Sports/Inspiration: Marathoners race for cancer research

Published in a half-dozen Boston Herald-owned dailies and weeklies, March 2003:

Marathoners race for cancer research

By Lori Hein / Norton Mirror Correspondent
Friday, March 14, 2003

As a correspondent for this newspaper, I often use column space to write about interesting or noteworthy things local people are involved in. This week, the paper is letting me share something I'm involved in.

I'm running the Boston Marathon as a member of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's team. About 400 Dana-Farber runners hope to raise nearly $3 million for the Claudia Adams Barr Program, which funds promising cancer research projects.

Training and fundraising run side by side through the winter, and by April 21, when the gun goes off in Hopkinton, both your body and fundraising account need to be in peak shape. I'll do my best with the first, but welcome your help with the second. Many of you have already helped, and I thank you.

Let me take you on a quick run through the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC). Marathon training is a curious mixture of exhaustion and euphoria. For some reason, the balance tips just enough toward euphoria (which always follows the deepest exhaustion) to make you keep doing it. When you bust through the hardest points is when you feel most alive. At such moments, I know that the energy to run is a gift. It seems right to use the gift to fight something that steals energy from others.

Most marathoners train for three months, some longer. I train for 10 weeks. This will be my third marathon, but my fifth time in training. My first two attempts ended in injuries close to race day, the result of doing too much, too fast, for too long.

I do my long runs, the heart of marathon training, on Thursdays. That's when I strap on my survival belt packed with Gummi Bears and Gatorade and go out looking more than a little goofy for a few hours. I often have golden packs of PowerGel pinned to my belt.

One day, while running up Mountain Street toward Lake Massapoag, one of my favorite routes, I ran by a group of kids at a bus stop. The gels, bouncing at my waist, caught their eye, and they screamed, "Runner! Hey, Runner! Why do you have candy? Mom! Why does she have candy?" When the bus passed me a minute later, I laughed at their dozen faces pressed to the window glass.

You know you're ready for the marathon when anything under 15 miles is "going short," and anything under eight feels like a day off. You're good to go.

Easton's Elizabeth Puopolo and Kathy Strange, and Kaitlin Hoffman of Mansfield, are going through their own variations on this training theme. They're running Boston for Dana-Farber, too. (And likely eating large amounts of pasta, beans and whole grains, like I am. I appreciate my family's patience during this period of culinary tedium.)

An army of volunteers helps the team. Two of those volunteers are Kaitlin's dad Richard Hoffman of Mansfield and her boyfriend, Joe Coughlin of Easton. Last year, they set up water stops for winter group training runs and helped set up on race day. They plan to do the same this year.

When you support a DFMC runner, your money does great things. First, you're helping your friends and neighbors. Over 42,000 Massachusetts residents received care at Dana-Farber in just the last five years, and nearly 300 of them were from Mansfield, Norton and Easton.

Dana-Farber scientists are responsible for many breakthrough treatment advances. They established the principles of chemotherapy, achieved remissions of a common childhood leukemia, pioneered self bone marrow transplants, introduced tests for both ovarian and recurrent breast cancers and developed cancer treatment methods used as models around the world.

The Barr Program, to which all DFMC funds go, supports doctors and scientists like Jeremy Green. Dr. Green and the other Barr investigators conduct studies that hold promise in improving cancer treatment and cure rates. Your donations help set up and run their labs.

I heard Dr. Green speak at a fall runner's meeting, and he, among others, convinced me this was a cause worth running for. He recently took a break from writing a 16,000-word proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to share, via e-mail, the impact of the funds raised by the marathoners and their sponsors. His NIH proposal is to follow up work currently funded by the Barr Program.

NIH needs "preliminary data." Without the Barr Program and the DFMC, Dr. Green might not have any. According to Green, "They provide the seed money that gets the big projects rolling." This money "is an absolute necessity to the research effort."

He described how the spirit of the marathon buoys the researchers: "Although our research output has to be emotion-free, we scientists are just as emotional as anyone else and just as touched by the cause of curing patients and by the dedication of the runners."

Green will watch at least some of the marathon, as he always does - even if he's in the lab on Patriot's Day.

One of Dr. Green's final comments was "...Cancers are so unfair, but I genuinely think that cures are within reach. It's an exciting time in cancer research." That's all I need to lace up my shoes.

If you'd like to help, you can send your tax-deductible gift payable to "Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge" to: Lori Hein, 40 Williams St., N. Easton, MA 02356, or visit, click on "Support A Runner," and enter my name (some of you know me as Lori Belanger - Mike's wife and Adam and Dana's mom - but I'm running as Lori Hein) or eGift ID, which is LH0025. You can make eGift contributions to the other local runners there as well. Together, we can beat cancer to the finish line.