Maddie Perlewitz, MCAS ’17, has always been an athlete. The Wisconsin native was an avid soccer player, competing at the varsity level in high school while taking on a club team in the offseason. She planned to play the sport she loved so dearly in college, but chose instead to focus on the grueling pre-med track.
Still, Perlewitz wanted to remain active. She took up weightlifting during her freshman year at Boston College. When she saw the Boston Marathon on her first Patriots’ Day, she hoped to tackle every athlete’s ultimate goal: the grueling, 26.2-mile course through the heart of New England.
“My dad ran a marathon a couple of years ago, but I never considered running a marathon myself,” Perlewitz said. “Then I came to Boston, watched the Boston Marathon, and was completely inspired.”
After 400 miles, 20 weeks of training, and $10,000 worth of fundraising, Perlewitz will finally reach that unreachable goal. But her journey to race day has been an arduous one. It wasn’t so long ago when the Marathon was an impossible feat.
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As a freshman at BC, Perlewitz was hospitalized for severe stomach pain on four separate occasions. Doctors struggled to find the underlying cause of her pain. During her sophomore year, Perlewitz underwent exploratory surgery on her abdomen. A month later, she underwent another surgery, and slowly, her chronic stomach pain began to subside.
“I found answers and feel a ton better,” Perlewitz said. “It’s one of the reasons I’m running—I’m really thankful for my health and I’ll never take it for granted.”
As Perlewitz coped with the fear and uncertainty surrounding her health struggles, her parents were in Wisconsin, working and taking care of her younger sister. As a result, Perlewitz faced her health issues primarily on her own, undergoing surgery without her parents nearby.
Once fully healthy after her sophomore year, Perlewitz began on her new path as a personal trainer at the Flynn Recreation Complex.
“I went up to one of the trainers in the Plex and said, ‘This is awesome, how do you do it?’” Perlewitz said.
Perlewitz works to help other BC women feel empowered through exercise. She is running the Boston Marathon to raise money for 261 Fearless, an organization committed to empowering women around the world through exercise and community.
During the 1967 Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer was running her second mile when an infuriated race director attacked her, attempting to rip off her runner’s bib, numbered 261. He declared the race was for men only, and was furious Switzer entered the event. In her application for the race, she signed her name K.V. Switzer, and her gender went undetected until race day.
With the help of her fellow runners, Switzer got away from the official and went on to finish the race. Throughout her running career, she completed 39 marathons and won the New York City Marathon in 1974.
In 2015, Switzer founded 261 Fearless as a means to empower women to overcome life’s obstacles and embrace healthy living. Perlewitz chose to run for 261 Fearless, in part, because the organization’s message resonated with her personal journey of conquering unforeseen challenges.
“Just being able to go through that and emerge as kind of a fearless woman, if you will, definitely made me identify with 261’s cause,” she said.
Even when she felt her best, however, Perlewitz never thought she would be running a marathon someday, let alone the Boston Marathon.
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At the beginning of her training, she felt intimidated. The first time Perlewitz went on a group run in Boston with members of CharityTeams—an organization that assists nonprofits like 261 Fearless fundraise through athletic events—she felt apprehensive.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Perlewitz said. “I didn’t know what people’s running levels were going to be, I didn’t know the course, didn’t know anything—fueling, shoes, you name it.”
Yet once she met up with the runners, Perlewitz felt at ease.
“I was completely in the dark, but everyone was so welcoming and supportive,” she said. “Whether you’re a runner or not, they back you.”
Weeks one, two, and three of Perlewitz’ training consisted of base training exercises. The goal of base training is to develop runners’ endurance, or increase their aerobic capacity, before delving into more taxing, race-specific workouts. After base training, runners engage in strength and speed exercises, slowly building mileage capacity up to 26.2.
Typically, Perlewitz runs middle-distance routes three times a week. On the weekends, she completes one long-distance run along the Marathon course. During her base training period, Perlewitz’ long runs were about six miles each. Now, they range from 12 to 21 miles, depending on the week of training.
“You go up in intensity for two weeks, then scale back for one, just to make sure you don’t get injured,” Perlewitz said.
Sundays are cross-training days for Perlewitz. She cycles, uses the ergometer, and teaches fitness classes at the Plex. On cross-training days, she exercises to maintain cardiovascular fitness without running.
Beyond establishing the physical fitness to run a marathon, another essential component to marathon training is learning how to fuel and hydrate during a race. Fueling refers to the intake of calories and electrolytes during a long-distance race that help runners gain energy and maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. Some runners consume energy chews or gels designed for ingestion during exercise, while others have sports drinks like Gatorade.
“A big part of training, and a big part of what I’ve been working on over the last 18 weeks, is trying to figure out what works for me in terms of hydration and fueling,” Perlewitz said. “Learning how your stomach reacts and figuring out when you need to fuel is crucial for keeping your energy levels up.”
Perlewitz’ least favorite thing about distance running is the first six miles of any course. She finds it challenging to establish a rhythm during these initial miles, but by mile six, she finds her stride.
“After that, I really enjoy it, and it kind of frees your mind,” she said.
On days when she feels her motivation slipping, Perlewitz looks at her online fundraising page for 261 Fearless and reads the comments. She looks at the charity’s website and reads about for whom she is running.
“That’s a big motivator for me because I remember that this race isn’t just about me, it’s about women across the globe,” she said.
On race day, Perlewitz’ parents will be waiting for her at the finish line. Her two sisters, who are also at BC, will be cheering her on too.
“Running the Marathon not only speaks to [Maddie’s] physical strength, but also her mental strength,” said Gabby Perlewitz, Maddie’s twin sister and MCAS ’17. “Raising $10,000 and completing every training run is no easy feat, and she successfully achieved both of these goals.”
After pushing past the obstacles in her path, she is now entering her last week of training. Her journey to this ultimate goal has been long and strenuous, but she is ready to finally conquer what she once thought couldn’t be done.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Editor