By Shane Frederick
Photo courtesy of Josh Henning
For the final nine miles of the Boston Marathon, Elysian’s Josh Henning simply enjoyed the moment.
This was long before the bombs blew up at the finish line and turned celebration into horror for so many people.
Henning had completed about two-thirds of the race and was feeling the cramping in his calves and the burning in his quads. He had run five other marathons, but this one was different, special. So he slowed down, let his friend Jim Kalina of Mankato run ahead and basked in the fact that he was even out there on the course with a race number pinned to his shirt.
“I was having a lot of fun,” Henning said. “It was an unbelievable experience. I probably wasted a lot of time.”
As he jogged on, Henning asked strangers on the sidewalk to snap pictures of him with their phones to send them to his wife, Brittany, back at Mile 17, to let her know he was doing OK. There’s one of him around Mile 24, with Boston’s famous Citgo sign, the one that towers over the Red Sox’s Fenway Park, in the background. He’s smiling, giving two thumb’s up.
“It was a celebration of what I went through over the past year to get to that point.”
A little more than a year earlier, Henning was set to run Boston, but something didn’t feel right when he was training.
A sharp pain in his abdomen hampered his long weekend runs, and he began to feel fatigued, although the latter, he thought, was a symptom of grueling marathon preparations.
He finally saw a doctor, and, as he went through a barrage of tests, decided he needed to stop his training and give up on Boston that year. Two days before the marathon, he was diagnosed with cancer — Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He and Brittany traveled to Boston anyway to cheer on a group of friends who were running the race.
It was while watching the 2012 race that he vowed to return a year later.
“I knew my qualifying time would carry over,” Henning said. “So I said, ‘Even if I have to walk, that’s my goal, to somehow finish it.’”
Henning had a large mass in his chest and more in his armpit and neck. Hodgkin’s is one of the most treatable types of cancers, but he had a rough six months of treatment that included 12 rounds of chemotherapy.
“It really took its toll,” the 34-year-old said.
He tried to stay as active as he could through his treatment and kept thinking about Boston.
“Once you do your first (marathon), and you go through such highs and lows, it keeps you going,” he said.
Last fall, Brittany ran the Twin Cities Marathon, her third 26.2-mile race, and that inspired Henning, too.
“I got to live through other people’s running,” he said. “Their training motivated me to keep going.”
Cindra Kamphoff was another runner he followed. He cheered her on during last year’s Boston Marathon and encouraged her as she trained for other races.
“He had a positive attitude the whole time,” Kamphoff, a Mankato resident, said. “We knew he was going to be OK by how he approached it.”
A carpenter, Henning was unable to work during his treatment. Once he was cancer-free, he returned to his job in November and, in January, he was ready to begin training for Boston again.
“I didn’t have a time goal; I just put in as many miles as I could without getting hurt,” he said. “I ran with a heart-rate monitor and never let it get above a certain level. ... From Jan. 1 to April 1, I averaged about 60 miles a week, but I just tried to get to the (starting) line healthy.”
Henning’s official time last week was 3 hours, 38 minutes, 39 seconds.
A little more than a half hour later, he was in his hotel room when the bombs exploded. That didn’t appear to give him much time to enjoy his accomplishment.
“I was enjoying it while I was running, more than anything,” Henning said. “I was just glad I was able to start it. There was a lot of excitement, even before the start. ...
“It was a celebration run, and I was just taking it all in.”