Marry Me at Mile 26

"I only had to make sure to keep up"

Salvador Lopez-Barr fell in love with his running coach, Hollis Bathen, while training for his first marathon.

So it seemed only fitting to propose to her during another 26.2-mile race, this one in Chicago. It was his fifth and her eighth, though the Chicago Marathon also held a special place in Hollis' heart -- it was the first marathon course she ever ran, back in 2004.

"So I decided to propose to her at the end of the race," Salvador, 36, said. "I only had to make sure to keep up."

Salvador -- a black-haired, cheerful attorney from San Francisco -- had a simple plan. Buy the engagement ring. Carry it for 26 miles. And then -- in front of the finish line grandstand, the TV cameras, photographers, and the cheering crowd -- get down on one knee and simply say "will you marry me?"

The proposal was to be a surprise. Everything had to be perfect, so Salvador prepared diligently.

He bought Nike runner's shorts with an interior pocket flap to hold the ring's box. The pocket was so tiny, Salvador had to find a smaller box. The pocket also didn't have a zipper. Salvador safety pinned it closed.

Everything in place, the couple began their run. In an attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon, both Salvador and Hollis were running eight minute miles.

Hollis, at 30 a lithe and beautiful woman with blonde shoulder-length hair, was the more experienced runner. She would set the pace.

After three and a half hours, the couple neared the finish line, matching each other stride for stride. Right before they reached the grandstand in Grant Park, Salvador untucked his pocket flap, de-safety pinned the enclosure, pulled out the box ... and tripped.

"I did some kind of somersault," Salvador said. The grandstand gasped. The crowd let out a collective "oh."

After the race, Salvador would explain that he had planned to trip, but not to go sprawling like he did. He scraped up his knee and elbow. Other runners, concerned, tried to help him up. Salvador shooed them away.

"I'm thinking to myself 'get away man, this is all staged, it's cool, it's cool!"

Meanwhile Hollis, intent on making her qualifying time, was exasperated.

"I was so bummed! Because the first marathon we ran together he cramped up at mile 12 and we had to walk eight miles," she said. "And I was like 'oh my god, you can't fall here! Get up!"

That's when Salvador held up the box.

"And I was like, 'you tripped on a tiny box?!'"

Salvador popped the question.

Hollis, dumbfounded, and still frantic to make their qualifying time, realized she was being proposed to. She said yes. But there was one hitch.

"I had mittens on so he couldn't really put the ring on," Hollis said. "So he just sort of tried to hand it to me and I was like 'no no, you have to put it on me!'"

So Salvador, exhausted, slightly bruised, and in love, did what any man in that situation would have done. He tried to place the ring over her finger.

On her right hand.

While her mitten was still on.

"All I remember thinking was 'I think it's supposed to be my left hand,'" Hollis said. She de-mittened, he placed the ring on her finger, and they crossed the finish line engaged. All according to Salvador's plan.

"I looked down at my hand and I saw this ring and I was like, is this really happening?"

Salvador assured her it was. His family and best friend, and her mother and their friends -- who had all flown in from San Francisco, the couple's home -- congratulated them at the finish line.

Finishing at 3:36, Hollis qualified for the Boston Marathon. Salvador did not. But no matter how unlucky he is running, he's very lucky in love.

Or as Salvador says, "it was about as romantic as you can be at mile 26."

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