CAPE COD RAIL TRAIL – What do you do if you've been training all year for the Honolulu Marathon and it gets canceled? If you're Meaghan Murphy, you bring the run home to Cape Cod and hit the trail.
That's exactly what Murphy, whose family has a home in Orleans, did on Dec. 12. With the Cape shrouded in a blanket of fog, Murphy and her friends and family gathered at a parking area near a Yarmouth entrance to the Cape Cod Rail Trail, many wearing commemorative T-shirts and festive colorful leis.
At 10 on the dot, and after an enthusiastic countdown from her cheering squad, Murphy hit the trail for a 26.2-mile run that took her from Yarmouth to Cahoon Hollow in Wellfleet, where she crossed a makeshift finish line and celebrated one heck of an achievement.
So what inspired her to don her running shoes and hop on the trail? The reasons are personal and powerful.
“I'm actually a recovering alcoholic,” Murphy said. “I got sober in January of 2017, so almost four years next month. Ever since then I've wanted to do a marathon. It's one of those goals I've had since I wanted to make my life better.”
It was back in February that Murphy decided she wanted to run the Honolulu Marathon, preferring the warmer climate to other venues.
“I was thinking about doing the New York Marathon and one of my coworkers was telling me that's crazy, who wants to run a cold marathon. Do it in Honolulu,” Murphy said. “It's actually kind of funny that this is the way that it's turning out. I'm running a marathon in the middle of December on Cape Cod.”
Indeed, while the weather wasn't freezing, neither was it warm and sunny. In fact, Saturday came with the promise of rain. But Murphy remained undaunted, determined to finish the race no matter where she ran it.
Murphy drew upon her background as a high school runner, though she admitted she'd gotten out of practice prior to starting her marathon training. She didn't follow any particular training program, but she knew enough to build on previous runs, adding distance as she progressed. The training, she said, was a lighthouse in the storm when the pandemic hit.
“This was actually a saving grace for me, having this goal at the end of it all,” she said. “At the beginning of all of it, I kind of panicked when everything started shutting down. I need my structure, my schedules, my work, my gym. When everything kind of hit the fan, I panicked a little bit. Then, as time went on I realized I was prepared for this. I've been uncomfortable before. I've had to change my life before. I ended up thinking, 'This is something I'm fully equipped for. I can do this.'”
When not on the Cape, Murphy resides in Arlington and often runs in the city. When the pandemic hit, she'd just been starting her longer runs and said running through the Boston area was a surreal experience.
“There was just nobody out,” she said. “On one of my first long runs I actually ran to the North End. It's strange to see the city when there's no one about. Even though it was kind of creepy it was really really cool.”
Murphy said when it came to support, she has many friends that have run marathons whom she leaned on for support.
“They were the ones who kind of helped me out and told me what distances I should be running and getting me more comfortable with the long runs,” Murphy said. “I did most things on my own, but I did have a lot of support.”
Murphy said it was more difficult to find the motivation to keep training, especially when everything around her was shutting down.
“It's been really hard. I've been working full time. I work at a hotel [as] manager, and it was really hard because everything's so different,” Murphy said. “Some days I would go to work and I would have no motivation to do anything else. I had to really reach down and find it.”
The other challenge was keeping an eye on the status of the race. Even as similar events were getting postponed or canceled, the Honolulu Marathon wasn't. Until November. That's when Murphy had a decision to make.
“They took a really long time to cancel it,” she said. “At that point I was already so deep in my training that when they said it was going to go virtual, I didn't really think I was going to do the virtual marathon. I thought virtual marathons were crazy. People running 26 miles by themselves was a little bizarre.”
But Murphy hadn't come that far just to give up.
“I had gotten so far in my training, and it means so much to me. I said, 'I'm going to do it. I'm going to go to the Cape and run on the Rail Trail.'”
With a planned start of 10 a.m., Murphy watched the weather, disappointed but not daunted when rain was predicted.
“I can deal with a little rain. If it's a lot of rain I might be more concerned,” she said. “Either way, I'm doing it, whether it pours or snows. It's happening. I'm doing it.”
And she did, finishing the run in a very respectable 4:13:39. Her advice to those contemplating a marathon of their own?
“Find support. I wouldn't be able to do this on my own,” Murphy said. “Even throughout the training process my dad has been my number one fan. Sometimes he'll follow me on long runs and have water for me. I couldn't do it without that support.”
Indeed, family and friends stationed themselves at various locations along the course with water, energy packs, and of course, lots of cheering.
“What I'm the happiest about right now is that I kind of put it out there to my friends and family. I really didn't think that anyone was going to come,” Murphy said. “It turns out that I have a lot of people that will be out on the trail. That makes me really happy. I couldn't do it without my family and my friends.”