Run the Boston Marathon Even If It Takes 7 Years to Get There

Ever thought about running the Boston Marathon?

  • You know...the most famous 26.2-mile marathon in the world.
  • How long would you chase a goal to get there? 
  • And if something went wrong, would you throw in the towel and give up?

When high-school cross country runner Zach Hunter set a goal to run Boston, he never thought it would take seven years to get there. But he refused to give up on his dream. 
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Here's what happened...

When Zach Hunter competed in cross country at Salem Hills High School in Utah, he set a goal to run the Boston Marathon.

Boston Marathon: The 'I'm-Bored' Google-Search Beginning

Seven years ago, the young Zach Hunter took a trip from Salem, Utah, to Portland, Ore., to visit his grandma for Thanksgiving.
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As a high-schooler, he was used to the ever-busy schedule...

  • Classes & homework
  • Cross country practice
  • Mowing lawns
  • And a long list of other activities

So with a lot of downtime during the Thanksgiving break and a steady drizzle of Pacific Northwest rain, the inevitable happened. He was bored, and cross country was still fresh on his mind.
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"So I just asked Google something like, 'What's the hardest run I can do?'" says Zach.
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Google's answer: The Boston Marathon.

  • The idea sparked some lively conversations about long-distance running and an uncle who runs marathons and 100-mile races. 
  • Zach's mind started racing. The Boston Marathon sounded like a challenge he was ready for. 
  • And he wanted to run it his senior year of high school.

"You have to be 18 to run the Boston Marathon," Zach's dad told him. "And you have to qualify for it by running a marathon in under three hours."
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At the time, Zach was used to running 5Ks...FAST...but he wasn't afraid to step into the unknown.
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"I thought, OK, based on where I'm at, it might take me a year or more to get in shape to qualify. And then a little more time to get into Boston."
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With a two-year window, that should put him on the starting line of the Boston Marathon in April 2020.

Zach qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2019 at the REVEL Big Cottonwood Marathon in Utah. He finished the 26.2-mile course in 2:52.

Qualify for the Boston Marathon

Zach left that Thanksgiving break with the Boston Marathon on his mind.
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And he put in the work...

  • Setting cross country PRs at Salem Hills High School
  • Pushing his mile pace down to 5:30 per mile
  • Going for longer runs
  • Running 13 miles a day during the summer months
  • Signing up for a series of half marathons
  • And clocking a 3:52 finish at the Utah Valley Marathon in 2018

🏃‍♂️With a 3-hour qualifying time to get into the Boston Marathon, he knew he had more work to do.
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But instead of being discouraged, he held on to the goal he set during Thanksgiving break a few years earlier, and kept pushing forward.
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"Every time I got a new pair of running shoes, I would write on the heel: BOSTON 2020," says Zach. "It started to kind of be like my trademark at practice."
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⏱️Go get that Boston Marathon qualifying time
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After running a few more marathons, Zach headed to the starting line of the REVEL Big Cottonwood Marathon on a cool September morning in 2019.

  • "I put all my chips on qualifying for the Boston Marathon my senior year," says Zach.
  • "I decided to run the marathon instead of going to a cross country race that day."

He rode the race bus up Cottonwood Canyon early in the morning, and everything he worked so hard for seemed to be falling into place.
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"The race was amazing," says Zach. "I was feeling great for like 20 miles, and passed a lot of people during the last few miles."
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⏱️He crossed the finish line in 2:52, one step closer to his dream of running the Boston Marathon.
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"That race was super cool," says Zach." "I finished strong and I qualified for Boston. It gave me so much confidence, you know like 'I can't be stopped. I'm the king of the world.'"
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"And then it all came crashing down."

The Boston Marathon was cancelled in April 2020, and rescheduled in September as a virtual race. But Zach had other commitments.

Putting Boston Marathon dreams on hold

Just a few months after qualifying for the Boston Marathon, COVID-19 cancelled the race for the first time ever.
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And Zach was devastated.
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"I was really depressed," says Zach. "At the time, I had a shin split that was bothering me, so I wasn't running at all, and then COVID happened. How was I going to fulfill this dream now?"
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It felt like a now or never moment.
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Even though the Boston Marathon was eventually rescheduled as a virtual race in September 2020, Zach already had other plans.

  • He signed up to be part of a two year missionary program in Atlanta, Ga., and he'd be gone by September....
  • Which meant the Boston Marathon he dreamed of running, trained for, and worked so hard to qualify for wasn't going to happen.

"Honestly, it felt like the world was ending," says Zach.
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He packed his bags and left for Georgia, wondering if he'd ever have another chance to cross the Boston Marathon finish line.

Boston Marathon 2024: Chasing a dream for 7 years

When you set a big goal, work for it, think about it every day for years, and nearly get there, giving up doesn't really seem like an option.
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Instead, you just have to find another way. And that's exactly what Zach did.

  • He returned to Utah after two years of church service and resumed running. Within eight months, he qualified for the Boston Marathon...again.
  • And after seven years since the idea was born, he stepped up to the starting line on April 15, 2024.

"While I waited at the starting line, I was surrounded by runners from all over the world," says Zach.
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"And I realized everybody there had some kind of story, some kind of struggle, some kind of obstacle they had to overcome to get there. It wasn't just me."

  • On your mark...get set...GO! Zach hit the starting line running a 5:45 mile pace.
  • Run hard, have fun or both? He hammered away at the first six miles, and then saw a runner engaging the crowd.
  • Change your game plan. Instead of running the Boston Marathon "all business" he adjusted his pace to a more comfortable 6:20 mile pace, and zig-zagged the course to high-five spectators, engage the crowed, and cheer on other runners.
  • Run 27-ish miles. "I actually ran more like 27 miles, because I crossed the road so many times. And it was awesome to see the crowd erupt, cheering and clapping for runners along the course."
  • Crush Heartbreak Hill. "Honestly, it wasn't that bad. The Provo Temple Hill in Utah is like twice the size, and I run it all the time."
  • Cross the finish line: Even after taking the "fun route," Zach crossed the finish line of the 2024 Boston Marathon in 2:46. "I was so happy. I spread my arms wide, crossed the finish line, and met my family at the end of the race."
Zach Hunter celebrates his Boston Marathon finish with his parents, Michael and Alana Hunter.

Fun facts about Zach Hunter

Favorite running shoe

  • Hoka Mach 5

Favorite running shirt

  • I always wear a Tiger Lily tank-top

Favorite race

  • Boston Marathon. I totally plan on going back.

Favorite training distance

  • I try to run 10 miles every day at a 6:45 pace or faster. Sometimes I break it up into two runs. This summer, I want to work up to running 85 to 90 miles a week.

Favorite running route

  • Provo Canyon Trail in Utah. It's really fun to run this on a Saturday morning and see friends and cross country runners from Brigham Young University and Olympians like Clayton Young and Conner Mantz.

Fueling failure

  • I tried GUs for the first time during a marathon, and threw up so bad. I was crying and throwing up. It was brutal.

Advice

  • If you want to feel better, run better, and have more fun, encourage other runners. Every time you do this, you'll feel uplifted, and so will they. Try it. You might be surprised.

What's next?

  • It took me seven years to get to the Boston Marathon. And now I have a new goal. Run a 2:15 marathon and qualify for the 2028 Summer Olympics Marathon in Los Angeles.
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