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Boston Marathon a family affair

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Joe Houmard, left, and his daughter, Katie Sanderson, pose after running a race together.

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BY NATHAN SUMMERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, April 14, 2019

After a morning farewell to family members at an aunt’s house in greater Boston and some tense, final preparatory moments in a field 26 miles to the west in Hopkinton, Mass., Katie Sanderson and her father, Joe Houmard, will separate abruptly and drift into a sea of more than 30,000 other human beings in the annual spectacle of endurance that is the Boston Marathon.

Both know the path well, passing through the quaint New England towns and storied college campuses that steadily grow along the course into a massive city, but they never have traveled it together. That changes on Monday when the two will simultaneously compete in the race, which Sanderson will take on for the fourth time and Houmard for the third.

The father and daughter Greenville natives will reunite sometime later in the evening for more of what both have described as a major family event that will include relatives from all over converging on Beantown for the 123nd running of the race, which began in 1897 with just 15 participants and now has an official capacity of 32,500.

“The whole fam’s going to be there, so it’s going to be a fun time,” said Sanderson, a physician assistant for UNC Health Care. “I know my dad is super pumped and he’s happy he was able to re-qualify at his age and run with one of his kids. He’s very excited.

“I think it will be fun for us to do it together, even though we won’t be running in the same corral (participants are organized into groups based on their qualifying times) and we won’t be starting together or anything, but just to experience it and some of the crazy weather we’re probably going to have and just to enjoy the whole weekend will be great,” she said.

Technically, they could run together. Sanderson, a former standout softball and volleyball player at J.H. Rose High School who went on to play softball at UNC Wilmington — and who married former East Carolina baseball player and coach Ben Sanderson — could have opted to run in her father’s group.

But this is her fourth Boston Marathon, and the 29-year-old competitor who qualified for the world’s best-known running race the first time she ever tried said she has personal bests to beat.

In her father’s eyes, they would not have stayed together long anyway even if they did start together.

“She runs a lot faster than I do,” said Houmard, a professor of kinesiology at ECU and an Ohio native who ran the Boston race in 1986 and 1996 and who admits it was probably more his vision than his daughter’s for both to qualify and run in the same year. “I can’t even get close to her anymore. Us running together is something I would have never dreamed about years ago.”

Sanderson, who ran her first Boston qualifying time at her debut marathon in Raleigh in 2014, estimated her father would start about 20 minutes behind her.

The buildup

Both runners said they generally begin to focus on a marathon three to four months in advance and begin a running routine that steadily builds in distance. That culminates with what both described as a series of weekly runs in the range of 18 to 22 miles before beginning the “taper” process of dialing down the distance and training two weeks out from the race.

Houmard estimated he did four or five training runs in the 18-20 range this time.

Despite their age difference, Sanderson follows a similar regimen.

“That’s the big thing, the 20-miler,” said Sanderson  Like her father, she lends a good deal of credit to organized social running like the weekly pub runs in Greenville organized by Fleet Feet for keeping her in shape and also connected to the competitive side of the sport. “If you’re doing marathon training, you run a lot of longer runs, like 18 to 22 miles.”

This year, Sanderson did five runs of 20 or more miles and about four of roughly 18 miles to get ready.

Carbo-loading

Part of the preparation sounds fun.

The process known as carbo-loading is exactly what it sounds like, loading up on carbohydrates the day before the race to give the body an added boost. From a chemical standpoint, it is designed to maximize the storage of glycogen in the muscles and liver.

To that end, spaghetti dinners have become a family tradition on the nights before marathons, and both Sanderson and Houmard said pasta serves a big purpose in the grueling race ahead.

For Sanderson, it is important to make the biggest pre-race meal her lunch on the day before followed by a smaller dinner. She also has become of fan of Boston’s own Harpoon India Pale Ale and said those calories too are an important pre-race ritual for her.

“I always try to fit some beer in there somewhere,” she said. “That’s what I do for my carbo-loading, some spaghetti and some beer.”

Race day

First and foremost, the tens of thousands of competitors have to reach the starting line, which Sanderson said is going to be a big difference this year for her and her father, especially with wet weather in the forecast.

“I think it’s going to be very interesting because they’re calling for a 90 percent chance of rain, and we’re actually taking a chartered bus this year,” she said. “What they usually do in Boston is they’ll ship you out on school buses to the starting line and the athletes’ village, which is just a big field basically. You wait until you start and you can be there for a couple of hours before, but we’re doing it totally different this year. We’re taking a chartered bus out there and we get to sit in our bus basically until the race starts, so we’ll actually be warm and dry this year.”

Once the logistics are figured out — it takes the school buses about an hour to get to the starting line — the matter of running the race quickly becomes the only concern.

Making the trek back to the city is not easy for anyone, Sanderson included, but she said she always relishes the idea of traversing the most historic 26.2 miles in the world.

“It’s definitely not one of the easier courses by any means,” she said. “Being in April, we’re always up against the New England weather. I enjoy it because it’s such a big spectating event.”

In fact, Sanderson said the passion of the people lining the streets no matter the weather or the location along the way is unparalleled.

“Last year was some of the worst weather they’ve ever seen (for the race), and there was not a point along the course where there weren’t people out cheering for you,” she said. “No matter how miserable you felt at that time, running in the freezing cold and the wind is blowing at you, you turn around and you see people cheering for all the runners and they’re wearing parkas and rain jackets. It’s just an awesome event, and people are cheering and having parties the entire time.”

As runners crest the notorious Heartbreak Hill at the 20-mile mark, they pass by Boston College and Sanderson said students go all-out, offering beer and popsicles to competitors.

When the finish line is found, the recovery begins, but so too does celebration. Houmard called it simply “basking in the glow.”

Sanderson said she takes an immediate long shower followed by an even longer nap after the race. Both she and Houmard agree, however, it takes as long as a month for the body to fully recover.

Home away from home

The marathon is about much more than the race itself, and Sanderson said the April days in Boston leading up to and following the race have become just as cherished as race day.

“My favorite thing that I’ve done with this weekend before is that we always go to the Red Sox game the Sunday before the marathon, and then we get to enjoy hanging out and having dinner and a couple beers after the race and just enjoy the entire weekend and not just the actual race,” she said.

This will be Houmard’s 27th marathon overall, having run his first when he was a student at Manchester (Ohio) College. While he admits that because of the unpredictable weather in New England in the spring it’s not his favorite race, he contends there is nothing else quite like the Boston Marathon.

“It’s like the Rose Bowl,” he said. “It’s the granddaddy of them all.”

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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