When Heather Acker envisioned running the Boston Marathon, she pictured running beside professional athletes through that northeastern city.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has altered all of our plans, and instead, Acker charted a track through Waunakee and Westport to finish her fourth marathon virtually.
The marathon, normally held on Patriots Day in April, was postponed five weeks before it was scheduled to be held, Acker said. Initially, the marathon was rescheduled for Sept. 14, but with the pandemic still active, a virtual race was set.
Acker was among at least 15,000 runners who ran the race on their own, within the window of time allowed.
“I hit just about every neighborhood in Waunakee and Westport on a lot of training runs,” she said. She had created different routes, the longest of which up until her marathon Sept. 5 was 20 miles.
“About a week ago, I got in my car and set the odometer,” she said, as she devised a 26.2-mile marathon route.
Using an app created by the Boston Marathon that was synced with her Garmin running watch, she tracked her official time, 3 hours and 58 minutes.
“It was not the fastest marathon I’ve run. But it was so much fun,” Acker said.
Friends and family members cheered, and through a relay, ran beside her.
“Other times, I really ran myself along,” she said, adding this time, her family and friends took turns running beside her the entire 26.2 miles.
She qualified for the Boston Marathon by running the Phoenix Marathon in 2019, where she recorded a time of 3 hours, 38 minutes.
Acker had hoped to qualify for Boston prior to that, after running the Chicago Marathon, but she was just 33 seconds shy of making the cut, she said.
Her time in the virtual marathon will not qualify her for next year’s Boston event, she said; it’s not considered official. But it did earn her a Boston medal.
“I’m still hoping once Boston is back up and running, that they’re going to allow some of us in who qualified this year,” Acker said.
She said the Boston Marathon is known as one of the most premier spring events in the world.
“That’s why I had this goal of just being able to do it someday,” Acker said.
Acker began running with her father, Greg Hensen, when she was around 8 years old in the WaunaFest run.
While she never participated in sports, she said, “I’ve always been kind of a runner.”
Ten years ago, she began running half marathons.
To train for the full marathons, she follows a specific program, one that assumes a strong base level of fitness.
It includes one long run a week, starting at 14 miles then working up to 20 miles. Acker runs five days each week, from four to 10 miles. Over the course of a year, she logs more than 1,000 miles. An early riser, many are logged even before the rest of family wakes up.
A partner with the CPA firm Baker Tilly, Acker said she travels often and runs in cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., along with New York City’s Central Park.
But since the pandemic, she’s had time to run in her hometown and spend time with her family, who enthusiastically supported her during her Boston Marathon through Waunakee.
“My husband and friends just really went over the top and surprised me with a lot of people that were set in in chairs for me along the way in Waunakee. My family, between my daughter, Emily, and my son, Adam, and my husband Justin, they were awesome and running alongside of me for a lot of the route with a lot of my friends,” she said.
While it wasn’t Boston, it definitely was a marathon to remember.
“I never expected such an amazing outpouring with people who wanted to support and cheer, and I just was blown away by all of that kindness through this process,” Acker added.