Local runner writes, illustrates children's book inspired by Boston Marathon
WEST HALIFAX — Hope Phelan can be seen on a given day running alongside her dog, a large hound mix named Mango.
"Halifax is a very small town. So everyone's like, oh yeah, you're the girl who runs with the dog," Phelan, 32, said with a laugh.
The art teacher at Twin Valley Elementary School says running is her outlet. She's run eight marathons in multiple cities — winning the Brooklyn Marathon in 2015 — and she calls Mango her training partner. When he is ready to run, she said, Mango waits by her shoes.
"He loves to run," she said. "He'll go for, you know, 10, 15 miles with me, no problem."
So when she had to take time off from running during her pregnancy last year, Mango was the inspiration for the project in which she channeled her energy.
This month, she released her children's book, "Bandit Runs Boston," which she wrote and illustrated during her pregnancy and maternity leave with her son, Ford, now 9 months. The book stars Bandit, a dog bearing Mango's likeness that jumps into the Boston Marathon and befriends a runner along the way, helping her to finish the race. Illustrations include several landmarks along the route, such as Fenway Park, the Citgo sign, the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel and Heartbreak Hill.
"Bandit Runs Boston" launched the same week the Boston Athletic Association hosted a virtual race in lieu of the Boston Marathon, canceled this year due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19. It is now available in print and as an e-book from Amazon.com.
Phelan said she hopes the book will draw attention to the positives of life in a pandemic.
"It's just a fun, lighthearted story that hopefully will make people happy," she said. "It's just something that people can come together on and can still read books, still look at art and can still get out and go for a run."
Phelan, a Boston native, has been painting scenes inspired by the Boston Marathon, partially as a form of therapy, after the bombings in 2013 — her first year running the race.
"They were kind of just, like, really expressionistic paintings," she said.
Phelan finished the race around an hour before the bombs went off.
"I was lucky, because my parents were at the finish line and everything," she said.
She was living in Boston at the time, and was one street over from the finish line, waiting for friends, when she heard an explosion and received orders to evacuate. The T was shut down, so she walked back to her apartment.
"People were kind of saying there was a bomb, but, you know, you don't like to assume the worst," she said.
Phelan said she didn't learn what happened until after she got back to her apartment.
In the years following the bombing, she continued making Boston Marathon-inspired art. She painted to raise money for the One Fund Boston, a nonprofit temporarily established to raise money for families most affected by the bombings.
"They just kind of took off after that," she said of her marathon-inspired art.
In 2016, AT&T, a Boston Marathon sponsor, commissioned her artwork for its marathon-related social media alerts as well as displayed it at the flagship store near the finish line. The marathon became the subject of many of her freelance projects. Clients would ask her to paint their family members finishing the race, or to incorporate their bib number into her work.
She began writing and illustrating "Bandit Runs Boston" shortly after learning she was pregnant in April 2019. Ford was born in December, and she finished the book during her maternity leave.
"I was kind of trying to occupy myself — distract myself from not running, because that's like, my outlet," she said. "And I just thought I'd never seen a Boston Marathon children's book before, and that it would make a really great story."
Family friends Kyle and Jessica Young received their copy of "Bandit Runs Boston" Tuesday afternoon.
"I'd seen a lot of the artwork before, but hadn't heard much about what the story was going to be about, and was really quite pleased with the cute soliloquies and tidbits about the race from different perspectives," Kyle Young said. His wife, Jessica, 31, is an intuitive contemporary artist who saw the book in process. They live in Westfield, Mass.
Kyle Young, 32, said one of his favorite parts is when Bandit is almost caught by a dogcatcher, who gets blocked by the T. He read aloud from the section of the book and described a whimsical illustration of a character with a large hat carrying a leash.
"I was definitely impressed with the bright, colorful palette," he said. "I really thought it spoke to a younger audience, and gave people of all ages something to look at."
Artist and Boston Marathon runner Jeremy Wiseman said "Bandit Runs Boston" captures the essence and history of the race, while still being expressionistic.
"Being a runner and expressing her emotions through onto the canvas as an artist and bringing the two worlds together adds a special layer of meaning within her work that, as a viewer, it comes off genuine," Wiseman said. "Really, it has the ability to move anybody who views her work and hears her story."
For those who know Phelan personally, the book is a treasure trove of hidden messages. The Youngs spotted a spectator holding a sign that reads "Go Lola" — the name of Phelan's other dog. Similarly, Wiseman found a sign that reads, "Go Jeremy."
"That was super sweet and thoughtful, and really cool to have those little touches that mean something to her that, unless somebody read about it, would never know," Wiseman said.
Wiseman, 32, of Boston, is a mixed media artist and friend of Hope Phelan and her husband, Patrick Phelan. Wiseman has run the Boston Marathon each year since 2017, including this year's virtual race. He runs to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in memory of his brother Jon Wiseman, who died of cancer in 2014.
He calls Hope Phelan the "marathon master."
"She has always been encouraging for me in my running," Wiseman said. "Rain, snow, sleet — she's always out there, running with Mango — a.k.a. Bandit."
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