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Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Beyond Mile 21: No Luck Needed for Ireland's Own Peter Herlihy

Peter Herlihy had no interest in ever running a marathon. In fact, his longest run purely for sport was the Red Bandana 5k — and even that wasn’t his cup of tea. 

“I hate running,” Herlihy laughingly admits. “I don’t like running.” 

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Peter Herlihy would’ve never imagined he would be running the Boston Marathon in his senior year at a foreign university in the United States. To Herlihy, the most surprising part wasn’t that fact that he was running a marathon in another country, but merely running such a long distance in the first place. 

Fresh off a 22½ mile run from Hopkinton to Cleveland Circle on Saturday, it’s safe to say that he has warmed up to the idea of running a marathon. 

Herlihy first heard about the marathon journey from his Orientation Leader, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2013, the year the terrible marathon bombings occurred. After hearing his stories and the trials and tribulations his OL endured, Herlihy knew at that moment he had to complete the marathon at some point during his four years at Boston College. 

Herlihy has an athletic background, playing nearly every sport you could think of, but was grateful for being able to continue a life-long passion in Gaelic Football while at BC. This background not only helped him adjust to life as an Eagle, but also helped him gain confidence in realizing his potential to ultimately run a marathon. 

“I think every athlete has that arrogance in the back of their head,” he said. “You see something and think, ‘I can do that.’ I thought I could definitely do the marathon.” 

Going to school in America was something that Peter had never anticipated while growing up in Ireland, but started to gain traction heading into November of his high school senior year when he first applied to BC. 

“I went to a Jesuit high school back home, which was how I found out about BC and got seriously involved in looking at it as an option to consider,” Herlihy states. “Things kind of fell into place and I very quickly ended up out here.” 

Herlihy has found a new home here in Chestnut Hill the past four years. He had never visited the campus before arriving for school. Nor had he been accustomed to an American lifestyle. Regardless, his transition to the US has been seamless. 

But it’s still important for Peter to proudly represent a place so near and dear to his heart. After living far away from Dublin, he has gained an appreciation for the culture, music, and language that has made Ireland the place he loves today. He plans to showcase that pride during the marathon. 

“I’ve had the same Irish flag in my room since freshman year,” he says. “I’m going to grab it off my roommate and run four miles with that on my back.” 

Now, Herlihy is training for his greatest accomplishment, with all the love and support of his friends here at BC and his family back home in Ireland.

“The support from my close friends here, but also people I’ve just known for four years who have come looking for me asking how they can donate has been incredible,” he says. “I think it’s something unique to BC kids that they want to help, but it’s something I appreciate a lot.” 

Herlihy is running in support of the Hale Reservation, a non-profit organization located in Westwood, MA that encourages inner-city children and teenagers to get outside and be active. The reservation spans over hundreds of acres and offers a wide range of activities, including outside-of-the-classroom learning opportunities intended to ignite new passions for children to explore.

Herlihy admits the most stressful part of the process has been reaching the $8,000 minimum for the charity. After seeing initial success, the donations have been on-and-off for the past couple weeks, but Herlihy isn’t worried in the slightest. He just wishes to make those who donated proud by finishing the marathon, with his ultimate goal to get across the finish line no matter what. 

Training for that goal has been no cake walk. Led by an experienced father-daughter pair from the charity, Herlihy has developed a weekly schedule that started all the way back in October. The program consists of two short-runs during the week, capped off by a long-run on every Saturday. 

“That first eight-mile run, at the time, was the longest I had ever even thought about running,” says Herlihy. “The next day I couldn’t even walk.” 

It was during this run that Herlihy experienced a slight setback. After going to physical therapy, he was advised to stop running for the next couple weeks, in fear of worsening a potentially serious injury. 

After experiencing discomfort during an ensuing three-mile run, Herlihy decided to get an MRI, receiving good news that it was not a stress fracture, but rather tendonitis that would eventually go away with time. Herlihy was forced to taper off for another three weeks, in which he began feeling worried about falling behind in comparison to the rest of the group. 

“I was terrified I wasn’t going to make it,” Herlihy acknowledges. “The team had gone up to sixteen miles for their long-run and I had just completed the eight-mile run a few weeks back.” 

Fortunately, after fully recovering, Herlihy felt no discomfort and successfully completed the 16-mile run on his first try. It’s been a slow, but positive progression ever since, culminating with his most recent 22½ mile run.

After running through the marathon route a couple times and getting familiar with the layout, there is one spot that Herlihy cannot wait to reach.

Mile 21. 

He plans to meet up with all his friends, who will be eagerly waiting his arrival after breaking through Heartbreak Hill. They might even greet him with a beer or two. For him, that will easily be the best part of the marathon. The ensuing four-mile stretch, however, not so much. 

Still, no training can prepare Herlihy for how he will feel when he crosses that finish line. 

“My roommate thinks I am going to cry. I don’t.”

He pauses, then changes his answer. 

“If by then I have all the money raised, have managed to run the marathon, and see my friends at the finish line who have supported me…I don’t know what will come out at that stage.”

The marathon, for Herlihy, is the “cherry on top” for his time at BC. No one event could encapsulate not just his experience at BC, but his experience in the United States, more than the Boston Marathon. 

“I’ve traveled over 75,000 miles to and from Boston. This is just the last 26.2.” 

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