Most people who have completed a marathon will attest that around Mile 20, they hit a wall. As the waves of runners in the Boston Marathon approach Mile 21, the final stretch of a monumental athletic feat, they too hit a wall—a swarm of Boston College students leaning against the barricades, shouting, clapping, whistling, willing the runners to reach the end. During the 2015 Boston Marathon, as she stood with her peers and cheered along with them, Abby Arena, CSOM ’19, made a decision: by the end of her four years at BC, she would be on the other side of the barricade in a final push to the finish line.
She first started thinking about running the marathon as a freshman, but the idea lay dormant for the next two years, due to a busy sophomore schedule and the opportunity to travel abroad as a junior. Now, her dream of joining the mass of runners on Commonwealth Ave. is finally coming to fruition in her last semester at BC.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do, she said. “I called my parents that day and I was like, ‘I’m going to run the marathon.’”
After she announced that she would be running the 2019 Boston Marathon, a family friend reached out and told Arena about the Martin Richard Foundation—founded in honor of Martin Richard, an 8-year-old who was killed during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. When Arena’s friend, who was close with the Richard family, told her about the foundation’s mantra—to spread kindness and peace—Arena felt compelled to run for the team. She also finds it important to run for a group that is so active in the Boston community.
The summer after her freshman year of high school—about four years before her first Marathon Monday—Arena drove through Beantown on a trip to Boston with her family. Capitalizing on their time there, they decided to check out BC as a potential future college destination. Though it was just a quick stop along the way, Arena fell in love with the school after exploring the campus. While some of her classmates struggled when it came to making a choice about schools, the decision to attend BC was a no-brainer for Arena.
“I went to my college counselor [in high school] and asked, ‘What do I need to do to get into BC?’ and I just did that,” she said.
Though she had an uncle that had attended the University, and her high school sent a couple students every year, Arena’s Arena’s affinity for BC was personal. When Arena received her acceptance to BC, she sent in her deposit on the very same day.
The Martin Richard Foundation is not the first place that Arena has found a tight-knit community during her four years on campus. Upon being admitted to BC, Arena was placed in the Carroll School of Management (CSOM) Honors Program. At the end of the summer, Arena and about 40 other incoming freshmen in the program arrived on BC’s campus a week before the rest of the Class of 2019.
The week consisted of bonding activities, such as scavenger hunts, service outings, and speeches from CSOM Honors alumni. Arena credits her smooth transition to BC to the Honors Program—while many freshmen experience a slightly tumultuous Welcome Week, Arena already had 40 people she knew well.
Arena grew up in an athletic family. Her parents encourages her to stay active as a kid, and her mom ran a marathon in Hartford, Conn., where Arena grew up. While she had club lacrosse as a competitive outlet at BC, she found that having only two practices a week wasn’t allowing her to keep up with the rigorous sports schedule her high school lacrosse team gave her. She began to run more frequently to stay in shape. Influenced by her mom, who was an avid runner, Arena began to find calming clarity in long-distance runs. They soon became an outlet to alleviate any stress she was experiencing.
Having run a half marathon before, Arena never struggled to balance running with her day-to-day life, as she factored long-distance runs into her daily schedule. But when it came to training for a full marathon, she found she’s had to be more mindful and calculating in her training.
“With this I’ve had to be a lot more intentional, saying, ‘This day I’m going to do this run, and I’m going to run this far,’” she said. “It didn’t work as well into my daily routine … it took up a lot more time.”
MR8, Arena’s team under the Martin Richard Foundation, made training fun for Arena and the other runners she practiced alongside. One of her favorite elements of the training plan was the Saturday runs. Saturday, runners from the charity would gather weekly to run together. Everyone started together and then completed the remainder of the run at their own pace. Recently, MR8 completed its longest run yet—21 miles. Running as a group has made the Saturday runs more enjoyable, said Arena.
Arena knew that she would find physical and emotional satisfaction in training for the marathon, but she didn’t expect the community that MR8 brought with it. She described being at the kickoff event, surrounded by seasoned and new runners alike, and feeling excited. Arena fully credits her charity group for enhancing her experience.
“It makes it so much more meaningful when you’re running down on a Saturday and you see someone else in their MR8 gear, and you give a wave or a smile.”
Although training can be a daunting task, Arena has discovered that, for the most part, it has only enhanced her senior spring experience. Arena has been able to maintain her social life while still finding the joy in running for an hour every day. Her roommates have been especially supportive of her training journey. Caroline Kopfler, MCAS ’19, met Arena their first day of freshman year.
They began their college careers living across from each other in Hardey and are ending it together in a Mod. Kopfler, who has supported Arena throughout the process, says living with someone training for a marathon is crazy at times—she and her other roommates will wake up Saturday morning to Arena having just finished an 18-mile run.
“She’s always been a regimented person in general,” Kopfler said. “When she said she was doing the marathon, it wasn’t shocking to me. She really enjoys her training. It’s awesome to see her come back and be happy after a run.”
Arena has never been one to back down from a challenge. Growing up, Arena has developed a competitive and determined attitude. Her tenacity will help push her and those on her team to the finish line. Most important for Arena is achieving her individual fundraising goal of $7,500 for her charity and the people the Martin Richard Foundation supports.
“I think, especially in Boston, there’s so much emotion [surrounding the marathon],” she said. “Especially in running for Martin Richard’s foundation, that it makes it all the more special, to do it and complete it for such a strong mission.”
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor