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Denise Robson returns to Boston

Nova Scotian Denise Robson returns to Boston in 2012 after a scary, life threatening medical scare after her triumphant run in 2010.

“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain colour to someone who was born blind.” – Jerome Drayton

The beauty of Boston, the history, the smell of running in the air and the insane level of support is the Boston Marathon. It’s not the flattest, nor the fastest, but if you get the chance you should run it. And as everyone told me but I failed to listen to, experience and soak in your first Boston, it is as much an event as it is a race.

With thousands of qualified Boston marathon bound runners getting jittery as they taper for the fast approaching Boston marathon, I bring you a unique story about one of the Canadians set to toe the line in Hopkinton. Her name is Denise Robson and I feel privileged to call her a friend.

Denise waving at the 2010 Boston marathon. Photo: Lisa Cassidy/courtesy metrowestdailynews.com
Denise waving at the 2010 Boston marathon. Photo: Lisa Cassidy/courtesy metrowestdailynews.com

Denise Robson
Denise is a lean 43 year-old single mom of three girls who runs and trains with the Halifax Running Club in Halifax. Many of Denise’s fellow runners are the diehards who started early and never stopped. Denise took a 15-year hiatus after running during her younger years. At 35, a co-worker asked her to join them for a lunch hour run in 2004 at a time when she could barely complete 3 miles. She continued to run every lunch hour for a couple of months and was then talked into doing the Prince Edward Island marathon a few months later.

She says she felt more ready for a 5K as opposed to a 42.2K race but to her surprise she finished ninth overall and top female in 3:13:27 wearing cotton shorts and a big baggy t-shirt. Others soon began telling her she had qualified for the Boston marathon. “As green as I was to running,” she said “we all know the joy of crossing the finish line especially after a marathon. I felt this joy and so there was no question I was Boston bound and have been addicted ever since.” After that, Denise was hooked and her times just kept getting quicker.

Denise’s Boston marathon progression:
2005                 3:08:56  72nd
2006                 2:55:10  30th
2008                 2:45:54   11th
2009                 2:48:15   21st
2010                 2:43:16   23rd

2010 was Denise’s fastest Boston marathon in a time of 2:43:16, and she won the masters division 40-49 along with its $10,000 prize.

The Curveball to Denise’s plans
After a great Boston marathon in April 2010, she continued running right up to the Canadian 10K championships in October, running 37:17. She was second in the masters category. Having had a great running year — even throwing the opening pitch with US marathoner Ryan Hall at Fenway Park before that year’s Boston marathon — the curveball arrived. Although running a decent time for the Canadian 10K championships, Denise had struggled and almost contemplated stopping after finding herself having trouble breathing and her chest hurting. Things got worse upon arrival back home and a trip to the hospital showed she had blood clots in her lungs. Eight days later her lung collapsed. The Nova Scotia and Canadian running community was shocked and concerned and Denise found herself having to adjust her plans. The 2011 Boston marathon passed by without the appearance of Denise Robson (but I did see her picture on a banner on the home stretch).

Three weeks in hospital, almost two and half months bed ridden, with help from her mom and three girls Denise began to recover. Slowly starting back, going from being out of breath going from couch to bathroom, then having to walk up hills, then slowly walking, then running, Denise made her way back. She says she is still progressing but no longer walks up hills.

Running is full of ups and downs. In April, Denise will face return to the marathon on the famed Boston course. I have had the chance to run with the tough and humble runner and have always been impressed. I managed to catch Denise before she flew out to Boston and asked her a few questions.

Considering the setback and medical problems you have had, what is the focus for this Boston marathon?
“This year at Boston will certainly be different goals first I have to say I’m so grateful for being able to just be on the start line and thankful to John Hancock (JH) for welcoming me back to be part of the JH team. It has been a long road to recovery much slower then I anticipated since becoming ill following the national 10K championships in Toronto in October 2010. My blood clots (pulmonary emboli) are still in my lungs and my specialist says they likely will remain there (no risk to return to running though). I’m on a blood thinner and still have considerable chest pain from scar tissue when my lung collapsed especially when I wake in the morning. However, once I get moving it gets better and the more I run helps expand my lungs and it feels actually the best. When I look back at where I was 16 months ago, I could barely do one mile on the treadmill. I had many moments that I thought why bother this is just too painful and my progress was so slow. However, I missed my training partners and the whole social side of running that I knew I needed and wanted to get back. I had goals that I still wanted to achieve. By April of 2011, I was jogging regularly, I’ve had a few set backs one being leg swelling that stopped me running on and off again but essentially it has just been a slow gradual increase going by how my body has felt. I have been able to run consistently for the last seven plus months and the last three months doing some speed work. It has been slow going and only in the last three weeks that I’ve really started to feel good and have seen a real jump in my fitness level and feeling like some improvement finally has come.

“I’m not sure what to expect at Boston certainly my training has been different, mostly not nearly as many long runs that I usually have completed. It has been two years since I’ve done a marathon and I had no racing in 2011.”

What are your future goals for this year and farther down the road?
“I’m going to pace for a 2:50 marathon and really just see what happens. My future goals for 2012 are to just continue to build a really solid base and incorporate more speed work. I look forward to running some races this spring/summer and anticipate will I do the Timex Road Racing series again. It was tough to miss out last year as I have been on the NS team for the previous six years and in 2009 at the national 10k championships — where I ran my PB 34:58 — qualified me to compete with the Canadian Ekiden Relay team in Japan, another proud moment for me. I will do a fall marathon. Philadelphia is on the top of my list, as this is the marathon I was less then a month away ready to compete at in 2010 just before my illness. I know I have a sub 2:40 marathon in me and this will be my long term goal for 2013.”

What is it that keeps you running?
“That’s simple I’m happy when I run and I love to race. I love to push myself to see how much further and faster I can improve even at 43. Also the amazing support I receive from my training partners and the running community is a great driving force for me that keeps me striving to reach my goals. I can’t describe to you how happy I am to be Boston bound again and be back on the roads with my running community, it makes me appreciate that running is a gift and not to be taken for granted.”

We’ll be watching the Boston Marathon and be cheering you on, Denise.

Denise has a marathon PB of 2:41:12 from the California International Marathon in 2008. She set the Canadian masters record and holds Nova Scotia records at 5 miles (28:11) and the course record at the Dartmouth Natal Day 6 miler (34:21), one of North America’s oldest races (105-anniversary in 2012).

We all have a story, tell me yours.


See you on the roads or in the blogosphere.