Hannah Bowlin’s 21st birthday present to herself was a solo marathon.
Last year, while Bowlin, MCAS ’17, was training for the Minneapolis Marathon, originally scheduled for June 5, it was cancelled because the organizers had overlooked construction work taking place on a key bridge along the route. Bowlin’s parents encouraged her to run anyway.
“It wasn’t really about the race, it was about me,” she said. “I was proving to myself that I could do something and overcome something—literally the first person who ran a marathon died in Greece.”
So she ran it alone, her parents accompanying her on bikes, going a bit faster and then circling back with water and food as Bowlin looped lakes and made her way through the Twin Cities to the finish. It was really hard, she said, probably one of the most challenging things she’s done.
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“A marathon is more than one event to me, but everything that leads up to it,” she said.
Boston will be different, extremely different in terms of just the atmosphere. Bowlin knows she can finish, but she wants to make sure she takes it slow. She ran a half-marathon last January, where she had some gastrointestinal issues and her IT band—a muscle along the outside of the leg, from the hip to the ankle, that runners often injure—flared up. And she’s a little nervous about performing well if people are tracking her along the way.
“There’s not a lot of actual pressure from my friends, but because BC is such a visible place on the route, I feel pressure to keep my act together until Mile 21,” she said with a grin.
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Bowlin’s freshman Marathon Monday experience was pretty typical, with the tank top and early wake-up. She spent the last two years, though, working for BC EMS, providing treatment to runners along the course, which shifted her perception of the Marathon from a fun morning to a storied tradition, an honor to partake.
“When I saw [the Marathon] my freshman year, I thought it was really cool, but more of an excuse to dress up and drink,” she said. “But working it, and seeing the magnitude, the vast amount of runners, really kind of brought a whole new level of appreciation.”
And she hadn’t really thought about running it until last year, when she watched one of her friends run by, somebody who hadn’t been a serious runner before, and thought “If he can do it, I can.” At that point, she was already training for Minneapolis, although the logistics of getting a charity bib for Boston are a bit more complicated. She applied in September to be on the team for the Children’s Museum, and started training and fundraising the week she heard back, in December.
The museum, located in the South End, has a team of four runners. Their goal is to raise money to help build and sustain after-school and summer programs for inner-city kids in Boston Public Schools. They’re nervous this year about museum funding from the federal government, so the Marathon money is crucial.
Since then, she has run between five and 15 hours a week, taking Fridays off and cross-training on Sundays. Bowlin has also had to look for some creative ways of getting her friends and family to donate, because of the number of organizations on campus that ask for students’ money.
Bowlin said she has enjoyed the charity piece of the Marathon because it moves running to a team effort instead of an individual battle of the will. Bowlin already has a lot of experience with that, from both her solo marathon and her days running up the foothills of the Alps when she was abroad last fall in Grenoble, France.
She and her host brother would go out and run up and then downhill on winding footpaths, constantly looking forward, as she described it, for the three miles up. At the top was a lookout, with an old fort. On the way up, she’d repeat to herself “La descente,” which became her mantra, to push through the hard stuff for the moments that feel more like the downhill. As she started to connect more with running, finding ways to distract herself—meditating, almost—Bowlin said she got in really good shape, and when she got back to BC she set some fitness goals. That’s what led her to train for Minneapolis.
“I wanted to continue that at BC because it’s a place that doesn’t always foster good body image, usually with girls but with guys as well,” she said.
Bowlin won’t be in Boston for the next three years after graduation, so her next Marathon might be a while off, if at all. But she’s not ruling it out. And for now, she’s focused on what happens once she gets over Heartbreak Hill.
“I think in my mind, I’ll be thinking of Mile 21 up until Mile 21,” she said. “Even if they don’t have any affiliation with BC, people say it’s their favorite place on the Marathon route, and to have that be a place where it’s also all of your best friends and people that you know is pretty special.”
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Editor