Nicole James visits the Boston Marathon finish line over the weekend with fellow Brattleboro-area runners (from left) Lois Sparks, Halie Lange, Nicole James, Elizabeth Bianchi, and Maxine Stent.
Courtesy photo
Nicole James visits the Boston Marathon finish line over the weekend with fellow Brattleboro-area runners (from left) Lois Sparks, Halie Lange, Nicole James, Elizabeth Bianchi, and Maxine Stent.

A second chance to run her first Boston Marathon

Despite Covid and other setbacks, Nicole James of Brattleboro makes it across the finish line

A year ago, Nicole James vowed that a chronic autoimmune disease wouldn't stop her from fulfilling a childhood dream of running in the world's oldest annual race, the Boston Marathon.

Waking morning upon morning before sunrise, she trained mile upon mile for the event's 2022 Patriots Day return after a pandemic of postponements.

Then, just days before the start, James caught Covid.

Seeing the 49-year-old Brattleboro resident sidelined, friends pointed to a silver lining: James' accompanying fundraising efforts had reaped $10,000 for Massachusetts' Tufts Medical Center.

But the money-making marathoner wanted to earn something else: a second chance at the 26.2-mile course.

On Monday, April 17, James finally stood among 30,000 other athletes. Some 120 were fellow Vermonters, a diverse group including a Putney woman who's a three-time U.S. Paralympic medalist, a Williston mother who's 20 weeks pregnant, and a University of Vermont medical student inaugurating the marathon's new non-binary division.

From late morning to mid-afternoon, James ran in pelting rain. But crossing the finish line 3 hours, 52 minutes, and 14 seconds later, she never felt sunnier.

“I am really sore,” she said, “but so excited and elated.”

'One day, that's going to be me'

Growing up, James discovered the event when competitors passed her grandmother's house along the route from the small town of Hopkinton, Massachusetts to the biggest skyscraper in New England, the 60-story John Hancock Tower.

“I was in such awe,” she recalled of the athletes. “I said to my family, 'One day, that's going to be me.'”

But whenever James tried to run the required qualifying time, her ulcerative colitis flared up.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, she needed to finish an entrance event within 3 hours and 45 minutes. She went on to complete the trial in 3 hours and 45 minutes - and 38 seconds.

The coronavirus canceled the marathon in 2020 and postponed it from spring to fall in 2021. When organizers promised to return to their traditional schedule in 2022, James was determined to join.

The Vermonter learned she could qualify with her time if she raised money for charity. Winning entry to the 50-member Tufts Medical Center team, she collected $10,000 as she trained with five other Windham County marathoners.

Then she tested positive for Covid.

James recalls everyone teary on the phone the night before last year's event.

“I told them, 'You need to run your own race - run your race for me.'”

But James knew she wanted to do it herself. Contacting Tufts, she learned she could try again this year - if she continued to run and raise money.

James competed in Burlington's Vermont City Marathon last Memorial Day weekend and the New England Green River Marathon from Marlboro, Vermont, to Greenfield, Massachusetts, in August.

Earlier this winter, James caught Covid again. But she still took in another $10,000 while training up to 40 miles a week for Monday's 127th event, which marked the 10th anniversary of a deadly 2013 bombing at the finish line.

'It's not going to defeat me'

James ran in Boston alongside 120 other Vermonters in a field from more than 100 countries.

Three-time U.S. Paralympic medalist Alicia Dana, 54, of Putney won the women's handcycling title for a second time with a record pace of 1 hour, 18 minutes and 15 seconds.

Emma Frappier, 33, of Williston, who previously ran the Vermont City Marathon 32 weeks pregnant, finished Boston while expecting her third child, with a time of 4:10:28.

And Kae Ravichandran, 25, of Burlington won the new 27-person nonbinary division in 2:38:57.

As for James, her Monday finish time automatically qualifies her for next year's marathon. But for all her determination, her only announced future competition is with any perceived limitation stemming from her chronic condition.

“It's not going to defeat me; it's not going to knock me down,” she said. “Nothing's going to stop me.”

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