Monday was a day of giant strides for Emily LeVan of Wiscasset and her family.
LeVan emerged as the top-finishing American-born woman at the 109th Boston Marathon, placing 12th overall among a world-class field of women runners in 2 hours, 43 minutes, 14 seconds.
But it was the baby steps she witnessed shortly after the race that likely will linger with LeVan and her husband, Brad Johnson.
That’s when 15-month-old daughter Madeline took her first walk.
“My family was taking care of my daughter during the race,” LeVan said, “and when I got back to the hotel after the race they said, ‘Watch this,’ and Maddie just walked over to me.
“She was a little unsteady on her feet, but it was the first time she had taken a series of steps. She had done a little walking before while holding onto things, but seeing her take her first steps on her own was special.”
Given a little more time around the running world, young Maddie no doubt would have thought her mother’s many steps earlier in the day were equally special.
The 32-year-old LeVan, who qualified for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials and ran a personal-best and course-record time of 2:39:54 to win last fall’s Maine Marathon, struggled early but came on strong late to place 128th overall among the 17,549 runners who completed the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Boston.
LeVan, one of 55 elite women runners to leave the starting line 29 minutes before the rest of the field, struggled early in the race.
It was so much of a struggle, in fact, that LeVan’s fourth Boston Marathon almost was her shortest.
“I thought about stopping for good,” she said, “because I didn’t think my legs were going to carry me through the rest of the race. I wasn’t able to get into a comfortable groove.”
At Mile 12, she did stop briefly, long enough to talk to a race official. The official suggested LeVan go to the next water station before making a final decision.
LeVan did that, and her final decision was to continue.
“What I finally told myself was that it was a fun race with an incredible crowd, so I just wanted to try and enjoy myself,” she said. “That helped me think about the race in different way.”
LeVan regrouped both physically and mentally, and soon she began to come up on some her fellow elite women runners.
“That told me I had gotten over the hump, and that clearly I had picked up my pace,” LeVan said.
She soon crested Heartbreak Hill at Mile 20, and from there she surged past the remaining American women in front of her.
And when she passed Californian Caroline Annis at the Mile 25 water stop, there were no more Americans to chase down. LeVan cruised to the finish, with Annis 32 seconds behind in 2:43:46.
“It was really exciting to be the first American woman,” said LeVan, who also was the top Maine finisher, more than four minutes ahead of Judson Cake of Bar Harbor.
LeVan actually hoped to run a faster time, but her early struggles combined with temperatures around 70 degrees at race time served to slow down much of the field.
“I wanted to run under 2:40,” said LeVan. “My personal record is 2:39:54, and I had hoped to replicate that time or better it, but I didn’t quite get there. It was just one of those days when I didn’t feel that great. I felt like my legs were heavy, I just didn’t have that spring in them, and that made the race more of a struggle.”
A high school track, field hockey and soccer standout in her native Oklahoma City, LeVan took a somewhat unorthodox path to her marathoning career.
She focused on field hockey while at Bowdoin College during the mid-1990s, and didn’t make her debut in the event until running the 1998 Sugarloaf Marathon in 3:16:24.
She gradually improved her time, though she took much of 2001 off from training to walk the Appalachian Trail with her husband.
But 2002 proved to be a breakthrough year for LeVan, who dropped her marathon PR from 3:00:51 to 2:47:38 at the Maine Marathon and also finished 12th in the women’s field at the New York City Marathon in 2:48:58.
She ran the 2003 Boston Marathon in 2:41:37 and qualified for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, but then essentially took a year off to have her first child.
Maddie was born on Jan. 18, 2004, and while Emily soon resumed training, she opted out of the Olympic Trials scheduled for that April.
“We decided that as a family,” LeVan said, “both in terms of training for it and the fact that I didn’t want to miss out on any special moments with Maddie.
“But there’s another set of Olympic Trials down the road, and if things go right hopefully I’ll be able to participate in them.”
LeVan’s immediate future not only involves running and parenting, but also her pursuit of a nursing degree from the University of Southern Maine – 24 hours after running Boston, she was back at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland working on her pediatric nursing clinical program.
LeVan plans to resume training in a couple of weeks with an eye toward running either the Chicago Marathon or Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis this fall.
“I want to continue to be competitive on the national and international levels,” she said, “and see where I can go from here.”