In Series Four: Roads to Boston Marathon

Everyone’s reason for running marathons and how they got there is different. In this episode, we learn about what inspired Amanda Watters and Patty Hung to want to go this distance. And their marathon stories are inextricably linked to the Boston Marathon: Amanda has run 16 consecutive times, and this marathon has been a part of her life since childhood; and Patty has completed Boston an incredible 34 consecutive times. Along the way in these stories, we learn about the course and some of the highlights experienced by runners with such a depth of experience at this history race.

This episode is part of our Roads to Boston 2021 series, where we are following the journeys of 9 women from around the world to the 125th Boston Marathon, which takes places October 11, 2021.

The last Boston Marathon took place April 2019. And finally, this legendary event is back, in person. For every participant who gets an entry to Boston, it’s a victory all its own: you can’t just sign up for Boston, you have to earn your way in. Get an inside look at what goes in to getting to the finish line of the 125th Boston Marathon. Whether Boston is in your future or your running interests take a different shape, join us to energize your own aspirations.

In episode 1, we met the 9 women of this series and learned about how they got started in this sport. For this and the following two episodes, we’re discovering why we all started marathoning. This episode features Amanda and Patty, and our next episode features the marathoning stories of Rochelle, Marija, Zarah, and Jonna. And in episode 4, we hear from Yao, Nicole, and Cherie.

Join us on the journey, to energize your own running goals!

THE RUNNERS FEATURED

Rochelle Solomon, Randolph, MA, USA; hospital and healthcare compliance officer; Boston first-timer
Patty Hung, Orinda, CA, USA; retired high school math teacher turned pediatric nurse; 34 Bostons run
Yao (Yaowapa) Hoisungwarn, Bangkok, Thailand; singing teacher; Boston first-timer
Marija Desivojević, Belgrade, Serbia; mathematician; Boston first-timer
Nicole Spaulding Pinto, Los Angeles, CA, USA;  cardiovascular perfusionist; Boston first-timer
Zarah Hofer, lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada; nutritionist; Boston first-timer
Amanda Watters, Ashland, MA, USA; editor, K-12 science curriculum development, 15 Bostons run
Jonna Maas, Spicer, MN, USA; medical doctor, Boston first-timer
Cherie Louise Turner, Somerville, MA, USA; podcaster, writer, editor; 1 Boston run

FULL TRANSCRIPT

My name is Patty Hung. And I live in Orinda, California, and I have run Boston for 34 consecutive years. So this year, 2021 will be my 35th run. My name is Amanda Waters, and I live in Ashland, Massachusetts, and this will be my 16th Boston marathon.

And I am Cherie Louise Turner. I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, and this year will be my second Boston marathon. I’m also your host and producer, and you are listening to Strides Forward where we feature stories of women marathon and ultra runners. This episode is the second in our roads to Boston 2021 series, where we’re following the journeys of nine runners from around the world to this legendary event, which takes place this year, on October 11th.

In non-pandemic times, the Boston Marathon takes place in April, on a Monday holiday that’s unique to Massachusettts: Patriot’s Day. In 2022, it’s set to return to that date. Also to know, the race is and forever has been put on by the Boston Athletic Association, or BAA, as we call it around here.

In the last episode, we discovered what got all 9 of us athletes started in running to begin with. Now we’re taking a look at why we marathon. Why did we choose to start running races that are 26.2 miles.

For this part of the journey, I wanted to start with Amanda’s and Patty’s stories because the Boston marathon has long loomed large for them. The reason they run marathons and running Boston are inextricably linked, and it’s about far more than the act of running.

We’ll catch up with the rest of the women in the series, Yao, Rochelle, Nicole, Zarah, Jonna, and Marija, over the next two episodes, to find out what got them into marathons and why Boston, because for all of them, this will be their first time running this incredible event in person.

And I can say with absolute certainty, as the person in this crowd who’s had just that one-time taste of this event, they’ve got a lot to look forward to, and these stories are going to shed a light on that.

Amanda’s early exposure to the Boston Marathon starts to reveal why this event is like no other.

Amanda: I grew up pretty close to the start line of the Boston marathon and my mom would take us every year on Patriots day to cheer on the different runners. And I used to love getting high fives from the various runners. And I announced at some point when I was in middle school, that I was going to run the Boston marathon.

We would wait for the women to come by and be really excited to see all the women running. And I do remember even at a young age, just being being so impressed that I could watch world-class athletes, as well as the local people running or, you know, like it didn’t really matter. Like we could be on the sideline watching the best running athletes in the world and it was all just available. So it was really inspiring, and I also was a very big fan of watching like Uta Pippig in the nineties.

Like she was my biggest hero, probably. She was just so impressive with what she could do, especially in the 1996 Boston Marathon, where she had to overcome so much. And that was the hundredth Boston Marathon.

[Archined news media]

She had some health issues going on, um, some gastro intestinal issues happening. It was just incredible to watch her strength and watch her hold on and still persevere and win.

I was, I dunno, that was very impressive to me to watch another person be able to do something like that. And it definitely left an impression

Cherie: These impressions, of watching history get made by heroes, of cheering on local runners, of experiencing the excitement of the Boston Marathon, would keep Amanda committed to that youthful declaration that one day she’d run, too.

Amanda: I had a gym teacher in middle school and he told me to wait until I was 24, 25 to make sure like all my growth plates had finished and stuff like that. So I was counting down those years.

Cherie: So at what point did you start running marathons?

Amanda: I waited till I was 24. Like the gym teacher suggested.

So Amanda waited and spectated; she ran shorter distances in middle and and through college. And for many years before she took her first strides on the course as a marathon runner, she was also a volunteer for the Boston Marathon. Every Patriot’s Day Monday was reserved for experiencing this great event.

Amanda: Yea, I would even come home from college so I could watch and volunteer for the race. I just love the event, everything about it.

Cherie: Amanda counted down to when she could run herself.

On the other side of the country. Patty Hung, became motivated to run this event for very different reasons. She had discovered her love of running on a fateful day when she just decided to give it a try. Then she found a local running club. She made some running friends, and she learned about the local racing scene.

Patty: And then I got into the 10 K races and, and really liked that. And I was doing pretty well. Not really much of a star, but kind of always having a goal to beat my own record. And that was kind of cool. So I then started to thinking about, well, maybe I could go a little bit further than a 10 K and go into a 13 mile run.

Cherie: And eventually, Patty, a high school math teacher who’d grown up in Boston, worked up to the marathon distance. She completed a few marathons and she recognized how going after a challenge like running Boston could be about a lot more than running far.

Cherie: I had a situation in my life where I got divorced and my life was pretty much in a disarray, I wanted to get to, I wanted a purpose in my life so I could help my own psyche get through the challenges of being a mom with three young children, no husband and I was teaching at the time. And I wanted something that would challenge me to be strong in my mind and have a purpose. And I decided I’m going to run the Boston Marathon and living and growing up in Boston. It was something that I thought that that will help me get through my challenges in life.

Cherie: Patty wanted to reconnect with her Boston roots and she wanted the challenge of getting into and running Boston. Just like it is today, Patty couldn’t just sign up for the Boston marathon. She had to earn her way in. And also today qualifying on time. It was how most runners got their entry. Patty had run those few marathons, but her finishing time was around four hours. To get her Boston qualifier or her BQ, she’d have to run a lot faster.

Patty: I had to run a 3 20. A 3 hour, 20 minute marathon. And I did it. And it, it was like a miracle because I, I bettered my, my marathon by about a half hour. And I was in; it was the most glorious thing.

Cherie: This miraculous performance was no doubt also fueled by the empowering bond of family.

Patty: I’m from Polish background and all my family’s from Boston. I have my cousins, my aunts, my uncles; my mom’s family was all there. And I wanted to run not only for myself in all my challenges that were happening, but I wanted to run for them. I wanted to go back to Boston and say to them, listen, I’m going to do this this year. And I’m going to try to do it every year so we can connect. And maybe some of you will run them in the Boston Marathon with me.

Cherie: From her very first Boston then, Patty had her sights set on making this event a tradition. Amanda, of course, was coming at her first Boston start somewhat in the reverse: she was eager to experience what was alread y a beloved tradition, but she wanted to do it from a new perspective: as one of the runners on the course.

The circumstances of her getting into her first Boston were quite a bit different from what Patty had experienced. Because there are some other ways to get entry into Boston that don’t require you run another marathon and get a qualifying time. Amanda was set on making Boston her first marathon and every year, the BAA gives invitational numbers to some Boston area running clubs to gift to deserving members of their club. Say, people who have been leaders in the running community or, perhaps, those who had volunteered at Boston for years already and who had waited over a decade to run the race.

A club member like Amada, who indeed, did say yes, when her running club offered her an invitational number in 2005. This was it. She was running Boston.

 

And finally the day had come that Amanda had waited for, for so many years. She was going to run further than she’d ever run before, and she was going to experience the Boston Marathon for herself. She was going to experience the crowds and this storied course, which takes on a character all its own in anyone’s Boston marathon story. It’s unique features and waypoints add to the dramatic highs and lows that help define what makes this event in particular so singular.

The course is point-to-point that travels through 8 towns, starting in Hopkinton, and finishing Boston’s historic postcard worthy Copley Square.

For marathon runners, this course serves challenges that are more than just the distance, but it also provide all the highs that everyone anticipates.

Amanda: Early on in the race. I loved it. And, and, you know, seeing the kids out there, um, remembering that I had been a kid out there, I was high-fiving people. Um, and just soaking it all in feeling like, oh my gosh, I’m, I’m finally here.

I remember, um, you know, I went out too fast, of course, and, and a lot of things that first-time marathoners have issues, especially. And first time Boston marathoners have issues with. So

Cherie: Yes, a common mistake for marathoners is to run too fast in the early miles only to suffer later on. But it’s tough to hold back: your fit and rested and ready to go. The excitement of the race is buzzing all around you. And, add to that, the beginning miles of the Boston course make it so, so easy to make that mistake.

It starts at about 500 feet above sea level and then ends at sea level. And the first part of the race, you actually dropped down pretty quickly.

Cherie: There’s all that fast downhill in the beginning miles. And then there’s that famous half-way point that leaves a memorable impression on everyone.

The famous Wellesley scream tunnel; it’s a destination everyone looks for to for the blast of energy you’re certain to receive, but then a few miles down the road, as you entered the town of Newton, a whole new reality hits.

Amnada: So, and then of course the, the hills and Newton kind of hit you right when your body is sort of starting to break. Um, so they did the Hills just come at this point in the course, that’s really hard physiologically for you.

Cherie: And at the end of the ups and downs that roll through Newton comes the largest. And certainly the most famous of all Hills in marathoning, it’s at mile 20. And it is indeed many times a heartbreaker

 

Amanda: Climbing heartbreak hill. I kind of was thinking if I see my family, I’m going to quit. I can’t do this anymore. And then when I got to the top of heartbreak hill, I saw them, they’re trying to like help me cheer me on. And I just glared at them. And I felt, I still feel horrible about this because they were being super supportive and I felt like I was super mean towards them. Um, and I just kept going

Cherie: The hills are tough, and your legs have aching, but now, you’re entering Boston, and the crowds continue to swell with every mile closer you get to the finish.

Patty: Well, then, then of course, it’s on Patriots Day. So now you’ve got a holiday and you have all that beautiful crowd of people, all the fans out there for the, so you, you have fans that are out there because it’s, it’s a great holiday for Boston. And then you have, of course, when you run past Fenway park, you got the baseball game going

Cherie: Yes, it’s always a Red Sox double header at Fenway on Patriots Day . . . after the hills, it’s one landmark crowd after another

So, the final miles become this dance between appreciating the great and growing enthusiasm of the crowds and suffering through extreme fatigue, especially when you’ve gone out a little bit too fast and your legs just aren’t having it anymore. It starts to make even the smallest undulations in the course feel monumental.

Amanda: I was actually really surprised in the last five miles, uh, that there were, I say still a few Hills that I was not prepared for. And I remember just being shocked and being like, oh my gosh, no one told me about this mountain near mile 25.

Cherie: And then you’re in the final mile. The iconic Citgo sign comes into view and you approach that very last and oh, so famous turn onto Boylston street, and down that long straightway lined by the biggest crowds yet that delivers you to the finish line.

Amanda: But then I remember getting to the finish line and, and going through the finish area and just being super happy and then finding my family and, and collapsing onto my mom’s shoulder and just bursting into tears.

Cherie: But Patty’s and Amanda’s journeys aren’t just about getting into Boston or doing it once. Their stories are about the enduring lure of this marathon, like Patty returning again and again for over 30 years

Cherie: So I’ve got to ask what keeps you coming back for so many, like that’s a long time to keep coming back year after year.

Patty: Now that’s a, that’s an easy question. What keeps me coming back is my family. It, um, I get kind of choked up because the there’s a best and many of my, much of my family, my aunts and uncles have passed away, but my cousins are all there for me, my sons of there for me. And, um, they, they are now, my coaches make me feel that I still can do this.

And that road goes both ways, just like Patty intended all those years ago, when she said.

Patty: And maybe some of you will run them in the Boston marathon with me

Patty: And that also happened. So as the years started, my cousin Jackie started running and he got into Boston through a charity organization through the leukemia organization. And then as his family, Saudi growing up what his daughter started running with me and my sons started running with me and then people who were my family were all now running with me in Boston. And then it just kept escalating to be a big family thing. And then when I was teaching at Mira Monte high school, a few of my students started running Boston. And of course I had all these Boston marathon, uh, bibs on my walls in my classroom. And that inspired a lot of kids seeing, oh my gosh, you know, we’re in the track, we’re in cross country. Maybe we could do that

Cherie: For Amanda. Her passion for the event also extends far beyond the physical act of running

Amanda: Yeah, I think it’s more about the, the people that I’ve connected with and, um, my whole family volunteers at the race, my mom’s a start line captain, um, at the, with the corrals, like she’s the Chorale monitor captain. Um, and so we, our household from an early age has always been about the Boston marathon and, um, we’ve housed runners at, at my parents’ house. And now at my house, um, volunteers at one point I could probably have given you a full count of all the number of people that we’ve had just stay over, who were either volunteering, running, or spectating for the Boston Marathon.

Cherie: And sometimes you keep returning because of the transcendent power you can experience through a challenge like a marathon; patty had learned this early on when she used the marathon to get through her divorce. This, she knew, was an event she could lean on to help with life’s most difficult times.

Patty: Oh my, um, well I want to mention this. It’s also, um, one of the challenges of my life was that my middle son had passed away in 2017. So the, the race in 2017 in April was very important to run from my son. And, uh, it was, um, it was important that, uh, I kept, of course kept running and now I’m running for, um, my son in a spiritual way. So that, that is, um, that was a very important year for me, 2017, it was glorious, sad, sad, but it was important. And again, as I mentioned so many times, my family has always been here

Cherie: Amanda has also experienced the healing support of the Boston Marathon, early on in her marathon journey.

Amanda: I started running for my cousin’s baby, who unfortunately was very sick at Boston children’s hospital. Um, and, uh, I, I wrote her name. Um, her name was Isabella and I wrote her name down my arm and I got cheers the whole 26.2 miles. And I just felt like everybody was cheering for her to get better. And, and, um, uh, you know, it, it just, it was just beautiful to hear every her name, um, and, and keep me going. It, it gave me a greater cost for my own running.

Cherie: Amanda had also raised funds for the Boston children’s hospital that year, which is something she’s continued to do ever since she now regularly runs as a qualify as a qualified runner and as a charity runner. She’s also, she’s also a coach for the Boston athletic association charity team. So while a marathon from the outside can look solely like a hard physical activity that begins with the start gun and ends at a finish line. It’s also about so much more, including the unexpected moments along the way, and the long lasting impacts that continue to reverberate.

Amanda: In 2011, I struck up a conversation with a woman in the starting corral with me, um, and her name is Kara. And, um, we have since become really good friends. Um, and we ran the first 5k of the race together, just talking. Um, she was from Atlanta, Georgia. She was also running for charity as a qualified runner. Um, and, um, we both, we had like parallel lives. Basically. She had cats, I had cats and all this different stuff. And the following, um, over the following year, we started talking over social media. So she said that, or so I invited her to come and stay with us in 2012 if she, if she wanted to. Um, and, uh, she took me up on that offer. And again, we started in the same crowd in 2012 and it was very hot. I barely knew this woman. Um, and again, we ran, you know, and, uh, I think we ran the first six miles together, um, and was trying to hold me back because I have a habit of going out too hard. Um, but she got everybody to sing happy birthday to me. Um, it happened to be my birthday that day. Um, and I just remember this woman running next to us, turning around and being like, it’s your birthday today? And I said, yes. And she said, are you we’re very close now? Um, she actually was the officiant at our, at, um, my husband and my wedding. Um, so the magic of the Boston marathon. And I’m just gonna go ahead and put that out there

Because with an occasion that encompasses so much where there’s such a concentration of energy that swells up on this one day of the year, along this very specific 26.2 mile stretch of roads, it’s hard to put the experience into words other than to say, well, yeah, it’s magical.

TRANSITION OUT OF STORIES TO OUTRO

And it’s no doubt the lure of that magic that’s compelled us other seven women in this series to set our sights on the Boston Marathon. Stay tuned for when we delve into everyone else’s journeys to becoming marathon runners, with big goals, over the next two episodes.

Subscribe now so you don’t miss that episode or any of the ones that follow. And of course, thank you for listening. We love telling these stories, but we couldn’t do it without you. Your being here and sharing strides forward with others is what keeps us going.

We also couldn’t do this series without our incredible featured runners. A big thank you to Patty, Amanda, Rochelle, Zarah, Marija, Nicole, Jonna, Yao. We also want to give a special thank you to the Boston athletic association for their help in this series, especially Chris Lotsbom. The strides forward team includes me, Cherie Turner, your host and producer Cormac O’Regan creates all the original music and does the sound design for every single episode. And he does that from his studio in cork, Ireland, April Mariner of bonfire. Collaborative does all the design work for the show, including the website, Merck and logo. She comes to you from Truckee, California, and you can find April at bonfire, collaborative.com. Please join us for the next step along these Boston journeys until then this is Sheree wishing you many healthy, joyful strides forward.

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