Two marathons in one month – one I ran, the other, I tried. Here’s my story about running the Boston Marathon and then a week-long jury trial in Durham County.
Part I: The Boston Marathon
I open my suitcase in the Boston hotel room, just two blocks away from the finish line. Pull out a range of clothes – shorts, rain coat, gloves, ear warmer, tank top, hat, sunglasses, latex gloves. The race only two days away, we still don’t know the weather. Will the trifecta of cold, rain and wind hit us like last year? Heat and humidity? Maybe a perfectly cool, overcast day?! The hourly forecast keeps changing. I’ve come prepared for any scenario. But I know that no matter how much I talk about it, the weather is out of my control.
A weekend of memories with runner friends from Charlotte and the Triangle.
My friend Casey’s first Boston!
I meet my coaches, Lisa and Julie for the first time.
Enjoy a shakeout run around the Charles River with John.
Carb load with cousin Allen.
Now it’s time. Monday morning, April 15. For three months, I’ve tirelessly trained. My goal, is to run the 26.2 infamous miles from Hopkinton to Boston in under 3 hours and 15 minutes. A lofty goal and 10 minutes faster than last year’s Boston. I’m nervous. It’s been raining and lightening all morning. The clouds begin to part at the start of the race. The sun peaks through and temperatures rise with the miles.
I hate the heat. This is not good for me.
Helen, you GET to do this.
I get to do this. I get to run this race.
Hana, a new friend from the Bull City running club, runs the first 15 miles with me. I stay positive, don’t mention the pain on the bottom of my feet, the sharp cramping in my right abdomen, how much I want to slow down. No.
You set a goal, Helen. You have to keep going.
The sun bears down on us. Humidity and hills meet me at mile 17. Spectators generously hold out buckets of ice for runners to take and throw over their bodies. Children with ice cycles and face wipes stretch out their arms. I want it all, but I must use every ounce of energy to get my body to the finish line.
One gulp of Gatorade and one water at each station. Stay on top of my fuel. Push up the hills. I’m so delirious that I run up Heartbreak Hill without even realizing it.
I only know the hills are over because a huge sign tells me so. It’s time to pick up the pace and finish strong. A glance at my watch tells me I am not going to make my goal of sub 3:15. Disappointment pierces my face and runs through my body.
It’s okay, Helen. Adjust your goal. You can do this. You get to do this.
Sub 3:20 is within reach. My quads on fire. Sweat pours down my face. Heavy breath. I hear the crowds but can’t look at them. It’s all road. One foot in front of the other. Focus.
Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. I see it – the finish line. Still a quarter mile away. The crowds roar with excitement.
You get to do this, Helen. Go.
Hands in the air, I cross the finish line in 3:19:22. Almost six minutes faster than last year.
Struggling to breathe and walk, I slowly make my way down Boylston. My sub 3:15 goal is still out there and I will keep chasing it because really, there are no finish lines.
I smile. Take it all in. Yet again, my body allowed me to run the race. This time, faster than ever.
What a gift.
Part II: The Jury Trial
I hit the ground running the moment I step off the plane in Charlotte. Boston is behind me. In less than two weeks, I will stand before 12 people sitting in a jury box and tell them about my client who was injured while riding his bicycle by the driver of a pickup truck attempting to pass unsafely.
Ann Groninger, my boss and Bike Law NC’s lead advocate, lets me try the case with fellow associate, Drew Culler, in Durham County.
Preparing for a trial is a lot like training for a marathon. It takes time, a lot of work, and there are elements you cannot control.
Monday morning, Drew and I sit on the hard, wooden bench in the Durham County Courthouse waiting for the judge to call our trial, physically vibrating we are so nervous. I scribble a few words on a yellow notepad and pass it to Drew.
We GET to do this.
We get to be trial lawyers — something Drew and I have both wanted and worked for tirelessly. We get to advocate for our client. We get to present our case to a jury.
Trial starts strong, winning a few hard-fought pre-trial motions. After a day and a half of jury selection, Drew presents our opening statement.
Our client, Ryan McKenzie was riding in Cycle North Carolina, an annual ride across the state that draws over 1000 participants from around the country. He and a few other cyclists were lined up at a traffic light and started to go when the light turned green. The defendant was driving a Ford F150 pick up truck and came up behind Ryan just as he rode through the intersection. With oncoming traffic in the turning lane and the accelerating truck behind him, Ryan felt that he was being edged over to the side of the road. But he kept moving over to the right because he feared being hit by the truck. Ryan’s bicycle tire got stuck in a crack and he fell into the road. The truck driver ran over his left-dominant arm and hand.
Amazingly, Ryan did not break a bone, but he basically had two holes in his arm where the tire made impact. All because the defendant didn’t wait a few more seconds down the road to pass safely.
We put on seven witnesses, including two fellow cyclists who witnessed the collision and two experts.
Our client takes the stand and tells the jury about the 30-minute ambulance ride without pain medication, riding over potholes. We show pictures. The wounds look like a burn patient and form a big scar from his knuckles up his forearm. The scar grows and grows, causing range of motion problems and pain. Nine months after the collision, Ryan has skin graft surgery to fix the scar. Now he has significant scars on both his left arm and his upper left thigh. Ryan stands in front of the jury, rolls up his sleeve and shows them his scar. He’s really honest about his injuries, admitting that he doesn’t hurt anymore. He feels lucky to be alive, lucky it wasn’t worse.
The trial lasts five days. Drew and I work 14-16 hours each day. Some nights we camp out in our boss, Valerie’s kitchen, writing and preparing for the next day. She feeds us and gives invaluable advice.
By Thursday, I feel like I am running the last six miles of the marathon – physically and mentally depleted, focused on the road ahead, trying to stay positive, but oh-so exhausted.
We GET to do this.
On Friday morning, we walk to the courthouse for the last time. I will deliver my closing argument to the jury.
Right on Hereford, left of Boylston, I tell Drew and our outstanding paralegal, Juliette. I can see the finish line now. One last push.
I deliver my closing argument. The jury is out for an hour and five minutes. And then, a knock on the door. The deputy sheriff tells us there is a verdict.
The 12 jurors walk back into the courtroom. This moment feels like the drop from the top of a roller coaster ride. The foreman stands, hands the verdict sheet to the judge. I squeeze three of Drew’s fingers.
The defendant is negligent. The plaintiff is not negligent. The plaintiff is awarded $150,000 for his injuries.
We won. Drew! We won!
Literally everyone told us to settle this case. You’ll never defeat contributory negligence in North Carolina, they said. We knew it would be difficult. The only person who told us to keep going was Ann. Keep going. Keep pushing.
I’m so glad we did. And grateful that she trusted us with her case and her client. I cannot say enough about Drew, our paralegals Juliette, Megan and Jana, and our entire trial team.
Just before closing arguments, I told myself no matter what happens, this was an incredible experience. Turns out, the jury got it right and justice was served.
What a gift.
The Wrap Up
Yes, I’ll run many more marathons and try many more jury trials. But lessons learned from these two events back-to-back will stay with me forever.
- Do not settle. (In litigation, relationships, your goals, etc.)
- Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and push you, all at the same time.
- Even if you want to stop, keep going. There are no finish lines.
See you out there.