Sam Gray, MCAS '18, is a theology major from Exeter, New Hampshire. He lives in the discernment house and runs the S’Upper-T club, a freshman outreach program in which members go to different restaurants around Boston. It makes sense that he works on freshman outreach, as he had a hard time finding his place at BC as an underclassman.
The one consistent thing Gray could turn to was running. “It’s the only thing that I love. It’s always been my consolation and the thing that I’m proud of, the thing that I pour myself into,” said Gray.
This passion culminated in Gray completing the Boston Marathon this year with a pace of 2:31:10, putting him at an incredible 65th place out of 30,000 runners. It was only his second marathon ever, but Gray has been working up to this victory since he started running in high school.
When Gray arrived on The Heights, he was a member of the varsity cross country and track and field teams. However, he decided to leave the fall of his sophomore year. “I really enjoyed the guys on the team,” he said, “but I just wasn’t improving and I wasn’t having fun with it. So I decided to quit and I was just kind of doing my own thing for a year and a half. Then, I joined a post-collegiate club team and I’m loving it now.”
Since leaving the team, a lot of Gray’s training has revolved around doing what feels right to him, as well as finding new challenges. He likes to go on long runs and has competed in two Ultras—long distance competing that counts as anything farther than 26.2 miles—which were 50 kilometers and 50 miles, respectively. Gray takes any chance to run that he can.
For Gray, one of the best parts of running is the connection with others, and he prides himself on being part of New England's running culture. “I’ve met so many great people through running, like my high school coach and teammates, and a lot of guys here too...[they've been] some of the most joyous relationships I’ve ever had.”
Additionally, Gray is a part of a club team called Whirlaway, which is based out of Methuen, MA, his mother’s hometown. He found out about the club through his high school coach, who is now a teammate. “Mostly we’re just friends and once in awhile I’ll ask him for advice on things, but he taught me a lot in high school. He still has a lot to teach me I think,” said Gray. The two plan to run a 120 mile stager over six days together in Colorado this summer.
Inspired by his coach, Gray could see himself making a career out of his passion. “That’s one of the things that I really want to do. It’s not just the actual act of running that I love, it’s the relationships that I have had with my teammates and with my coaches and it’s definitely something I want to be a part of even if it’s on the other side as a coach instead of as an athlete.”
Despite these friendships developed from running, most of Gray’s marathon training was solitary. “I train just by myself most of the time now which is kind of lonely.” He began training before he even knew if he could run. When running his first marathon in November, he logged a qualifying time—but after the September 1 deadline. Through special entry with his club team, however, he got a bib number for Boston in February.
In order to train, Gray devised his own plan, which began around Christmas and included running 100 miles a week, building over four week cycles. A lot of training consisted of squeezing in runs whenever possible, whether that meant waking up extra early to get in 10-15 miles of running, or even going between classes. “It’s like 11 hours a week at least. And I do other stuff; I swim, I lift, and I squeeze it in anywhere.” When it came to the big day, he set the goal to finish in two hours and 30 minutes.
The experience of actually running the marathon was a dream come true for Gray, and he has found himself thinking about it frequently in the past two weeks. “I wish I could be back in the moment of it. I still—I keep replaying everything—it’s just a really cool, cool dynamic.”
“I hope I don’t look too ugly,” Gray joked when asked what he was thinking as he ran past Boston College.“Of course running by here was really special. I saw my brothers and my family and they were on the backside of the (Heartbreak) hill at the top. Then I came down the hill and all my friends were in front of Gabelli and going crazy. That was beautiful and that really got me going. I started going for it after that.”
Gray pushed himself as hard as he could for the last five miles, propelled forward from the support of his friends and family cheering him on. The last stretch proved to be the most painful, despite being downhill. “I think all the fatigue really hit me so I was trying to run really hard, but at the same time my body was shutting down.” Gray said, “You can see the Citgo sign the whole way once you turn on Beacon, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any closer. And gosh that was hard, I felt my eyes rolling back in my head, but it was kind of exhilarating, too.”
For Gray, exhilaration is at the core of what running is about, not winning. Instead of elation and relief, the feeling he experienced after the race was sadness. He explained: “The farther I got from that moment of crossing the finish line, the sadder it got. The last five miles were painful but the whole race in general was just a beautiful thing, and I was sad to have that be over.”
The memory of the run might be what matters to Gray, but coming in 65th is a huge deal. He said, “My goal was 2:30 and I ran 2:31, so just slightly short of what I wanted. I’m not upset with 2:31; it was a warm day and I was running by myself most of the time which is hard. Over the course of a marathon, one minute is only two seconds a mile so it’s very close to what I wanted to do.”
One element that might have been missing for Gray was a teammate, who could push him to compete even harder. “None of my teammates did the marathon this year. If there was someone I could have raced with the whole way I think I could have run faster.” However, even without a teammate, he impressed.
Even after such a physically and mentally demanding challenge, Gray is already looking forward to the opportunity to do it again. “There’s a lot of special moments there and I wish I could be back in that moment. I can’t wait for next year.”
Sam Gray’s incredible performance in the Boston Marathon this year was a result of pure passion and love for the sport. It has gotten him through both good and difficult times. Running in the Boston Marathon was just a natural extension of this passion.
“My whole life has kind of been around the course, and I watch the marathon every year. I’ve always wanted to do it.”