Running the Boston Marathon at least once is the goal of many runners, but to enter this legendary race you must first meet stiff age-group qualification times at a prior marathon. Kelly Ashton-Hand, a member of the Oak Park Runners Club, did it with style – even setting a personal record in Boston. And that’s something you’re not supposed to do on this notorious course.
When not running, Kelly is a forensic scientist at the Illinois state crime lab in Chicago, performing DNA and biological testing on crime scene evidence, and presenting trial testimony in court on the test results (but, she stresses, it’s nothing like CSI on TV).
On her high school track team in Cincinnati Kelly ran sprints and hurdles – the shorter distances. Then in college, she ran recreationally, entering a few road races. She and husband Scott, whom she has known since grade school, didn’t begin dating until college. He was also running, but they went to different schools about 45 minutes apart (Kelly in Miami, Ohio; Scott in Cincinnati), so they trained separately. Kelly talked Scott into entering a couple of half-marathons during her senior year, and they ran together, helping each other through the 13 miles. After grad school and marriage she moved up to longer distances, running her first marathon, Chicago, in 2003, and she now has six marathons in her log. Scott ran the first four with her, but announced after No. 4 in Des Moines, Iowa that he was through. Henceforth, when it comes to marathons Kelly is on her own, though they still run together in training.
Last year at the Flying Pig Marathon in her home town of Cincinnati, Kelly was hoping for a 3:30 to qualify for Boston. A fire near the marathon finish forced race officials to detour the course, adding about a quarter mile to the distance. Kelly finished in 3:38, and though the times were later corrected for the extra distance, she hadn’t made it – or so she thought! Back at work on Monday, her co-workers congratulated her for making the Boston standard. She had misread the qualification time needed for her age group (3:40), and she was in!
But preparing for Boston in April means doing your training mileage through the winter (remember last winter?). So in January Kelly joined a Chicago training program for Boston that met twice a week for runs along the lakefront. She notes that one evening the run was almost cancelled due to 17-below temps (they ran anyway). They also ran hills in Barrington and the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve to train for Boston’s infamous “Heartbreak Hill.” Her training group also hired a bus in Boston where they could stay warm and relax prior to the race. And it all paid off.
Kelly says she still “made the classic Boston mistake of going out too fast even after I had been warned. I felt great until Mile 21 after I hit the hills.” But finishing with a fine 3:35 and a personal record (and again qualifying for Boston), she’s “happy, but not completely satisfied. I feel like I still have a score to settle with this course.”
Maybe another personal record, too.
Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.