Known as the world’s oldest annual marathon and arguably considered to be the most famous road racing event in the world, the Boston Marathon attracts an annual average of 30,000 runners and 500,000 spectators, who come from 86 different countries.
On Monday, April 20, the Boston Athletic Association held the 119th running of the Boston Marathon at the official starting point in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
There to test their physical and mental fortitude was the husband and wife duo of Greg and Ann Alleman of Lancaster, who have always had an attraction to running, especially the Boston Marathon.
“It was definitely something that we wanted to do, like a bucket-list type of thing,” said Greg. “It’s kind of like a runner’s mecca, so to speak.”
Just to give you an idea of how long the Boston Marathon is, it’s the equivalent of running from Lancaster to Cuba City.
Make no mistake about it, running the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon is a challenge for serious runners only, which Greg and Ann have been since their days in high school.
Greg, 26, ran track and cross country at Putnam County High School in Grandville, Ill. He then went on to compete in track and cross country at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
Ann, 24, ran high school track and cross country for Dodgeville/Mineral Point and also at UW-Platteville.
In high school, Ann helped the cross country program win two division 2 state titles (2005, 2006), and with the Pioneers, became a nine-time All-American.
Neither had ever run a marathon prior to last summer, though the idea of running at Boston had always been on Ann’s mind since watching her mother run the race in 2003.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Boston Marathon, runners must first meet the qualifying standard at a certified feeder marathon within 18 months of the Boston Marathon.
For Greg in the 18-34 year-old men’s division, his qualifying time was 3:05, while for Ann in the 18-34 year-old women’s division, it was 3:35.
Even though a runner may beat the qualifying standard at a feeder marathon, it still doesn’t guarantee entry into the Boston Marathon, it just gives you an opportunity to sign up for it.
From all the entries submitted, the committee then selects 30,000 runners based on qualifying times, giving preference to the fastest times based on age and gender.
For their qualifying race, and their first marathon ever, Greg and Ann chose to run in the Grandma’s Marathon in Deluth, Minn., on June 20, 2014.
Ann finished the race in a time of 3:13.45, well below the 3:35 qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, while Greg came in at 3:03.38, less than two minutes under his qualifying time of 3:05.
While Ann was pretty confident she would be accepted to run in the Boston Marathon, she wasn’t so sure her husband would be running with her.
“I got in pretty easily because being a female it’s a little easier,” said Ann. “I found out right away that I was in, but since Greg was so close to the qualifying time, we had to wait and wait.”
Then one day, the much-anticipated email arrived, confirming Greg’s acceptance to run in the Boston Marathon.
With their acceptance into the Boston Marathon already secured, Greg and Ann then began a rigorous 18-week training program using the hilly terrain around Lancaster and the surrounding area.
In their training program, the two started off with lower mileage runs and worked their way up. By the time they were a month away from the Boston Marathon, they were running as much as 20 miles on a given day.
On average, the two ran about 10 miles a day, and logged in an average of 65 miles a week.
For Greg, that meant getting up at 4 a.m. every morning before school, even in the cold dark morning of December, January and February. According to Greg, running at home on the treadmill was always a last resort if the weather got too bad.
“It definitely helped me having Ann there,” said Greg. “It would have been a lot harder to do it all on my own. There were some mornings when I didn’t want to get up, or vice versa, and we got each other going,”
One challenge during their long training runs was their need to consume calories and carbs, but carrying food and liquids with them wasn’t an option.
So, the two would drive their running route the day before, stashing water bottles, Gatorade, and whatever they wanted to eat, at key points along their route so they didn’t have to carry it with them during their two-and-a-half-hour runs.
For most athletes, and especially for distance runners, motivation comes from within themselves, and setting a goal is a big motivator when it comes to training and running a race.
“I find it a lot harder to run without a goal,” said Greg. “It would be hard to just go out and do that kind of training just because. But, when you’ve got a goal in mind, it gets you closer to reaching your potential.”
Going into the Boston Marathon, Greg and Ann agreed that in order for both to reach their goals, they would not be able to run together. Greg wanted to break the 2:50 mark, while Ann was looking to beat her time of 3:13 run in Deluth.
While the course for the Boston Marathon is known for its challenging hills, one known specifically as “Heartbreak Hill” just past the 20-mile mark, Greg and Ann used their training around Lancaster to meet the challenge.
“Personally, I thought it was easier than I thought it was going to be,” said Ann. “After my first marathon, I got kind of injured and was really, really sore.”
“I just kind of expected to feel like that again, but I was just shocked that I felt pretty good the whole time,” Ann added. “I think because we ran the hills around Lancaster, the hills at the marathon didn’t really phase me. In fact, it was kind of nice to pass other runners on the hills.”
“It was definitely challenging, but it was easier than my first marathon for sure,” said Greg, who got plantar fasciitis following the marathon in Deluth. “I hit a wall at the 20-mile mark in my first marathon. I knew there were only six miles to go, but six miles when you’re hurting is pretty tough.”
“For this marathon, I didn’t hit that wall, but those last six miles were still tough, don’t get me wrong,” Greg added. “But, I was more prepared with the experience of the first marathon. Plus, I think my training went a little better than it did for my first marathon. Still, I don’t want to go and do another one tomorrow.”
For Greg, he ran the Boston Marathon in a time 2:52.32, finishing 950th of 5,047 runners in the 18-39 year-old men’s division.
“My top goal was to break 2:50, but I knew with the weather conditions that was going to be a lot more challenging,” said Greg. “So I was very happy with my time, just being two minutes off my goal time with the tougher conditions.”
The overall men’s winner was Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, who ran the 26.2-mile course in a time of 2:09.17.
Ann finished the race in a time of 3:12.20, and placed 445th of 6,145 runners in the 18-39 year-old women’s division. Carolina Rotich of Kenya was the overall women’s winner, with a time of 2:24.55.
“After doing it, I feel like any runner should try to do it. There’s really nothing like it,” said Ann. “The weather was not ideal at all. It was rainy, windy and cold, but the crowds still came out and cheered at every mile, so that was really neat,” she added.
“I had heard a lot about it, but it’s one of those things that you can be told about, but it’s way different to experience it first-hand,” Greg said. “There was probably no part of the race where people weren’t there cheering you on.”
“It was very motivating. It’s a challenge, which is also what sort of drew us to it,” Greg added. “You feel really proud of yourself afterward.”
Initially, Greg and Ann have no plans on going back to Boston next April, but hope to return in two years. Some day down the road, they may even run the marathon side-by-side from start to finish.
For now though, the two can rest their tired feet and sleep in until 6 a.m. That is until they get that restless feeling and begin plotting their next great running endeavor.