Jim Gillard, son of Audrey Gillard in Dodge Center, celebrates his finished marathon in Boston April 15, 2013, 20 minutes before the first explosion. Photo submitted
By Ruth Hanson
Of all the people in Dodge County who waited and watched for word about the survivors of the Boston Marathon, Audrey Gillard may have been the most worried. Her son Jim was running. He lives in Hastings and this is his story.
Jim Gillard has run in a total of 11 marathons. His story dates back to 1989 when he went back to graduate school to get his Master's in technology management from St. Thomas. He was working full-time and going to school half time - and had three kids.
"I worked and ate and slept and did school work," he said. "That's about all I had time for."
He gained about 30 pounds, since he was cutting back on time for exercise and eating on the run. He got encouragement from people at work to start running.
He and 10 members of his family ran a half marathon at New Prague, with each one running two miles as a relay. That was 2003.
Later he was inspired by his 24-year-old niece who had run a marathon two years before.
"I wondered if she could do it, if I would be able to," he said. "I got encouragement from a friend."
He ran 10 miles in the Twin Cities Marathon the first Monday in October in 2006. He was 49 years old. He had trained all summer.
Then came his first actual marathon. He signed up for the 2007 Twin Cities Marathon in February and ran all summer with another work friend.
"It was so hot and humid that I had to walk a lot," he said. "A man died from the heat in the Chicago marathon that day. I was hoping to run it in four hours, but it took over five hours. I was disappointed. I intended to run one marathon and be done, but I was so disappointed to have done so badly that I signed up for Grandma's Marathon in Duluth - for the third Saturday in June. A different niece in the same family had run that one two years before."
This time he ran the marathon in four hours and 40 minutes - much better, but not yet up to his goal. He ran again in 2009, another hot day, in four hours and 30 minutes.
He ran another race near Nina, Wisconsin, near a lake in September of 2009, his fourth marathon, in four hours, 13 minutes.
Then in June of 2010 he ran Grandma's and reached his goal, running it in three hours, 58 minutes. The Twin Cities for the first time was next, which he ran in three hours, 38 minutes.
The qualifying time for Boston for 54 year-olds was three hours, 33 minutes and 44 seconds. He qualified by nine seconds.
He explained that the Boston Marathon is the longest continuously running marathon in the United States, in its 117th year. The run is 26.2 miles The Boston Marathon is always run on Patriots' Day, which commemorates a Revolutionary battle.
Gillard ran three marathons in 2011 - one in May in Fargo, which he ran in three hours and 35 minutes, which was the qualifying time for Boston and one at Grandma's in June, which he ran in three hours and 33 minutes and he signed up for Boston at that point. The last race that year was the Twin Cities Marathon in three hours, 32 minutes, 37 seconds, 44 seconds. He got the Boston Marathon acceptance notification before he ran in the Twin Cities, but he ran it anyway. It was a nice day, like the last several - nice and cool and great to run. He ran the Twin Cities in three hours, 32 minutes and 44 seconds.
"The 2012 Boston Marathon was on a hot day, the only marathon I ran that year," he said. "Ten family members came to watch. My time was four hours, one minute and seven seconds, but I didn't care because I had already qualified for the next Boston."
But he hit a bump. Last fall he began experiencing knee pain. He pulled out of the Marine Corps Marathon that he had been looking forward to. Several of his relatives were Marines, so he was excited about running in that one. He recouped during the fall and winter, but he lost some speed due to the pain.
"A lot of physical therapy helped the knee," he said.
He had been notified that he could run in the 2013 Boston Marathon, but he ran in the Twin Cities anyway. It was a nice day and great for running. He had changed age groups and was in a slightly slower group.
He ran that race, his second Boston Marathon, in three hours and 48 minutes on a nice cool day.
"I ran it because I thought I might never qualify again," he said.
He finished the race and went to get something to drink and to pick up his change of clothes from the bus where they were stowed. That was 20 minutes before the first bomb went off. He was 2 1/2 blocks away from the finish line.
"It sounded like a cannon," he said. "I asked someone if they shot cannons at the finish line. He said 'No.' Then the second bomb went off and we knew it was intentional. Panicky people were coming towards us, hollering, 'There's a bomb.'
In another couple of minutes, people were saying, 'It's time to leave.' It was pandemonium."
A lot of the people went to a big park called The Commons. He and his friend wanted to catch a subway to their hotel, but it was shut down. They walked the two miles back to their hotel in Cambridge.
He texted family and friends, telling them he was OK. The cell phones were shut down because of the possibility that they had been used to set off the bombs.
Along the way he was interviewed by FOX TV, which he said was fortunate because people at home saw it.
"My sister-in-law texted my mom that she had seen me on TV," he said. "She hadn't been watching the news. She cried when she heard."
They were warned not to go near big crowds. His friend, who had driven to Boston, dropped Gillard off at the airport.
"I was glad to get home," he said. "I called my mom from the airport."
He has signed up another try at the Marine Corps Marathon which will be at the end of October.
"It's beautiful," he said. "It starts at the Iwo Jima monument and goes around the Reflecting Pool.
"It is said that once you cross the finish line of a marathon for the first time, your life will never be the same. I can definitely say that is true."