Smile Politely

C-U’s 2014 Boston Marathon class

The Illinois Marathon is just around the corner, but several local runners have their eyes on a bigger prize: The Boston Marathon. Jeff profile’s this year’s local BM class.

While thousands of runners in C-U have been training for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon on April 26th, several other locals have been working toward the Boston Marathon (BM) on April 21st. I am fortunate to be among them. This year’s BM will take place in the shadow cast by last year’s bombings. How have last year’s event affected this year’s local BM class? What follows are four profiles in their own words.

Runner: Marty Williams
Age: 43
Profession: A research ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is also an associate professor at the University of Illinois. Originally from Missouri, he lives in Urbana. His midwestern roots are apparent in his easy going attitude. He also has to be one of the nicest guys I know.

Smile Politely: How long have you been running? How and when did you start? What were your motivations for running?

Marty Williams: I’ve been a very casual runner most of my adult life, simply trying to maintain some health. About six years ago I was getting bored with this slow running, so I decided to see if the sport got more interesting with speeding up. Now I’m a bit addicted to training hard and trying to race fast, which isn’t that fast, but I try.

SP: What is your favorite distance?

Williams: All of ‘em! I love training for a marathon; it requires lots of time taking care of the body and mind. I’ve never run out of steam in a half-marathon – that’s nice! The 10k requires not only endurance but real speed. And the 5k… It’s 20 minutes of terror for me, but it’s only 20 minutes, and that’s something to enjoy.

SP: What was your Boston Qualifying (BQ) race and time?

Williams: Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on November 3rd, 2012. I ran a 3:11 plus change. Not only was it a BQ, I ran a negative split and set a personal record. Luck was shining down on me that day, because I was running on a bum ankle I sprained severely three weeks earlier. I knew I was only a single pothole or rock chunk away from finding myself in the sag wagon.

SP: What made you want to run Boston?

Williiams: Prior to the bombings, I can’t put my finger on why I wanted to run Boston, but I’ve had Boston in my sights the last three or four years. I’ve qualified before, but had a qualifying time that just squeaked in. [Author note: Not everyone who qualifies for Boston gets into the race. There are limited spots available, and in 2013, many people tried to register. Those of us who did get in were very fortunate. Many runners qualified but missed out because of how the Boston Athletic Association selects participants.] This is the first time I’ve made it past the cut they make at registration. Once the bombings occurred, my interest in running Boston quadrupled.

SP: Tell me about your qualifying race. Was it hard? What emotions were you feeling upon finishing? What was your biggest challenge on race day?

Williams: As I mentioned, I’ve qualified several times. I distinctly remember qualifying the first time. I stuck with a pace group that started with about 50 people, then whittled down to two of us by mile 24. I began to question if I deserved being one of the last of our group on-pace for a BQ time. Then I saw my wife and kids at mile 25, crazy wild with excitement for me, and there was no way I could let them down.

SP: What are your running plans for the Boston Marathon? How has the training gone? Do you plan to run it hard or do you plan to take it easy and enjoy the event?

Williams: I grew tired of the training plan I’ve used in recent years — even though it has served me well — so I’m trying something new. So far, training seems to be going well. But, I have enough marathon experience to know that there are other factors besides training — a few beyond one’s control – that influence race performance. Regardless of my finishing time, the primary goal I have for the Boston Marathon is that I truly soak up the moment.

SP: Did the bombings at the event last year influence your decision to run Boston or to try and qualify for Boston?

Williams: My BQ time was prior to the bombings. Nevertheless, the bombings motivated me to NOT miss the registration date.

SP: What do you hope to take away from running Boston? What does running the Boston Marathon mean to you?

Williams: I enjoy running. Marathon training is great, because a person gets to run a lot. As odd as it sounds, usually the marathon race itself is something I usually just want to put behind me. After all, my friends and family might think I’m nuts if I’m always training for a marathon but don’t run the race. In contrast, Boston this year has genuine appeal to me. The history, the spectators, the elite runners, the 36,000 fellow runners… I want to experience what all the fuss is about.

Runner: Sarah Dowd
Age: 26
Profession: PhD candidate at the University of Illinois. She’s quiet but speedy. She was also the Second Wind Running Club Female Runner of the Year award recipient for 2013.

Sarah Dowd: I grew up in North Reading, Massachusetts, which is located about thirty minutes north of Boston (if there’s no traffic). So, I have fond memories of having the third Monday of April off from school. I still find it upsetting that Patriot’s Day is not a national holiday. [Author’s note: Patriot’s Day is the third Monday in April in Massachusetts. It’s a state holiday, and the Boston Marathon is always run on that day.] I wish I had a long history of going to watch the marathon every year, but that simply is not the case. My family typically used the long weekend to head north to Maine. It was not until high school, when I started running track that I gave the marathon much thought. My track coach ran the race every year, and I just remember thinking that was nuts.

At some point (I think it was high school), I decided that I wanted to run a marathon before I turned 25. To be fair, at the age of 17, 25 seemed really far away. I spent four years in North Carolina for college at the University of North Carolina and ran with the club cross country team. It was with the club team that I ran my first half marathon in 2008. Around mile eight of that race, I promised I would never do that again, but of course, I signed up the next year. Runners tend to have selective memories. I moved to east central Illinois for graduate school at U of I and started working on my PhD in chemistry in 2010. I did not run much my first year of graduate school, but I did find a couple of local races through the Second Wind Running Club. I turned 24 in 2011 and since that age-25 deadline was looming, I signed up for the 2012 Illinois Marathon and the training program through Second Wind. That first marathon, I just wanted to finish and I did in 4:10:31.

Fast forward to April 2013, I was training for the 2013 edition of the Illinois Marathon and was excited to watch the Boston Marathon. I had a goal that I was not telling many people of qualifying for the 2014 edition at Illinois. I streamed the early parts of the race while at my desk in my lab, hoping to see Shalane Flanagan pull off a win (she’s also a Massachusetts native that went to UNC, so I feel like we’re kindred spirits). I was in class when I heard about the bombings. I was in shock since I had watched the live stream of the race hours earlier. I went home after class and spent the rest of the night watching the news and waiting to hear from people that were in Boston that day.

A couple of weeks later, I was not able to secure a qualifying time at the Illinois Marathon, finishing in just under four hours.

I started looking for another marathon almost immediately after Illinois. My qualifying marathon was the Hall of Fame City Challenge in Canton, OH on September 8, 2013. My reason for picking this particular race was motivated purely by the date. I wanted to make sure my time would be good to register for the 2014 marathon and not have to wait until 2015.

The race itself was a real challenge. Let me start by saying, Canton is not flat. And despite running in the dark for the first hour, September 8th was not very cool. The first half was especially challenging with the hills. At the halfway point, I realized I was soaked from the humidity. I knew I had to adjust my pacing for the second half if I was going to finish the event. I took my time going through the remaining water stations and took it easy on the remaining hills. Luckily, the second half was flatter than the first.

At mile 24, my left calf decided it wanted to cramp. I had flashbacks to my dramatic finish at Illinois and vowed that would not happen again. I stretched and massaged it, but it meant slow going for the final miles. I actually thought I was not going to make it under my goal time and was making a plan for what I would do if the 3:35 pace group passed me. Then, I was making my way up the road to the McKinley monument towards the finish line and saw the clock. I could not believe I was still under 3:30! My mom made the trip out to Ohio for the race, and I must have asked her a dozen times if I had seen the clock correctly. After that, I collapsed on the grass for a good twenty minutes wrapped in a space blanket.

Training for this year’s edition of the Boston Marathon has been tough. Like most people in Illinois, I am very tired of this brutal winter. Since I anticipate a very emotional time at the race, my major goal for Boston is to not get overwhelmed. Beyond that, I want to run strong and really enjoy the experience.

Runner: Tom Gelsthorpe
Age: 32
Profession: Chemistry teacher. He’s talkative, easy going, and fast. He was the Second Wind Running Club Male Runner of the Year award recipient for 2013.

Tom Gelsthrope: I live in Urbana. I am a high school chemistry teacher in Rantoul. I am 32 years old. I’ve been running for about four and a half years. I started running after the completion of a weight loss contest at the behest of some of my students and a few of my coworkers. I won my age group in my first race, so it was basically the discovery of an unknown ability that I’ve fostered. I really enjoy being outside and having wind in my face. My favorite distance has become the half marathon.

I qualified at last year’s Illinois marathon with a time of 2:58. I actually felt pretty good at the finish line, which surprised me. I used up a bit too much of my mojo in the first half of the race. I describe my running energy as my mojo. Satisfaction was my biggest feeling on finishing the marathon as I hit my lifetime goal of breaking three hours. The biggest challenge was the last five miles, as has been the case in each of my three marathons.

I wanted to make it to this year’s Boston marathon  because I think it’ll be an amazing experience and I want to be part of the running community’s response to last year’s events there. I did run Boston two years ago and was astounded by the amount of people along the course and the level of support and encouragement they provided.

Training hasn’t been going too well with the snowy cold winter we’ve had here. Fortunately, I was planning to run for fun anyway. I decided I would just soak in the atmosphere since it’s so inspiring. I really look forward to having a chance to share the experience with friend Marty who is a first timer to Boston. I imagine that the fans will be even more supportive this time around. I’ll be sure to give the love back to them.

Runner: Jen Burton
Age: 39
Profession: Veterinary Consultant for Sustainable Health and Food Systems. Jen is routinely at the head of the pack. Most recently, she was the first female finisher at the Clinton Ultra in March.

For many years I ran for exercise, but didn’t enjoy it.  In 1999 my friend Gail said, “I bet you could run a 5k” and invited me to join her for Christie Clinic’s “Run for the Health of It”.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, she secretly paced me most of the race, then told me to take off … resulting in an age group win. I was hooked.

SP: What is your favorite distance?

Jen Burton: So far, 50k. Any distance is fun with great friends, pretty scenery, or an adventure!

SP: What was your Boston qualifying race and time?

Burton: 2013 Illinois Marathon 3:23:17 (needed 3:40 to run this year, 3:45 to run next year)

SP: What made you want to run Boston?

Burton: I’ve enjoyed hearing many friends reminisce about it, and was fortunate to have the opportunity to sign up this year.

SP: Tell me about your qualifying race. Was it hard? What emotions were you feeling upon finishing? What was your biggest challenge on race day?

Burton: It was purely fun until somewhere around mile 18 or 20. Typical race monologue:  

Start corral: Yippee!
Gun: Yippee! Happy to be running. Love that lady’s colorful shirt! So nice to see friends on the course. Yay, running! Hmmm, this is going well [houseboat]. Yay, bacon! Grateful for all these volunteers.

Uh-oh, still making good time [houseboat]. Thankful to be in good health and able to do this. Getting tired [here’s mile 20 or so]. Feet are ready to be done …

Crap, still making good time. This isn’t fun anymore [houseboat]. Sorry, feet (lungs/legs/chafed armpits/salty eyes). Keep going … ugh [mile 23] … keep going … this sucks and I want to be done … keep going … ugh … keep going … [HOUSEBOAT]!

And just like that, after all the suck, you’re done and it feels amazing. Even feeling weary, sore and fragile feels amazing.

My friend Cindy, a Boston veteran, had told me that if I qualified for Boston we’d rent a houseboat there this spring.  She was working as medical crew for the race, but still managed to be there when I finished.

SP: What are your running plans for the Boston Marathon? How has the training gone? Do you plan to run it hard or do you plan to take it easy and enjoy the event?

Burton: Training has been fine. I plan to show up and start running, and then discover what sounds good at the time. Who knows what interesting ideas other runners might chat about, or what foods might be offered on the course, or what nifty scenery — or challenge — might present itself?

SP: What do you hope to take away from running Boston? What does running the Boston Marathon mean to you?

Burton: I guess I just want to show up for the experience, without many preconceived ideas about what that will be.

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