Written by Noah Perch-Ahern
What better symbol is there for the human spirit than a community coming together for a marathon? It’s a place where people from all walks of life, from all around the world unite to test the limits of what their bodies can endure and what their minds can help them overcome. It’s a place where communities come out to support and cheer runners, which is a critical part of the engine that enables them to do what they previously thought was impossible. In short, it’s a place where the best in individuals and the best in communities are harnessed and showcased. It is truly epic.
Every year, some of my closest friends meet the day before the Boston Marathon on an island near Portland, Maine to share a few beers and then kayak to the mainland, ride their bikes overnight to the start of the Boston Marathon, and then run 26.2 miles. They don’t have the benefit of sleep, but they have the support of the their fellow crazy teammates and passionate supporters. They call this Epic Man. They take the already epic nature of a marathon – the most famous and epic marathon of them all – and they turn it into a team-based feat twice as difficult and exponentially more fun.
I’ve never joined my friends for Epic Man. Instead, every year, the Sunday before the Boston Marathon, I start monitoring my Epic Man friends from afar, cheering them on through cyberspace, text messages, and phone calls. This year, I was monitoring them when I received news of the bombs.
The Boston Marathon bombings were terrifying in the carnage they inflicted, but the most demoralizing aspect of the tragedy was the unleashing of terror at an event filled nothing but optimism, affirmation, and transcendence. That was what I was thinking about the morning after the bombs as I took my daily run in Los Angeles. That morning, however, I was running a little bit faster, a little bit more confident. Why? I asked myself. For whatever reason, I felt emboldened and even more united with my fellow runners.
I started thinking about Epic Man and my friends that were so close to disaster, and for the first time, I started understanding the nature and value of what my friends were doing. They were capitalizing on all the best qualities of a marathon, but they were infusing it with greater team spirit, companionship, and fun. They were the crowd, and the runners at the marathon.
That morning, the day after the bombs, I decided I would do my own Epic Man event to show support for my friends and for Boston. I would organize a solidarity run where friends and runners would come together to pay tribute, to show our support, and to prove our resolve. “Stay Epic” would be our message.
I reached out to friends in Los Angeles, and with only a few days notice, eight of us decided to meet the Saturday after the Boston Marathon in Santa Monica to run a half marathon.
While we were waiting for the last person to arrive, an unassuming woman, just over five feet tall, approached us and asked what we were doing. When we told her we were meeting to pay tribute to Boston, she revealed her story to us. Her name is Jacqueline Hansen, and she was there in Boston this year. She won the Boston Marathon 40 years ago, she is the former world record holder for the fastest woman’s marathon, and she was the starter of the Boston marathon this year. She had runners she was training that ran the race (all made it out safely), and some tears welled in her eyes as she recounted her closeness to the tragedy. But despite her sadness, she had remarkable resolve. We all needed to keep running, she said. Don’t let them keep us down.
What an incredible connection. There we were, meeting in Los Angeles to pay homage to those impacted by the Boston Marathon bombings, and we bumped into the starter of the marathon. Already high on the group energy and sense of shared purpose, meeting Jacki infused our run with even greater meaning and inspiration.
It was a day to be treasured and remembered. We were a motley eight-person band – some members hadn’t ever run more than a few miles – but each person pushed his or her own limits, and everyone appreciated and reveled in the energy we were able to collectively create. After the run, we met for an extended brunch. Folks kept coming up to us and asking what we were doing. We told them about our run and shared stories with them. Many of them were from Boston or had friends or family running the marathon. The whole experience was cathartic and empowering.
After the run, I reached out to Jacki Hansen and told her what an inspiration it had been to meet her before our run. I invited her to dinner, telling her I wanted her to meet one of the Epic Man founders, and one of my closest friends, Seth Bradbury.
A week later, Jacki came over for dinner and shared some of her stories with us. She started running marathons before most marathons had a woman’s race. She won the second ever Boston Marathon woman’s event. She was the first woman to ever break a 2:40 marathon. She sued the Olympics to include woman’s long distance runs. She is formidable, a figure in athletics, history, and woman’s rights. She is truly epic.
As I write this, I think back on how all these connections happened, and about how none of them would have occurred without a group of us coming together for a common cause, to push our own limits, and to cheer each other on. I think I finally understand what Epic Man is all about. Stay Epic! -Noah