by Clare Tourtelotte, Sports Editor
photos contributed by Nico Hensch and Margot Madison
Junior Margot Madison played soccer her whole childhood; however, when the pandemic halted soccer practices, she started running and quickly found a love for long distance running.
In the last two years, she has done virtual half and full marathons, and on April 16, she completed her first in-person marathon. She said her family, along with the pandemic, inspired her to pursue long distance running.
“My first long run was with my dad and my sister … It was just after both of them had run a half marathon,” she said. “I started training a little bit and ultimately ran 13 miles with my sister and found that I really liked long-distance running.”
When soccer started back up in the fall of 2020, Madison decided to continue running and signed up for the virtual Baystate Half Marathon. The race further inspired Madison, and she signed up for her first marathon, the virtual 2021 Newport Marathon, just eight months later.
“I wanted to keep pushing myself, keep digging,” she said. “A lot of people told me not to do it, that I was going to get injured, and I did, many times. But it was genuinely one of the best experiences of my life at that point, and after that, there wasn’t any going back.”
Ultimately, Madison wanted to focus on running, so she stopped playing soccer in 2021, joined the cross country team, and decided to run a marathon again, so she signed up for this year’s Newport Marathon.
In the weeks leading up to the race, Madison dealt with shin splints, forcing her to take time off. The day of the marathon, she said, was her first day back to running.
“I was getting really nervous that I may not have been able to finish, but they actually didn’t hurt as much as I was expecting them to at the beginning of the race,” she said.
Overall, the marathon went well, Madison said, and she got third place for her age group. She said that consistency was a major part of her training, as she ran six days a week starting in January.
“There really isn’t much ‘method to my madness’ when it comes to training. I just get out there and run, and the long run is the most important part,” she said. “Then on the off day I do strength to try to build up what I broke down on my long run the day prior.”
It was important, Madison said, to be wise about her training to minimize injuries from overuse.
“This year I’ve been able to apply my experiences from last year, and I’ve gotten way fewer little nagging aches and pains and even fewer major injuries. It’s all a learning curve,” she said.
Madison said running marathons builds up her grit and is rewarding in a way no other activity is.
“It’s really intimidating, but I genuinely can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “There have been times where I’ve cried during a run because something is hurting and I don’t think I can finish, but at the end, when I do finish, it’s always the high point of my day, and training has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had so far.”
Madison said that it is important to do what you love no matter what.
“Don’t let anybody hold you back and tell you that you shouldn’t do it because running a marathon is amazing,” she said. “Don’t let the process intimidate you.”
Senior Nico Hensch ran the Boston Marathon on April 18 without any prior running experience. Hensch, who is a four-year Dual County League All-Star, holds four South swim records, and will be swimming for Harvard University next year, raced for the Rett Syndrome Association of Massachusetts.
He developed a close connection with the association and the people affected by the disorder through an adaptive swim program he and his family founded in 2017.
“Every Saturday, we would bring the girls into the water and help them move around, float around and just really try and work their muscles that they’re oftentimes unable to move by themselves because of the debilitating effects of the disorder,” he said.
The pandemic forced the program to shut down; however, on Oct. 11, 2021, when Hensch saw the charity runners for the Rett Syndrome Association of Massachusetts at the Boston Marathon, he said he was inspired to run in April.
“I thought that since I was not able to run the swim program because of the pandemic, maybe I could run the marathon because I would still be helping them,” he said. “I’d be raising money that would be going directly to research to help families affected by Rett Syndrome, find better therapies and make their lives as comfortable as possible.”
Each charity has to raise a different amount of money determined by the Boston Athletic Association, and because Rett Syndrome is so rare, Hensch and the four other runners had to raise $10,000 each, he said.
“Fundraising was a lot of networking and trying not to give up,” he said. “I asked family from Italy, from Japan, friends all around the country, and it was really a huge team effort. In the end, I received over 100 individual donations from different people.”
Running a marathon, Hensch said, had been on his bucket list for a while, and swimming experience helped him train.
“I’m a distance swimmer, so mentally, I know what it takes to do distance running, and also I think it helps cardio-wise,” he said. “But physically, it’s just been a whole different ball game because swimming has zero impact on any joints really. So running has been tough on my knees and my hips and everything like that. Pain and swelling has been a big issue for me.”
Hensch said that although running is mentally taxing, remembering who he was running for and why he was doing it gave him the motivation he needed during the race.
“No matter how physical it might sound, running is so mental. Mentally it’s very draining, very challenging to push yourself through something like this,” he said. “There was a Rett group there, and that was awesome to see just as a reminder of why I’m doing this, who I’m doing this for and that it’s bigger than me. That gave me a lot of motivation to just keep going because I worked so hard for them, and they’re pushing every day to keep moving forward, so I was trying to follow in their footsteps and take their mentality.”
One of the best parts of the marathon, he said, turned out to be the continuous support every step of the way.
“I’ve always heard about how the Boston Marathon brings the whole community together, but being a runner and being on the other side of that fence. It was incredible,” Hensch said. “Every step I took, I heard people cheering my name or cheering ‘Go Runners.’ Everyone was out there to support the runners. It didn’t matter if I knew them or not, which was the most incredible part.”