Last updated: February 19. 2013 11:29PM - 277 Views

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The pain grew progressively worse in Karen McLaughlin's foot, threatening her lifelong dream of running the Boston Marathon with each agonizing step.

She tried following the advice of health care specialists, but never found a cure.

It was planter fascilitis, they said.

So McLaughlin was faced with a difficult dilemma.

The former Wyoming Valley West standout could have surgery on her aching foot and miss competing in the one race she coveted for more than half her life. Or she could compete in it and risk further injury that would certainly stop her short of the finish line.

Who knew her unyielding desire to run would lead Karen McLaughlin straight into history?

I was afraid if I didn't run it, I'd regret it for the rest of my life, McLaughlin said.

Now she has the memory of a lifetime.

When McLaughlin crossed the finish line in April, the Kingston resident became the 500,000th runner to complete the 116-year-old Boston Marathon.

Her reward was a keepsake package from Boston Marathon officials, including a vase, coat and hat commemorating the significance of her achievement.

All because of an injury that nearly kept her home.

I pretty much ran-walked it, McLaughlin said.

Pain began running through her foot last December, progressing to the point where McLaughlin had to seriously consider by-passing her planned trip to Boston.

My foot would hurt more and more, McLaughlin, 34, said. It just … hurt.

She went to a chiropractor. She visited a podiatrist.

I saw a lot of people, McLaughlin said. I tried cortisone shots. They didn't work.

Everything seemed to be working against her dream.

They were telling me to rest, stop running, McLaughlin said.

But this was the Boston Marathon, a goal McLaughlin had targeted from the time she started competing on the cross country and track and field teams at Valley West in the mid-1990s.

You can't just send in an entry fee and run in it, McLaughlin said. You have to meet a certain time or else you can't be in it.

The qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon are tough.

The course covers 26 miles, 385 yards and started in 1897. It is the second-longest consecutively-running foot race in North America behind the Buffalo Turkey Trot – which isn't considered a marathon. And Boston didn't allow women to officially enter the race until 1972.

To gain entrance into it, runners must qualify by making the cutoff time in a previous marathon certified by the International Association of Athletics Federation – usually during an 18-month period before the Boston Marathon.

In McLaughlin's age group – for women up to 34 – the qualifying time was 3 hours, 40 minutes and was tightened by five minutes for the 2013 race.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to get in it again, McLaughlin said.

She had come close before, but wound up five minutes away from qualifying for Boston in 2009.

Then McLaughlin finally secured a spot in the 2012 Boston Marathon by finishing the Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon in 3:37.29 in May of 2011 – giving her a year to prepare for Boston.

The pain in her foot nearly broke her heart before she even got to the Boston Marathon's famed Heartbreak Hill.

Doctors suggested she have surgery.

If I pushed it, my planter fascilitis could rupture right in the middle of the race, McLaughlin said. The doctor said I was really close to having it rupture. But I didn't want to give up.

Her gamble paid off with the best present she could receive, eight months before Christmas. She secured a spot in Boston history, along with a mention in the Boston Marathon's 125th anniversary commemorative book.

I truly think everything happens for a reason, McLaughlin said. On my best day, running my fastest, there's no way I'd ever take home a medal at Boston. It's just too hard.

But look, I'm in the program.

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