August 17, 2017

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Shannon Elton: Crossing the Boston Marathon off Her Bucket List

Nurse Practitioner Shannon Elton, OB-GYN, ACMC-WillmarIt’s the stuff dreams are made of—a runner’s dream at least. Imagine running through the streets of Boston as crowds cheer you on and after 26.2 miles you cross the finish line, victorious and proud. When ACMC ob/gyn nurse practitioner Shannon Elton first began running, she never dreamed she’d be one of the 27,165 runners at the 2015 Boston Marathon. But she was. She’s one of only 10 percent of all marathoners who will ever get to compete in this prestigious race.

Qualifying for Boston

“I started running in my late twenties as a way to get a little more exercise. As motivation I signed up for a race being held in Willmar, and I fell in love with it,” Shannon said. “Boston eventually became a bucket list item for me, but I had to work toward it. It wasn’t going to happen overnight.”
 
Her goal was to run a marathon before she turned 30. At 29 she completed Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth and did it three more times before her first child came along. Two more kids followed before Shannon got back to running marathons. Then last September she ran the Sioux Falls marathon, where she qualified for Boston.
 
“I was ecstatic to qualify, but didn’t really know if I’d get lucky enough to run in Boston,” Shannon said.
 
Runners in her age category must complete the run in three hours and 45 minutes or less in order to qualify.  Qualifying doesn’t guarantee you a spot in the marathon. Only 30,251 runners can register every year. They start with qualifiers who have the fastest time, filtering down to the slowest qualifying time.
 
When Shannon found out she’d get to run in Boston, she began an 18-week training plan, at her peak training running between 45 and 50 miles every week. She’d run five days a week with four shorter runs and one long run. The longest training runs Shannon did were two 20-milers, a little more than six miles short of what she’d run in Boston.  The weeks flew by and before she knew it, she was boarding a plane to Boston.

Off to the Races

Shannon and her husband flew in a couple of days early, joining the other runners for a fitness expo before the marathon on Monday. At the expo runners receive their race packet and get a chance to see the finish line before race day. Runners can also opt to go on a guided tour of the race course.
 
The weekend ticked by, and the morning of the race brought 20 to 30 mile head winds, rain and temperature in the 40s.
 
“You’d think with the Minnesota weather I’d be used to running in conditions like that.  But running that far alone is a mind-game,” Shannon said. “The added challenge of the weather made me really nervous so I brought my headphones with me to help get through the race. Little did I know, despite the weather, despite the distance, I wouldn’t need them. The atmosphere is so electric. It was rare to run more than a block without hollering and cheering to keep you moving. They call it the Boston spirit.”

Ready, Set, Go

Shannon and other marathoners took a bus to the starting line, where they congregated for an hour before the race. She saw other marathoners, including competitors with prosthetic legs, others running with wheelchair companions and a blind man. Though the nerves were coursing through her body, it was inspiring to hear the stories of other runners. As the minutes ticked down to the race, friends, family and co-workers anxiously awaited her start, too. They were able to follow her progress online, cheering her on from afar.
 
Finally it was time, and Shannon walked with her fellow runners to the starting line. As she raced through the small communities—it starts in Hopkinton and ends in Boston—that comprised the first part of the marathon, the first 20 miles flew by. By mile 23 things started to get a little harder.
 
“I remember thinking I wanted to walk, but I was there to run the Boston Marathon, not walk it,” Shannon said.  “Then at mile 25 I saw my husband in the crowd, yelling for me, and that gave me the boost I needed to finish. In that last mile, we were turning corners every two to three blocks, and I couldn’t wait to see the finish line.”
 
When she finally spotted the long-awaited finish line, tears came to her eyes as the rollercoaster of emotions overtook her.
 
“I was happy, relieved and so proud of myself for what I had just accomplished,” she said. “It’s something that I’ll always carry with me.”
 
Now that she’s crossed Boston off her bucket list, she’s back to running near Atwater, though she took several days off to recover and her training isn’t nearly as extensive as it was before.
 
As to whether or not she’ll run Boston again, time will tell. And if Shannon doesn’t, she knows it’s something few have the chance to do and something she’ll never forget.