Craig Golen has run through Ashtabula County many times, but his jog over the weekend was a run like he’d never experienced before.
“Twenty-six miles on the Greenway trail probably seem boring to most people,” the Jefferson native said. “But, my gosh, it went by so fast.”
That’s because the 26 miles was replacement for one of his dreams.
Golen’s dream was to run in the Boston Marathon. It was a dream he appeared to be on his way to become a reality after qualifying for the famous race in one of America’s most historic cities in April 2019.
“It is the Holy Grail of marathons,” said Kathy Huggins, a local runner. “It is earned, not given. You can’t just go into a lottery and hope that you’re in it. You have to qualify for it and we were lucky to qualify for it.”
Golen was lucky enough to punch his ticket for Boston as well. Of course, when he achieved his qualifying time, words such as COVID-19, social distancing and pandemic had become part of everyone’s every day vocabulary.
The event has taken place every year since 1897. It was scheduled for April 20. but then postponed until September. By May, the Boston Marathon had been officially canceled.
For Golen and others who had never qualified before, the news was heartbreaking.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” he said. “I actually trained for a year and a half for it. When it was first postponed, I was disappointed. Then, when it was canceled, I was really bummed.”
Golen was one of a small group of runners from Ashtabula and Lake Counties who had planned to be in Boston this past weekend to run. Instead of sulking at home, though, they hit the Greenway Trail for a Virtual Boston Marathon.
No, it wasn’t Beantown, but the replacement event turned out to be rewarding in its own right.
“I didn’t think the virtual would be much fun,” Golen said. “But, the people made it so exciting and so much fun to run. We really had a good time with it.”
Local runner Erik Van’t Veer said he felt bad for runners like Golen who had never experienced the race in Boston. But that at the same time, the virtual event gave them a sense of completion to those that had been training for so long.
“You can run a marathon anywhere, but being in Boston is what makes it special,’ Van’t Veer said. “So I felt bad that the runners got to experience what it felt like, but did not get to see what it looked like.
“It was good to have at least the thought of Boston to come to an end, though. It was nice to have the support of the community at the road crossing cheering us on and people on bikes, riding along, making sure we had water and were okay. It was fulfilling that everyone got to have some closure on this disruption. Everybody in some aspect has dealt with some sort of disruption, at least we got to bring ours to an end.”
Steve Locy, organizer of the event, said the Greenway Trail was an ideal place to host the event.
“Erik Van’t Veer, Kathy Huggins, and I ran there a lot and we just started talking,” Locy said. “There were areas where you could have water stops put in about every four miles, so we put the idea out there and it just took off.”
The event also drew those from outside the county as well, including Jamie Rice from Concord. Rice, 72, has been running for 37 years. She has seven national records and one world record for her times in distance running for her age group on her resume
Rice, too, had run in Boston and many other races, but this one was unique in its own way.
“It was special because whoever could qualify for Boston got to run it,” Rice said. “They worked so hard to qualify, but of course, it got canceled because of the COVID. At least, this was a virtual Boston Marathon, so they can say ‘I ran a Boston Marathon.’ It was still special, people came out, family came out, it was pretty neat, it was a fun run.”
Runners who participated in the event will receive a medal and T-shirt for their participation. More importantly, they are qualified for next year’s event.
For Golen, it’s something he’s already thinking about.
“Definitely, he said. “They’re going to still let us use our qualifying time from 2019, so hopefully they have it. I really want to go.”