A looming 40th birthday can do strange things to a person. For some, it heralds floating anxiety about the passing of youth and dreams unfulfilled. For others, it’s a call to action. Bob Alig, associate vice president for Alumni Relations, saw it as an opportunity to try something he’d never done before: run a marathon. In 2002 he ran his first, in Philadelphia, and this spring he stepped up the challenge and competed in the prestigious and notoriously hilly Boston Marathon.
“It was fantastic,” says Alig (pictured at right) of the April 17 race. “It was a beautiful day, with not too much sun and moderate temperatures.” Starting out at noon in Hopkinton, Mass. Alig reached the finish line 25 miles east on Boston Common 3 hours, 29 minutes and 33 seconds later. Alig says his Boston Marathon experience was quite different from his three Philadelphia races. For one thing, the race takes place on a public holiday, Patriots’ Day, so spectators lined the entire route and fans on the sidelines offered water, orange slices and bananas to the runners. “It was just remarkable,” says Alig.
Another big difference was the topography, with some “very challenging” hills in the last four or five miles. “That’s where I frankly slowed up my pace a little bit. I’m not used to those hills.” His training at Pottruck helped, though. During the winter when the weather was too bad to run outside, Alig would put the treadmill on a five percent incline. “I’m glad I did that,” he says.
Alig began training in earnest for the race back in November, starting out with a “relatively easy to manage” 25 miles a week, ramping up to 35 in January and doing a final two-month blitz of 50 to 60 miles a week. Alig does much of his running in the Wissahickon, sometimes accompanied by his partner Gwenn Danet-Desnoyers (who’s on the Penn Medicine research faculty), who rides alongside on his bike. This winter, though, his training overlapped with Dr. Gutmann’s trips to Asia and India. Alig, who says he never stays at a hotel without a treadmill, also relished the opportunity to do some “wonderful runs through the streets in different parts of the world.”
Alig’s colleagues and staff in Alumni Relations may be his biggest supporters. Two years ago, as a holiday gift, they gave him several appointments with a professional trainer. “It was a fantastic gift from my staff,” he says, “some of whom I think were trying to kill me.” His trainer, Sean Mick, helped Alig train for speed and pace himself over a long race.
Support within his department went even further. Colleague Steve Hamilton, the senior associate director for the Alumni Council on Admissions, joined him in his marathon bid, finishing the race in 3 hours and 21 minutes. This was Hamilton’s seventh marathon, though his first on the famed Boston course. “Runners build this up as a huge race for elite runners who can qualify,” says Hamilton, and though he was afraid it had been overhyped, “it turned out to be everything it was built up to be.”
Hamilton says the highlights for him were the “screaming fans” lined up five deep on some parts of the route. “I must have high-fived a thousand people, mostly kids and babies.” He also relished the challenge of the infamous hilly stretch because his training, with friends in Wilmington, had been “heavily hilly.”
After he crossed the finish line in Boston, ecstatic but exhausted, Alig did the recommended half-hour cool down walk and then headed straight for Starbucks. “I got a venti bold coffee. Nothing ever tasted better.”
The best part of the whole experience, though, was that he qualified for next year. “So I can do it again.” Hamilton too says he’ll be back. “Absolutely, in a heartbeat. Nothing will keep me from going there.”
Originally published on April 27, 2006