MOUNT CARMEL -- When the Boston Marathon kicks off its 122nd annual running on Monday (April 15), Mount Carmel will be represented at the historic race.
Kristina Kelsey will be running in the marathon for the second time, her last appearance came just two years ago, when she ran in the unique race.
Known for its diverse culture of runners and grueling qualification process, the marathon is widely recognized as one of the most iconic American marathons, perhaps the mecca.
The citizens of Boston and Massachusetts treat the race as a celebration and a massive spectacle. Kids are off school, fans are lined up at every inch of the 26 mile course, cheering on the nearly 30,000 competing runners.
"It's just the most, it's very uplifting, it brings out the whole city of Boston, they call come out to support the runners," Kelsey recalled from 2017. "I went through it thinking I was the elite athlete, I was the best runner out there because they make you feel amazing and awesome and everybody wants to give you a high five so you feel special. They're so exciting you're running, there's so much enthusiasm that just pushes you through the course. The city just feels alive because everybody has the day off from work, kids don't have to get off from school because it's a holiday there. I always say it's kind of the Super Bowl of running, big celebration, big party, it's just really awesome."
Kelsey quickly learned that the qualification process for the race is so intense that people have notoriously sought to steal bib numbers from qualified runners, who have been warned on numerous occasions to keep theirs off social media leading up to the race.
EARLY RUNNING HISTORY AND THE FIRST TRIP TO BOSTON
Having ran for much of her life, Kelsey competed at Mount Carmel High School on the girls track team while attending the school, but opted not to compete in college, though she still actively ran. At that time, running was mostly used as a stress relief, an allowance of time to clear her head and regain focus.
"Yeah, I stopped for maybe a couple years in college, then picked it back up probably like I'd say my junior, senior year of college, I went to graduate school too," Kelsey said. "I kind of used it as a way to get through school. . . . I didn't really start racing or anything until like 2008. I still ran, but I just ran for exercise, then I probably got serious about races in about 2008."
Her first race she debuted in after college, she finished third, an eye opening result for her.
"I said hey, I might be pretty good at this, so I kept going and getting better." Kelsey recalled.
Having competed in several other races since resuming her running career, Kelsey notably won the Evansville Half Marathon a couple years and was highly competitive with the men and women competing in every race, regardless of age.
Continuing to run races and meeting new people, Kelsey recalls people continuously telling her to give the Boston Marathon a shot given her success. She shrugged it off time after time but eventually caved to the pressure in 2017.
"I was like nah, nah," Kelsey laughingly said. "One day I was like, fine, I'll go run the marathon, I'll go to Boston. They had been and knew how great it was. That's kind of the reason I did it, just to make everybody stop telling me I should do it. Tell everybody be quiet, I'll run it, fine."
Upon making the trip to Boston, Kelsey was taking in the entire experience. Runners such as Kelsey get on a bus to Hopkinton at 6 a.m., where they are dropped off at the Athletes' Village. She recalled encountering people from Ireland and from states all over the U.S., commenting how the runners are tremendously supportive of each other at the Athletes' Village prior to the race.
With more than four hours before running, athletes remain at the village, where they can enjoy healthy refreshments prior to the race or use a meditation center to calm their nerves prior to the race. Though other runners were likely ultra competitive with the race, Kelsey wanted to just enjoy the atmosphere and finish the race upon its start. She accomplished that goal.
"I was just so excited to finish that I didn't care how I did," Kelsey said. "So happy to be there and finish. I think that's what made it so fun too was I didn't put any pressure on myself. I just went to go have fun and that's what it was."
LEADING UP TO ROUND TWO OF THE BOSTON MARATHON
Working as a speech therapist in town and having three kids, Eli, 15, Zeke, 13, and Elyse, who's 10, finding time to run isn't always easy for her. Sometimes she battles it when making time, but always regrets it, citing she feels so much better after a run.
If it's warm enough, you can likely spot Kelsey running the streets of Mount Carmel on her sometimes hour long run. When the weather's not permitting, she's inside on her treadmill, where her kids keep her company while she runs.
"Sometimes it gets kind of lonely, but I know I have a purpose," Kelsey said. "I do it for my kids [too]. I want them to see that I'm goal driven and if they want something hard enough, they can work at it and get it. That's kind of where my motivation comes from, for them and being a good role model for them."
She enjoys when her kids, who she calls her biggest supporters, brag about her to their friends, who comment on how their mom's running 10 miles today.
Inspiring her kids, who compete in athletics as well, is one reason she'll be returning to Boston for the marathon, which she'll be taking more serious this time as a competitor. The other, having another marathon in mind.
She has a goal to achieve a qualifying time for the New York City Marathon in November, the largest marathon in the world, which had 52,813 runners last year. In order to qualify, she'll have to achieve a qualifying time at Boston for her age and gender demographic.
Leading up to the race Kelsey has followed the course of a grueling training process for the last four to five months. Peaking out at a 20 mile run, she's run a variety of runs in the days leading up in preparation for the 26 mile course.
"It's funny," Kelsey laughed. "This is my week of tapering so I'm going down, not running as many miles, I'm excited to just be running six miles."
"I went into it with a goal in mind that I want to run the New York City Marathon, which also, you have to have a qualifying time for that within the year you want to run it," Kelsey said. "Even if I had a qualifying time in 2017, which I did, they won't accept that. I went into Boston thinking I want to do better than I did last time that I went to Boston, so I can get a time to go to New York."
Kelsey realized from her 2017 experience that most runners had shirts identifying what countries they're from or with their names on it. That idea was something that intrigued her.
"This year I was like, I need to have a shirt, I need to have something," Kelsey said. "I have three friends that are going, they're going to be wearing shirts to support me that match mine. They're maroon, maroon and gold like Mount Carmel and on the back it's going to say Mount Carmel, Illinois, so that people will know where I'm from. I'm definitely going to represent the city that way for sure, because I want people to know where I came from."
She won't be alone in representing Mount Carmel, though. She has three friends going to cheer her on who'll be wearing the same shirts and waiting for her at the finish line in the green stands thanks to a friend that works at John Hancock, a big supporter of the race. They received VIP passes, allowing them to further take in the experience.
As of now, the weather is expected to be a high of 58 with a low of 45 and thunderstorms. Not exactly ideal weather for running. The four hour wait in the Athletes' Village amidst a storm won't be ideal and it's something Kelsey's been trying to prepare for. She's ran in the rain before, but the expected wind is a challenge she's unsure of and how it could affect her qualifying time.
"That's kind of what I'm mentally preparing for right now, how to deal with the rain." Kelsey said.
When she passes the finish line she says she'll breathe a deep sight of relief. Though it's been so rewarding, she's ready to be done with the extensive training.
"I'm ready for a break. I'm ready for this break from training, it's been so much work.
She may be the first person from Mount Carmel to participate in the race, but possibly not the last. For any runners out there who might be interested in competing at such a level, Kelsey shared this advice.
"Never give up, just set a goal and a plan everyday of how you're going to run," Kelsey said. "There's always going to be setbacks in running. I have bad days, I think that the advice I'd give anybody who's trying to begin running, not let the days where you don't think you can do it keep you from doing it the next day. Just to know you're having a rough day that day, then get up and run the next day. Some days are harder than others. That's a big part of marathon training, you do get tired, it is a struggle, but every day is different. Set goals and know in your heart you can do it.
You can follow her progress in the race by using AT&T's Athlete Alerts feature, which provides updates as to a runner's progress. You'll need her bib number to track her, but she said she'll be providing it on Saturday and Sunday to those who want to track her. As far as a start time, she could start from anywhere in the range of 9:15 to 10:45 a.m. To access the tracker, text RUNNER to 234567 or visit ATTAthleteAlerts.com.
"The community has really been supportive of me going," Kelsey said. "I want to be thankful for the people out there cheering for me or thinking of me that day. Every time I cross a 5k of the race it sends an alert to the people who follow me. Everytime the first time, I would think of them and think I was doing this for everybody back home. I just really want to tell the community I'm appreciative of how supportive they are of me and I think of them when I'm running."