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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT