Runner's last marathon is a starting point

Having run one previous marathon, Kimberly Leatherman had already decided that the 2008 New York City Marathon would be her last endurance race.

But when she surprised herself with a time that was just 53 seconds off the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, she refined her goals.

Leatherman achieved her mark a year later in Chicago, running a time that qualified her for the world's longest-running marathon. On April 18, Leatherman's dream was realized, as she completed the 115th running of the Boston Marathon.

Her time was admittedly unspectacular, but Leatherman never considered her participation to be about what place she would finish.

For her, it represented the conquering of a challenge and being able to share the experience with a family member and her training partner, who missed the chance to run because of an early registration deadline.

Leatherman, a 37-year old mother of three from Concord, started running for exercise in college 18 years ago. She participated in her first 10-kilometer race and first half-marathon in 2000.

"At the beginning of my running career I never thought I'd be someone running a marathon," she said. "I never knew what it took as far as training. It was just a natural progression."

In 2004, Leatherman and three friends from Concord decided to try the Marine Corps Marathon held outside of Washington, D.C. Leatherman remembers being inspired by the patriotic theme of the event, but also getting uncomfortably dehydrated and finishing in four hours, 20 minutes, "poor" by her standards.

"I did not get the 'runners high' runners get," said Leatherman.

It would be another four years before Leatherman tested her endurance again. She and a few friends hit the pavement, this time in New York City, for the country's second most prestigious marathon.

As she wondered if she would be able to finish the 26.2 miles, Leatherman thought to herself that this would be her final marathon, just as she thought while running the Marine Corps Marathon.

But when she crossed the finish line in the Big Apple, Leatherman realized her time of 3:46:52 was just 53 seconds shy of the Boston Marathon standard for her age group. To prepare for the 2009 Chicago Marathon, she took her training more seriously, including components tailored to marathons.

Leatherman could have registered for the 2010 Boston Marathon but her training partner from Concord, Karen Byrd, had not yet qualified and Leatherman didn't want to compete without her. Running with Leatherman, Byrd ran a qualifying time in New York in November but she couldn't register for Boston because it filled up after only one day of online registration.

The five months Leatherman had to prepare was the shortest time she ever trained between marathons. Training during the winter months didn't help and Leatherman's doctor told her to slow down when she experienced some minor injuries.

None of that stopped Leatherman from going to Boston though. Accompanying her were Byrd and Leatherman's brother, Walker Collier, a competitive runner who ran the 2008 Boston Marathon.

Leatherman said she ran ahead of her preferred pace for the first 16 miles and consequently she was more fatigued down the stretch, considered to be the uphill leg of the race. With Collier joining her on the course and pushing her for the final three miles, Leatherman crossed the finished line at 3:39:59, the best time she has run in any of her five marathons.

"A marathon is a physical endurance," said Leatherman. "But it also is an extreme mental endurance. The physical gets you through the first part of the marathon, then the mental gets you through the last."

Leatherman is no longer resigned to call each marathon her last. She has no plans for one at this point, but is not ruling another one out.

"I'm just a girl who likes to run as a form of exercise," she said. "I enjoy setting goals and accomplishing them."