A person crossing the finish line of a race

From Finishing a Marathon to Getting Out of Bed, Grinding it Out Comes in Many Forms

If you live in Massachusetts but not in Boston, you’re a Bostonian on Marathon Monday. That at least is how I, living 90 miles away in Western Massachusetts, feel. And I have a special connection to it. One year when my friend Diane was running it, she asked me to jump in five miles from the finish to help her get to the end. She told me exactly where to stand and at what time to look for her. With security tighter these days, I doubt you could just jump in.

It was a little bit strange. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or say. I basically kept saying, “You got it,” or “Almost there.” I’m sorry to say I sensed she found it annoying. “I can’t talk, I have to concentrate,” she said, or something like that. But it was a fun experience, starting with dropping her off at the start of the race, in Hopkinton, and going to her sister’s house after. The Marathon has up until 2021 been in April, on Patriots’ Day, the holiday commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War. But the pandemic caused a 30-month delay and a change to October on Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year.

One marathon story caught my eye

On Marathon Monday, I was reading all the updates like it was my hometown race. The story of one runner caught my eye. It wasn’t the story of either of the eventual winners, Kenyans Benson Kipruto and Diana Kipyogei, though their times, 2 hours, 9 minutes, 51 seconds, and 2:24:45 respectively, were of course impressive.

It was the story of 71-year-old Ben Beach of Bethesda, MD. He was attempting to complete his 54th consecutive Boston Marathon — the longest active streak. Beach ran his Boston personal best, 2 hours 27 minutes 26 seconds, in 1981. He has had to be even more determined than a normal marathoner, whatever a normal marathoner is, since 2002. That’s when he developed task-specific dystonia, defined as “excessive muscle contractions producing abnormal postures during selective motor activities that often involve highly-skilled, repetitive movements.”1

As a story in The Washington Post explains, Beach “suffers from a rare neurological disorder that sends his left leg gyrating awkwardly, with the lower leg extended sideways and nearly parallel to the ground with each stride.”

In an interview about the challenges he faces, he told The Post, “I’m disappointed my running is so labored. But all of us have to grind it out at least some of the time.”2

All of us have to grind it out some of the time

I read and reread his words. I thought about how many times I have had to grind it out, and how many times I imagine that other blood cancer survivors have had to do the same.

I was grinding it out in 2003 when extremely fatigued during a 10K race. I thought I didn’t deserve to wear the t-shirt if I didn’t finish the 6.2-miler. So I labored through it, despite feeling like I might faint. That’s the race that led to my leukemia diagnosis after I went to my doctor for blood tests.

There are many ways of grinding it out. They don’t have to be big. I was grinding it out in 2009 after my fourth stem cell transplant when I struggled to regain my strength after emerging from a coma. I hardly had the strength to sit in a chair and do simple leg lifts, but I ground it out and did it. In some situations, grinding it out might be just getting out of bed. Grinding it out can change from day to day. In 2021, Beach completed his 54th consecutive Boston Marathon — the longest active streak — in 5:47:27.

You likely haven’t finished a prestigious marathon with a gyrating leg no less, but you likely have had to grind it out at some point. If so, can you think of a time that you did it?

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