The entrance to Cathedral Pines Campground is not in Hopkinson, Massachusetts. Tiana Thomas did not have to queue up and wait to begin her Boston Marathon. She just had to stretch, thank the family and friends gathered for coming, and step underneath the homemade starting line created by her mother.
Just after 8 a.m. Saturday morning, Thomas was off. The small crowd of a dozen friends and family cheered, and Thomas’ first steps came with a smile.

With Boston an epicenter for the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, the annual Boston Marathon was first postponed from April to September, then cancelled.

Runners were encouraged to run a marathon this week. Which is why Thomas, 25, was up early on a chilly Saturday morning. It was 39 degrees when she began her marathon.
“When I found out (the Boston Marathon) was virtual, I decided I should do it, because I had nothing else to look forward to in 2020. I needed something to keep me going with the virus and everything. It was just a big goal I had and I wanted to do it,” said Thomas, a Waterville native and former all-conference cross country runner at the University of New England.
Two years ago, Thomas’ first Boston Marathon ended a few miles short of the finish line. That cold, wet, raw spring day, and the race’s health officials stopped Thomas to treat her for hypothermia.
“That was the first race of her whole life she didn’t finish,” Christine Rice Thomas, Tiana’s mother, said. “It was supposed to be her redemption.”
Thomas wasn’t alone. Her boyfriend, CJ Vallie, rode his bicycle alongside her every step of every mile Saturday. As the miles ticked off, Vallie offered encouragement. Earlier, he offered more than emotional support.
“(Encouragement) definitely came towards the later stages, the last six to eight miles. The first several miles was really trying to push fluids with her and try to keep her nutrition on point, with gels and electrolyte tablets,” Vallie said.
The halfway point of Thomas’ marathon is not Wellesley, where college students cheer for runners making their way toward downtown Boston. Thomas’ halfway point came just beyond where skiers turn off Route 27 to head to Sugarloaf. If Thomas looked over her right shoulder, she’d see the mountain, its ski trails green this time of year. What do you see if you look over your shoulder in Wellesley? A sea of runners gaining on you.
Thomas’ friends and family fell into a pattern. Drive a few miles ahead. Stop and wait. Cheer when she runs past. Drive ahead again and repeat. The sound of their cowbells will echo through the Bigelow mountains for days.
Mile 20 is not Heartbreak Hill. For a marathon course in the mountains, Sugarloaf is pretty flat. Most of the elevation gain comes in the first third of the course. From there on, it’s a lot of downhill or steady descent. Vallie said he didn’t notice Thomas feeling any discomfort until around mile 21. That’s where his encouragement was key, and the nutrition he’d provided earlier helped.
Logging trucks don’t pass you going more than 60 miles per hour on Heartbreak Hill.
The finish line is not Boylston Street and its wall of sound, the steady roar of thousands of cheers that seems to come to life. Thomas’ final mile was accompanied by an escort from the Franklin County sheriff’s office. Thomas finished her marathon in 3 hours, 21 minutes, and 45 seconds. The wall of sound wasn’t as high as it is in Boston, but it was all for her.
“I think it’s more special, because I have all my family here to support me,” Thomas said.
A minute after Thomas finished, Vallie had an important question to ask her. Thomas said she sort of expected it, but it still came as a surprise.
“I was extremely nervous. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks now, thinking about what I wanted to say and unfortunately words didn’t come out when she was finishing. They never do, right? I’m happy I have her by my side to run many more marathons,” Vallie said.
She said yes.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242
Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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