Boston Medical Center marathon runners balance training, fundraising with busy schedules

Spectators cheer on runners as they near the top of Heartbreak Hill in Newton during the Boston Marathon. (Photo by Jessica Richardson / BU News Service)

By Rusty Gorelick
Boston University News Service

Dr. Alan Malabanan, an endocrinologist at the Boston Medical Center, calls himself a latecomer when it comes to running. This year’s Boston Marathon will be his third overall, having run his first in 2019, via the Chicago Marathon (once virtually and once in person), picked as an entry point for its flat course elevation.

Malabanan is also one of 86 runners fundraising for BMC ahead of the Boston Marathon, according to Team BMC’s GivenGain fundraising page. Team BMC is one of 43 charities represented in this year’s marathon.

“I’m part of this BMC family,” Malabanan said. “The hospital will send that money wherever it needs to go.”

“There are always some finite resources, so they have to go where there is a need.”

Team BMC runs a marathon training program coached by John Furey, who has 3 ½ decades of coaching experience in the sport. Malabanan joins Furey’s long runs on the weekends when his schedule allows. He says having a coach to evaluate him and help with any problems made training easier. Team BMC even partnered with Joint Ventures Physical Therapy to take care of their runners. 

“It was the difference between night and day between my virtual marathon and Chicago marathon versus how I feel now,” Malabanan said. “I feel like I’m stronger in a lot of ways and I feel a bit more resilient based on their training and help.”

Another motivator to start running, Malabanan added, is his family history of health issues.

“My father developed diabetes by his 40s and every one of his brothers and sister had diabetes as well,” Malabanan said. “So, I kept thinking, ‘I’m heading in that direction.’”

Malabanan mostly focuses on bone density in patients with osteoporosis, but he also takes care of patients with diabetes. 

“I certainly want to try and prevent [diabetes] on my own, and maybe serve as an example for my patients in showing that you can manage matters with regular exercise and improving diet,” Malabanan said. 

Another Team BMC runner whose schedule has not allowed for group training is William Pellegrini, a first-year otolaryngology — ear, nose, and throat — surgical resident. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from BU in 2016 and 2021, respectively. 

His typical day involves helping patients throughout the surgical process, including assisting surgeons in the operating room. As a first-year resident, he rotates to other surgical departments, which can strain his schedule.

“The stars just kind of aligned,” Pellegrini said. “I happen to have that weekend off. It just felt like it was going to work out and I felt like I really needed something in my life to motivate me outside of medicine, which can kind of consume you. I just blindly decided to go for it.”

Because of a schedule that sees him work 21 days in a row at times and stay on call while out of the office, Pellegrini runs solo, usually on the treadmill. If his pager beeps, he has to be at BMC within 30 minutes for surgery.

“It’s been hard,” Pellegrini said. “I’m not going to say that I’ve had a truly consistent training schedule just because my own schedule is so variable.”

In 2013, when he was a sophomore at BU, Pellegrini had to evacuate the MBTA Green Line while going to the finish line on Marathon Monday when the bombings occurred. The riders were evacuated at Copley Square, a short distance from the finish line where the bombings happened.

“We were all forced off the train to street level and everyone was panicking. It was crazy,” Pellegrini said. “Having had that experience, I always wanted to come back and run it myself.”

Pellegrini had to spend time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. He stayed an extra year at BU School of Medicine to decide what he wanted to do in medicine. He grew frustrated at his situation when the state mandated that his classmates from his original graduation year graduate early and assist hospitals, but channeled that energy into running and research.

For Pellegrini, seeing the hospital’s impact on people made fundraising for BMC an easy choice. The hype surrounding the marathon made a big impression on him as an undergrad student.

“I’ve always wanted to run it because I thought it was one of the most amazing things to do,” Pellegrini said. “Everyone’s so excited and there’s that air of ‘people can do anything’ that day.”

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