The 125th Boston Marathon made its long-awaited return on Oct. 11, over two years since its last in-person iteration. Despite this hiatus, thousands of athletes hit the ground running as spectators cheered them on along the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton all the way to downtown Boston. Out of roughly 20,000 athletes, 46 of them proudly sported the golden Tufts Marathon Team singlet on race day. TMT is a club that trains together throughout the year for the marathon.
Among the Tufts Jumbos were seniors Leila Skinner and Bridget Wall, first-timers running the marathon distance.
“Since freshman year and going to school in Boston, it’s been my goal to run the Boston Marathon by my senior year,” Skinner said. “It just seemed like a really full circle, big goal to have.”
For TMT, a special part of the course is Mile 9, where fans, parents and students of all ages cheer on the Tufts runners with colorful handmade posters. In the mix is TMT Coach Donald Megerle, who eagerly passed out homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the runners as they passed by and offered words of encouragement.
“In my mind … they’re leaving Hopkinton and they’re running to me,” Megerle said. “We get so connected during the training and being with them all of the time.”
Both Wall and Skinner attributed their successful training and completion of the marathon to Megerle, whom the runners call “Coach Don.”
“[Megerle] is like one of those people who just knows everyone and knows their split and their story,” Skinner said. “He is an incredible resource and support, and he just cares so much about what he does and we’re so lucky to have him.”
In preparation for the Boston Marathon, Megerle explained what he wanted his runners to focus on during the 26.2 miles: the TMT trilogy plus one.
“The trilogy is if you eat properly … if you drink and hydrate properly and you pace, and the plus one is run with a teammate … you’re going to assure yourself of success,” Megerle said. “But if you eliminate one of them … it’s going to be a tough day.”
Housemates Wall and Skinner used each other as teammates throughout the marathon as they pushed each other from start to finish.
“We finished and started together,” Wall said. “[Skinner] is my best friend, so it was really exciting to run with her.”
Each year, TMT receives an allotted number of bibs from the John Hancock Financial Services to represent Tufts University at the Boston Marathon. This year, in order to participate, Tufts undergraduate students were required to fundraise at least $3,000 while Tufts alumni, faculty, parents and friends of Tufts were expected to raise a minimum of $10,000, according to Megerle.
Wall explained that she received a majority of her donations from family and friends through social media. Skinner, along with another TMT member, reached her fundraising goal by holding a raffle where individuals could donate money in order to be entered to win artistic products her friends made.
For this year’s marathon, TMT raised over $400,000 to support research at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, including research on childhood obesity and cancer.
TMT was not the only team sporting Tufts gear on Marathon Monday. Team Tufts Medical Center (MC) also had runners representing the hospital in order to raise money for its facilities, patient care and research.
Although they received 50 bibs from the Boston Athletic Association as an official charity, Team Tufts MC only had 29 runners who competed in the 2021 marathon. Lauren Tedeschi, team manager for Team Tufts MC, said that the COVID-19 pandemic produced reduced participation and hesitation among athletes to compete and fundraise.
“They fundraised in a very challenging time and I can definitely say I think this was the probably hardest year it’s ever been in terms of training and fundraising,” Tedeschi said. “It’s a huge feat.”
Tedeschi said despite these uncertain circumstances, it was especially important to fundraise money for the hospital this year and that the runners should be proud to be advocates for the hospital and to be truly making a difference. In total, Team Tufts MC raised around $200,000.
Despite an attempt to return to normalcy, 2021 looked different from past years. The Boston Marathon was moved from its usual date on Patriot’s Day in April to mid-October. All runners were required to show their COVID-19 vaccination status or a negative COVID-19 test prior to the start of the race. The Boston Marathon also did not include an Athlete’s Village at the start, so all runners began the marathon with a rolling start instead of in an assigned wave. A virtual option was also available for runners around the globe from Oct. 8–10 that allowed for 70,000 registrants, according to Tedeschi.
According to Megerle and Tedeschi, both of their teams also had changes to their schedules and refrained from in-person events, including team dinners the night before the competition.
“We didn’t do any in-person events this year for the Boston Marathon due to the pandemic,” Tedeschi said. “We wanted to be mindful of our runners and their families and to make sure we’re being as safe as possible, especially being a hospital. So this race is definitely a little bit different. Not as interactive.”
According to Tedeschi, to make up for the lack of in-person events, Tufts Team MC runners were all sent pasta dinners to eat at home, and the hospital leadership staff created a video to wish them luck and to express their gratitude.
Despite all of their hard work training through a pandemic and the grueling summer heat, TMT almost missed the marathon the day of the race. On the way to the Boston Common, the Tufts bus got lost, almost resulting in TMT racers missing the Boston Athletic Association shuttle to Hopkinton.
“I was trying to keep my cool but that really did not make me feel good,” Wall said.
Luckily, the bus managed to reroute and the runners were able to make it on time to the starting line, at around 11 a.m.
Even with all of the added challenges and hard work, Wall was grateful for the opportunity to run this year’s marathon and is looking forward to running another marathon in the future.
“This was one of the top things on my bucket list to do,” Wall said. “If I had to do this on my own, I would not have done as well.”
Megerle was proud of all of his runners for competing in this year’s marathon.
“Of the world population, less than 1% [has] run a marathon so you’re in a very select group,” Megerle said. “It gives them a sense of accomplishment that is off the charts. If they do that, there is nothing else they can’t do.”
Shortly following Marathon Monday, TMT resumed practice at 7 a.m. the following Wednesday, already preparing for the 2022 marathon in the spring. Skinner encourages fellow Jumbos to come out and join TMT, regardless of running experience.
“The Boston Marathon is an incredible experience,” Skinner said. “Marathons should be for everyone, and they are really hard, but you can do it.”