Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Running past 'Mile 20' for Boston

By John D. Sutter, CNN
November 6, 2013 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Andrew Bunyard, 28, works at a hospital in Boston. "I refuse to forget what I witnessed and heard," he said. Andrew Bunyard, 28, works at a hospital in Boston. "I refuse to forget what I witnessed and heard," he said.
HIDE CAPTION
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
#RunForBoston
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Sutter talks with a Boston Marathon bombing survivor
  • "I was gonna cross that finish line one way or another," runner says
  • Lee Ann Yanni had three surgeries before running the Chicago Marathon
  • She had signed up for the race before getting injured in the April bombing

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Seven months of marathon training have made my 30-year-old knees feel like those of a person decades older. At times, I've hobbled down stairs and winced unexpectedly. If I owned a cane, I'd shake it at the trim women who run past me while pushing strollers full of infants -- and the gazelle-ish teens who spring by at two to three times my running pace.

Griping about irritating run-spiration T-shirts that say things such as "Preserve the Sexy" is a coping mechanism -- a way to distract myself from the somewhat-frightening marathon I signed up to run, like many of you, in response to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Until Monday, I wondered if I could finish.

That was the day I had a conversation with a Boston bombing victim who, after three surgeries, ran her first marathon a few weeks ago.

Before that, I worried about "Mile 20," which is when many runners quit. In most marathon training programs, you don't run farther than 20 miles before race day. It seems natural to a Woody-Allen brain that Mile 20 should induce panic. How are you supposed to get energy for those extra 6.2 miles, which will take me at least an hour to run?

RELATED: 'Run for Boston' iReport group

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

All of those complaints and fears seemed so childish after I e-mailed with Lee Ann Yanni, a 32-year-old who was standing near the finish line in Boston in April when the bombs went off. Chips of wood and shrapnel the size of a half-dollar lodged themselves in her leg. Her fibula broke through the skin. Her eardrum popped. The doctors thought she was crazy, she said, when she told them she was going to run the Chicago Marathon. Before the bombing, she signed up for the race in honor of her dad, who died of cancer in October 2012. Injuries weren't about to change her mind.

"I'm not letting these fools take my first marathon away from me," she told the Boston Herald.

Three months after the bombing, Yanni walked without crutches. In September, she ran for the first time since the surgeries, which removed the shrapnel, repaired the bone and grafted skin across the bottom part of her leg, pulling the flesh from her thigh.

Yanni is a physical therapist in Boston, so she knew what she was up against.

"I know I wasn't ready to run, and I said many times that this was the dumbest idea I had ever had," she wrote to me, "but no one argued with me. Guess they were smart."

RELATED: I'm running a marathon for Boston

Lee Ann Yanni
Lee Ann Yanni

A friend suggested she walk most of the marathon, but Yanni insisted she would run it within the 6 1/2 hour limit. "I said, 'NO.' That's not even an option. It's not an option not to FINISH.'"

"My dad fought his cancer for six weeks," she added, "and I could suck it up and do whatever it took for 6 or 6 1/2 hours of 'pain.' He was a fighter, and I knew that it was in me in some form."

The world of running was new to me when I began this process. This spring, two miles stole my breath. I had to do a training program to be able to start the marathon training program. For all their quirks -- the Gu packets, the Band-aided nipples, the overendorphined Instagram feeds -- runners all seem to harness a sense of determination you don't find in day-to-day cubicle life. It can't be a question of whether or not you'll finish. You will finish.

To believe otherwise is to fail, in a sense.

I believe that now, but only because I've heard so many stories like Yanni's. Earlier this year, I traveled to Oklahoma City to watch Sara Hunt finish the marathon she started in Boston but was cut less than a mile short by the bombing. "Once I hit the point where I stopped in Boston, I was like, 'No more walking. I'm running this,'" she told me. "This race, this is for Boston. I'm finishing."

There, I also met Gary Woodbridge, whose wife, Ronota Newberry-Woodbridge, was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He ran his first marathon in her honor. "She always wanted to run a marathon, and I finally lost enough weight where I thought I could try," he told me. He struggled, but he finished. He had to.

RELATED: In OKC, a run to finish what she started

When I'm running the marathon next week in North Carolina, I'm sure there will be points when I'll want to give up -- but I won't. I'll have too many stories with me.

I'll think of how Yanni's husband washed her damaged leg while she held a towel over her face and cried, unable to walk and not wanting to look at the limb. About how she only had run about 11 1/2 miles in her premarathon training. She hit "the wall," so to speak, at Mile 22 of her race. "It was like a wall or a curtain came down," she said. Everything got hazy. She doesn't remember seeing mile markers 23 or 24.

"My legs started to cramp, but I didn't want to stop and stretch because I was scared I wouldn't be able to get going again."

She did keep going, of course.

"My advice would be just take it one step at a time," she wrote. "We are only a select group of people that make that journey and take the time to achieve such an insane goal.

"Take each mile and savor it."

"I am glad that I can inspire people," she added, "but I just feel like a normal person who loves running and who is wicked stubborn! ... I was gonna cross that finish line one way or another."

After hearing Yanni's story, I'm sure I will, too.

I'd also encourage you to consider signing up for a race -- of any length -- as part of CNN iReport's Run for Boston group. Hundreds already have pledged to do so.

The goal is to show support for the truly brave people such as Yanni and others who are taking steps each day toward recovering from the Boston tragedy.

We're running for them.

What are your tips for getting past 'Mile 20'? Share them in the comments section or on Twitter. Tag the tweets #runforboston.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT