Dealing with Giants

By: Jan Bolick

I knew of a long list of giants that would or could show up along the Boston Marathon course and had prepared for each one.  I got over or around every single one of them that day.   Except for one I never considered, one I’ve grappled with for days.

Between you and anything significant will be giants in your path.

On Monday, April 15, I posted the Leadership Quote of the Week (above), along with tips about how to deal with giants that block the way in most any office.  Giants like Bud Budget, Tom Time and Doubting Debbie.  The tips included:  expect giants, accept them,  prepare for them, don’t hide from them, make friends with them, name them.  See rest of list here.

Shortly after it was posted, someone tweeted:

That quote brought to you by @JanBolick who will be slaying her own giant at the Boston Marathon today.

The tweeter was my son, and I was honored that he had seen the quote and matched it up with my “project” for the day, one during which I expected to face many giants and planned to put my tips to the test.

I was about to run in the Boston Marathon as a charity runner, on behalf of the American Liver Foundation and in memory of my mother.  There would be a giant number of miles and giant hills.  It would take me a giant amount of time and a giant amount of physical, mental and emotional endurance.  I had heard tales about other giants that could block my path like dehydration, blisters and brain fuzziness.

For months, I prepared for handling these giants.  Ran lots of miles.  Used lots of ice packs.  Ate more spinach.  Got support from a long list of coaches and trainers.*. Shared tips with my sister and other teammates who were also training for the marathon, one of which was to visualize the finish line over and over.  Listened to the stories of elite runners as well as survivors of diseases and injuries including those who “run” in wheelchairs.

Whenever tired of training, I reminded myself of all who had inspired me and why running this marathon was important.  In case I got weak minded, I wrote these reasons on little index cards to carry in my pouch on race day. They included:

index cards

•    a picture of my mother and  memories of special times
•    a list of liver patients who are currently struggling
•    a list of all the people who contributed to the American Liver Foundation on my behalf
•    notes and emails people had sent to cheer me on

They were all my teammates, I couldn’t let them down.

Also in my pouch were a few reminders about  things like enjoying the journey and making friends with giants.

Now at the starting line, ready as I would ever be,

starting line

the gun went off and suddenly the size of my “team” exploded.

Along both sides of the road, were hundreds of thousands of spectators, who spent their entire day:marathon - with crowd behind

  • cheering runners on with applause, high fives, clappers, clackers and fun and funny signage
  • entertaining us and each other with music, dancing, trampolines and rowing
  • supporting us with water, Gatorade, Twizzlers, oranges, ice cubes, chocolate chip cookies, toothpicks of Vaseline …..and even beer.

I took it all in (except the beer)…high fiving as many of the kids as I could,  running and clapping to the beat of whatever music was playing and thanking people for being out there.

During one tough moment on one of many hills, a man, a total stranger, looked me in the eye and said, “You’ve got this!”   He must have seen “DOUBT” written all over my face because then he said, “You really do.”   It was a powerful boost.


Every now and then, I would notice a sore foot, a sore shoulder, a sore arm, a blister that might be starting on my foot, a heart attack that might be coming on – and my mind chatter on about it – building each complaint or fear into a bigger and bigger and bigger giant – usually an imaginary one.

marathon - clapping at BC

And then there would be someone holding up a sign like:

  • Go Random Stranger
  • Release Your Inner Kenyan
  • Run faster, my arms hurt

Smiles and laughter  – even between strangers – an instant silencer of draining mind chatter.  An instant boost of energy.


Awareness and preparation, plus a wonderful team, many of them strangers making hard work more fun, helped make  the giants smaller, less significant, easier to deal with, as I ran through the towns of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline.


Boston was next.  I was going to make it!  I was going to get to cross that beautiful finish line I had envisioned over and over again.

finish line

And then the bombs went off.

Still out on the course running, I didn’t hear, see or know anything about the bombs for a while.   I passed one police officer who said there was going to be a detour.  Later an officer asked us to merge into a single lane and then onto the sidewalk which was full of pedestrians.  And then, just beyond the 24 mile marker,  there was a barricade and a group of police officers, one of whom said the race was over.  No reason or details were given.  All I knew for sure was that I, along with hundreds of other runners, was on Beacon Street, less than two miles from the finish line and was shivering.

There sitting on the curb was another runner wrapped up in a mylar blanket.  I asked where he got it.  He pointed in the direction and then said, “But here.  I don’t need it.  You take it.”  Knowing chills would set in for him soon, I refused and headed in the direction he pointed.

A woman came out of her house and offered assistance.  Another woman walking down the sidewalk with friends, took her coat off and put it on me.  I asked what was going on.  She said, “I don’t think we need to know that right now” and walked with me to a first aid shelter where they gave me a blanket and news that there had been an explosion near the finish line.  Nothing more.

I knew that my family was somewhere near the finish line waiting for me to cross it – and tried not to panic.

A neighboring synagogue opened its doors to us so we could get warm.  Staff members came through with water and telephones so we could connect with loved ones.  Calls were dropped.  Texts didn’t go through.  Service was jammed up.  Later we learned cell phone service within the city had been shut down so that the bombers couldn’t detonate more bombs.

It was about an hour before I learned that my family had been right across from where the bombs went off, that none of them were injured; and that others weren’t so lucky.

Someone showed me video of the explosion along with news that two people were dead and 23 injured.  As my eyes filled with tears, a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) worker gave me a hug.

Few of us had money or anything other than the clothes we were running in.  Our belongings were at the finish line, but we couldn’t go there.  Roads were closed.  The transit system was closed.  Cabs weren’t working.  We could walk somewhere, but where?

Some runners had cars nearby but their keys were in their bags at the finish line.  Some had planes to catch but their tickets and bags were at the finish line.  Some had hotel rooms nearby but their room keys were in their bags at the finish line.  Some had hotel room keys, but their hotels had been evacuated and sealed off as part of the crime scene at the finish line.

A man collapsed on the floor near me and an ambulance came to take him away.

A CERT worker asked if I was okay.  I thanked him for checking on me.  He thought for a couple of seconds and then asked if I was from North Carolina.  We shared a smile.

A bus came to take us to the Boston Common so that we could connect with loved ones.  The bus driver loaned me his phone so I could find someone to meet me there.  Meanwhile, CERT members made a list of everyone getting on the bus to be sure that each was officially registered in the race.  The list had to be approved by police and race organizers before the bus could leave.  When it did, police cars drove in front and behind, and police motorcycles drove along on each side.  They were concerned that we were targets for attack.

The Common was filled with gun carrying people in Army fatigues.  There were blue lights flashing everywhere.  A stranger walked  up and gave me a brand new jacket, right out of the bag with tags still on it.  My size and everything.  I offered to return it to him later.  He said no – that it was for me.  When I said, “You must be an angel”,  he smiled.

Once with my family and friends, I learned more about the horrible situation.  The number of deaths and injuries continued to grow, as well as the list of heartwarming stories.  A restaurant worker had come out with a roll of black trash bags, giving one to each runner to use as a jacket.  Other restaurants were staying open all night and offering food on a “Pay If You Can” basis.  Individuals were offering rides, rooms and sofa beds to anyone who needed a place to stay.

Some runners talked about how disappointing it was to work so hard for so many months and not get to cross the finish line as they had visualized for months and months. Within seconds of saying it, they expressed thanks for being alive and guilt for being concerned about something so trivial, in the face of such horror.

There was nothing we could do about this giant at the finish line.  Nothing except send healing thoughts and prayers to those who were affected and be grateful that we were not.

I wanted, needed and hoped, though, to find a way to handle the flood of thoughts and feelings about being powerless with this giant.

I thought about the tips for handling giants, remembered “Name the giant” and named it “Evil”.  That helped me remember a comforting phrase repeated at a memorial service held for victims of 911 at University United Methodist Church:  “Goodness is stronger than evil.”

And that thought helped me flip Evil on its head and shove it into a corner long enough to let the good shine through.  Things like:

  • the $6,400 that many of you helped me raise for the American Liver Foundation in memory of my mother (the $6,400 goal was significant because Mom was 64 when diagnosed with liver cancer)
  • the $1 million raised by the entire American Liver Foundation team
  • the $1.2 million raised by my sister’s team for the Doug Flutie Foundation for Autism and other charities
  • the many ways in which that money will help so many in so many ways
  • the ways that people, complete strangers, welcomed us and cheered us on as if we were their closest friends
  • the ways people quickly, heroically, generously came to the aid of complete strangers
  • the many friends, family members and colleagues from all over the country who called to check on my family and offer support

While none of it reverses the loss and heartbreak, thinking about the good helped me put this giant in its place.

This giant served as a reminder about the power each of us has to do good, to inspire, to cheer people on, to make a big impact with seemingly small actions like a smile, an ice cube, or even a trash bag.

It’s a reminder to notice and appreciate these things.

It’s a reminder to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others when needed.

And it’s a reminder that while goals and finish lines can be good,  we should do our best to enjoy the journey and never be finished with doing good.

It’s all of that that led to the selection of the Leadership Quote of the Week for April 22.

 Do all the good you can

Thoughts and prayers continue for those who lost their lives, loved ones, limbs, health and innocence during a long week in the Boston area.  Plus the many individuals and businesses who have so much to clean up, repair and recover. And for emergency workers and volunteers who must be exhausted from being on alert for so long.  And for the organizers of the Boston Marathon who did such a good job organizing the race and then….had to keep creating new plan after new plan after new plan to take care of runners, their families and their supporters.  And for all runners and teams who have continued to support one another.  And to countless organizations and individuals who did so much good in so many ways and continue to do so.


Jan Bolick


Jan Bolick is the founder of Business Class Inc which specializes in helping leaders build positive, productive teams.


*Thank goodness for a host of “coaches and trainers” who helped with everything from shoe selection to boosting confidence.



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