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Summer 2004
Brad Callow, A04, crossing the finish line
Photo by Bethany Versoy
Going the Distance

Talk about a tough race.

The legendary Boston Marathon put even the most seasoned runners to the test this year as near record-high temperatures soared into the upper 80s. It was an extraordinary test of physical ability as runners took on 26.2 sweaty miles.

But for one highly motivated group, there was something extra pulling them to the finish line. The Tufts team, running in the Second Annual President’s Marathon Challenge, was bound and determined to make it—and there were plenty of Tufts supporters to cheer them on.

“The heat was intense, the emotions raw, and the camaraderie extraordinary,” said Miriam Nelson, N85, N87, team co-leader and director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “Maybe it’s because we became so close during those long runs together through the fall, winter, and spring. When you strive to accomplish something together, you’re quite likely to succeed.”

President Lawrence S. Bacow, who had been sidelined for several weeks from running the race by an inflammation that settled in the lining around his heart, shared his admiration for the Tufts team.

“It took incredible courage and determination to get through an absolutely brutal day. I have often said that completing the marathon is as much an exercise in mental discipline as it is in physical conditioning. This year proved that true.”

“While it was hard not to be running,” he added, “I felt as if I was running vicariously through the team as a whole. No one ever runs an easy Boston. When I finished last year, I thought it was the greatest experience of my life. I still do.”

About 170 Tufts Marathon Team members competed in the 26.2-mile run from Hopkinton to Boston, supported by some 200 Tufts volunteers, with the president and Adele Fleet Bacow waiting at the finish line. Exper-ienced marathoner Jason Burke, E99, was the first Jumbo to cross the finish line, with an impressive 3:05:29 run.

In general, the Tufts race was more about teamwork than time. Members of the Tufts team—students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends of all levels—could train by themselves using the fitness program developed by a team of experts. Many also gathered each morning at daybreak at Bacow’s front door. Their training provided a great way to build a deeper connection to the race and to the Tufts community.

“The marathon was the icing on the cake,” said Sarah Ryan, a post-professional student at the Boston School of Occupational Therapy. “Prob-ably the hardest decision for me to come from England was leaving my family behind, but I have felt part of a bigger family being here at Tufts.”

Erika Wool, A06, who was running her first marathon, was sustained by the collective Tufts spirit and by her running mate, her best friend. “My favorite sign was one Adidas had put up in Kenmore Square. It said, ‘Running Is a Community.’ It summed up my experience,” she said. “It was something that I always thought was impossible. Never, ever did I think I could or would want to run a marathon, so completing was definitely empowering. It has become symbolic of anything I ever thought I couldn’t do and really taught me the power of discipline and hard work.”

Then there were those runners like Brad Callow, A04, running his fifth marathon, who didn’t get to train as much as he would have liked because of a demanding extracurricular life. Still, “the race was absolutely incredible,” he said. “The amount of energy that the Boston fans bring surpasses anything I’ve ever seen. The heat definitely thwarted everyone’s time and even prevented some from finishing. I ended up running 4:17, which was pretty acceptable given how hot it was!”

Nelson, the driving force behind the best-selling “Strong Women” book series, also had to adjust her expectations. She was doing fine up until the half marathon mark “when I decided to slow down and start walking more at each of the water stops,” she said. “At mile 17 I ran into a Tufts colleague who was having some difficulties as well and we ended up finishing the race together. I walked at least half of the time during the second half of the race. I still finished in 4:26, which was way off my target time, but it was what I had predicted due to the weather.”

In the end, solid training, common sense under pressure, and the enthusiasm of volunteers came together. The Tufts team raised more than $350,000 to benefit university programs. Yet for Bacow, who with Adele Fleet Bacow cheered on each Tufts victor as they crossed the finish line, the experience can’t be measured in dollars alone.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the marathon challenge for me personally was to see how it has become an important community-building event for Tufts,” he said. “We need more such events, especially around healthy activities that engage students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni.”

Nelson thanked everyone who joined the team from all corners of the world. “And I want to thank them for their enormous efforts to raise money for such a good cause—nutrition, physical activity research, and outreach programs. I remember after the race I felt exhausted, and I wondered—was it worth it? You bet. Will I do it again? I am sure. But only with this great team.”—Laura Ferguson

Tufts is already preparing for next year. If you are interested in joining us for the 109th running of the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2005, email marathonchallenge@tufts.edu.