While most Williams students were either sleeping late or eating brunch last Sunday, two ambitious students were lining up with 35,000 others to run in the New York City Marathon.
Izzy Lowell ’02 and Christine Leahy ’99 faced the marathon with unique training histories, and both completed the 26.2-mile course.
“I’m not really a runner; that’s the ironic thing. I just do it for me,” said Lowell. When Lowell decided to run her first marathon last spring, she had actually done relatively little running. Lowell said when she initially decided to try to run a marathon, she was just feeling a lack of focus in her life.
She said her attitude at the time was: “I’ll see if I can do that, as a good way to challenge myself.”
One month later, she completed the Boston Marathon as an unregistered runner. For most, making the decision to run so shortly before the marathon, while suffering from shin splints, would have been a senseless endeavor, but once Lowell said she was going to do it, she did.
She had never run competitively, and only decided to start running because the school she was attending lacked organized sports. She injured her knee in the fall of ’97, worked out on the stairmaster all winter, and then developed shin splints in the spring. She had never run more than 10 or 12 miles before she attempted the marathon.
Lowell said her parents were encouraging, telling her to aim for the halfway mark. Her father told her to call him from wherever she stopped and he would be there to pick her up. She called from the finish line.
She said after completing the Boston Marathon she was tired of running and took a couple months off before she decided in June to run the New York Marathon this fall.
Lowell said her pre-race routine was not nearly as regimented as that of many runners. She had read a lot about carbo-loading for marathons at the library, but didn’t put much of it into practice. “I don’t know about that whole eating the right stuff thing,” she said.
As a member of the Williams crew team, Lowell raced in a regatta the day before the marathon. She had to row in the morning and then jump in the car to drive straight to the city to pick up her number for the next day’s race. She said she refueled on bagels and muffins as she drove.
But Lowell is obviously doing something right. In New York, she placed third in her age group (18-19) with a time of 3:52, beating her Boston time by 18 minutes. She said she would recommend the Boston Marathon, although the crowds at New York were “an experience.” She likened the first 10 miles to “swimming through people.”
Lowell doesn’t plan on running another marathon this year, but said she is tempted to make another effort to place well in the 18-19 age group in New York next year.
Christine Leahy ’99 was also prompted to attempt a marathon as a result of injury. She said she started running track in middle school, but since that time had never run competitively.
While she was studying abroad through the Williams-Oxford program last year, she hurt her knee, so her only running option was a very slow jog.
Ironically, it was the injury that led Leahy to start training for a marathon. She said one day at the end of her jog, she realized that her slow pace left her with extra energy. So she kept running and had doubled her daily mileage within a few days.
Leahy decided that she wanted to run the New York City Marathon last spring, but realized that she had already missed the main deadline for registration. She entered a mini lottery, however, and began training immediately, even though her chances of getting in were slim.
Leahy was accepted into the race, but then began to encounter problems with her training. A combination of illness and injury forced her to proceed with a non-intensive training program of daily runs between three and six miles and one long run per week. She had originally planned to build the long run up to 20 miles, but said that sickness and shin splints prevented her from increasing past 15 miles.
Leahy said when the week of the race arrived, she was feeling quite nervous about her lack of preparation, but the large crowds assuaged her anxiety.
“At the starting blocks, you see all different kinds of people,” she said. Seeing so many runners, of all ages, convinced her that if so many others could attempt the run, then so could she.
According to Leahy the start was “very exciting,” but also somewhat “anticlimactic.” She said for several minutes everyone was just standing around talking. Then the crowd began to move at a slow walk. No one was able to run until the crowd thinned, so there wasn’t any sudden “gunshot start.”
Leahy “felt really good” at the start, but mile 20 was hard and by mile 22, the running was just painful. She felt buoyed by the camaraderie that develops among runners near the end of the race, as everyone encourages those around them to make it to the finish.
As a native of New York City, Leahy was familiar with the course, so she knew that she would run within a half mile of her apartment building at the 18th mile. Knowing that she would see her friends and family kept her inspired for the first part of the race. After 18 miles, she said the support was welcome and needed.
While the route of the marathon held no surprises for Leahy, some aspects of the experience were completely unexpected. Leahy wasn’t at all prepared for the “rivers of Gatorade” which flowed through the streets at water stations. She said that people would run through the station, spilling large quantities of liquid. She described “a surreal Gatorade experience” of splashing through the liquid and subsequently sticking to the pavement when it dried to her shoes. Leahy was not deterred by the challenge.
Leahy’s initial goal was to break six hours, but partway through the race she modified the goal to breaking five hours. She finished in 4:59.
Leahy thinks she’ll run more races, and maybe more marathons in several years, but before she commits to another, she said she needs to take time “to forget the pain” of those final miles.