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Local runners share a memorable experience in the Boston Marathon

Miltona's Michelle Russell gives a thumbs up with her Boston Marathon finishing medal around her neck back at the hotel where she celebrated with her family after the race. Russell was born and raised less than 10 miles from Boston. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Alexandria's Julie Miller (left) and Jaci Loween sit and rest after finishing the 2017 Boston Marathon this past Monday. It was Loween's first Boston Marathon and Miller's fourth. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Nearly every marathoner who qualifies for and runs the Boston Marathon does so with something specific in mind that they want to accomplish during this prestigious race.

Those goals run the gamut from winning it to not worrying at all about one's time. Those who have run through the packed crowds along the course say it's an event that can inspire, challenge and reward a distance runner like few others.

"I've run New York and some others, but nothing compares to Boston," Miltona's Michelle Russell said. "The volunteers and the crowds there keep you going. They're there to get you through."

Russell, 44, was one of three local women to run this year's Boston Marathon on April 17 under sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s that challenged runners along the way.

Alexandria's Julie Miller, 47, and Jaci Loween, 35, joined her there, with each one of them carrying a different motivation into this race. For Russell and Loween, this was their first Boston Marathon experience. Miller is a veteran of now four of these races.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

For Russell, the chance to run in Boston was a chance to go back home.

She grew up just seven miles away from the city. Her mom and dad, brother and sister and many more friends and family still call the area home.

"The experience and my goal was to see them along the course," Russell said. "It wasn't about re-qualifying or an amazing finish time. It was about hugs."

Russell made sure to stop for those hugs every chance she could. Six different groups of family members met her at different locations along the 26.2-mile course.

She finished in a time of 4:25:27, but this race was never about that final number. She had qualified for Boston through a marathon in Des Moines, Iowa, her husband's home town.

At mile 26 with the end in sight, her husband and daughter were the last ones to greet her before she crossed the finish line in Boston.

"I was very emotional," she said. "I just knew that's it. I hit my goal. I was happy the whole time. This will be a one-time experience for me, and it went exactly as I wanted it to. I have no regrets, and I want to preserve those memories."

They're memories that Russell never imagined she would experience. She and her parents had never been to this race before this year, despite growing up just a few miles away.

Running was never a part of Russell's life until moving to the Alexandria area 14 years ago. She joined Snap Fitness and started running on the elliptical.

"Then I would run a quarter of a mile and half a mile," she said. "I thought that was amazing."

The longest she had ever run was three miles on the treadmill before she signed up for a half marathon in 2011.

She was 40-years old when she ran her first full marathon in the Twin Cities. Now four years later, she'll run her eighth at the Big Sur International Marathon in California on April 30, 13 days after an experience she'll never forget from Boston.

"You can do this," Russell said, "and you can do this at any age."

A MEMORABLE MONTH

Loween has run four marathons and qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2008 but couldn't go.

She and her family lived overseas at the time with young children. Truthfully, she says, she didn't fully grasp the significance of qualifying at that time.

"Back then, I didn't even know what that meant," she said.

She knew exactly what it meant after moving back to the U.S. and starting her training again a handful of years ago. Loween shot for a qualifying time in 2013 but didn't quite reach it in the Twin Cities. This past May, she accomplished that time standard in Fargo as she and her husband, Mike, were going through an adoption process. She used that race as a fundraiser to raise about $1,500 that went toward the nearly $50,000 cost to complete the adoption.

Almost four weeks before the Boston Marathon, the Loweens' son, JeeWoo, came home from South Korea as they welcomed the fourth child to their family.

"Getting all the training runs in was pretty challenging," Jaci said. "We had to fly back and forth to Korea two times for seven days both times; once in February and once in March. I had to figure out how to get those runs in on jetlag and in the city of Seoul and finding out how to do that."

With everything going on in her life, Jaci wasn't sure she'd be able to run in Boston for the second time. About two weeks before the race, she bought her airline ticket.

"To me, it's just a testament to God cares about the details in our lives," she said. "He gives us hobbies and things that we're passionate about to keep us stable and level even in the midst of lots of stress and lots of challenge. That's kind of what running's always been for me."

Miller and Jaci are good friends who did all of their long training runs together. Jaci finished in a time of 3:46:27, not exactly the time she hoped for, but it was a memorable ending to a memorable month for her family.

"Training this time was more about getting the miles in and not necessarily worrying about the fastest time," Jaci said. "It was getting them in and getting to Boston and being there. It's such a reward just to get there and to finish and to know that I was able to log all my miles."

EXPERIENCE PAYS OFF

Miller is a veteran of 14 marathons overall, and her four times in Boston helped her tackle the challenges of this course.

"It is tough or deceptive because there's a lot of downhills to it," she said. "A person wants to go fast and you can't break yourself going down the hills because all that jarring on your quads isn't good. You have to be careful not to go too fast because that can come back to haunt you in the hills of miles 16 to 19 or so. I'm familiar with that, so I kind of felt like I did OK."

Miller is still trying to get her official time figured out. The results list it at 3:46:35, but that is the gun time, not the chip time, she says.

"The gun time is for wave two, corral one and I was in wave two, corral six, so it's a few minutes off," Miller said.

The time on her watch read 3 hours, 42 minutes. Either way, her finish serves as a qualifying time for next year's race.

Miller will wait and see before committing to run her fifth Boston Marathon in 2018. Spring marathons pose a difficult challenge for runners in Minnesota because it means training through the winters.

"It makes you mentally tough, that's for sure," Miller said. "Physically, it's challenging because you have to contest with the ice and snow and wind chill and all that."

Miller compared this year's race and dealing with the heat to the challenge of running her first one when she wasn't familiar with the course. She felt good until mile 22 when her calf started to cramp after making it through Heartbreak Hill.

Miller has seen first hand how runners come to Boston with a cause or a purpose that they are competing for. For her, this year's race was about honoring Josh Molden, an Alexandria senior and a runner and jumper in track and field. Molden has battled Leukemia the past year after making a state appearance in the triple jump last spring.

"I wore my orange tank top and orange bracelet for Josh," Miller said. "Most people have some specific things that are motivating them to finish and do their best for the day."

Whether it's a runner's first experience like it was for Russell and Loween or they are a veteran of four like Miller — that is part of what makes this race so memorable.

"We all kind of ran for different purposes," Miller said. "Primarily, we qualified and it's fun and a great experience to do it together."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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