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I'm a Bear

Andrea Alt

Andrea Alt, UNC Doctoral Student and Graduate Assistant, Mathematical Sciences. Photo by GradImages

December 21, 2018

In the Top 20 at the Boston Marathon

When I was 10, I signed up for the mile during field day at my school because no one else wanted to do it. My mother asked, “Andrea, you know that’s four laps around the track, right?” But I ran it anyway and won it. I even beat all the guys. I was in love from that day forward.

I ran cross country on a scholarship for Bowling Green State University. Eventually I came to UNC to work on a doctorate, and decided I wanted to run the marathon. So now I have two goals in life: I want to be a math professor, and I want to qualify for the Olympic trials in the marathon.

The marathon was the next step for me. I’d run many short, competitive races in my life. I like the challenge. The marathon is the divide between the really devoted runners and everyone else.

In my first marathon, I struggled after mile 20, like most people in that race, but I qualified for the Boston Marathon. The Boston freaking Marathon. Even when I was running all those short races in college, I’d dreamed of running Boston.

Weather conditions in Boston were maybe the worst they’d ever been. It was April 16, pouring rain, 30 mph winds, and 35 degrees. Race officials worried about people getting hypothermia. But I was used to running in gray falls and winters in Ohio, where I grew up, and I trained in Greeley all winter, where most mornings it’s 20 degrees. I was surprised by how good I felt. I ran 2:50, my best time by eight minutes, and was the 17th woman across the finish line.

I was only 13 seconds behind Molly Huddle. She holds the American record in the 5K. The weather was the great equalizer — it really came down to who was mentally tough and willing to run, really run, in those conditions, and who felt good enough in that weather to do it.

With Boston behind me, I ran the Chicago Marathon in October. I hoped to run 2:44 to qualify for the Olympic trials, but missed it by just two minutes.

I don’t have a coach, and I don’t really follow a training plan. I just put one together based on all my experience in competitive running. It gives me flexibility that way. If I’m out for a run and I’m not feeling it, I will stop and try again the next day.

The most challenging part about the training is the time commitment it requires: two hours a day, and on the weekend it’s longer than that. It’s honestly my free time because I have school and teaching. It doesn’t sound fun, but in some crazy way, I find it enjoyable.

I’ll sometimes put off grading or homework and go for a long run. It’s a quiet place to think about what’s going on in my life. I run by myself. It’s a lot of solo time. I joke and say my therapist is my pair of shoes.  

I just feel a sense of accomplishment after all my runs. It means I’ve worked for the day. It’s a stress reliever for me. When I’m at the good points of my run, there are times when I think I could do this all day long.

 –As told to Dan England