The storied career of Sonoma’s master marathoner, Dr. Janet Cain, has covered many paths en route to an imposing record of achievement made all the more impressive by the physical handicaps she has had to overcome.
It would be difficult for Cain, 62, to choose her greatest accomplishment because there are so many. They include running both her 25th Boston Marathon and her 50th overall marathon in the women’s 55-to-59-year-old age group, feats that have taken on more meaning in the wake of her father’s death.
“My father lived a full 88 years and, having been a cross-country runner in his younger days, had supported me so much throughout my running career,” said Cain. “When I was running through Boston, I knew he was with me – I could feel his presence cheering me on. It was special.”
But a recent marathon finish will rank near the top of Cain’s achievement list because, for the second time in her running career, she had to overcome a major physical setback.
Cain suffered severe injuries from an accident in March after she sustained a concussion, broken shoulder and bruised body when she was knocked down by a pair of dogs while on a training run.
That trauma was compounded two weeks later when she came down with a case of whooping cough and was unable to compete in her 11th straight Boston Marathon. It may have been a case of good fortune that she wasn’t there, but the terrorist bombing that killed three and injured some 264 others added extra grief to her shattered psyche.
Cain’s long road to recovery was both physical and mental, because the accident left her with severe fear of dogs and falling, which is problematic at race starts where elite runners, even masters-age, start at the very front where the possibility of tripping or getting knocked down is magnified.
Finally reaching a point in her recovery where she felt able to compete again, Cain wanted to regain her Boston Marathon qualification. She could have easily done so using a medical excuse, but she was totally focused on extending her 2014 Boston entry her way.
So in July, Cain won her age group at the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon by 5 minutes, and then, in August, she entered the “Run with the Bears” marathon in Greenville (Plumas County) and re-qualified for the Boston Marathon with 24 minutes to spare.
“After that race, I had the confidence to run at the national level again,” Cain said. “But I still have the fear of being knocked down at the front line of a big race. So, along with my support team, we came up with a plan and it worked.”
The plan for her return to national competition was put into play on Sunday, Oct. 6, when Cain ran in the National Marathon Championship for U.S. women in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., an event that marked her 63rd marathon and where she won her 55-to-59 age group in 2009.
Instead of beginning the race from the elite start area, Cain moved to the back of the first heat of 4,000 runners, who left three minutes later. This would eventually add 2 minutes and 43 seconds to her finish time, but would allow her to cross the start line without the tight, fast crowd.