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Amid the cacophony of more than 17,500 runners pounding down 26.2 miles of spectator-lined streets last month, Chester County, Pa., attorney James C. Dalton left a harrowing plane crash behind as he focused on achieving his longtime goal of finishing the Boston Marathon. Dalton, 43, said completing the April 21 race was a miracle. While qualifying for and actually finishing the marathon are impressive feats, Dalton faced hurdles that might have prevented most would-be entrants from setting such goals. In November 1994, Dalton, a partner in Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco’s Paoli office, was lying in a hospital bed unconscious for more than a week. He had survived a plane crash that to this day he cannot remember. At the time of the accident, Dalton said, he was working for a Doylestown law firm and needed to travel to Elmira, N.Y., for depositions. The attorney explained that because the car trip would have been a long one, the brother of his secretary at the time — who had a pilot’s license and a plane — agreed to fly him round-trip. Dalton and the pilot were the only ones on the plane as it approached the Doylestown Airport en route from Elmira. The return trip was not an easy one due to wet conditions, fog and poor visibility, Dalton said. Just short of the runway, the aircraft hit a cluster of trees. The plane’s wing was damaged on impact and it crashed in a field, killing the pilot. And though he was conscious immediately after the crash, even then Dalton could remember nothing — a blessing, he said. The attorney was flown to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where physicians found that he had a broken pelvis and collapsed lung, broken ribs, multiple closed head injuries and severe cuts. He awoke in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat and no idea what had happened. Dalton spent five weeks in the hospital, followed by a month at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital. After leaving the medical facilities, Dalton’s recovery continued. He underwent outpatient physical therapy, and six months passed before he was able to return to work. It was a full year before Dalton laced up his running shoes and took to the road again. An athlete who ran track in high school and added cross-country at Haverford College, Dalton said he continued running during law school to relieve stress and provide a distraction from his studies. After graduating from Villanova University School of Law in 1985, Dalton continued pounding the pavement while serving as a deputy district attorney in Bucks County, although he wasn’t serious about the competitive races he entered at the time. Dalton moved on to private practice with the Doylestown firm in 1990 before joining Riley Riper in 1998. The attorney said the 1994 accident made his health and his family — and not his to-do list — the priorities in his life. After recovering from the crash, Dalton began to amp up his running and returned to racing. He said a new level of commitment to his sport came not just from being grateful that he could run at all, but also from his daughter’s dedication to her own training. Dalton’s oldest child, a 10th-grader, competes on her school’s track team and in her spare time runs races with her father. Dalton’s son also has started running, though he is only in middle school. But the 5K runs that provide family entertainment are entirely different from running the Boston Marathon, Dalton said. To run a marathon, one must spend three to four months building up to a peak of numerous, lengthy runs, Dalton said. To ready himself for the Boston Marathon, Dalton followed just such a plan, finishing his preparation with three 20-mile runs in March. But Dalton didn’t cite the long miles as the most difficult part of his training. The most challenging aspect, he said, was trying to find time to train while accomplishing daily tasks. Running simply dominated his spare time. The less than favorable weather this winter didn’t help, either, Dalton said. He said promising to head out for training runs with fellow Bryn Mawr Running Club members helped keep him honest. Dalton qualified for the Boston Marathon by completing the annual Philadelphia Marathon in 2001. The races are run over equal distances, and Dalton finished Philadelphia’s within an age-specific qualifying time that made him eligible to compete in Boston’s race. The attorney said the Boston Marathon was more difficult than he thought it would be. The crowd was bigger and faster than any he had encountered, and the course itself was deceiving. The marathon begins with a downhill stretch of eight to 10 miles, Dalton said. And running downhill increases the impact on runners’ legs — a race factor, he said, that took its toll by leaving him unexpectedly tired at the halfway mark. At that point, Dalton said, he realized he wouldn’t hit his target time of three hours. He scaled back his pace and enjoyed the race atmosphere as he listened to fans yell words of encouragement to the straining runners. Dalton said that in the end, just finishing and having his family with him made his time irrelevant. He finished the 26-mile, 385-yard race in just over three hours, 16 minutes. Had he been asked at the finish whether he would run the marathon again, Dalton said, the answer would have been no way. But now that the pain has subsided, the attorney said he is likely to aim for the grueling race again, this time with the hope of crossing the wire in less than 3 hours.

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