Jackie Freeman and daughter Tiernee. Courtesy of Color Your Recovery

April 21st and November 5th of 2017 are two important days for a couple local (current and past) residents, Jackie Freeman and Melissa McKinnon. Jackie Freeman, who currently resides in  Bloomfield, NE, will run the Boston Marathon on April 21st. Melissa McKinnon, who graduated from Bon Homme High in 1995 and now resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, will run the New York City Marathon on November 5th. Though the pair are both competing in a marathon next year, their stories and marathons vary greatly.

Jackie Freeman who lives in Bloomfield with her husband and two children is running in the Boston Marathon for the first time in April. Nineteen months ago, after running her fifth half marathon, Jackie was looking for more of a challenge. Jackie and a friend decided to run the Sioux Falls Marathon together as their first marathon. The goal was just to finish the marathon but it led Jackie to becoming hooked on running longer distances. As she kept training she started to look forward to her longer runs and found that her pace was becoming a little faster.

This is when the thought to try qualifying for the Boston Marathon took root.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was the next goal for Jackie. Qualifying times are based on age and gender but you must also run on a certified course.

Jackie had just turned 35 in 2016 which put her in the next age category and added an extra five minutes to her qualifying time; 3 hours and 40 minutes was the qualifying time but Jackie made 3 hours and 35 minutes her goal. Jackie trained throughout last winter and made her first attempt at qualifying at the Lincoln Marathon in May. However, a motorcycle accident in mid-March had caused her to stop running for about four weeks while she focused on physical training for her injured foot. She continued cross training on a bicycle to keep up her cardio condition. She was able to recuperate enough to run but she had to drop down to the half marathon, but she was looking towards any future races and did not want to injure herself further. Jackie knew that another qualifying race, the Swan Lake Marathon in Viborg, was coming up just six weeks after Lincoln and decided that Swan Lake would be her first attempt to qualify for Boston.

However, Swan Lake would be another disappointment when the weather forecast showed an extreme heat advisory. The race moved the start time to much earlier in the morning but about halfway through the race the heat became intense. After mile 16, Jackie was forced to do a bit of walking and the goal became just crossing the finish line. Jackie’s husband and some friends helped encourage her to finish and Jackie found herself crossing the line in first place for women but her time was 30 minutes slower than qualifying time. Swan Lake Marathon ended up being the fourth hottest marathon in all of the United States for 2016. Two months later, Jackie met her qualifying time in Spearfish at the Leading Ladies Marathon. Jackie finished in 3 hours, 37 minutes, and 44 seconds.

Boston caps the entrants at 40,000 so any entrants that are less than five minutes under their qualifying times are allowed to register on the last day. Jackie sent in her registration and waited an agonizing week until she found out if she had made the cut or not. “Those of us registering on the last day are known as ‘squeakers’ and I did just barely squeak in as the cut off was just 7 seconds slower than my qualifying time. Every second counts!”

“You can’t train for a marathon without it changing your life. Marathon training has caused me to prioritize so many things - time management, my nutrition, listening to my body, weighing risks, developing a plan, staying consistent, giving myself grace, it’s all part of it.” Jackie says it’s not just about her, but her two kids. They are watching her work at setting a goal and working hard to accomplish it. “I hope that they are learning the concepts of hard work and how real, personal successes are earned, not given.”

Melissa McKinnon now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah but graduated from Bon Homme High in 1995, and is running the New York City Marathon on November 5th. NYC Marathon will be Melissa’s second marathon as she ran her first marathon in September of 2016. NYC Marathon is not a qualifying marathon but instead is a lottery system. There are a lot of runners in the lottery but if you run for a charity and raise money, you get an automatic entry. Melissa decided to run for the charity Team for Kids. Though Melissa didn’t have the struggles to qualify for her marathon; Melissa’s struggle has been weight loss. Melissa weighed 250 pounds and knew she needed to do something. She became a regular watcher of Extreme Weight Loss with Chris Powell and started to truly hear what he was saying.

Melissa started to make small promises to herself to better herself and that’s when the transformation happened.

Melissa started with a cardio program that worked with walking and running, a couchto5k program. From there, she just kept going. She learned to love running and kept training to reach her goals. “When I started running, and finally decided to call myself a runner, a marathon seemed impossible.”

Melissa kept at it and realized she could do hard things. She has now completed eighteen half marathons and one marathon. Once she set her sights on marathons she hired a coach and put her fate into her coach’s hands. “Now I can happily say I am not only a runner; I am a marathoner.” Training for a marathon entails running about 25-30 miles a week, strength training twice a week, getting enough sleep, and eating the correct foods to get the appropriate amount of fuel. “I won’t lie, it hurts, and there are days where I felt like my body was going to give out on me.

Training for a marathon is a life changing event. All of the sweat, early weekend wakeup calls, aches, pains, and the occasional tear are worth it in the end.”

Both Jackie and Melissa are running their marathons as part of a team. Jackie is running as part of a team in Nebraska called Nebraska Run Guru Elite. Jackie represents them with their team “kit” or jersey at race events. The team consists of about 40 people. Melissa, however, is running for charity.

Team for Kids, which is the New York Road Runners Youth Program, is the charity Melissa found and connected with. “I wanted to help children who lived in areas where schools that couldn’t afford extracurricular activities were given money to fund programs, where families who couldn’t afford shoes for their children to participate in activities were given money to buy those shoes, and finally, to help children who are obese and have nowhere to turn. All of the money raised helps small town children across the country.” Money raised goes to various different things such as new sneakers and experiences with cross country races and road races. This will be the first time Melissa has worked with this charity but she’s excited to do amazing things for the kids of the U.S.

For Jackie this is her first big marathon. She has run the half marathon in the Lincoln Marathon for several years but that’s only just over 12,000 runners. The Boston Marathon will be three times that many runners. “But I’ve always felt at home amongst runners, they are my tribe, and I’m looking forward to being around that many people who share my love for running.”

Both Jackie and Melissa can agree on a few things. One is that spectators and beautiful scenery along the route can really help put a smile on their faces. Another is that the best part of running is the ability to push themselves beyond what they think they are capable of and the satisfaction in knowing they didn’t give up. And finally, even though there are a lot of things that go through their heads while running a marathon, the main thing is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and reaching the finish line. As Melissa said, “the feeling crossing the finish line of my first marathon was amazing. It really taught me I can do anything as long as I try. I can also happily say, I am part of the 1% of the human population that has run a marathon.”