Members of College community participate in historic, hybrid Boston Marathon

Kent Barbir and Sam Coyle

After running her fourth Boston Marathon, Jessica Chapman poses for a picture with her daughter, Mia. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Chapman.)

For the majority of students and faculty at the College, reading period is a time to rest, recharge, and prepare for the stress of midterm season. Professor of History Jessica Chapman and Visiting Lecturer of Spanish Aroline Hanson, however, each left Williamstown for the weekend to participate in the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and one of the most famous races in the world.

Canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Boston Marathon returned in 2021, albeit with a slew of pandemic-induced changes and precautions. This included a six-month delay of the race from April to October, opening up the possibility for members of the College community to take advantage of the reading period break to attend.

One of the people who made the trek over to Boston was Nick Iskenderian ʼ22, who went to cheer on the runners. “I enjoy running a lot, so I thought it would be a really cool event to go watch,” Iskenderian said. “I’d never seen the [Boston] Marathon before, and there seems to be [so much] excitement and history and culture behind the event, so I wanted to go see and experience it firsthand.

While some spots are reserved for runners representing charities, sponsors, and other organizations, the majority of runners, including Chapman and Hanson, had to meet strict qualifying standards in order to participate in the marathon. With significant media attention and professional runners participating, the pressure is not for the faint of heart.

“There are always a lot of nerves … good nerves,” Chapman said. “I’ve run it enough times that I’m comfortable with my ability to finish, and in terms of whether I meet my goal [time] or not, the stakes are pretty low for me because I still enjoy being able to be out there doing it.”

This year’s event was Chapman’s fourth Boston Marathon and 11th official marathon in general. A volleyball player in college who was discouraged from long-distance running by her coach, Chapman decided to run her first marathon the fall that she started graduate school. “I hadn’t trained particularly well for it, and it was really grueling and difficult,” Chapman said.

Although she continued to be an active runner, participating in half-marathons, Chapman declined to run another marathon for more than a decade. Still, persistent encouragement from her husband, an accomplished marathoner himself, and the appeal of a certain historic annual race led her to change her mind. “We went to watch the Boston Marathon in 2012, and it was so inspiring that I decided I would give it a shot,” Chapman said.

Thanks to her experience running long-distance, Chapman was already prepared to some degree heading into this year’s race. Despite this, she still dedicated several months to training, working with an Olympic-trial-qualifying runner who put together her training plans. “[It] was a 16-week training cycle… I think I had two 20-milers and a 21-miler in preparation,” Chapman said.

Moving the marathon to October shifted the training process for all runners involved. “[It] made the training cycle very different because you train over the summer and race in the fall, as opposed to training through the grueling winter and racing in the spring,” Chapman said.

According to Hanson, the change to a fall start date was not an unwelcome one. “It was nice… The weather’s a little more stable in the fall,” she said. “The leaves were really pretty because they had some foliage, so you could look at that [while running].”

Like Chapman, Hanson is an experienced marathoner, with this year’s race being her fifth Boston Marathon and 30th marathon overall. “[In] junior high, I started to run—I was a figure skater and I played field hockey, and [running] was always my cross-training,” Hanson said. “I didn’t actually start racing until after college. I did my first race when I was probably 25.”

Although Hanson took two years off from racing because of the pandemic, she felt less nervous for this one than others in the past. “I didn’t have a really intense goal time based on my training,” she said. “Sometimes I’m lining up hoping to get a personal best, [but] my training wasn’t there. So I was more just hoping it went well … but there was excitement, too, because it’s a great experience.”

While many runners headed to Boston for the race, others were able to run the race virtually this year. Noe Romero ’25, a member of the wrestling team, was one of the thousands of virtual participants.

Romero decided to run the race virtually because it was his first marathon and he did not have a qualifying time. “Finding a route proved to be a challenge for me, as I am not a trail runner,” Romero said. “I did a straight line down the sidewalks of route two past North Adams and … I did about 5 miles on the tennis courts simply because they are flat. I then did a few miles just running around campus before doing the final four miles around Paresky lawn.

After he finished the race, the inevitable post-marathon soreness set in. “I finished around Paresky, I had to walk down Mission Hill, and then up four flights of stairs,” Romero said. “That probably took me about 15 minutes when it normally takes me like five.”

Running a virtual marathon also has its own unique challenges. In-person training sessions are not available for virtual runners, so a lack of motivation can arise. “Normally … you can go to events and speak with whoever won the Boston Marathon the year before,” Romero said. “But this year, it was all virtual, so I would sit at my computer [and] hear about it without actually being able to go out there and run with people. I guess it was a little challenging, but running by yourself isn’t a terrible thing.”

Those who attended the Boston Marathon expressed gratitude at being able to participate. “It was really cool — I’ve never really experienced a running race that had so much excitement,” Iskenderian said. “The entire city of Boston seemed to be all over [the marathon] and really excited about it all day long.”

Chapman agreed. “Normally, you’re just out there early in the morning running by yourself and doing it because you enjoy it,” she said. “But in Boston, the entire city comes to rally behind these lone runners. You get to feel special for a day.”

The Boston Marathon holds a special significance for Hanson, who ran the marathon in 2013, the year bombings killed three people and injured hundreds of others. Every time the marathon goes well since then, she said, “it’s a very positive experience.”

“It’s a really nice finishing stretch,” Hanson added. “You can see the finish line for a while and there’s Boylston Street and everybody’s cheering. It’s a really awesome experience.”