Marathon runners are known to be resilient. Training takes time, strength and sacrifice. It takes the mental and physical ability to keep moving forward after a bad mile, a bad run or an injury. And the race itself, while often said to be the “icing on the cake”, is not exactly a piece of cake.
Although circumstances made training for her first marathon about 100 times tougher than my first experience, Lee Ann Yanni never doubted that she would run the Chicago Marathon last Sunday, October 13. She registered for the Chicago Marathon back in February and decided to run for the Livestrong Foundation in memory of her father. Her training was going well until April 15th, when Lee Ann was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Watching the race in front of Marathon Sports, Lee Ann was just feet away from the first bomb. She suffered an open fracture of her left fibula (that’s bone breaking through the skin in non-medical terms), shattered her lower ankle, severed nerves in her leg, broke her big toe and punctured her eardrum. She went through 3 surgeries in 5 days to remove the debris in her leg, repair the broken bones, remove 2 muscles in her leg and complete a skin graft to close up the area of her leg that, as she describes, had ”essentially been filleted open” to conduct all the repairs necessary.
Already impressed by her positive attitude, she told me, “For a bad injury, it was probably the best case scenario.” And, despite her injuries, the question she asked her doctors repeatedly was “When can I run again?” Not running the Chicago Marathon was just never an option.
A physical therapist, Lee Ann knew what lay ahead in her recovery process. However, her rehab may have helped her train more for the marathon than she knew at the time. Her recovery was based on milestones: walk with 2 crutches, walk with one crutch, walk without crutches, run. After briefly celebrating each accomplishment, her sights quickly turned to overcoming her next hurdle, much like getting past each mile of the marathon.
Training for this marathon also seems to have played a part in Lee Ann’s emotional recovery as well. Lee Ann meets weekly with a support group for those injured by the bombings. She says they are working towards “getting back to new normals,” the routines of daily life as they now incorporate the changes that may have taken place since April. For Lee Ann, that meant running the Chicago Marathon. “I’ve got the runner’s heart. I wasn’t going to be happy until I could run again.”
While many runners receive praise from their friends and family for their ability to train and complete a feat not attempted by many, Lee Ann has become a symbol of strength and resilience for an entire city. However, for Lee Ann, the Chicago marathon was about running for her dad. The race, which took place on October 13th, was 4 days before the anniversary of his passing.
Lee Ann started her actual running training program only 5 ½ weeks before the marathon. In the process, she learned things such as her gait had changed, and she needed a different running shoe to run comfortably. She and her physical therapist played around with walk/run combinations that allowed her to run most comfortably. They decided on a 4-minute walk, 2 minute run plan.
Despite a very different pre-race training program, her marathon experience was very similar to that of many other runners. She arrived at the starting line excited, nervous and scared. Her friend, Stephanie, ran beside her throughout the race.
She recalled the first 5 miles went by quickly. She felt pretty good at halfway point, despite her longest training run being only 11 miles. Getting to Mile 16 was an accomplishment, but the last 10 miles were tough. She laughed a bit when she said, “My body didn’t hurt much different from 16, 17, 18 to the finish. It just hurt.” At Mile 21 she experienced hitting the wall, but like many marathoners was able to refocus at Mile 24 and by Mile 25, she realized she was really going to finish her first marathon.
She ran the last 400 meters or so and as she crossed the finish, threw her hands in the air and tears filled her eyes. They announced her name, “Lee Yanni, Boston Marathon survivor running today!” I got goose bumps just hearing her tell the story.
When I spoke with her, a week after the marathon, she noted that what she had done was just catching up to her. She also acknowledged that her recovery is far from over. While the marathon was a huge accomplishment, she still has plenty of work to do. She still has some pain when she walks and going down stairs can be difficult. At work, she gets frustrated that she can’t always show her physical therapy patients the exercises they need because she can’t yet do them herself.
To manage this frustration, she remembers each milestone that she has overcome and takes in how much progress she has made in just 6 months and what's up next. She’s accomplished so much, yet she keeps looking forward.
Lee Ann admits that while she was extremely glad to be able to complete Chicago, she still looks forward to running a race without the structured walk/run plan. She is already thinking about how she will build her strength over the next several months so she can run her next marathon. Perhaps one next April.
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