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Johnny Meadows's son Harlen hugs him shortly after he finished running a full marathon through Buckhannon's streets Saturday morning.

Marathon man: His race was canceled, but that didn’t stop Johnny Meadows — or his supporters

BUCKHANNON – For the second year in a row, the Ohio road race Buckhannon native Johnny Meadows planned to run was canceled.

It’s wasn’t completely canceled like in April of 2020, but would be a ‘virtual race’ instead of the real deal. Meadows had originally signed up for the 2020 Athens, Ohio Half-Marathon, originally set to take place in April of that year.

When he found out registration could be rolled over to the April 18, 2021 race, he decided to go for the full marathon.

In February 2021, however, marathon organizers told participants they still weren’t comfortable hosting an in-person event. Participants had the option to complete a virtual race of 26.2 miles in their hometowns alone and have their finisher’s medals and T-shirts mailed to them in May.

In other words, it would be a far cry from the thrill of running the actual Athens, Ohio Marathon, weaving through crowd-lined streets full of people waving colorful signs and cheering for their friends, family and even strangers.

When Meadows found out registration could not be rolled over to 2022, he was disappointed but didn’t want all his training to go to waste.

That’s when he decided to run the 26 miles through the streets of Buckhannon. And that’s also when his wife, Laura Meadows, decided those streets would be dotted with supporters, including everyone from his two young sons – four-year-old Harrison and six-year-old Harlen – to college friends to Meadows’s 91-year-old grandmother, Donnie Cox, who made the journey from Richwood.

The crowd support would be a surprise.

“He’s such a dedicated person to whatever he is doing, so to imagine him running a marathon without the full experience was a big disappointment,” Laura said. “So, I wanted to be sure he had a memorable run through Buckhannon. To see friends and family spend hours chasing him around town to cheer him on was amazing. We had our college friends spend four hours on Main Street, and his 91-year-old Mamaw came to watch!”

Laura conspired with fellow friend and runner Andrew McDaniels to develop a map of the 26-mile route and made a Facebook event that included the time, date and map of Johnny’s virtual race. Then she invited his friends, family and community members to come out early on the gray Saturday morning of April 17 to cheer her husband on.

They did, cheering for him as he chugged past Brake’s Dairy King, up and down East Main Street, around the Fred W. Eberle campus and back toward the Riverwalk. Johnny’s little brother, Michael, even ran the first 10 miles with him.

As Meadows rounded the last curve of the Riverwalk and headed toward the finish where his mom, Lori, was standing with a sign that read “We love you and we are so proud of you!” his pace remained steady with a look of relief washing over his face as he crossed the finish line.

“Thank you so much, you guys, all of you,” he told the crowd once he caught his breath. “Honest to God, I wouldn’t have made it without you. I mean it.”

Meadows had run his first marathon – the Marine Corps Marathon – at age 26 in 2012 and finished in four hours and eight minutes. Ever since, his goal, like many marathoners, has been to break that notorious four-hour barrier. On Saturday, he achieved it with about two minutes to spare, clocking in at three hours, 58 minutes and four seconds.

He was over the moon.

“At every corner I saw people from all different phases of my life – my childhood, I got to see my boys, and just random people from the community, people from my college days at Fairmont State,” Meadows said after the race. “My grandmother came in and I just had no idea, I wasn’t expecting anybody to be here.”

Meadows heads for the finish line at the Riverwalk.

“It carried me the last six miles for sure,” he added. “There’s two races – it’s miles 1 to 20 and then miles 20 to 26, and so that’s how I look at it. There’s different ways of perceiving a marathon that can make you sick, because even at 13 miles, you’re only halfway there. So, I try to break it down and [tell myself], ‘let’s just get to mile 20,’ and then after mile 20, I just start picking off one at a time, and that’s what I did.”

Many half-marathoners and most marathoners frequently get asked the same question – “Why would you run 26 miles voluntarily?”

Meadows said he wanted to set an example for his kids; plus, staying in shape is easier when you have a measurable goal.

“A lot of things are taught and a lot of things are caught, and I wanted them to see me do this,” he said, motioning to Harlen and Harrison. “I want to stay physically active and it’s easier when there’s an end goal to go after. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have all these people here now.”

Laura Meadows, Johnny Meadows and their sons, Harlen and Harrison.

Meadows had his fair share of adventures over the course of training for the marathon.

“The saying ‘it’s about the journey, not about the destination,’ – that’s so true because whenever you train for a year, you really get out and you really see people and put yourself in a variety of different situations,” he said. “I was on Cleveland Avenue once while I was training this summer, and I was the first to respond to a house fire. People were running out, so I went into the neighbors’ house, which was adjoined and told them to get out and then stole their fire extinguisher, went back around and put out the electrical fire in the laundry room. The fire department showed up, and I just left and continued my run.”

“Then, there’s the people who pull off and say I’m inspiring them to get off their butt and run,” Meadows added. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Johnny Meadows’s family and friends gather for a group photo after he finished 26.2 miles Saturday morning.

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