What’s it really like to run Boston? DMU student John Paul Sevcik shares his magical moments

John Paul “JP” Sevcik hobbled into my office on a recent Thursday afternoon, still a bit sore from the 122nd Boston Marathon he ran the weekend before. He is a second-year podiatric medical student from Cedar Falls, IA, who comes from a large family (he is the fourth of six kids), all of whom are runners.

If you didn’t catch any headlines about the race this year, it was miserable: cold, windy and raining. Still, JP ran the 26.2-mile race in an impressive time of two hours, 43 minutes and 20 seconds, less than half an hour after the winner, Yuki Kawauchi, crossed the finish line. JP finished 228th among the 26,948 people who started the race. Below, he shares his experiences.

HD: Paint me a scene: What was it like when you arrived in Boston and when you woke up the morning of the marathon?

JP: Sunday night I answered a few phone calls and texts. Lots of well wishes from family and friends. And when I woke up the next morning, something was different. You know how sometimes you have a bit of grogginess when you wake up, like, “Ah, I don’t want wake up”? Well, that did not happen this morning. I popped right up and instantly my mind just went, “This is Boston.”

HD: What did you wear to race in? A raincoat?

JP: Black running shorts, blue top – or the “Sevcik Family Running Uniform,” as we call it – with a pair of arm sleeves and a stocking cap.

HD: Did you keep the hat on the whole race?

JP: Only up until mile 26 because I wanted to get good pictures of the finish line. [Laughs] I am only a little bit vain sometimes.

HD: Well, this is a good opportunity to be.

JP: I was worried about wearing much more because it was rainy, cold and windy, and nothing was going to stay dry. It was as little as I possibly could wear. I was cold for most of the race up until mile 20 when the temperature bumped up just a little bit, maybe a couple of degrees, but I could tell the difference.

HD: Would you say that was your “turning point” in the race?

JP: Yes, turning point for the worst. I’d been shocked at how well my pace had been going up until mile 16. With the way classes had been going and my injuries, I didn’t get as good of training for this race as I wanted to. So, mile 16: I am going along, and I have this calf cramp that started to flare up. I take a moment, go to the side of the course and try to stretch it out, but it wasn’t getting any better. I resigned myself at that point in time and knew I would have a very painful last few miles of the race, so I just held on to my pace. Four miles later, it got dramatically worse.  

HD: I’ve heard mile 20 can be a wall for a lot of people who run marathons. How many marathons had you run before this?

JP: This was my fourth.

Less than three weeks after the 2018 Boston Marathon, JP Sevcik joined classmates as volunteers at a local Easter Seals fundraising walk.

HD: What was your qualifying time for Boston and where were you?

JP: It was in the fall of my first year at DMU, October 2016. I finished the Des Moines Marathon at 2:45.36. And then this past fall, October 1 of 2017, I ran the Twin Cities Marathon. Even though I used the Des Moines time for my qualifier, if you get a faster time before registration [for Boston] you can use that time to get up in a higher corral, closer to the starting line.

HD: So, did you make it?

JP: Yes, I ended up moving to the very first wave, first corral, so I could look in front of me as they were announcing the elites in the race and I saw hands going up. That was crazy!

HD: Did you meet anybody famous?

JP: I can’t say that I did. I didn’t go out searching for them. They are people just the same as we are, and I knew that my goal now was just to have a good race.

HD: Has it always been a goal of yours to run Boston?

JP: So, my older siblings, David and Daniel, the twins…

HD: My two older brothers are named David and Daniel, too…

JP: Oh, no way! You didn’t go to Iowa State, did you?

HD: No, Iowa.

JP: Oh, I’m sorry about that [laughs]. So David and Daniel’s freshman year at college, they ran Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota, same as me, right after high school, and then they wanted to go run Boston, because, I mean, what else is there to do when you graduate high school after cross country and track? Why not do a marathon? They both ended up qualifying for Boston in 2009, so we loaded up the family van, drove out to Boston, and… it was just… magical. I don’t know what else to say. It’s a different kind of race than anything you would see around here. Granted, I never ran at Drake [Relays]. I never made state in cross country or track. I was never that talented.

HD: I am surprised you didn’t.

JP: I was kind of slow back in high school, so I never had that kind of experience before. Then you go out and see this massive race, the best of the best, going to Boston, Patriots Day, every April for the past 122 years. I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So for coming up on a decade, I’d been looking forward and thinking, “Yeah, I want to get to Boston.” Plans did get pushed back about four years because I chose to run Division 3 cross country and track at Loras College. It was a great experience and I wouldn’t change that at all, but that just meant that I had four more years to wait until my shot at Boston came.

HD: What was your favorite mile?

JP: That’s a really great question. I’d say the mile I was happiest in was right around 13, because I started off the race and I had no hope for a good race. With the way school had gone and my injuries, I didn’t think I was in shape to run a really great race. I had no hope. Sure, I’d been doing my long runs, been running six days a week. No, I wasn’t out of shape, but I wasn’t primed to go for a great race. So anyways, I did everything according to plan. Out at six flats, I found a group of guys I could draft off of, as much as I possibly could, and you know, I still poked out a bit. Just a couple inches above everyone else, but oh well. There was this moment right there near the midpoint of the race where I wasn’t feeling bad. I was cold, but everyone was cold on a day like that. My lungs were good, breathing was great, my legs felt fine. Now that was going to change very shortly [chuckles], but I had this sense that wow, I can actually do this. And then the smile starts creeping up on my face a little bit, and then I’ve got to remember that no there is still half of a marathon to go. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I was just so pumped right after that halfway point because I thought I could do this!

HD: Do you remember running by Wellesley College and, if so, what was your reaction?

JP: So, one of my classmates, Sarah Tammaro, is a graduate of Wellesley College, and she gave me an idea of just how much they love the Boston Marathon. My expectations were a little damped, because yeah, the world was dampened – it was 40 degrees, windy and rainy, so I wasn’t expecting a lot. But then I see this sign on the side of the course, “You’re entering Wellesley,” so I got a little bit past that and I hear this dull roar off in back and I think, “What in the world is going on?” And then I realized, “Oh, that’s all the Wellesley College girls lining the road, and they are screaming at everything.” I’ve got to say, even though it was bad outside, the Wellesley College girls still showed up! They were still out there! I’m sure other years there were probably more, but for the whole span of the road in front of their school there was a girl every inch of the way. They just looked to be super into it. And no, I did not stop for kisses from any of the girls! But I think they really speak to something more about Boston, which is that fact that the community gets so remarkably involved with that race. This is the Boston area’s DAY. Everyone goes out for it, even on a crummy day like we had. I don’t want to talk bad on Des Moines but there were even more people out on a day like that in Boston than there were on a great day in Des Moines. What’s the difference? People just got excited and wanted to support the racers, and I think that is just so cool. It’s one thing to run a marathon by yourself or with people next to you, but it’s really a whole other thing to seemingly have the whole world by your side when you’re running Boston. It’s marvelous.

HD: Did you see any interesting runners?

JP: I saw a few blind runners and their companions taking them along. I thought that was just the coolest thing in the world.

HD: Tell me about your finish.

JP: Well, I’m going straight for mile 25. I’ve got this turn to the right and then this turn to the left to get onto Boylston Street and I see the crowds along the side and then I see the finish line dead ahead. Everything that I had been looking forward to for nine years now. I would go through a moment of just exhilaration, smiles and almost kind of laughing. There were a couple moments when I got choked up. I was shocked that I made it, I’m actually here, I am about to finish my Boston Marathon. And then of course you’ve got to say, “No, I’m not done yet, kick it into gear! Oh gosh, I’ve got to cross this finish line as quick as I can.” It’s just a magical experience. You won’t know until you get there.

HD: Do you want to help runners in your medical career?

JP: Yes, that is part of the reason why I wanted to go into podiatry. When I was a high school student, hanging with my cross-country team—one guy was talking about his bunion on his foot that had been bothering him and somebody else had some other foot problem, and I just had this moment of thinking, “Huh, I could help runners like myself for the rest of my life. That’d be pretty cool.” That athletic connection, the idea of helping runners, was truly my first step toward podiatry. Before I even knew what a podiatrist did, what education it would require, I just knew that there were people like me who had foot problems or who would get foot problems in the future that I wanted to help. One of my dreams is to have a high school athlete come into my clinic, and I help them with whatever issue they are going through, and then be able to go to the state cross country or state track meet and see them compete and win a state championship and know that I was a part of getting them to win state. That is a dream of mine. I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen, but, man, that would be a great story if it did.

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