NEW YORK — It wasn’t until Regina Marquis of Old Town turned 40 and her two children were grown that the University of Maine course scheduler decided to lace up and hit the trail with her husband, a longtime runner.
Over the next decade, she made up for lost time, crossing finish lines at the wind-blown Race the Runways half marathon in Brunswick, the muddy 25K Pineland Trail in New Gloucester and a 31-mile ultramarathon finish line on Great Cranberry Island in Bar Harbor.
Since her first race in 1985, she has logged more than 634 race miles. But she faced her biggest challenge on Sunday when she competed in the ING New York City Marathon, her first marathon since recovering from thyroid surgery.
Last fall, Marquis, 49, feeling rundown, saw a specialist who diagnosed a noncancerous growth on her thyroid and recommended removing the right half of the gland. The six-week recovery beginning last October following the surgery left her not only in pain but out of whack, with half of her body’s hormonal engine ripped from her endocrine system. She tired easily and was listless and emotional.
Although her body stabilized with hormone-replacement therapy six weeks later, she was plagued with hypothyroidism which resulted in sporadic weight-gain. But Marquis was resilient: the Carlsbad half-marathon loomed.
In recent years, running had become a way of life for her family, which includes her husband, an environmental health and safety coordinator, and two grown children as well as close-knit relatives. They had come up with a challenge: everybody had to run 100 days straight starting Jan. 1, 2011. So Marquis, ever the disciplined runner, upped the ante, running the year’s 365 days in a row.
“I ran in all weather, I ran something every day,” Marquis recalled.
When 2012 arrived, she couldn’t stop, pushing herself to run 500 days in a row. The challenge was addicting, the reward tangible. So, after her surgery last year she resolved to do everything possible to restore her long-distance strength. Two girlfriends encouraged her to hit the pavement and rebuild her confidence. She settled on a new goal: to run monthly half-marathons until the NYC Marathon arrived.
Though her hormones were leveling by the time winter plowed through Maine, her mixed connective tissue disorder which led her to see a specialist in the first place still left her with poor circulation and the sparse winter sunshine caused her Vitamin D levels to plummet to rock bottom.
“The hardest part of running is getting out the door,” she said. “Once you’re out there, it’s different.”
And run she did, tallying seven half-marathons including back-to-back races in Carlsbad and Death Valley, Calif. since January.
Marquis has come a long way since her post-surgery debut on Jan. 19, 2013, at the starting line of the Carlsbad half marathon. She hired a trainer to prep her for the New York City Marathon. Her weekly routine included four to five miles a day with speed training on Wednesdays and long runs on weekends.
On Mondays she rested.
She had run the New York City in 2008, but this year’s race was different. Five years ago, she was driven by her time and paced by her husband, a national pacer for marathoners who try to break three hours (Marquis had run a 4:11).
“This year,” she said, “I was by myself.”
Her goal was to have fun.
On race day, Regina awoke at 5:30 a.m., flipped on the hotel room coffee pot and changed into her black spandex shorts and neon yellow shirt with her number 44-654 pinned on and “Regina from Maine” scrawled on the back in black marker.
At 6:45 a.m., she laced up a new pair of running shoes and packed a few energy gels for later, eating a banana on the subway ride over to the Staten Island ferry. She had some more food and liquids an hour before her 10:30 start time.
She was Wave Three: orange. A few minutes before taking her place at the starting line, she discarded a sweatshirt into a pile of clothes other runners had left for the city to donate to the homeless and mentally prepped one last time for the biggest marathon of the year, and after the year of health challenges, of her life.
She took each mile in stride, as planned. About a quarter of a mile into the race, a Brunswick man ran up to Marquis asking where she was from in Maine and somewhere near mile 10, a lady from Augusta did the same. Thousands of anonymous faces in the crowd cheered her on, leaving her alone only for the most dreaded, silent stretch during mile 15, crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan.
At mile 23 she popped her last energy gel and just 3.2 miles later she crossed the finish line with an unofficial time of 4 hours, 54 minutes and a smile that would remain on her face for days.
Even though Marquis was looking forward to taking a break after the marathon, there were still a few items left on her to-do list. A half marathon in January, for instance.
She already planned on entering the lottery for the 2014 New York City Marathon.
“Maybe I’ll rest in November,” Marquis said nonchalantly.