Passion — it’s the word that a few of the area’s Boston Marathon participants use to explain their commitment to the 26.2-mile road race.
Training for her second Boston Marathon, Richland Township resident Stephanie Daniels, 49, calls it a “crazy passion” that gets her running in the wee hours of the morning seven days a week, racking up as much as 50 or more miles a week.
A mother of five and office assistant at Conemaugh Home Health LHC Group, Daniels says she “tanked” on her first Boston race in 2019, and hopes to “redeem” herself this time around.
Her training partner, Meghan Bolinger, 41, also of the township, will be running her first Boston Marathon.
A clinical pharmacy specialist at the James E Van Zandt Veterans Outpatient Clinic, Bolinger runs six mornings a week, sometimes starting as early as 3:15 a.m. to accommodate 20 or more miles before work. On Sundays, she adds a 30-minute indoor workout on her Peloton bike.
Like Daniels, Bolinger has been averaging more than 50 miles a week.
Both ladies are tapering — running reduced distances — as race day approaches.
Training in a group or at least with one other person helps the miles go by more quickly, Bolinger says.
Although she doesn’t mind running alone, she finds that the long runs of more than 10 miles “get very lonely, with too much time to think.”
Kevin Doyle, 41, of Ebensburg, is preparing for his second Boston Marathon — the first in 2014.
“Group training can be extremely beneficial for numerous reasons,” he says.
“I run harder with a training partner, plus you have the added distraction of conversation, so the run is half over before you realize it. I think the biggest benefit, though, is accountability. Being accountable to a training partner means you don’t skip runs; you show up no matter what.”
Doyle, a director of software engineering at GTL, has maintained a standing Monday, Wednesday, and Friday run with his running partner and former college teammate, Art Remillard, for over 15 years now.
“He and I have run in heavy downpours, ice storms, blizzards and temperatures as low as -15.”
In 2015, as further evidence of his passion for the sport, Doyle and his wife, Julie, opened a specialty running store in Ebensburg called Up-N-Running, “so we could share our passion for running with the local community,” he says.
An accomplished runner with several top 10 finishes at US Road Racing National Championship events and a member of the US National Team in the 2003 Chiba Ekiden Relay in Chiba, Japan, Doyle says he has given up serious competition to pursue career and family goals.
But, he says, running will always remain “an important component of my life and my daily routine.”
It is, after all, the sport he shared with his father, Ed Doyle, who was “a huge influence on my running and one of my biggest supporters.”
The elder Doyle had planned to attend the 2020 Boston race to cheer on his son, but the event was cancelled because of the pandemic.
Then in December, the elder Doyle succumbed to COVID-19.
Kevin says he is dedicating his 2021 Boston race to his dad.
On Oct. 16, five days after Boston, Doyle will take on the Buffalo Creek Half Marathon on the Butler-Freeport trail.
“My dad helped start that race and this year’s event will be run in his honor. After that I’m putting my feet up for a while and taking a nice break,” he says.
Training for distance running poses inherent challenges, not least of which is time, especially when planning for runs of 20 or more miles, Bolinger says.
Then, 3 a.m. starts to become “totally necessary,” she adds.
For Daniels, “the biggest roadblock to training is learning to age properly with it. I’m obviously not as young as I was when I started running, but I never want to quit. I want to train properly as an aging athlete so as not to get injured.”
And so she incorporates weight training and core workouts into her schedule, in an effort to develop strength and maintain overall fitness.
Doyle says that “getting out the door is the hard part.”
Minor aches and pains also seem amplified with increased mileage.
“I’m constantly icing something or using the foam roller on achy muscles.
“Recovery time from long runs is a challenge as well. It is tough to wake up and run an easy eight miles the day after running 20 plus miles hard. But, honestly, once you get a few miles in, your legs spring back to life and it isn’t so bad.”
He must know, considering that he completed his 2014 Boston Marathon in 2:30:20, 95th out of 31,925 overall.
While Doyle began running early in life, Daniels entered the sport after recovering from a car accident her senior year of high school and Bolinger took up running only after the birth of her third child, now four years old.
“I had some major complications with sepsis,” she says. “I was hospitalized for nine days. It was a terrifying experience both physically and mentally, but I fortunately recovered.
“It made me realize that every day is truly a blessing and life can end at any moment. I started to evaluate what I was prioritizing in life and, as difficult as the experience was, it helped to change my overall outlook for the better.”
Shortly after the ordeal, Bolinger started work as a clinical pharmacy specialist, serving primarily diabetic patients.
“When educating patients about diet and activity, it helped to motivate myself to make some lifestyle changes of my own,” she adds.
“I knew I needed to get into something that required accountability and dedicated training time.”
In 2018, she discovered the Pittsburgh Half Marathon and the next year, at the age of 39, she ran the event, her first race ever. The following year, on her 40th birthday, she completed her first full marathon —the REVEL Mt Lemmon Marathon in Tucson, Arizona. It was also the event that qualified her for Boston with a time of 3:21:16, first in her age group.
For Daniels, the motivation came from her grandmother, who, crippled from arthritis, did not want her granddaughter to “end up like her.”
Daniels adds, “I don’t know if this (marathon running) is really what she meant, but it’s a really great sanity-saver and mood-leveler.”
With the exception of the Olympics and various Championship races, the Boston Marathon is the only marathon in the United States that maintains qualifying times and requirements. While Bolinger qualified for Boston in the REVEL Mt Lemmon Marathon, Daniels qualified in the 2019 Valley Forge Marathon, finishing in 3:29:43, first overall female. Doyle’s qualifying race was the 2018 InFirst Bank Veteran’s Marathon in Indiana, where he clocked 2:40:53, first place overall.
All told, 576 Pennsylvanians are registered for the in-person Boston Marathon race, which has a total field of 20,000 participants from all 50 states and at least 87 countries. A virtual version of the event — 26.2 miles to be completed anywhere between Oct. 8 and 10 – also has been established, open to the first 70,000 participants. Registration is ongoing, as of Aug. 15, nearly 27,600 athletes from the US and 109 countries had registered for the virtual event. Of these, 672 athletes are from Pennsylvania.