Challenge accepted

Alpena alum McDonald completes first marathon

Courtesy Photo Former Ferris State University runner and Alpena High alumnus Racheal McDonald crosses the finish line at the Holland Haven Marathon in September. The Holland Haven Marathon was the first one McDonald competed in, but she ran a time good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which she'll compete in next year.

Racheal McDonald has never been afraid to push herself when it comes to running.

So when it came time to find a new challenge, the Alpena High alumnus and former collegiate long-distance runner decided naturally decided to run a marathon.

Little did she know when she accomplished her goal of completing a marathon she would meet an even larger goal in the process.

McDonald finished the Holland Haven Marathon last month, finishing in 3:15.05. The time proved good enough for McDonald to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which she plans to run next year.

“I think the next step was that marathon and it was on my bucket list,” McDonald said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to do it and I’m in really good shape from the season,’ so I just continued training.”

McDonald finished her collegiate running career at Ferris State University earlier this year and found the marathon to be a different, but rewarding experience. The Holland Haven Marathon takes runners from Grand Haven to Holland along Lake Michigan and is one of the last chances for Michigan runners to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

McDonald is used to long distance races, but the marathon proved to be a new kind of challenge.

“A lot of people talk about how they hit that wall at like mile 20 and I somewhat hit it. I’m not used to that in races because your body hadn’t been through anything like that before,” McDonald said. “You just have to push through it. When you have six miles left after you’ve already gone 20 that seems so small. It was just getting past that wall and getting to the finish line.”

McDonald, who ran the race with her best friend, had her college coach and family members on hand for support and her parents stopped at every mile marker to cheer her on.

“I was really glad it went smoothly. There are so many things that can go wrong. For anyone that wants to do a marathon I recommend doing a smaller one,” McDonald said. “When you get to that starting line it can be a little intimidating knowing you have 26 miles to go, but the people we ran with encouraged us.”

Runners qualify for the Boston Marathon by age group and McDonald, 22, cleared the qualifying time of 3:35.

The history of Boston’s race, which draws 30,000 runners annually and has been held since 1897, attracted McDonald to competing and she’ll run in the marathon next April.

“I think because when people hear the Boston Marathon it’s just what people think of with marathons. I know the Chicago Marathon is huge and the New York Marathon (is big) and then Berlin if you go international,” McDonald said. “I think there’s such a rich history with the Boston Marathon. It’s kind of the one everybody strives to do.”

Completing a marathon and qualifying to compete in another is the latest goal accomplished by McDonald, who developed a strong work ethic in high school running alongside the likes of Kelsey Lewis, Elaine Lowe and Amanda Dort who all went on to run collegiately.

She entered Ferris’ program as a walk-on and struggled initially. But she trusted her training and followed her coach’s program to get faster every season as she competed in cross country, indoor and outdoor track.

Eventually she was offered a scholarship and became one of the Bulldogs’ best runners. In May she won the women’s 10,000 meter race at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, finishing in 35:48.92.

McDonald, who recently started in a full-time hospitality management position with the American Academy of Pediatrics, isn’t sure what the future holds for her after Boston, but she’s happy that hard work led her to a successful college career and to accomplish two of her biggest goals in running.

“Individually, I wasn’t a huge standout and I was ok with that. I went in with the intention of working hard and I knew I was a hard worker,” McDonald said.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.