Beyond Mile 21 is a miniseries featuring the personal stories behind members of the Boston College community and their journeys to run the Boston Marathon.
As if he didn't have enough on his plate already, Reed Piercey, MCAS '19, added one more feat this spring: training for the Boston Marathon.
Like many students at BC, Piercey is not unfamiliar with the juggling act; he's a Presidential scholar, sophomore senator, founder of Writer's Circle, and a volunteer at Samaritans hotline for 4Boston, to name a few of his involvements. And when the opportunity presented itself to combine his love for running and volunteerism to “Run Boston,” Piercey just couldn't say no. But his fervor for running wasn't always that way.
Piercey's passion for running was born out of adversity. “It seems counter-intuitive to start running because of a broken foot,” he jokes, “but what attracted me to the sport was overcoming personal challenges.” Piercey was a competitive swimmer until his sophomore year of high school when his injury gave him the space to realize he didn’t want to go back to the rigorous training schedule. He had plateaued, with no real progress despite hours in the pool. “I realized I didn’t want to define myself by that anymore if I didn't truly love it.”
The Mountain View, California native searched for something to fill the hole left in his life. He was attracted to cross country, freely admitting that it was partially because many of his friends were on the team. “I knew that cross country and track tend to attract the best quality people,” he said. For Piercey, the focus on personal mental stability, toughness, and building confidence in long distance running made the sport a new and exciting challenge. Joining the track and cross country teams in 11th grade fostered a love for distance running that Piercey has maintained ever since.
When Piercey committed to Boston College, one of his teachers, a recent BC alum, gave him a 50-item BC bucket list that included running the marathon, and he immediately welcomed the challenge. “A marathon is the holy grail of distance running, so for me it was just a natural progression.” Coming from the west coast, Piercey knew very little about the marathon and Boston. “That [teacher] was originally where I got the inkling to do it, but I had no idea how much work that would entail. So I kind of came in last year thinking I could just easily run and qualify.”
Instead, Piercey’s freshman year of college proved to be more of a difficulty and a learning curve than anticipated, as is the case for so many their first year. “I was kind of disappointed I couldn’t do it as immediately as I thought, but then I decided, well, maybe I can train really hard and by my senior year I’ll be able to qualify by time.” In another disappointing turn, Piercey was rejected by 4Boston. But rather than quit on service he decided to work at Samaritans hotline on his own.
When running the marathon took a backseat during Piercey's freshman year, his involvement in the 24/7 crisis service took over. “It’s a misconception that most calls we get are imminently suicidal people and you’re always talking someone down… It's not an advisory hotline, so you’re not directly and tangibly helping someone, giving direction; you’re just allowing someone to express themselves. It’s a different way to engage.” After working at Samaritans for a year, Piercey was able to join 4Boston last fall. “I love the people in my group and it's been great so far,” he said.
These two aspects of his life—service and running—intersected in a way he had never expected his sophomore year. “When I found out [Samaritans] had a marathon team, I realized this was my perfect opportunity to run. It was a group I was already dedicated to, whose mission I loved and had been really impactful for me, and would get me there faster than the ‘train until you can qualify’ route. I didn’t even know they had a team until I had already been working with them, so it was a happy accident.”
While Piercey completed his first half marathon last fall, the Boston Marathon will be his first at 26.2. Fortunately, the group training atmosphere at Samaritans—where everyone follows the John Furey training program—has helped ease the daunting training process. Furey's plan involves four runs and two days of strength training a week. As the marathon draws nearer, training has become more of a time commitment at five to six additional hours weekly.
This massive time commitment presents its own challenges. “I would say I’ve done a 70% good job at keeping with the schedule," says Piercey ruefully. “I sometimes don’t feel like I have the time to spare to do it right,” Piercey laments due to lack of sleep, free time, study time, and added worrying to figure out where he can fit in a run.
Consistent with most BC students, Piercey admits that he can be tough on himself. “In my mind the price has been paid more because I haven’t bettered my time management while preparing for the marathon. A lot of it has to do with how I’ve failed to adjust.” His mentality coincides with his training philosophy of holding himself to the challenge, accountable only to himself as a success or failure. As Piercey sees it, training has more to do with developing mental toughness than the actual physical challenge.
“Running is about overcoming your own adversity,” he said. Piercey runs without music, alone with his thoughts. “It takes a lot of mental toughness to put yourself through the pain to hold a pace.” However, he doesn’t let the marathon dominate his life. “I still enjoy a steak and cheese from time to time,” he jokes.
Despite all this toughness, Piercey relies on the support of friends, family, and the community who have “made up for not having a team like back in high school.” One way they have been supportive is by fundraising. In order to run the marathon for a charity, a runner must raise a minimum of $5,000. Piercey “was tempted to just do the $5,000 minimum, but I thought if I promised to pledge more I had a better chance of making the [Samaritans] team.”
Presently, Piercey has raised $7,800—exceeding his goal of $7,500—a large portion of which came from a telethon broadcast on Facebook Live from outside his dorm at Stayer Hall on a Saturday. Inspired by Parks and Recreation, Piercey provided non-stop entertainment with the help of all of his roommates and friends, including a guitar solo from his roommate, a FIFA tournament, a performance by the Common Tones, a jump rope exhibition, and eating challenges. Piercey’s roommate ate a 1/2 pound roast beef sandwich slathered in BBQ sauce made with ghost peppers from Roast Beast in Allston, and followed up with two pints of ice cream. Another of his roommates ate an Eagles’ Deli Challenge burger. A live auction was followed by Piercey himself singing a rendition of All Star by Smashmouth. “Not one of my proudest moments,” he laughs.
Over the course of the day, Piercey was able to raise $2,000, a milestone that he had promised to commemorate by shaving his hair into a Mohawk and painting his nails. It was his parents who gave the donation that pushed him over the edge. “I'm still mad at them about it,” he said. His roommate gladly shaved his head for him on the live stream.
Likewise, community support has been critical in drawing Piercey closer to Boston and has helped him get to know the city really well. “There’s this element of adventure in figuring out your long runs which makes it kind of fun,” he comments.
In just one instance of the outpouring of support he’s received throughout this journey, the Newton firefighters cheered for him and honked their engine's horn while Piercey passed their station on a long run. Similarly, total strangers like to high-five and fist bump him as he passes on the sidewalk. The unique sense of community is part of what makes Boston so special to him. “Before I came here I didn’t realize, being from California, how big of a deal it is.” For Reed Piercey, this is what running the marathon is all about.
“What it means to me more than anything is the sense of being part of something greater than yourself that comes with running the Boston Marathon, the community of your team. It has a lot to do with overcoming challenges and proving to myself that I can commit and rise to the occasion—and because I love Samaritans—while bringing me closer to Boston as a whole.”