Heartbreak Hill slowed Jim Miller during his run in the 2013 Boston Marathon. But it may have saved him from being a part of the mayhem, terror and heartache that ended the race.
By the time Miller reached Kenmore Square, he knew he was well off the pace he had set earlier in the race. Down course, his daughter, Cait, was waiting for her dad just a couple of blocks east of the finish line. It was the same spot on Boylston Street where she had stood for his previous 12 Boston Marathon finishes. Miller never completed last year's race. The bombings stopped him 2/3rds of a mile from the finish line in 2013.
Monday will be Miller's 100th marathon overall and his 14th try in Boston. He's a member of the exclusive 50 States Marathon Club, having completed a marathon in every state in the nation.
Miller, 61, earned his bib for 2014 in part because he had run in at least 10 consecutive Boston Marathons. This year, he plans to cover the entire 26.2-mile course with more than 36,000 other official entrants. He's running, in part, to raise money for the American Liver Foundation [You can check out his personal fundraiser site here.] He began running marathons in Boston in 2000 to raise awareness for liver disease. Liver cancer claimed his father and namesake's life at age 68 in 1999. Jim Miller's father neither drank nor smoked. "He was a role model and provider for his family," Miller said. "The cancer destroyed him quickly."
Now, whenever he crosses any finish line, this Jim Miller crosses himself, looks up and says: "This is for you, dad."
[Media Bias Alert: As a two-time liver transplant recipient, this cause strikes a personal note.]
Miller didn't get serious about running as an adult until he was 48, more than 25 years after he stopped running track at Portsmouth High School. Eventually, he would be running nearly a marathon each month.
He never planned for this Boston Marathon to be his 100th. How could he or anyone else outside Russia's intelligence agency, have had any idea what would happen on Boylston Street last Patriots Day?
Miller joined the 50-state club by completing the Kauai Marathon in 2010 after averaging a marathon each month for four years. That left him at No. 75 and set him on course toward 100. He received his spot this year in part because he has run in Boston at least 10 straight years. In the aftermath of last year's race, he checked his math along with the calendar. He then realized it was possible, if not difficult, for this year's Boston Marathon to be his 100th overall.
By September, he still had 10 races to go to reach No. 100. He was "compressed for time" and had to figuratively and literally "pick up the pace." Since December, he's completed marathons in Jacksonville, Fla., Melbourne/Brevard County, Fla., Austin, Texas, and across Napa Valley in Northern California.
Once Miller completes this year's marathon, he will attempt to run marathons on each of the planet's the six other continents, including Antarctica. Yes, there's a marathon on Antarctica.
So how many miles a week does he run in training for all these races?
"I do not run between races," he told The OBF Blog. "I’m 61 years old, I knew if I ran that pace all the time, the ankles and joints could not handle that pressure," Miller said. His training regimen consists of about 120 to 150 minutes daily of elliptical work, cycling and other low-impact exercises. They must work because Miller has never suffered a serious injury because of running or training. And his time at Napa on March 2 was 3:35.53, just four minutes slower than his time in Boston 14 years ago.
A graduate of Portsmouth [N.H.] High School and UNH, Miller began his career in the hotel hospitality industry in 1974 along Ocean Boulevard [A1A] right in the heart of Hampton Beach. Miller now lives in Orlando, but has kept his New England roots deep and viable. When it comes to "Boston Strong," Miller has nailed it. "It’s all about the resiliency of a tough town. Don't screw with us. I'd tell those two brothers, 'You picked the wrong city to mess with.'"
"Some people might think Boston Strong is only about the people who got hurt, but it’s much more. It’s about the character of a city, the resiliency of a city and the people of the city. We as a city will be back this year. The outpouring, the millions of dollars that have been raised for the survivors, is heartwarming."
Miller is running for himself, his family, in his father's memory, for the American Liver Foundation and so many others. "We will do it for those who have been hurt and injured and do it for those of the character of the city. I have several friends who want to be here and be a part of this 'Boston Strong' experience and part of a cheering crowd along the course. My friends from other parts of the country cannot imagine other cities responding in a way that Boston has. There's something special about the way city has rallied."
As a runner on Commonwealth Avenue, he was not privy to any announcements, TV or radio reports, or the latest on social media after all sorts of hell was unleashed upon those in Copley Square.
This year, Miller's goal is to raise $100,000 for "strangers" who could benefit from the ALF's research. The aid of so many "strangers" helped Miller find his middle daughter, Cait, following a frantic 90-minute search last season.
"I was at the rise in Kenmore Square, with Fenway Park on my right. And as I'm looking ahead to go into the underpass and come up at Mass. Ave, it looked like all of the runners had stopped and were backing up toward me. I'm thinking 'What is wrong?' I wasn't close enough to hear the bombs, but I could see a puff of smoke. There was near silence. Then I started seeing people running around like crazy, crying and screaming. I heard someone say, 'There was a bombing, they're going to stop the race.'"
His first and only thought at that time was Cait, now 28, since he knew exactly where she would be standing. That spot, it would turn out, was about 100 feet away from the second blast. Luckily, Cait was unhurt. But Miller would not know that for another hour and a half.
"Then I saw a straight line of Boston Police coming over. They had been ordered to keep all the runners on the course. I jumped the barrier before they got there and stayed out of their sight. I asked someone what happened and he told me there was a bombing near the finish line. I said, 'Oh my God, my daughter is there' and asked to use his cell phone."
"If any stranger had seen me, they would have thought I was a crazy man. I was crying, and just saying, 'Please let my Cait be OK,'" he said. "It turns out she was just far enough away from the second bomb not to be affected by it, no debris, no injury, nothing." Miller would make it to the finish line - "It looked like the Twilight Zone" - retrieve his bag and cell phone and finally, after getting through to Cait, meet up with his daughter. She would be one of the first evacuated from the area and was told to head out of the city across the Mass Ave/MIT bridge and into Cambridge.
It was at that moment when they reunited, after the obligatory and extremely tight "Thank God My Daughter Is Safe" hug, when Cait offered this perspective: "Dad: I’m only going to say this once. if you had finished at the time they were projecting you at the halfway point, today would have ended vastly differently."
After a pause, and with a grin, she added: "Thank God the hills killed you this year and you had a crummy second half."
A "crummy second half" that gave us at least one happy ending after last year's race.
The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
Obnoxious Boston Fan Email Address . Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.
More from this blog on: Marathon