While no one would wish for the circumstances, a fall running of the Boston Marathon is perhaps a skier’s dream. The iconic foot race is on many a bucket list; however, the third Monday in April is early for those who spend the winter strapped to skinny skis rather than pounding pavement.
After cancelling the April, 2020, running in light of the descending COVID-19 pandemic, and deciding against an April date for the 2021 event, the Boston Athletics Association (BAA) set its sights on October 11th, 2021, for a return to racing. 30 months without the Boston Marathon; it was go-time in Boston on Monday morning. The Red Sox even put on a show to celebrate, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 6-5 to win the ALDS in dramatic fashion later that evening.
Among the 15,716 individuals making their way from Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston were three familiar faces: former teammates, U.S. Ski Team members, and Olympians Kikkan Randall, Ida Sargent, and Liz Stephen. The threesome ran on behalf of Aktiv Against Cancer, which promotes physical activity as an integral part of cancer treatment.
According to Aktiv’s mission statement, “Recent research indicates the benefits of physical activity extend beyond controlling symptoms and side-effects of cancer therapy; it is shown to reduce cancer progression and improve a patient’s response to anticancer therapy.”
Nearly two years ago in November, 2019, these women lined up together for the NYC Marathon, each achieving their goal of finishing under three hours. At the time, Randall was only one year beyond her own cancer treatment journey. After receiving the diagnosis of Stage 2 breast cancer in June of 2018, Randall underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, infusions of the drug Herceptin, and a lumpectomy. All the while, she remained active, sharing her journey openly through daily video updates and social media.
Randall shared her Boston Marathon race experience via email.
“We’re all hobbling around today but also basking in the glow after a hard race and fun experience!! After meeting up for the NYC marathon two years ago, when the opportunity to run Boston in October came up (versus April) we jumped at the chance to get together and once again shine the spotlight on an organization near and dear to our hearts, AKTIV Against Cancer.
“All of us have had close contacts with cancer in our personal lives and as athletes recognize how important physical activity is for tackling the treatment. So to be able to raise funds for important research and outreach, we jumped at the chance. We were able to raise over $17,000 collectively toward the cause!”
In 2019, Randall checked the box on her sub-3 goal with a time of 2:55:12. This year, she was just shy with a net time of 3:00:27.
“When we decided to do this back in April/May, I think all of us had ambitions to prepare for this race more seriously. But as we’re all finding post-racing, life is busy and I think we all came in a little under prepared. Regardless, it was going to be a great excuse to meet up with best friends.”
Two minutes behind Randall, Sargent crossed the line in 3:02:26. Sargent also remarked that she felt under-trained at the start line, but the experience and opportunity outweighed the feeling of the final 10k.
“We plan to do these races as a little reunion and an opportunity to see and run with each other and support Aktiv,” wrote Sargent. “Today was so much fun but also a beast. The energy out on course of these big races is also so incredible. I hadn’t trained or run much at all leading up to the race so I really wasn’t sure what to expect but I was very excited that my legs felt great for so long. The last four or five miles were tough but I just told myself that I couldn’t walk and that kept me going through to the finish line.”
Despite being veterans when it comes to endurance racing, Randall shared that the women were perhaps lured out too quickly, leaving them a little too dinged up when they faced the Newton hills late in the race. Runners face the infamous “Hearbreak Hill” at mile 20, steadily climbing for half a mile on tired legs.
Though all three women positive-split the race, Stephen bled the least amount of time in the second half; she clocked 1:25 through the first half, losing five minutes over the second to finish in 2:55:48.
“The downhill start was really fun for the first 10km,” wrote Randall. “At points we were on-pace for a sub-2:45. But being Boston rookies, and light on the running mileage, that early fast pace took its toll on all of us at different points. Liz made it under 3-hours, I was just a smidge over and Ida had a great day at 3:02. The last 10km was incredibly tough and I think we were all missing those gliding sections you get in ski races to recover and recharge.”
The fun didn’t stop when they reached the painted yellow and blue finish line emblazoned with the Boston Athletics Association unicorn.
“Liz’s partner Jeff [Bland] also ran the race and fundraised for AKTIV with us,” Randall explained. “So after the three girls finished, we went back out to cheer him on. (Bland finished in 4:19:59.) We figured we ended up walking another 7 miles, which was painful — but also maybe a little helpful to keep from tightening up.”
What’s the next race-reunion? According to Randall, they’re looking for ideas!
“I think we’re all looking forward to not running for a while and yet we can’t help but wonder, what should we do next?!”
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646