When Tiana Thomas ’17 (Dental Hygiene) made her first attempt at running the Boston Marathon two years ago, her feat ended in tragedy. At the 20-mile mark, plagued by heavy rains and plummeting temperatures, she came down with hypothermia and was forced to pull out of the race.
The 2020 sprint through New England’s largest city was supposed to be her big comeback – that is, until the coronavirus crisis forced organizers to postpone the race and, ultimately, cancel the Northeast’s most anticipated sporting event.
But the former University of New England cross country star would not be defeated. On Saturday, Sept. 12, Thomas completed her own version of the 26.2-mile race along the Sugarloaf Marathon course in Carrabassett Valley. She finished with an impressive time of 3 hours, 21 minutes, and 45 seconds.
“After the 2018 marathon, I was really hoping to get back to Boston this year,” said the 25-year-old Waterville, Maine native. “When the race was cancelled, I figured, ‘OK, I have nothing else to look forward to in 2020, so I need to keep this going,’ That’s when I decided to do the marathon virtually.”
Thomas was surrounded by only her closest friends and family on that chilly Saturday morning, including her partner C.J. Vallie, who rode his bicycle by her side for the duration of the race. She said his encouragement, plus his assistance in carrying her water and food, helped motivate her as she navigated the route.
“Even though it wasn’t the true Boston Marathon, this was still special for me. I didn’t have the encouragement of the crowds and the other runners, so I kind of had to motivate myself. C.J. helped push me along,” she said.
The day was made even more special once Thomas crossed the finish line.
“Once I got toward the end, C.J. biked ahead and took his helmet off. He has run the Boston Marathon in the past, so he got out his old Mylar blanket and medal to put on me,” she said. “Then, he asked me to turn around, and, when I did, I saw that his brothers were holding a banner he had made that said, ‘Will You Marry Me?’
“I turned around and faced him, and he got down on one knee,” Thomas continued. “It all happened so fast that I could barely catch my breath.”
In that whirlwind moment, in the thick mountain air where adrenaline and romance crossed paths, she found the oxygen to answer with a resounding “yes.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Thomas said.
Through the joy and celebration, Thomas still hasn’t lost sight of her dreams of running down Commonwealth Avenue, with glass skyscrapers looming above her and America’s history at her feet.
“My experience this year was amazing, but I am definitely still bummed about the Boston race being cancelled,” she said. “But I’ll definitely find my way back. I’m sure of it.”