Marathon Woman: Donlan Completes Third Boston Marathon

Share this:
121st Boston Marathon
Where: Boston and surrounding towns
When: Held on Patriots Day, which is the third Monday in April.
Between the Lines: Over 30,000 male and female runners started the 121st Annual Boston Marathon on April 17. … Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui won the men’s race in a time of 2:09.37 in his Boston Marathon debut. … Edna Kiplagat won the women’s race in a time of 2:21.52, which was the fourth fastest women’s time in history of the Boston Marathon.
Anna Donlan started competitive marathon running at an age when many runners are at or near their peak. But that hasn’t slowed down the Waxhaw resident one bit.
Donlan finished her seventh marathon Monday, April 17, when the 36-year-old completed the 121st Boston Marathon in a time of 3 hours, 31 minutes. It was Donlan’s third time to run the prestigious race that winds 26.2 miles through the towns around Boston before ending on Boylston Steet.
Donlan ran her second Boston Marathon in 2014, and her first was the year before in 2013 when the race was tragically marred by the Boston Marathon Bombing.
Over 30,000 runners started this year’s race, and Donlan was the 1,614th woman to cross the finish line and was 7,393rd among all runners. With temperatures in the upper 60’s under a nearly cloudless sky at the start, Donlan said the race was one of the toughest she has run.
“This year I really struggled; it was rough,” Donlan said. “I did really well until a little over the halfway point. It was the weather and my (right) leg really locked up. I felt like I was dragging it. I was covered in salt when I finished.”
Donlan said the finish line was a hectic scene when she finished her seventh marathon.
“I went to the medic tent when I was finished because I was lightheaded and I felt sick,” Donlan said. “They said you are okay and we need to get you up because we don’t have any beds left. There were people in there with IVs and in really bad shape. Three of the four of us that ran together ended up in the medic tent.”
Road To Boston
Donlan started running in college for fun and started running more competitively about 10 years ago after the birth of their first child. She started running 5K events before advancing to longer races.
“I got more competitive the older I got, which is just the opposite of what most people do,” Donlan said. “My first marathon was in 2006, and I just did them to try and finish them.”
But that success gave Donlan the competitive running bug.
Donlan’s first time to “race” a Marathon was in 2012 at the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Marathon, and she finished second overall in the women’s division. Her effort there is still her best finish in marathon running.
“I went for a time and went at it at a faster pace,” Donlan said. “I didn’t know you raced a marathon until I got more into running. I said, ‘There is a whole other side to this.’ That was my best time.”
Donlan finished her first Boston Marathon in 2013 in 3:04.09 and followed that up with a 3:16.56 in 2014, before taking a break from making the trip to New England.  “I took a couple of years off because we had our third child,” Donlan said.
 Donlan finished the 2013 Boston Marathon about 90 minutes before the bombing, and she was in her hotel near the finish line with her husband, Tim.  “The fire station that responded was right on Boylston Street,” Donlan said. “We could look out our hotel window and see all the emergency vehicles.”  Donlan was in the shower when the bombs went off, but she could hear the sirens from responding rescue and fire units. She immediately knew that something was wrong.
“I thought maybe it was a shooting, or something like that,” Donlan said. “I knew it was something more than just routine because there are so many medics at the finish. We turned on the television and heard that they suspected a bomb. We just stayed in our hotel room until eight that night.”
 Donlan said those days back in 2013 will be something she will never forget.
“I had had a really rough training cycle, but the crowd was so amazing and I had never felt the cheering they do in Boston,” Donlan said. “Everything was so great that weekend, and it just crushed me that people could hurt something so beautiful like that. I had never been to Boston and it was such a happy place when I finished. Then there was this devastation.”
Donlan, however, said she had no reservations about going back for the 2014 Boston Marathon.
“I knew there was going to be so much security,” Donlan said. “There was so much support for me during the (2013) race that I was determined to go back and not let the evil, the fear stop me. Good was going to overcome evil. So, we went back.”
Sights and Sounds Along The Way
One of Donlan’s favorite spots along the race route is running past Wellesley College, which is about the halfway mark of the race.
As runners approach the halfway mark, many of the students at the all-women’s college line up along the sides of the road and scream encouragement at the top of their lungs. You can hear the roar about a mile away.
“It is deafening, so loud.” Donlan said. “I wrote my name on my arm with a sharpie this time and they would yell, ‘Go Anna.’ When you are so tired that is what helps you keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can feel that energy.”
Another tough challenge, at least for some runners, is what is known as Heartbreak Hill.
“Honestly, the first year I did it, I didn’t even know it was called Heartbreak Hill,” Donlan said. “I saw a a sign that said Heartbreak Hill and I said, ‘That was it.’ In Charlotte there are so many hills. When I started running, I ran in the mountains because I went to Appalachian State. At the time it didn’t totally hit me, but this year I could tell when I hit it.”
Another famous landmark along the way is the iconic Citgo sign that is near Kenmore Square in Boston. It is a mile from the finish, and seeing it lets runners know the finish line is near.  “This time when I saw that, I knew I was going to make it,” Donlan said.
Donlan is not sure if she will return to Boston on the third Monday of April next year or set her sights on a new marathon.
“I love the course and I love the people,” Donlan said. “2014 was so rough and I went back this year. That (2017) was one of the hardest races I have done. It took a lot out of me. I may do something different because I need to. Maybe Chicago or another big city marathon.”
Share this:

Previous articleCan You Free Yourself of Some Investment-related Taxes?
Next articleVaccinate for Rabies, It’s the Law
Paul Nielsen
Nielsen was a sports writer for what is now the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for nearly 32 years before moving to North Carolina in February 2016. At the Democrat-Gazette, Nielsen's primary responsibility was beat coverage for Rogers High School. Rogers is a Class 7A school located in Northwest Arkansas.
Nielsen, a University of Arkansas graduate, covered the Northwest Arkansas Naturals Minor League Baseball team from 2008-2015. The Naturals are the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.
Nielsen has experience covering University of Arkansas athletics, including NCAA Tournament basketball games and several football bowl games. He also covered amateur and professional golf tournaments in Northwest Arkansas.
Nielsen lives in Matthews with his wife, Susan. He can be reached at