When Sacred Heart University math professor Bernadette Boyle saw the weather forecast a mere 12 hours before she would be running in the Boston marathon, she Googled “symptoms of hypothermia.” The petite, nearly five-foot-tall 32-year-old was afraid the harsh conditions would have a terrible impact on her body.
Boyle, a longtime runner and faculty mentor for SHU’s track and cross-country team, was given the chance of a lifetime to participate in the Boston Marathon this April. The opportunity came about through Todd Cassler ’01, a member of the Board of Visitors for SHU’s Jack Welch College of Business. Cassler works for John Hancock Investments, the major sponsor of the marathon, as president of Financial Institutions and Advisory Solutions. A University email went out to all students, faculty and staff asking for applications with details of their running ability and experience. Boyle was selected at random from the respondents. Participation also came with a fundraising responsibility. Running a marathon was on the Fairfield resident’s bucket list, so she spent the fall and winter months training and fundraising for SHU’s student scholarship funds.
The day before the race, sitting in a hotel room with her mother and sister, Boyle watched the weather forecast. “It was getting worse and worse,” she said. “The weather was going to be in the 40s, pouring rain and super windy. By Sunday night I wasn’t nervous about running, I was worried about hypothermia. I’m small and always cold. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m always cold. I always have two more layers on than the people around me. If anyone in that race was going to get hypothermia, it was going to be me.”
The professor’s goals for the marathon changed. “Before the weather forecast came out my goal was to finish the race in under four hours, but once the forecast was reported, my goal was to finish.”
To Boyle’s delight, she finished the race in four hours, 10 minutes and five seconds. She never felt like she was getting hypothermia and, while her peers told her she had on too many layers for the 26.2 run, she was just fine. “It’s easy to take care of being overdressed, you just take a layer off, you lose it, whatever. But I was dressed perfectly. I didn’t take any layers off. I was comfortable. I really felt like my core body temperature was perfect,” she said.
Hours before she finished the race, Boyle was full of adrenaline and nervousness. She didn’t get much sleep the previous night and was up at 4 a.m. for race day. As a John Hancock VIP, she wanted to make sure she was on time to all events. She dressed, left the hotel at 5:15 a.m. and took an Uber to the VIP tent. “As soon as I stepped out of the car, the wind took my hat away.” She tracked it down, but this was her first glimpse of what the weather had in store. She decided to wear hood to ensure her hat stayed put.
Eventually VIPs were loaded onto coach buses and driven to their race destination. To Boyle’s surprise, they received “star treatment.” “We had a police escort. It was a crazy experience…the highway was completely shut down. Every entrance ramp was closed off, and the escorts had their lights flashing. It was very cool.”
Around 11 a.m. Boyle started the marathon. “There were times when it was raining and times it was pouring, and there were times it was windy. Sometimes I didn’t notice either. Or it just stopped. I just kept trucking along,” she said. “I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I never thought about not participating. No matter what the conditions were going to be, I was going to do my best.”
At one point Boyle looked down at her pant legs, and while she was comfortable, she noticed something white started to form. “I thought I had a piece of plastic stuck to my knee,” she said. When she went to brush it off, it was icy. “It was more than just frost, I could almost make a snowball out of it. A few miles later, there was more forming. That was kind of crazy,” she said.
Boyle didn’t run with music; she never has, and didn’t start on race day. “I didn’t hit a wall, and I didn’t walk. I was happy with that,” she said. Boyle did stop briefly on the top of “Heartbreak Hill” when her bib started to blow off. She had a non-gloved spectator help her safety-pin the bib back to her shirt.
As she ran, she saw the crowds of spectators cheering on runners even in the dreariest of weather conditions. “It was a wonderful experience, I had a lot of fun out there,” Boyle said.
When the race was over, she was able to change into the dry clothes she left in the VIP tent and eventually met up with her family. She was grateful for her mom, Lee Anne; sisters, Irene and Mary; and sister’s fiancé, Michael, for supporting her and rooting her on. Her dad, an accountant, wanted to be there, but couldn’t considering it was the day before taxes were due. Her sister, Auri, also was unable to attend because of teaching responsibilities. Boyle understood.
Boyle was also appreciative of all the support from her colleagues, friends and members of the SHU track and cross-country team. “Everyone was amazing,” Boyle said.
While she enjoyed the experience, training was a big commitment. “Race day is fun, I love it. It’s the training that’s a lot of work.” SHU’s cross-country team did make it more bearable. “I would run with the team on the weekends and during the week, it was nice to start or finish a run with people.”
A day after the marathon, Boyle said she felt good, a little sore, but a good sore. She thinks she was still riding the runner’s high.
To continue to help Boyle reach her goal and raise more money for student scholarships, visit: https://weareshu.sacredheart.edu/project/9306