Emerson graduate student to run Boston Marathon


Emerson graduate student Carlie Brainard is set to run this year’s Boston Marathon. Courtesy Carlie Brainard.

By Vivi Smilgius

When Emerson graduate student Carlie Brainard finished her undergraduate degree at Iona College last May, she decided it was time for a new challenge.

“It’s as simple as one night, I decided I wanted to run the Boston Marathon,” she said.

Brainard returned to her home state of Massachusetts to attend graduate school as a writing, literature and publishing student and work at Beacon Press, a non-profit book publisher headquartered in Boston. In her search for something more, she combined aspects of home, physical fitness, and community outreach to make a decision.

She adopted a 16-week training program that includes stretching, running, cross-training, recovery, and rest—albeit not very much. She begins with weekly “foundation runs,” which she completes in variations of speeds, and tacks on days of hill training. Brainard also intersperses shorter races, like 5ks, into her training to help create the “race day atmosphere.”

She’s also gotten help from her cousin Jeff Cahill, who ran throughout high school, college, and beyond. Cahill, who has completed seven marathons, said he was happy to help Brainard when he found out she planned to run one.

“At first when I heard she was running Boston, I was a little bit shocked,” Cahill said. “But I can tell you one thing: Carlie is very motivated and determined to not only run Boston but to finish. Some people training for Boston feel like they have to run. But one good thing about Carlie is she wants to run and she wants to do her best.”

Brainard reached out to local charities in hopes of getting a sponsor for the marathon since she doesn’t meet the qualifying race times. Her calls were answered when Community Rowing Inc., a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that teaches people to row, agreed to support her in the race.

The nonprofit will sponsor Brainard as long as she meets its $7500 fundraising requirement. The money raised from marathon sponsors will go to its para-rowing programs and their Boston Public Schools Program, Brainard said.

Brainard said her relationship with physical fitness has evolved over the years and that exercise has become a way for her to stabilize her mental health. She believes Community Rowing Inc. aligns with these values, which is why she chose to work with them.

“I realized how much physical fitness has helped my life mentally and physically, and I think it’s something that’s overlooked in the grand scheme of people’s health and mental health problems,” Brainard said. “I definitely wanted an organization that also believed in that and promoted that mission.”

The nonprofit also connected Brainard with fellow sponsors training for the marathon. This running community helps hold her accountable and strive for success, pushing her to improve each day. Cahill recognized the value of running communities, especially when they’re working towards a common goal and charitable cause.

“It’s always great when you can train with other people. It helps motivate you and keep you going along the way,” he said. “You want to finish, but you don’t want to let down any of your team members either.”

Balancing her mental and physical health—as well as a full-time job and graduate student course load—has posed entirely different challenges for Brainard as she navigates marathon preparation. Careful planning helps with time management, she said, as she fills gaps in her work and school schedules with weekly workouts. This schedule management has also been a lesson against perfectionism and a reminder that sometimes a rest day is what the body needs.

“If I know I have a particularly grueling or long workout but my day’s swamped, I’ll look at the pattern of my schedule and see where I can move things around,” Brainard said. “I’m also learning that nothing has to be perfect. I don’t need to be a perfectionist. It’s expected to miss a workout.”

While making time for training means she has a lot on her plate, Brainard said the exercise is a welcome source of stress relief. 

“Just because I’m training for a marathon, it doesn’t mean life stops happening,” she said. “Runs are really great ways to clear my mind, and having the overall goal of the marathon has helped me focus on something for a little bit that isn’t affecting my mental health as much.”

The issues the runs themselves can’t alleviate, the running community can. Brainard said the community has helped her re-establish a hometown support system. Transitioning to post-graduate life in Massachusetts has posed a series of hurdles, but friends and family have helped in navigating them, she said.

Above all else, Brainard knows her supporters just want to cheer her on.

“At the end of the day, everybody wants to be at the finish line to watch, which is really nice to know,” she said.