In the final miles of a marathon, the extremes of the human condition come out: exhaustion, desperation, elation. But here’s what you won’t often see at mile 24, or really any mile for that matter: two young men– virtual strangers– holding hands while running at a 6:42-per-mile pace.
But if you were watching the final miles of the Richmond Marathon this past November, that’s exactly what you would have seen: 18-year-old Logan Thomas repeatedly reaching for pacer Chris Hauger’s hand, Chris urging Logan on.
At one point, Logan asked Chris if he could stop and walk. After all, plenty of people walk in the last 10K of a marathon.
“How do your legs feel– good or bad?” Chris asked.
“Good!” Logan shouted.
“Are you still excited?”
“Then you can’t stop and walk.”
Which is especially true if you’re trying to become the second male Special Olympics runner in history to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
And so they ran.
GOING THE DISTANCE
The oldest of Darek and Elaine Thomas’s four children, Logan is on the autism spectrum. Diagnosed at the age of one, Logan’s biggest delay is communication. He is verbal, but putting thoughts into words is a challenge. As his father explains, the difficulty lies with “output, not input.”
While his output is limited, Logan’s ability to absorb “input” is greater than most of us will achieve in a lifetime. He’s particularly drawn to languages– when he discovered language tutorials on YouTube, he taught himself to read and write 25 of them, including Chinese.
Logan attends the nonpublic, special education St. Elizabeth School in Baltimore, Md., whose slogan is “Helping Students with Special Needs Go the Distance.” In Logan’s case, the phrase takes on a literal meaning.
While St. Elizabeth has no traditional sports teams, students are encouraged to participate in athletics and club sports as much as possible. Logan was especially drawn to the running club. While in the club, his parents noticed how running had a calming effect on their son. Also, he was really good at it. At just 16-years-old, Logan ran the Baltimore Half Marathon with his dad and won his age group with a 1:27. He also ran two full marathons prior to the Richmond Marathon, with a 3:14 personal best at the York Marathon in York, Pa. last May.
For Logan’s father, his accomplishments are about more than showcasing his running talent. Darek feels that Logan can help shift the perception towards kids with special needs.
“There are some kids with real ability! I don’t like labeling kids as having a disability. We need to get past that,” said Darek. To him, Logan shouldn’t necessarily be labeled as a Special Olympic athlete. He’s just an athlete– “a really good athlete.”
That much is obvious from his past performances, and yet his physical limits are hard to predict: he lacks the communication to give feedback about his race efforts. However, he just keeps getting faster.
That’s what prompted Logan’s father to set a goal for Logan to break three hours in the marathon and qualify for Boston. Darek targeted the Richmond Marathon this past November. And while he was a strong runner and triathlete himself, Darek knew he couldn’t keep up with Logan over the marathon distance. So he set out to find a one-on-one pacer who was fast enough for the job– and willing to lend a helping hand.
A CALL TO RUNNERS
The request went out to running clubs across Baltimore. When the Faster Bastards running crew of Baltimore first heard about Logan, the Richmond Marathon was just a few weeks away.
A few of the Faster Bastards, fresh off their own Boston qualifiers at the Chicago Marathon and Wineglass Marathon, debated the feasibility:
“I’m signed up for the Richmond Half. Is it too late to switch?”
“I’m running the full, but I’m not confident I can stay at Logan’s pace long enough.”
“I’ll help pace him with you guys for as long as I can hang.”
In the end, it took no more than a day for Chris Hauger, who had just hit his PR of 2:54:39 five weeks earlier, to go all-in for Logan’s race. Fellow Faster Bastards Jon Ober and David Goldberg offered early-miles support.
Chris met Logan and Darek for the first time at the race expo. He also met some of Logan’s teachers from St. Elizabeth, who had signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon and made the drive just to support Logan. With little time for Logan and Darek to get acquainted with the pacers, Darek quickly briefed Chris and the Faster Bastards.
The race plan would go like this: Logan’s dad, Darek, would be on a bike, checking in periodically. Chris would try to bring Logan through 26.2 miles in under three hours, the Boston qualifying time for their age group. But they’d likely need 2:57 to give Logan a good chance of being accepted into the increasingly-competitive Boston Marathon.
So, Chris planned to pace Logan at 2:57—dangerously close to his own PR. Jon, an experienced pacer, had only ever paced groups 30-40 minutes slower than his own race time—a considerably safer margin. Chris and Jon both admitted they were worried the night before the race. Aside from their own pacing abilities, there were some unknowns about handling the later miles, especially in terms of endurance. After all, Logan’s training was unconventional to say the least– he never ran farther than 12 miles on a long run.
Nevertheless, come race morning, Logan faced the start line without nerves or fear creeping in. Chris says he looked content and calm as he waited at the start line.
“Logan doesn’t get nervous the way we do… it’s a really nice thing,” explains Darek.
As the race got underway, pacing Logan came with other challenges. At water stops, Logan was unable to pick up a cup mid-stride, so Chris began doing it for him. To check in on how Logan was feeling during the race, Darek suggested that Chris give Logan options or alternatives that Logan didn’t have to think about. For example, instead of asking open-ended questions like ‘How are you feeling?’, Chris would ask ‘‘Do you feel good, or not good?’
As in most marathons, the course was not without its share of difficulties. With marathon experience under his belt, Chris did his best to mitigate them for Logan. With winds of up to 15 miles per hour around the halfway point, Chris showed Logan how to run behind other people to break the wind. Whenever they passed cheering spectators, Logan let out a fist pump and a loud “woo hoo!”
As anyone who’s run a long-distance race knows, it’s not surprising that Logan started to hurt in the last few miles of the marathon. But Chris signed on to help Logan find out what he was capable of, and kept pulling him along at a sub-seven-minute pace.
It can be terrifying to push one’s mind and body to the “pain cave” that runners reach in an all-out race effort, the one where your whole body is screaming to your brain to stop. Logan’s response to that fear was simple, and beautiful. He asked Chris to hold his hand. Chris– a bit surprised– obliged, and the two managed to hold hands for a few seconds at a time, several times throughout the final miles of the race.
When Logan crossed the finish line in 2:55:28, he kept the same excitement he’d shown throughout the race, but didn’t seem to grasp the significance of the time he accomplished.
“I don’t think he realizes what he did,” says his father.
But Darek realized the magnitude of Logan’s achievement.
When Logan broke the three-hour threshold, his father was right there, waiting.
“I actually started to cry,” Darek admits.
Pacer Chris Hauger didn’t let the notion of a disability change Logan’s race plan, and it paid off.
“We helped him see where his wall is—helped him get to the edge,” recalls Chris.
Getting to that edge now places Logan in the running history books, with a likely trip to the storied Boston Marathon in 2021. It’s something that less than 1% of all runners of any ability will ever accomplish. The proof is in the final race results, which is only the beginning of his story: Logan is a talented athlete with a lot of ability– not just a disability.