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Charleston runner made her way to Boston Marathon

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Now that she's completed the Boston Marathon, Mary Prillaman is scaling back on her running.

But she still plans to take part in the Charleston YMCA Corporate Cup competition in June because that's when her obsession with running began.

Prillaman turned 40 in April 2006. She was healthy, though did little exercise other than walking. She had moved to Charleston two years earlier to take a job as controller of Charleston Newspapers. Her husband, Tim, stayed in Martinsville, Va., and she returned there most weekends.

The personnel director was trying to recruit employees to compete in the annual games among Kanawha Valley companies. He needed someone to run in the 5K race for women 35 and older.

Always willing to please, Prillaman signed up and talked her brother back home in Virginia into training with her for the 3.1-mile run.

Afterwards, Prillamen recalled, "I told my brother that since we could run 3 miles, we could run 15."  So they signed up for the Charleston Distance Run just a few months later -- unaware of the hilly course.

When they came to steep incline up Oakwood Road, Prillaman said her brother was so upset with her that he wouldn't run or walk with her.

He forgave her and let himself be convinced that since they could run 15 miles, they could run 26. Their third race was the Huntington Marathon, just two months later.  

Over the next three years, Prillaman and her brother trained and ran various races together until he became ill in 2009. She debated giving up running or doing it alone. She had only placed once and that was fifth in the first Corporate Cup race.

She consulted Diana Morris, a colleague and veteran runner. "She gave me the best advice," Prillaman said. "She said to pick the races that I could be competitive in."

So every month, Prillaman found a race she could do, and she started placing in them.  She trained consistently, investing in a treadmill at home.

In the fall of 2010, she ran the Huntington Marathon in four hours, as she did the Myrtle Beach Marathon a few months later. The times weren't good enough for her to qualify for the marathon.

Her brother was her biggest fan, calling to check on her time after every race.

"On the last day we spoke of racing, he told me I would get it the next time. That same month, he died, and I made it my goal to qualify for Boston in his memory."

After she fell short by 10 minutes of qualifying in April 2011, she started to wonder if she had what it takes to be a long distance runner. "By that time, it was in my blood, and I started looking for yet another marathon to try to qualify."

Last May, her husband drove her to Cleveland for a marathon. The Prillamans are deeply religious and very active in their church in Virginia. Her husband anointed her with oil as she lined up with 13,000 other runners, and she prayed before and constantly over the 26.1 mile course. She finished in three hours and 52 minutes and 58 seconds--seven minutes faster than she needed to qualify.

Although her fast time qualified her for her age group, that still didn't mean she could run the Boston race. For 2012, the famous marathon had changed its rules to ensure that the fastest of the fast in each group got accepted when registration began in mid-September.

Prillaman had to wait until the fifth day when those who had times from 5 to 10 minutes faster than the qualifying time could apply. She was at her computer at 5 a.m. that morning to fill out the three-page application before the start of the 10 a.m. registration. By the end of day, nearly 15,000 runners had registered for the 20,000 available slots.

A month later, she was officially notified that she was accepted for the 116th Boston Marathon. She was one of two from the Kanawha Valley and one of 13 women from West Virginia to be accepted. More than 3,000 runners with qualifying times didn't get in.

During the next six months Prillaman said she "slacked off" running, but she still logged 50 miles a week. Every other day, she worked on the elliptical; she has the machine in both her residences as well as treadmills.

Prillaman explained that runners' arms also get tired when running long distances and the cross-country skiing movement with the elliptical strengthened her arms.

She ran a few more races in the 45 to 49 age group, but was losing a few minutes each race. She did not, however, expect to finish the Boston marathon more than an hour slower than her qualifying time.

"I didn't anticipate the heat," she said.

When she and her husband arrived in Boston on April 13 for some sightseeing before the April 16 race the temperatures were in the low 60s. Three days later, the temperature was about 85 degrees at the start, rising to about 90 by the time Prillaman finished.

Before the race, colleague Diana Morris had arranged for Prillaman to meet up with her friend Lynn Fish of Charleston. Fish, 55, has been running for more than 30 years, including the 2011 Boston Marathon.

Prillaman followed Fish through the maze of people to their assigned corral, where they slowly advanced toward the starting line. With about 25,000 people running, that took 45 minutes. Prillaman said she kept pace with Fish as they negotiated among the packed field and time passed quickly--up to mile 18.

By then, it was hot and the water available at the water stops got warmer and warmer.

"By mile 20 or so, my stomach began to cramp, in addition to my feet feeling like they had been stomped on, and my back could no longer hold me erect," Prillaman said.

She and Fish walked some, and then Prillaman told Fish not to wait for her. Prillaman would run, then walk taking long strides in hopes of regaining her energy. She was afraid to drink the warm water for fear she would be nauseated. She had had nothing to eat for about seven hours.

One runner stumbled in front of her and others stopped on the course. "At that point, each mile seemed endless," she said.  She later learned that 1,100 runners had received medical attention.

Even as mile 26 approached, Prillaman said wasn't sure she could run. So she waited until the last 50 yards to resume running, and she crossed the finish line with her arms raised in thanks to God.

She looked up believing that her brother had been watching her "from the best seat in the house."

At first she said she was upset by her time. Then she remembered how few people ever achieve what she had. Since turning 40, she had run 15 marathons. 

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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