Sophomore Lives Dream To Run Boston Marathon

Melissa Gymrek ’11 Inspired by High School Coach

2085 marathon
Melissa A. Gymrek ’11 is seen here 400 yards away from the finish line on Boylston St. during The 113th annual Boston Marathon on Monday April 20, 2009. The 26.2 mile event brings together runners and spectators from around the world.
Ramya Sankar—The Tech

“All of a sudden you hear a buzz and it gets louder, and as you turn onto Route 16, the buzz turns into a roar of sound,” said Melissa Gymrek ’11, recalling what she heard after mile ten of the Boston Marathon.

“It’s a wall of sound with thousands of people cheering for you,” she said, describing the scene all the way to the finish line.

Gymrek (pronounced GIM-reck), one of a handful of MIT students who run the marathon each year, joined almost 30,000 other runners and even more spectators from around the world on Monday, April 20, for the 113th Boston Marathon. She clocked a time of 3:42:30.

On the day of the marathon, Gymrek got up at 4:30 a.m. to head to the Boston Common at 6 a.m. All the runners were bussed over to the starting line in Hopkinton and waited around for 3 hours before they were signaled to start.

Runners start in waves and Gymrek was part of the first wave of 1400 runners. She started the race at 10:15 a.m.

That morning her head was filled with doubts, Gymrek said. She worried that wouldn’t finish, but the enthusiasm at the starting line was infectious.

There is “so much excitement that you forget how hard it’s going to be,” she said.

Each runner was given a transponder that they tie to their shoe which helps log times for runners at various marks in the course. The times were posted on the Boston marathon website, where her family was able to track her progress. Though her family couldn’t make it to the race, her friends came to cheer her on. As she passed Massachusetts Avenue she heard a friend scream her name and looked up to wave.

The hardest leg of the race was the second to last mile because she said it is at “the very end of what your body wants to give.” But as she approached the Citgo sign, which signaled the last mile, she knew she had to keep going.

Crossing the finish line was exhilarating. “I was very ecstatic and had goose bumps,” Gymrek said, adding “wow I actually did this,” recalling moments after she finished. Soon after finishing, she covered herself in an insulation blanket to keep herself warm. She found it difficult to bend down to take off the transponder and said the walk back to campus was painful.

It “took me 5 minutes to get off the couch,” she said after taking a nap later that evening. On Wednesday she was better and able to walk down stairs again.

Gymrek’s love for running started in 5th grade, when she was offered a free homework pass for joining the cross country team. She describes running as being in “another world.” She loves being able to run long distances and sometimes she gets the feeling that she could keep on going forever.

Gymrek competed in school cross country meets in both middle and high school, but only got serious about long-distance runs in her senior year.

Her inspiration for running the Boston Marathon was her high school cross country coach, Rick Torres, who would always talk about the Boston Marathon and wear his marathon jacket. When Gymrek graduated, he gave her his race logbook, where he kept notes from his races.

The logbook tells a story of how Torres ran a marathon injured but still managed to finish. Gymrek was inspired by her coach’s determination: at the last leg of the marathon he wrote that he wanted to give up but kept going anyway.

The road leading up to qualification was difficult. Gymrek, who is on the cycling and triathlon teams, has suffered at least one hip stress fracture every year since high-school junior year. This meant that for 2–6 months at a time, she could not train. It wasn’t until April of last year that she was able to seriously prepare for a marathon.

She qualified for the Boston Marathon after running her first marathon, the BayState Marathon in Lowell last October, with a time of 3:23:57. Qualifying time for the women’s 18- to 34-year-old bracket is 3:40:00.

Now that the Boston Marathon is over, she plans on training for a marathon in the fall, hopefully with her twin sister, who was inspired by Gymrek’s performance.