By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsMay 3, 2013
NATICK, Mass. (May 3, 2013) -- When he heard that some of those prevented from finishing the recent Boston Marathon would honor bombing victims by entering and completing another marathon, Maj. Owen Hill knew he could do but one thing -- lace up his running shoes and join them in the tribute.
That's why Maj. Owen Hill, Ph.D., entered the 2013 Cox Sports Marathon, which will be run May 12, in Providence, R.I.
Hill, deputy chief of the Military Performance Division at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick Soldier Systems Center, might not be quite ready for the distance, but that doesn't matter to him.
"I just said, 'All right, I'm running it for everybody who can't,'" Hill said. "I just pictured those individuals who lost their limbs lying in a hospital bed. What would they give to run a marathon, just run, just get out there and run and have that freedom?"
Hill also had a direct connection to this year's Boston Marathon. His girlfriend, Jesse-Lee Lavoie, 33, a cardiology critical care nurse practitioner, had run the race in a personal-record 3 hours, 22 minutes, and finished just 45 minutes before the bombing.
Work commitments had kept Hill from attending the marathon, so when he learned of the attack, he was concerned about Lavoie's safety.
"I couldn't reach her for a good hour," Hill recalled. "Her parents couldn't reach her. That was terrifying. I knew that she had finished. I wasn't sure (if) she was in the area. It was a really difficult hour, but thank goodness, she was OK."
So when he read about the Mother's Day marathon in Providence, Hill had plenty of motivation to register. He figured that if he runs just a quarter-mile for each of those either killed or injured, he will cover the entire 26.2 miles.
"So I just said to myself, 'I'm doing it,' and I signed up," said Hill, "and then I realized I've got a marathon in about two weeks."
Hill had done a pair of half-marathons while deployed to Iraq in 2007, but he hadn't been training anywhere near enough lately to justify attempting his first marathon.
"I'm just an Army runner," said the 43-year-old Hill, who entered the service at 18 and is an avid rock climber. "I'm a recreational runner. On average, I try to run 20-30 miles a week."
Ironically, Lavoie, a veteran marathoner, had been trying to talk Hill into attempting the distance. He had always resisted.
"She's done many marathons," Hill said. "She's done Boston three times. I said, 'Hey, you're going to have to train me, or you're going to have to be my coach.'"
Lavoie advised Hill that he was in big trouble, but he bought new running shoes and hit the road. On the Sunday after the tragic events in Boston, he completed an 18-miler, his longest run ever. He was on his way.
"(I) did OK," Hill said. "I was like, 'You know, I might be able to do this.'"
In his position at USARIEM, Hill studies heat stroke and musculoskeletal injuries, so he understands the inherent risks in running a marathon without establishing a base and tapering off his mileage beforehand.
"I will say that I respect the risk of the injuries, and I certainly will hydrate and rest up," said Hill, "and I'm not being reckless about this, other than the fact that I signed up two weeks before the marathon without any true training."
Despite a little soreness, Hill soldiers on as the marathon approaches.
"I feel like I'm fortunate enough to be able to do this race, so I'm just going to do it," Hill said. "I'm going to try to do well. I'm not going to just do an 'airborne shuffle' for 26 miles. I plan to run at a decent clip."
No one has to tell Hill that the Providence race is a qualifier for the 2014 Boston Marathon.
"Without a doubt, if I qualify, I will be running the Boston Marathon -- absolutely. After the events of this last marathon, there's no way in the world I'd miss it," said Hill, who grew up in Houston. "I love Boston, and I love the people of Massachusetts and New England. I really respect their passion for these types of events."
His first step toward Boston comes May 12, in Providence, but Hill won't be thinking about himself.
"This is not about me," Hill said. "It's my own quiet little tribute to everybody. Anybody who was directly affected (in Boston), they would do anything to have that opportunity to run. So every time I even start to feel like this is a task too big, I just think about those individuals and I need to keep going, because they would."