When Emma Howe, MCAS ’18 was a senior in high school, she promised her dad that she would run the Boston Marathon. Earlier that year, Scott Howe had been diagnosed with Stage Four oropharyngeal cancer. The advanced cancer of the throat and tongue required immediate and intense treatment. He underwent eight weeks of radiation and chemotherapy at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This meant daily radiation, major surgeries, and constant care.
Howe experienced firsthand the work Dana-Farber did with her father. The doctors and nurses at the Institute helped her and her family get through the pain and fear that comes with cancer treatment. Howe was profoundly inspired by what she experienced. She learned that Dana-Farber fields a 100-person Boston Marathon team every year, which accepts applications from runners who plan to fundraise for the institute. While Dana-Farber was treating her father, she made the promise to join the team and one day run the Marathon for him.
“This year was finally my year,” she said.
Her father didn’t want her to run the Marathon in high school, fearing that she would burn out, but she kept working and never forgot her promise. She had started running before the diagnosis, five years ago, when her mother, Cathy Howe, introduced her to it. Since her mother was Howe’s age, she has been running and has even run eight Boston Marathons herself. While Howe hadn’t ran competitively before that, she learned from her mother’s extensive experience and worked at long distance running up to the point where she can now run the Marathon.
In the three years since her father’s diagnosis, she went to Oberlin College, transferred to Boston College, and applied to the Dana-Farber Marathon team. She was accepted and has now spent the last four months training and raising money. Most importantly, her father made a full recovery.
At 5:30 a.m. most days this past semester, Howe could be found running across campus. Every weekday of training consisted of an early-morning run, after which she immediately went off to class or work at one of her two internships, depending on the day. After a day of studying international relations and economics or working as an undergraduate research fellow for BC and an intern at a Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit, she was off to rehearsal for the theatre department’s production of Kingdom City. The production, written by Sheri Wilner, this year’s Monan Professor for Theatre Arts, ran during the end of the March after a long series of rehearsals. Her average day would end at 11 p.m., when rehearsal was over, with her next run only a few short hours away.
“This has probably been the most crazy semester of my entire life,” she said.
My cause is so special, I just kind of think about my dad every time I get to mile 18. It’s like, ‘keep pushing, keep pushing. You have two more to go.’ Emma Howe
Her weekends were spent on her long run, which can be 18-to-23 miles long. The frantic “pretty unsustainable” schedule, physical difficulty, and mental roadblocks of the past few months have been straining, but she has pushed herself through it. When the running gets toughest, as she pushes to the end of her hardest 20-mile long runs, her thoughts turn to why she’s running in the first place.
“My cause is so special, I just kind of think about my dad every time I get to mile 18,” she said. “It’s like, ‘keep pushing, keep pushing. You have two more to go.’”
While thoughts of her father keep her going on difficult runs, her mother has remained a crucial part of Howe’s training. Unfortunately, they won’t be running the Marathon together this year. After sustaining an Achilles’ tendon injury, Howe’s mother continued running, exhibiting the same driving energy that Howe exhibits in abundance. But the injury grew worse and is now keeping Howe’s mother out of the race.
“It’s kind of like I’m taking up the baton,” Howe said.
Her mother will be waiting at the starting line on Marathon Monday. Many marathon runners most look forward to reaching downtown Boston or passing Mile 21, but Howe’s special connection is with the starting line. Hopkinton, Mass., where the Marathon begins, is her hometown. Just the other weekend, she took her long run all the way from her apartment to her family home, 23 miles away.
“That was crazy, but it was really cool to be able to run home,” she said. “Who gets to say that?”
After these long runs and months of training, as the Marathon gets closer, Howe believes the best part of working so hard has been feeling the improvement. This means not only the physical strength to run five miles without a second thought and push herself far beyond that, but the emotional strength that comes from breaking through what she is capable of and pushing herself further.
A week from now, 21 miles away from home where her parents stood watching, Howe will push toward the finish line, her thoughts on the promise she made.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Editor