All paths lead to BostonFour area runners defy the odds to punch their ticket to the Boston Marathon.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Some of the world’s best runners will gather for what is the oldest, and what many consider to be the most prestigious, annual marathon in the world on April 15.
Just qualifying for the Boston Marathon is an accomplishment many will never even shoot for. The low number of participants and the times each runner needs to qualify with means only the most dedicated to their craft even make running in the race a goal. That qualifying time also needs to be posted in a 26.2-mile marathon within a year and a half prior to the race in Boston.
That’s why having one runner from the Alexandria area in the 2013 event would have been noteworthy. Having four? That would seem entirely unlikely.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” 52-year-old Jeanne Barlage said. “Four women from a small, local area – I think it’s got to be pretty unheard of.”
Barlage is one of four local women who never made it a collective goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon together. Instead, it just sort of happened that way as Sabrina Hoppe, 34, Julie Miller, 43, and Shawn Severson, 40, get set to join her for what will be likely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The four have combined to run 14 marathons, including a 31-mile ultra-marathon by Hoppe. This spring, they will culminate that by participating in one of the world’s greatest road races, and each has a different story as to how they got there.
Barlage is the oldest of the group but the least experienced when it comes to the miles put behind her. She didn’t even start running until almost four years ago as a way to spend more time with her family.
In that sense, she is a bit of a natural. Barlage qualified for Boston in her first and only marathon at the Twin Cities race in 2011. She finished 27th out of 188 females in her age group that day with a time of 3:52:32.
“I always tell everybody that you can run,” Barlage said. “People always say they can’t run. In January four years ago, I walked to one street light, ran to the next one. That’s how I started, and it just slowly progressed.”
Barlage called running a marathon “a bucket-list kind of thing” and said she had no intention of qualifying for Boston. The weather and the rest of the conditions happened to be perfect that day. She knew the time she needed and her pace was within that range midway through the race. At that point, she went for it.
“It was very emotional,” Barlage said. “I remember seeing my husband, he’s my biggest cheerleader, and I just cried because it was like, ‘I did this.’ I actually ran a marathon. There’s something about finishing.”
Severson is probably the most serious runner of the group. The race in Boston will be her seventh marathon and she has no intentions of slowing down once this one is over. She plans on running in the New York Marathon next year and has also set the goal of qualifying for another Boston Marathon with her time in this year’s race.
Severson exhibited the mental toughness required to reach those kinds of goals during her qualifying race in Fargo last year. She found herself at a crossroads near the 16-mile mark after she got turned around and didn’t realize it until she had gone almost four blocks the wrong way.
“I just wanted to sit down and start crying,” Severson said. “But then I just decided I was really sick of always having these marathons that were almost qualifiers but not quite. I was sick of telling people why I didn’t do it that time, so I just kind of buckled down and did it.”
Severson kicked it in and ended up running at an 8:17-per mile pace. She crossed the finish line in 3:36:46, which was good for 15th place out of the 146 female runners in her age group.
“I was definitely going to qualify in that race,” Severson said.
Hoppe had a similar mindset as she went into the Twin Cities Marathon in 2010.
She had punched in the numbers beforehand and knew exactly what she was capable of and what kind of pace it would take to qualify for Boston.
She was running with a group that was right on that pace before they started to speed up with about five miles to go. Hoppe trusted her own math and felt confident that she was still on schedule to finish with a qualifying time.
What she didn’t take into consideration was that the numbers she had calculated prior to the race meant taking every turn as short as possible to limit the race to exactly 26.2 miles. Once she realized her mistake, she did the math in her head and realized she might miss the cut by almost two minutes.
“At three miles left, I was just full speed,” Hoppe said. “It felt like running a 5K after running my first 23 miles. I was just like, ‘I’m not going to miss this by two minutes. I will breathe when I cross the finish line. I’m dying, but I’m not missing this.’ I ended up with like a minute and a half to spare.”
Her time of 3:38:35 actually qualified her for the 2012 Boston Marathon. She was ready to run that race before the Boston Athletic Association allowed less experienced runners to defer their qualifying times to the 2013 race because of dangerously high temperatures.
That was welcome news for Hoppe, who was dealing with injuries going into the race. Stress reactions caused her to stop running for a while last year and injuries have continued to slow her this winter. She is limited to training just twice a week as she gets set to head out East next month. Hoppe knows that means she will have to walk at times, but nothing is going to keep her from experiencing the Boston Marathon.
“I’m going to do this,” she said. “I mean, it might be the only Boston I’ll ever get to do. I’m not going to give up unless the doctor says I need to stop running.”
Miller will be making good on an opportunity that she passed up many years ago when she gets to the starting line this April. She qualified for the Boston Marathon in 1998 but was young and newly married with a new job. It admittedly wasn’t as important to her back then, and she wasn’t going to bend over backwards to make the trip.
Her race in the 2012 Women Rock Marathon in St. Paul gave her a second chance after she qualified with a time of 3:40:36. She and Severson are co-workers, and it was Severson who helped push her to get back into running marathons. Miller hopes to join Severson in New York next year, but is excited to get a second chance in Boston first.
“To me, the most important thing will be to have fun because if I have fun, then I’ll want to do more,” Miller said, “whether it’s another marathon or a half marathon, whatever. It’s something that my coach taught me, you have to keep it fun. If you’re too serious about it and the fun disappears, then why are you doing it anymore?”
That is the mindset all four of these runners will take to the starting line with them. They have trained through hundreds of miles and in every condition that a Minnesota winter can throw at them. Now getting to run with some of the best distance runners in the world is their reward.
“It’s a privilege,” Severson said. “Before some of the races that I’ve run, the announcers have reminded us that as we’re running, we’re running in the footsteps of those people. It’s pretty impressive when you think about it.”
Runners at a glance
JEANNE BARLAGE, 52, CARLOS: Qualified for the Boston Marathon at the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon with a time of 3:52:32. That was the first and only marathon she has ever run in after she got into the sport just four years ago.
SABRINA HOPPE, 34, ALEXANDRIA: Has run a 31-mile ultra-marathon in Duluth, along with the Twin Cities Marathon in 2010. That’s where she qualified for the race in Boston with a time of 3:38:35. Hoppe was registered to race in the 2012 Boston Marathon, despite dealing with injuries. That changed when the Boston Athletic Association allowed runners with less experience to defer their 2012 qualifying times for the 2013 race because of dangerous temperatures in the mid-80s during last year’s race.
SHAWN SEVERSON, 40, ALEXANDRIA: A veteran of six marathons. Qualified for Boston at the Fargo Marathon in 2012 with a time of 3:36:46. That placed her 15th out of 146 women in her age group.
JULIE MILLER, 43, ALEXANDRIA: A veteran of four marathons. Miller qualified for the Boston Marathon once before, in 1998, but chose not to race in the event. Qualified for the 2013 Boston Marathon with a time of 3:40:36 at the 2012 Women Rock Marathon in St. Paul in 2012.