Local runner lives out her dream at virtual Boston Marathon event

Elise Noonan at the 125th Boston Marathon on Oct. 11, 2021. Photo courtesy of Elise Noonan.

By Jusneel Mahal
Boston University News Service

Despite not qualifying for the Boston Marathon, 25-year-old Elise Noonan still ran down Boylston Street as supporters cheered her on. The run followed after the recent College of Holy Cross graduate participated in the marathon’s virtual race, which took place from October 8th-10th. 

The Boston Marathon had always been on Noonan’s bucket list. The Southborough native grew up cheering on the runners with her family as they crossed the finish line. She vividly remembers telling her eighth grade gym instructor that she would one day compete in the illustrious race. 

But her dream of competing in the marathon took a hit last spring when she realized that she didn’t meet the qualifications required for the competitive event. 

“Since I’ve never run a marathon before, I couldn’t qualify,” Noonan said. “There are specific marathons to run to qualify for Boston.” Some of these races include Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia. 

Due to the pandemic, this year’s field size was reduced from 31,500 to 20,000 runners. Athletes also had to run an average of 7 minutes, 47 seconds per mile for 26.2 miles or faster than the qualifying time for their age group and gender. 

According to the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), 80% of the field consists of qualified entrants, and 20 percent are invitational entries, such as charity program runners. While virtual runners could run anywhere of their choosing, Noonan ran the Marathon’s same 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston.

“Many of us chose to run it on the real route on Saturday morning starting in Hopkinton around 7 a.m.,” she said.

Prior to running the marathon, she had joined the Heartbreak Hill Running Company, as well as a Facebook group for the virtual runners. She had been training five times a week since the start of June.

Noonan was among the virtual runners that chose to run Saturday morning. One fellow runner was her cousin’s wife, Jessica Westfield. Westfield ran in the main event in 2019 and joined the virtual marathon after she didn’t meet the qualification time for her age group, Noonan said. 

After the race, virtual runners submitted their times to the B.A.A. app and would eventually be mailed a T-shirt and commemorative celebratory unicorn medal. 

Noonan’s favorite part of the race came when her mom jumped in on a whim and ran the last mile with her. She could tell that her daughter was struggling so she provided her with some extra support. It was a memorable finish to Noonan’s first full marathon. 

Noonan said she has her eyes set on running more marathons in the near future. “For the New York City and Chicago marathons, the fundraising amount is around $3,500, so I may try to do those someday since it is more attainable,” said Noonan. 

And while Noonan admitted that qualifying for next year’s Boston Marathon is still a long shot, she remains determined to one day compete in the main event. 

 “It was a long journey but happy it’s done,” she said. “I’m hoping one day to do the in-person, real thing!”

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