Area Boston Marathon participants ready for unique September run

Boardman resident Joe Vanek was on a 12-week cycle preparing for what is one of the biggest races in a runner’s life — the Boston Marathon.

Twenty-mile runs were part of his routine, in preparation for the 26.2-mile trek through the outskirts of the Massachusetts capital and into the downtown area.

But the COVID-19 virus spread throughout the country, resulting in cancellations and postponements. The 124th running of the Boston Marathon was no exception. It was moved from April 20 to Sept. 14, both on a Monday, but just a little later this year.

Hotels and flights had to be altered. Runners were disappointed, but Vanek said he knows he’s part of history.

“If you’re trying to find a silver lining, this might be the only chance that Boston might be a fall marathon,” said Vanek, who will be competing in his second Boston Marathon. “That’s kind of exciting, too, because it’s history in the making. I think the energy is going to be completely different up there this year. It’s going to be pretty exciting.”

Cortland’s Shelley Engleman said she has to adjust her training. Mentally and physically, it’s an adjustment for these athletes. Her children, Phil and Erin Pavick, ran for Maplewood High School.

“The difficult part now is trying to figure out how you adjust your training, basically starting over again,” she said. “Trying to decide what level you maintain, not overtrain and get too tired, but be ready to go in five months. I think the mental preparation is probably the hardest.”

Austintown’s Jonathan Bolha has run close to 10 Boston Marathons. He usually works through tax season, but his employer, also a runner, understands Bolha runs in Boston in mid-April.

“Luckily, I work for a company whose owner used to be a runner,” Bolha said. “He lets me take off the last couple days of tax season every year. It worked out well.”

Not this year. September is a time when a lot of runners run other marathons to qualify for Boston.

“It’s going to be a lot different,” Bolha said. “A lot of my long runs are in October and November. This one is a little bit early. I’m going to do my long runs and keep my marathon training like normal.”

He said he’s looking forward to the heat of the summer days and hopefully running races by that time.

“It’s a great time to run, just throw on a pair of shoes and shorts and head out the door,” Bolha said.

Spring races — from 5Ks to marathons — are being postponed or canceled. He said he has no immediate goals, which for a distance runner seems blasphemous. June or July might be when the races start again.

Bolha said he loves training at Mill Creek Park, seeing the sights of the gem of Youngstown.

“I’ll get out of the house no matter what, if I can,” he said. “I still don’t see a reason why I wouldn’t be running 60-90 miles a week. Doing some hiking, enjoying the fresh air and moving around. Go out training for something or doing it for pure enjoyment.”

Boardman’s Amanda McNinch said her friends had planned to go to Canton, Toledo, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Cleveland for races. All are canceled.

She finds solace in the camaraderie of her small, early-morning running group.

“We do have a group that meets in the morning of less than 10 girls that I admire very much,” McNinch said. “We meet at 5:30 in the morning and do 5 miles, We have a long-run group on Saturday mornings. It has been under 10. We’ve been careful to not get to close to one another.

“While this is going on, we’ll train the best we can and start getting serious about it again around June when hopefully all of this has passed.”

She’s looking forward to Boston, a human experience like no other, but spreading COVID-19 is something no one wants.

“To go there and think we could get those folks sicker than they already are is not anything anyone would want to do,” McNinch said. “Most folks understand the cancellation, scheduling, and do their darnedest to get there. It’s a privilege to go to Boston. It’s a privilege for them to treat you like you’re an important runner when you’re probably a moderately-fast, local 5Ker.”

This fall will be her third Boston Marathon. She’s been through the spectrum of conditions at the national event.

“I do the extreme,” McNinch said. “I’ve been to the hottest one in 2012. I ran in the cold, wind and rain in 2018. Then, I seemed to have canceled this one.

“All I want is a nice day. I don’t care how the race is. I don’t care how I run. I just want the weather to be good, and then it’s not. I didn’t think I could do worse, but here I go.”

Distance runners generally are a resilient bunch. The move from mid-April to mid-September seems no big deal.

“We’re runners,” Vanek said. “We plow through whatever obstacles pop up. This is just one of them.”