathon saw more than $38 million raised by its charity runners.

Amounts like these dwarf any single runner’s efforts, of course, but together we really do make a difference. My Red Cross team of 50 runners from around the country has so far raised more than $282,000 for disaster relief, emergency shelter, and medical services, and I’m humbled and grateful to my personal supporters who helped me reach my $10,000 goal.

Runners who obsess over this kind of stuff estimate that it takes about 46,000 strides to finish a marathon. That just seems like too much to tackle all at once, almost like the idea of raising $10,000 did back when I got started last fall. But whether it’s my running or my fundraising, I accomplish my goals one step at a time. And that will carry me through to the finish in Boston on Monday.

Just keep moving, my mind will say. And I will.

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