By Richard Rourk
Each year, approximately 30,000 runners travel to Massachusetts for the Boston Marathon. Among that group this year were two runners from Unicoi County – Jeff King and Jennifer Norris.
King, a Unicoi County native and assistant coach for the Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team, decided to start running a few years ago.
“About 7 years ago, when my oldest daughter Riley was a senior in high school they had held a 5K to raise money for cancer, and I thought that was a good cause so I ran it,” King said. “I thought I was going to pass out before I could get to the finish line, and my time was around 30 minutes. I remember thinking I was so out of shape.”
According to King, he would try to run one more race to force himself to run a little more and to try to get in better shape.
“So about three months later I scheduled another 5K race and I continued to train until the race. I finished 3 minutes faster than the first 5K and I was hooked.
Green, who is a Spanish teacher at UCHS, had a similar path to Boston.
“I would watch the Boston Marathon every year and I always wanted to go, and I realized the only thing stopping me was myself, because I never thought I could be fast enough to qualify,” Green said. “After watching the race in 2017, I found a qualifying race in Cary, North Carolina, and I worked so hard to train for that marathon. I qualified for Boston at the Tobacco Road Marathon in 2018.”
For Green the qualifier changed her life.
“That was a defining moment for me, both mentally and physically,” Green said.
To prepare for the Boston Marathon King and Green had to put in serious training hours.
“For this marathon I typically ran between 60-70 miles a week,” King said. “John Hensley, my training partner, and I ran six days a week and usually on Saturday we do a pace run of 20-24 miles. We typically do a track day on Wednesday and rest of the days we just run 6-10 miles at a comfortable pace.”
Green put in a similar training schedule.
“I am a teacher and a doctoral student at ETSU, and I have two young boys; so in order to get my training runs completed and not miss their activities, I always ran in the morning before school,” Green said. “There were many, many 4 a.m. treadmill runs.”
The two finished the Boston Marathon in very humid conditions. King ran a 3:13:19, with a 7-minute, 22-second pace per mile.
“We had a big storm blow through that morning and the humidity was pretty bad, but I was still happy with my time,” King said. “My quads were cramping pretty bad at the finish.”
For Green, the event was about finishing her first Boston Marathon, not about the time.
“It was a hard day, but I put my head down and made it to the finish line,” Green said. “My ultimate goal in going to the Boston Marathon was to finish, so I am proud of that – regardless of the time.”
The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event for the two runners.
“Boston is unlike any marathon or race I have ever been in,” King said. “It’s like running in a sea of people, but everybody was friendly and I really enjoyed the experience.”
Green’s experience was memorable as well.
“It was humbling and hard, but amazing. I boarded the bus to the starting line that morning soaked from thunderstorms; it was dumping water on my head as the temperatures reached the upper 70s during the race, and I dealt with some excruciating leg cramps during the last mile of the race,” Green said. “You cannot complete 26.2 miles without a fight, and I fought that entire race.”
King plans on returning in 2020.
“My time did qualify me for next year’s Boston Marathon,” King said. “John (Hensley) just qualified for Boston at the Knoxville Marathon so I plan on running it again with him.”
Green plans on taking a break before talking about the Boston Marathon again.
“I do not anticipate returning to Boston right away; however, I love the marathon and would like to plan a fall marathon, as well as a few half marathons,” Green said. “I am enjoying this rest time right now.”
The two runners said they enjoyed their time in Boston.
“My wife Kerri and I really enjoyed the city. There is so much history,” King said. “We toured the Freedom Trail and visited several historical sites.”
For Green the experience at the marathon was overwhelming.
“The crowds were unreal, and the streets were lined the entire 26.2 miles,” Green said. “I had never experienced crowds like this before when running a race and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I was in tears.”
Green felt all the hard work pay off as she finished the marathon.
“I had poured so much work and sacrifice into that race, crossing the finish line was overwhelming,” said.
King and Green had advice for runners who are currently training.
“I would encourage anyone thinking of running to give it a try,” King said. “My rule of thumb is that most of your training needs to be at 60 percent of your max level,” King said. “If you can’t talk you’re probably running too fast, slow down and enjoy the run.”
Green added that the marathon is achievable, and it takes hard work, but it is worth it.
“It is worth every early morning and every training run,” Green said. “The strength you gain in training for a marathon is so much more than physical.”
The two runners admitted that it takes a team to prepare a runner to compete.
“My wife has been my biggest supporter,” King said. “She is the one who I wake up at 4 a.m. when I’m doing a morning run and she goes to most of my races to support me, and sometimes she will run a 5K with me,” King said. “Both my daughters Rilie and Kenedy always brag me up, and I appreciate John running with me. We have run in 6 inches of snow, 15-20 degrees days and wind/rain. No matter the conditions he is always ready to go.”
For Green, her support system came from those closest to her.
“I could not have made it to Boston without the support and encouragement of my family, friends and everyone at Unicoi County High School,” Green said.