Up until 9 months ago, Candace Brown, 54, had not run intentionally in forty years. Her husband, Walter F. Brown, had been the starter for Boston Marathon for the last 22 years and died of cancer in October of 2014. In fact, Walter’s father and grandfather were also Boston Marathon starters and the family tradition dated back all the way to 1905. Walter’s dying wish was for her to promise that she would run the Boston Marathon at least once before she left this world. So, last November, Candace took her first step of many and sought out the help of physical therapists in Central Vermont who were hosting a running clinic on a machine called an Alter G. An Alter G is an anti-gravity treadmill that allows its users to run or walk at a percentage of their body weight (as low as 20%) and gradually increase to a larger percentage as they get more fit or their injures allow. The PT who was there happened to be my Mom, Susan Stephen, who, in hearing Candace’s story and her dream of running the Boston Marathon the following April, was both moved and inspired. With the help of the Alter G, her training partners and physical therapists Candace worked her way up from walking a few miles at a time on the Alter-G at 40-50% of her body weight to gradually adding running strides and eventually completing many long training runs outside. She completed her first Boston Marathon in 6:01 this past April with her twin daughters beside her the whole way.
We caught up with Candace and asked her a few questions about what it was like to complete such an astonishing achievement.
Do you have any words of advice for others who may be trying to get up the courage to run a marathon or just start running?
For me to change gears from “trying” to “doing” I had to realize that it was for me, not anyone else. In my case, Walter asked me to run in Boston, which, of course put the idea in my head, but accepting the challenge and honoring his request were about me.
What was it that kept inspiring you through your journey, the ups and downs?
After the first day at the Running Clinic, if it hadn’t been for my decision to run the marathon, and the fact that I had told people about it, I could have crawled in a hole and said “forget it”. Making a life changing decision takes plenty of courage, but putting it into action takes courage, will, and support. As my story started to spread I kept thinking back to that day when I was so uncomfortable, and vulnerable, and humiliated… and then Susan Stephen introduced me to something that could really help me achieve what seemed impossible before. I didn’t want anyone with health issues or whatever it is to have to go through that. Many of us have already been there done that, put ourselves out there to try and get help helping ourselves and just get defeated. I wanted to share about the Alter G and how it helped me and if I quit it would just go down in the books as another defeat. I didn’t want that for me, nor anyone that was watching to see if it could be a piece of their answer too.
What did you use for nutrition? Which products worked the best?
PROBARs became an important part of the training because I have type II Diabetes. I was having a very hard time figuring out fuel. My medication wasn’t adjusting as fast as my body and I had to fuel all the time. It was very difficult because I wasn’t willing to eat as much on the go as I needed, until I was introduced to PROBAR products. The first one I tried I couldn’t believe it! How can PROBAR make these snacks and chews palatable when no one else can? Whatever the magic, it makes no difference. I liked all the products! Some of our long runs took so long that we would be so hungry. We used the bite bars, or even shared a Meal bar, the FUEL bars as well as the BOLT chews. There was a lot of experimenting over the winter but the search was over when PROBAR showed up!
What was it like during the marathon? What thoughts did you have? What were the highs and lows, and how did you get through them?
Marathon day was very emotional for all of us. We were excited to be there, the energy of every community along the race is just amazing. We were nervous at first, but then the starting pistol goes off! The race, the enthusiasm of the runners and the enthusiasm of the crowd take you over. Everyone is on a mission at the Boston Marathon, and every mission is different, I think that is why it is so special. For us, the whole thing was an up! We were cold and wet, but oh well; we were cold and wet all winter! We had another good laugh at the top of Heartbreak Hill; we didn’t realize we were on it. It was like that all day. We were able to help each other on the “up”. For sure we were tired and sore when it was all done, but it just didn’t seem to matter while we were on the course.
What was it like to cross the finish line with your daughters and know you had achieved such an incredible goal?
Crossing the finish line had many meanings for us. It was wonderful to have trained and completed the run ahead of schedule. We felt proud of what we were able to do. Then we started grumbling about what we could have done better, and started saying things that started with “next year I’m gonna…” I guess that is the competitor in us coming out.
You have achieved some amazing health and fitness goals. What is next?
Before running became fun for me, I signed up for some other races because I was afraid I would quit and lose all that I had gained in terms of health and fitness. We are going to run the Road to Pogue Trail Run 6.1 miles in May, The Dandelion Half Marathon, also in May, and the Kingdom Marathon in October. I’m looking forward to continuing to use the Alter G, to keep me on my feet and fit without getting hurt. I also would like to tone up the rest of my body, as I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.
This article was written by PROBAR athlete Liz Stephen, who is no stranger to hard work and competition. Liz is a member of the US Nordic Ski Team and a leader amongst her teammates and peers.