West Tisbury resident Marylee Schroeder boarded the Martha’s Vineyard shortly before six am last Monday, charged with anticipation. Later that morning, starting at 10:20, she would start running in the 117th Boston Marathon.
Like most marathoners, Marylee views the Boston Marathon as the ultimate race, Christmas day for those special few humans who can run 26.2 miles at a pace most of us can’t maintain for more than a dash to the car in a downpour. This race would have added significance — it would be her 10th Boston Marathon. She would commemorate the occasion by wearing an old Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School track uniform that her husband, Joe, the track and cross country coach at MVRHS, gave her 10 years ago. “It’s really cool, it has a purple MV on it. I just hope the elastic holds up,” she said with a laugh, in a conversation the previous day at the Black Dog Café.
Her goal was to break 3:45:00, which, in addition to satisfying her highly demanding runner’s conscience, would qualify her for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Her training had gone well. The weather forecast was ideal. As always, her family was with her. It was going to be a memorable day.
Marylee, the treasurer for the regional high school and the Up-Island School District, came to the Vineyard in 1988, with then-boyfriend Joe, whom she met at Ohio Wesleyan. Even though she grew up on Long Island, she confesses, “I’d never even heard of Martha’s Vineyard before we moved here. The first year was great. Then the novelty wore off and I missed Boston and my friends. But then Joe and I got married, bought some land, and raised our three kids here and it’s been wonderful. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.”
Running runs deep in the Schroeder family. Her oldest child, Alexia (21), a senior at Villanova, ran for her father at MVRHS. Michael, (18) broke the cross country course record at MVRHS and is being recruited by a number of colleges. Whitney (14) runs the mile at West Tisbury School.
Marylee got her first taste of long distance running when she ran the “Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler” in 2000. “At mile two I was like, ‘Why did I do this?’ An hour after the race was over, I decided to do Boston.” She’s averaged two marathons a year since. Her personal best is 3:27:45 that she ran in Philadelphia in 2006.
Marylee and running partner Anita Smith have run together every other day for the past 14 years. Wearing headlamps and vests in the pre-dawn darkness, enduring the bitter cold of winter and the soupy humidity of summer, they run courses of six, nine, twelve, and on occasion, twenty miles.
“It’s hard on Joe because I wake up so darn early. I don’t think a lot of spouses really appreciate that. I used to run in the afternoon until he suggested I try mornings. It backfired on him,” she said, smiling.
Except for taking a month or two off after the birth of her children, Marylee, who will turn 49 next month, has kept a regular running schedule since high school. “Except for junior high, I was never on a team. I just liked doing it.”
Asked about the challenges of running on the Island, she instantly replies, “Wind. On the Vineyard, somehow you always have the wind in your face. Some runners will stress about 10 mile an hour winds and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding?’ Summer traffic, especially on State Road, can be tough. When it’s cold and pitch black it’s kind of creepy sometimes. It’s nice having a partner with you.”
There’s also the inevitable wildlife encounters. “Once, we were running in the dark, and a big deer just about ran me over. Another time, Joe was testing a heart monitor on me and I ran into a skunk. When he checked the readout there was this huge spike and he’s like ‘what happened?'”
Marylee credits running partner Smith with getting her through the tough days. She also draws from the bucolic beauty of the Island. “I get to see these amazing things – like sunrise over East Chop. On Middle Road there’s a section where there are bulls grazing on one side and sheep on the other. It’s so peaceful, and when it’s not quite sunrise, the light is just magical. The other day we were running back from West Tisbury School on County Road, the color of the sky was the most incredible red. It was breathtaking. This is why we do it.”
To prepare for the Boston Marathon, Marylee adds a wrinkle to her training routine. “I do hill repeats on Skiff Ave. in Vineyard Haven. It’s a half mile long and Heartbreak Hill is .4, so I feel if I can do Skiff Ave. three or four times in a row, I’m good.”
Marylee has other Boston Marathon traditions. Two days before the race, she makes a day trip to Boston to get her number. The day before, she hydrates, carbo-loads, and “I clean. I always clean. I like to come home to a clean house. It’s a good way to use up nervous energy.”
The day of the race she has a bagel with peanut butter and banana for breakfast and she gets the six o’ clock boat because she likes to sleep in her own bed the night before. She wears a rubber “Find Your Strength” bracelet, a weather-beaten Timex running watch and a faded pink “Life is Good” cap with holes in the brim left by her dog. “I have to get a new one, but I can’t give it up,” she said.
Her favorite tradition comes at the end of the race, “I always pull away from the crowd, to the left, when I reach Comm. Ave. and Hereford. That’s where my family always stands. One year I missed them and I thought, ‘Oh my God.'”
On Monday afternoon, a little after two o’ clock, Marylee finished the race with a time of 3:38:03. She’d qualified for 2014. It was time to celebrate.
Her post-race tradition is to have a few beers with friends at The Rattlesnake, a bar on Boylston Street, a few blocks from the finish line. She was waiting alone for family and friends when Joe ran in and told her there’d just been two explosions. She hadn’t heard them. The festive crowd had somehow drowned them out. Then the news came on the TVs.
Later that afternoon, from the locked down Back Bay Hilton, with her husband fielding frantic calls, a remarkably calm Marylee reflected on the day. “It was a good race. The weather was perfect.” she said, then paused. “I actually ran past my family at Hereford and Whitney calls ‘Hey Mom!’ So I ran back and gave Whitney, Joe, and Mikey a hug. I had to, you know what I mean?”