“That was the saddest moment of my life, sitting on the side of the course with my head in my hands.”
A year’s worth of training and anticipation culminated in a heat stroke and bitter disappointment for Reed Piercey, MCAS ’19, when he collapsed mere yards from Mile 21 during the 2017 Boston Marathon.
“It was just a series of poor choices with race planning and preparation,” said Piercey. “Physically I was fit enough to do it. I was there, my body was there, I totally could have finished. It was just my own inability to adjust to the heat of race day.”
Piercey had completed a 21-mile run a couple weeks before the marathon at the pace he had hoped to hold on race day without drinking any water, and without any symptoms of dehydration afterwards. However, April 17, 2017 was extraordinarily warm, almost 30 degrees hotter than the conditions he was used to training in.
He ran the first six miles without any water and only then began to hydrate every other mile. By Mile 21 he started to stumble and lose his vision, running until he blacked out on the course. Once at the emergency room, Piercey was so dehydrated he needed two liters of water administered through an IV.
“I’m never not going to be disappointed in myself for it.” Piercey said. “It was very much a personal failure, not in terms of fitness but in terms of how I didn’t cut myself any slack or give myself a break.”
This disappointment became fuel for Piercey as he prepares to complete the Marathon this year.
“I knew from the second it happened that I had to prove to myself and everyone else that I could do it the following year. I’m not the type of person to let something like that go unchallenged," he said. “Only this year, the stakes are higher because I’m trying to raise more [donations] and I have the humiliation of last year coming after me.”
That isn’t to say Piercey hasn’t learned from his mistakes. His perspective and experience have led him to approach the marathon in a new way.
“Honestly, reading over the article from last year was interesting because I talked a lot about mental toughness. If you don’t know how to take care of yourself, mental toughness isn’t worth much.”
In training for 2018, Piercey had to improvise, squeezing runs in across continents. He spent his summer abroad in Russia and his fall semester in Beijing studying at the University of International Business and Economics.
His time was split between class and his internship at the US Embassy at the Department of Commerce where he wrote memos and briefs for the ambassador and conducted market research for the agriculture, health care, automotive, and the energy and environment teams.
Piercey was able to stay in shape through workouts offered by the Marines at the Embassy and a weekly outdoors run.
“The air quality in China was not as bad as people tell you. I could run when I wanted, but life there was so hectic because of this internship and class work.”
Once he returned home to California for Christmas, Piercey began to train in earnest. He started the workout plan the entire Samaritans team follows, choosing the more difficult plan on his second time around, committing to four runs a week and three days of strength training.
Things went well until he tweaked a joint in his foot.
“Don’t try to change your stride while you’re training.”
This initial injury gave Piercey a moment of doubt.
“I was like, wow, this is my shot at redemption and I’ve already injured myself. What am I doing?”
He took three weeks off to recover from his injury and ten more days to focus on his campaign for UGBC president, which he and Vice President-elect Ignacio Fletcher eventually won.
“I’ll have less total training time than last year, and I feel nervous about that, obviously, but knowing what I know now about race preparation and race strategy for the marathon, I’m more confident that I’ll finish. It will be the first marathon I finish. I don’t have to hold myself to these ridiculous standards of time.”
Piercey’s more holistic approach has changed his mentality towards running too.
“This year I’ve come to appreciate it more for the meditative aspect. Discipline is great, but last year every week I would end up missing one of my training runs at least partly because I came to view running as such a burden. I felt so overwhelmed; it was just this difficult chore I didn’t want to do.”
He runs in silence, without music.
The Boston Marathon has not just changed Piercey’s approach to running but to life in general.
“Dedication has to come with self-care and balance. Especially spring semester last year... I really burnt out.”
In spite of all his talk of realistic expectations, Piercey has only added to his long list of commitments since returning from abroad.
“I’m in all the same clubs, so you might say I didn’t learn anything,” he joked.
He continues in his roles as a UGBC senator and director of the Mental Health Committee. He is the President-elect of UGBC. He's a managing editor of Al Noor, Boston College's undergraduate Middle Eastern Studies journal. He's co-president of Writer’s Circle, a creative writing club. He serves with 4Boston at Samaritan’s suicide prevention hotline and is working hard to launch Lean On Me, a service similar to Samaritan’s run by students for students at Boston College.
“Balance will always be difficult," Piercey admitted. “What I’ve realized is I have time to do everything I want to do. It’s a matter of prioritizing.”
Piercey will always be competitive and ambitious, even in his leisure activities.
“I got into a reading contest with one of my roommates this semester and that’s been keeping me on the ball. Balancing that with running has been interesting because I feel like I have more headspace to myself.”
When asked if he ever just takes a moment to relax and watch Netflix, he replied, “I did that for a while last night, actually. But until Saturday night I hadn’t watched Netflix in six months. I hadn't let myself do that in a long time.”
This year, he's upped the challenge by committing to raise $9,000 for Samaritans, more money in less time than last year's goal. In order to do so, he will once again hold a telethon and Facebook Livestream from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on April 7. Donations towards his goal can be made here. If he reaches his goal of $3,000 during the livestream, then he will shave his hair into a Mohawk and dye it silver.
“I hope everyone keeps an eye out, because I’m going by Mile 21 this year. I’m not going to let everyone down again.”
To see Reed as he runs by, you can text his bib number, 27201, to 234-567.