This is the second article in a four part series on Omaha District Electrical Engineer, Joe Chamberlain, who competed in the Boston Marathon in 2014 and is training to run the New York City Marathon this November.
On April 15, 2013, Joe Chamberlain was doing what many runners do; following friends’ progress as they participate in elite running events.
He had two friends running the Boston Marathon: Kaci Lickteig, an Omaha runner who recently ran the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run finishing second among females with a time of 19:20:31. Lickteig was running with her mother; and Brad Cordts, an attorney, a U.S. Navy Judge Advocate and past member of the SDSU Track and Field team with Chamberlain.
Lickteig and her mother were still in the finishers corral getting their finisher's medals when the first bomb exploded. Lickteig kept their pace and pushed her mother to try to finish in less than four hours despite cramping in her legs. They crossed under the time clock at 4:02. The first bomb exploded at 4:09:44.
Cordts was running his 18th consecutive Boston Marathon. His target time was also four hours, not one of his better goals and so he told his wife she didn’t need to wait for him at the finish. She had joined him for the weekend and returned home. Cordts was less than a half mile from the finish when the bombs went off. He was grateful his wife was not waiting at the finish. In 2015, he broke his streak when deployments prevented him from qualifying for his 20th consecutive run.
A patriotic person, Chamberlain’s friends’ stories motivated him. He felt better physically. Emotionally, he felt empowered. He set his sights on running the Boston Marathon in 2014.
Boston is not an easy race to enter, much less run. Registration for the Boston Marathon is in September. In order to qualify to enter, Chamberlain had to finish a full marathon with a time of less than 3:30 before registration opened in five months.
The next marathon on the calendar was in Lincoln, Nebraska, but it had sold out in record time in early January. The peer pressure from his friends was back as was his “no quit” attitude. He wouldn’t accept excuses not to qualify.
On May 19, 2013, he ran the Papillion Half Marathon, finishing third overall with a time of 1:24:31. It was his first race in 14 years. Three days later, he received confirmation that he was entered to run the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 22. His goal: Qualify for Boston.
He finished Grandma’s with a time of 2:53:59, easily beating his required qualification time of 3:30. Of course, not all qualifiers get in. But beating his qualification time by more than 30 minutes helped.
When he finished the races some people commented about his times and his age but he insists age has nothing to do with accomplishment. He goes back to what he said before. “It is seeing the people who come the farthest that are the ones who have the greatest achievement.”
His advice to runners looking for inspiration, “Go watch a marathon and watch all the late finishers too. Those people are just as inspirational… Watching people strive for their dreams. They have so much heart, maybe MORE than the champions.”
On September 9, he stayed home from work to register and by the end of the day; he received confirmation that his entry into the Boston Athletic Association Marathon had been accepted.
Because his progression from first race in 14 years to qualifying for and registering for the Boston Marathon all took place within five months, it may sound easier than it was.
Near the end of September, he developed patellar tendonitis and began physical therapy and working with a coach for motivational therapy to push past the pain and be ready for Boston.
At the same time, many coworkers were receiving furlough notices. Sometimes, rest from running when your mind is not at rest stirs the stress.
One item of stress was lessened when the Government shutdown ended in late October.
Chamberlain closed out 2013 having run more than 3,200 miles for the year, with down time to heal an injury.
From January until April, Chamberlain trained, went to physical therapy, and persisted to make it to Boston.
On Monday, April 21, 2014, Chamberlain ran the Boston Marathon… and a little bit more.
“My coach kept telling me run the middle of the road,” said Chamberlain. “I thought she was being metaphorical. I’m an engineer, I should have thought about the tangents on the turns. But, when I started hurting, I decided to have fun… including giving high fives and obliging a few free kisses in Wellesley.”
Wellesley is the halfway point, which means clearing a significant psychological hurdle. But before runners get to Wellesley they must pass the “Scream Tunnel,” a wall of sound and offers of free kisses kept up all race long by the students and faculty from Wellesley College.
Chamberlain finished the Boston Marathon, having run not 26.2 miles but 26.43 with a time of 3:01:01.
Reflecting on the training and the run itself he says, I got so much help and inspiration from others.
“I tried to quit, but some very special friends wouldn't let me. And finally, I just gave into the dream as if caught in its gravitational pull. I immersed myself in it and all the fear dropped away. It was hard and grueling and difficult, but it was worth it times 100,” said Chamberlain.
On running Boston one year after the race was attacked, he said, “It primarily represents to me… runners and Americans taking back the race. We had a moment of silence for the fallen from last year before the race. Then the military did a fly over of the starting line. It brought tears to many eyes including mine. It also represents not giving up on a dream when the chips are down. I had a hard time training through a very painful injury. I came close to quitting several times except some very special people stopped me. I could not have done it without them and without all my friends.”
When he got to work on Wednesday, April 23, Chamberlain had an email from the Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Thank you for your service to our Army and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Congratulations for running the Boston Marathon! That's terrific news! Very impressive indeed.
Thank you for setting such a great example and inspiration for so many others.
We're fortunate to have you on our team.
I'm very proud of you!
LTG, US Army
53rd Chief of Engineers
Essayons...Building Strong...Army Strong!
But, as Chamberlain left his hotel in downtown Boston, a song began to play… Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and thus began his next challenge.