Recently, on a windy and rainy Saturday morning, two local runners traversed the streets of Belleville on a mission.
Jan Bolding had been in a serious car accident while her friend from the Belleville Running Club, Kevin Horcher, had survived a massive heart attack. With their bodies recovered, they set out together to prove they still had the mental stamina to complete a 26.2-mile marathon.
They planned out their own “unofficial” Belleville Marathon for Saturday, March 30. The two would run the full course together, with only a few members of the Belleville Running Club and a car full of family members along for support.
“We really need to get this done. We made that commitment a while back and we’re ready to do this,” said Bolding, 59, before beginning their run. “We both need this. This will let us move on.”
Though confident in his training, Horcher nonetheless said he couldn’t be satisfied until he finished what he was about to undertake.
“... Until you’ve done it, you only think you can,” he said. “You’ve got to prove it to yourself.”
“I was a real mess”
It’s been nearly eight months since Bolding, a teacher at Whiteside Middle School in Belleville, was broadsided by another vehicle as she turned out of the school parking lot. The other driver had run the red light, sending her in St. Louis University Hospital’s Trauma Center.
The crash left Bolding with a broken back, neck, pelvis, ribs and shoulder blade and put her in the hospital for 17 days.
One of her immediate concerns was when and if she’d be able to run again. Her most immediate challenge to that point, however, was getting back on her feet.
“I was a real mess,” she said, “but the doctor told me ‘get your butt out of bed.’ He said that’s the only way I was going to get better.”
From that day forward, Bolding set out to do as the doctor instructed. Even if it was limited to a lap or two around the nurses’ station, she pressed herself as far as she could go. Her husband, Tom, and the hospital nurses were there to help.
By the time she left the trauma center, she could walk the entire floor of the hospital, which Tom Bolding measured to be roughly one-500th of a mile. She continued walking around her neighborhood with the help of fellow members of the Belleville Running Club, who supported her with or without her walker.
By September, Bolding set a goal for herself — she would walk in the Belleville Main Street Marathon on her birthday, Sept. 28.
Prior to the accident, Bolding had completed countless races and marathons, once even running 50 miles in one session. This was supposed to be “a “banner year” for her, she said. She had planned to try to run 100 miles.
Come marathon day, though, she struggled. She couldn’t complete the 26.2-mile course, and she was devastated.
“That was the first time I had ever had to stop a race,” she said. “But that’s when Kevin came in.”
Horcher, 56, a friend and fellow runner who had successfully completed the marathon, advised Bolding to use the defeat as motivation in her training. It also was then that he proposed they run the marathon course again at a later date — just the two of them.
“I said take the medal, keep the shirt and when you’re healthy we’re going to go out and run the marathon course together,” Horcher said. “It sounded like a great idea at the time.”
But months later,while running the annual Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k race in Forest Park, Horcher said he felt awful. He finished the race and headed to the hospital where doctors told him he had suffered a massive heart attack.
Horcher spent two days in the hospital. He could still walk a mile, even a week after the heart attack, but his speed was gone.
Horcher and Bolding doubled down on their promise to complete the Belleville course together, now that they each had something to prove. They began slowly, but the miles mounted as their strength improved.
The big day
Their big day came Saturday.
The two lined up at the corner of First and Main in Belleville, surrounded by fellow runners and prepared to make good on a promise.
“We still want to do this,” Horcher said. “We’re going to do 26.2 miles. It may not be the fastest 26.2 ever but we’re going to do it.“
Belleville Marathon Race Director Sarah West called it the “Unofficial Belleville Marathon.” Twenty fellow runners from the Belleville Running Club joined the duo at different legs of the course. Others followed in a car for support.
And then they finished. All 26.2 miles.
Bolding said the wind and rain posed an unexpected challenge, but added that it made their victory all the more satisfying. The long road to recovery, it seemed, was finally over.
This year, Bolding will turn 60 on the day of the Belleville Main Street Marathon. She and Horcher both said they will be there, ready to conquer the course again and with nothing left to prove.
“We’re going to start training for the real one,” Horcher said.