Josh Seekatz, seen here in the Portland Marathon, ran in his first Boston Marathon in April. (Photo provided by Josh Seekatz)

Once on the course after the race begins, runners settle into a pace to battle the physical and mental challenges of competing in the Boston Marathon. Left behind is the craziness over the previous couple of hours leading up to the start. The nearly 25,000 runners are on their way on a 26-mile, 385-yard course that leads them through eight cities from Hopkinton to Boston.

Each competitor typically has a goal in mind with participation in the race and each will take away their own specific memories of the experience. Megan Hutchinson and Josh Seekatz — both Philomath High graduates and former running standouts for the Warriors — certainly fit those parameters with their appearances in the Boston Marathon back on April 18.

“The biggest thing about Boston is being able to have like 26 straight miles of people on the course. It’s Patriots’ Day for them and a lot of them don’t work because it’s a state holiday and they come out,” said Hutchinson, who was Megan Czerny in high school. “They always say in Boston that there’s only three things you do on Patriots’ Day — you go to the Red Sox game, you run the marathon or you walk to the marathon.”

All of those people can be a strong motivation for those struggling to get to the finish line. The crowd becomes more intense over the last three or four miles when the route takes runners into Boston with hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets.

“It’s just nonstop people cheering and yelling at you,” Seekatz said. “It motivated me to look better and tighten up my form even though I was really hurting. … I definitely went from some very slow miles before those last three or so to a bit closer to my average pace through the motivation of the people.”

Hutchinson and Seekatz found themselves at this year’s marathon under different circumstances. Hutchinson, 38, had qualified for the fourth time but wanted to compete in the live race for the first time in 14 years. Seekatz, 29, ended up in his first Boston Marathon as the result of training he had been doing to prepare himself for an Ironman triathlon competition.

Hutchinson and Seekatz both attended Philomath schools from kindergarten through graduation. Hutchinson graduated with the Class of 2002 and Seekatz with the Class of 2011. 

Joe Fulton, who coached them both in high school and continues to run the cross-country and track and field programs today, loves to see his former athletes keep up with running as adults.

“It warms the heart to see them still doing it — it’s become a lifelong passion for a lot of the kids that went through the Philomath system and that makes me very happy,” Fulton said. 

Hutchinson’s husband serves in the military and as a result, there have been many cities come and go in past years. The couple and their children are currently living in San Diego. Seekatz just moved back to Philomath a couple of years ago and works on the coast as a biologist for the Siletz tribe.

Megan Hutchinson has run in multiple marathons — before kids and after kids — and plans to return in 2023. (Photo provided by Megan Hutchinson)

Hutchinson’s transition to distance running

Hutchinson had played soccer from a young age and needed to get in shape for her freshman season at Philomath High. She remembers her dad telling her, “Well, just go run five miles every day and you’ll get in shape.”

After playing on the junior varsity her freshman soccer season, Hutchinson seemed to be headed in the spring toward softball, which is what most of her friends were going to be playing. Instead, she decided to switch it up.

“I did track and I went out as a sprinter. I did one meet as a sprinter and Joe was like, ‘Nope — it’s not going to happen for you,’” she laughed. “All of a sudden in one practice, he was like, ‘you’re going to run with the middle- and long-distance kids’ and I was like, ‘huh?’ But we went out for a trial run and I pretty much fell in love with it after that. I ended up going to state in the 3,000 that year.”

Cross-country followed the next fall and she had three top-10 finishes at state during her three seasons — ninth in 1999 (20:25), fourth in 2000 (19:17) and fifth in 2001 (19:27). She ran the fastest-ever 4,000 in school history in 1999 and ranks sixth on the all-time list for the 3,000-meter run with 10:44.6 in 2001.

“I could tell she had endurance and I kept pushing her up one event at a time and she would get a little bit better but she really didn’t get good until she tried the 3,000,” Fulton said. “That’s all she wrote. She fell in love with distance running after that.”

Hutchinson went on to run collegiately at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. The marathon was among her events.

“I went and watched her race the NAIA national marathon championships in Louisville, Kentucky — in 2005 or thereabouts,” Fulton remembered — his son at Southern Oregon had also qualified for the meet.

Before heading to OIT, Hutchinson’s first marathon came not long after high school with an appearance in the 2003 Portland Marathon.

“I was a crazy just-out-of-high-school thinking that I could do it,” she laughed, recalling a time of about 3 hours, 28 minutes.

“I ended up getting two IV bags because I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I didn’t stop for water or food or anything along the way. So it was a learning experience, I guess, in a way.”

Seekatz grows fast into the body of a runner

Seekatz said he first went out for cross-country as a seventh grader.

“In the seventh grade, I was not fast at all,” he said. “I had a bit of a growth spurt and grew into myself from seventh to eighth grade. It’s kinda funny, I’m the same height as I was at the end of the seventh grade to what I am now.”

But once got used to his body — he went from a pudgy 5-2 to a lean 5-8 — he started to see success. In the eighth grade, he blossomed into a very competitive runner.

“One of my good friends that I ran with, Jeff Schreiner-McGraw, we were both quality middle school cross-country and track runners,” he said. “And so, I carried that into high school.”

Josh Seekatz graduated with Philomath High’s Class of 2011. (Photo provided by Josh Seekatz)

Despite his obvious skills, Seekatz said he didn’t participate in cross-country as a freshman because he wanted to focus on soccer. But the following spring, he was again on the track squad.

“I really fell in love working especially with Joe and so I did both soccer and cross-country for the rest of high school and then had pretty astronomical improvements through high school,” he said.

In cross-country, Seekatz broke the school record on a 5K course near Elmira in 2010 with a time of 15:54 (Brian Blythe bettered the record in 2013). That same season, he placed second at state. Seekatz has school records at a couple of less-common cross-country distances — 3,000 and 5,200.

“Josh is just about the toughest competitor that I ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Fulton said. “He just grinded it out every single time. Every time you gave him some sort of outrageous strategy to try to take away the kick from swifter runners, he’d perfect it. He’d get out there and do it, even if it meant starting his kick with 500, 600 meters to go.”

Seekatz ranks fourth all-time in the PHS track and field record book with an 8:52.93 in the 3,000-meter run. At state, as a junior, he placed third in the 1,500 and sixth in the 3,000 and as a senior, he was fourth in the 1,500 and fifth in the 3,000.

Seekatz ran his first marathon on a trail course outside of Bend for his senior project at Philomath High. He had broken his foot during the summer of 2009 on a run and then broke it again in a soccer game that fall.

“The idea behind my senior project was to research what kind of shoes I should get, build strength and have a training plan where I’m incorporating cross training so I don’t do too much mileage and then do a marathon,” Seekatz said.

In college, Seekatz ran cross-country and track for the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. The 5,000-meter steeplechase ended up as an event for him — “I was only good at the steeplechase because I was a fast 5K runner … I was horrific over the barriers.”

“I did a lot of running in college and was quite fit back then,” he said. “But there was a ton of burnout and so I kinda got out of running after college. You know, running 85 to 100 miles a week for four years will do that understandably.”

Hutchinson’s mission to get back to Boston

Hutchinson has qualified four times for the Boston Marathon — the first two in 2005 and 2008 before she had kids.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could go back and do it after kids,” she said. “I qualified for the 2020 one but it turned virtual. … You work so hard for it and I had trained and juggled the kids’ schedules for it and sacrificed so much. Even the kids, they knew mom’s marathon training and that means we’re going to be a little tired and cranky. It’s just the emotional sacrifices that the family has to make, I have to make, to do it.”

The appearance in April’s marathon was her first on site since the 2008 race. She has also qualified for the 2023 race.

The Boston Marathon represents a bucket list moment for many long-distance runners and that’s certainly true for Hutchinson. Those that run in the marathon earn the right through qualification — it’s not based on a lottery system, for example.

Hutchinson said she really wanted to get back to compete in the marathon after the bombing occurred in 2013.

“I just wanted to get back and be a part of it,” she said. “One of the victim’s older brothers was in my wave and I found that out in the beginning when I was down in the athlete’s village and I started bawling. There’s so much emotion going on.”

Hutchinson separates her personal-best marathon times into “before kids” and “after kids.”

“This one is my best since having kids,” she said. “Probably the last time I ran in the 3:20s was back when I was in college. OIT, for outdoor nationals, they had the marathon so I ran the marathon in college.”

Her official time in the April race came in at 3 hours, 25 minutes, 59 seconds for a 7:52 pace. It was in college when she ran her best time of 3 hours, 17 minutes.

Seekatz runs marathon to train for an Ironman

Seekatz has started to get back into long-distance running over the past few years with the goal of competing in an Ironman competition before age 30. This past fall, he competed in his first marathon since his high school experience at Bend with an appearance in the Portland Marathon. He finished in under three hours in his age group to qualify for Boston.

“My plan for the last year was to run a fast marathon and then qualify for Boston as an incentive … to stay in shape over the winter because I have a hard time doing that typically because no one wants to run in the dark and in the rain,” he said.

According to Boston Marathon’s official results, Seeketz came in with a time of 2 hours, 49 minutes, 47 seconds for a pace of 6:29.

Seekatz said he hopes to do more races this year to keep himself accountable to doing the Ironman — perhaps even returning to the trail race outside of Bend.

“I definitely do want to go back to Boston and run it fast at some point because it is an incredible course and experience and I could definitely see myself having an awesome race there one day,” Seekatz said. “I’m not 100% sure if it’ll be next year or sometime in the next two or three years while I’m still somewhat spry.”

Hutchinson works through the pain past Mile 19

Hutchinson ran Boston’s first five kilometers in 24:18 and was at 47:44 by 10 kilometers.

“I went out a lot faster than I wanted to but I just kept going and was like, ‘ok, I’ll just kind of slow down when my body tells me to’ but it didn’t really get to that point,” she said. “I was running an average in the 7:20s.”

Hutchinson remembers a firefighter handing her a pickle, “which absolutely saved my life at mile 19,” she said. “I had to keep thinking about why I was there — it was more of a mental game about that time and I was trying to keep myself motivated from slowing down.”

Hutchinson said she did slow down to about an 8:20 pace. The crowd kept her going.

With unpredictable weather in many parts of the country this spring, runners didn’t know what they would find in Boston. But it turned out to be perfect.

“It was a runner’s dream, it really was,” Hutchinson said. “It was blue skies, it was sunny but it was still like low 50s when we started so it was absolutely perfect for every situation.”

Hutchinson said she usually runs just one marathon a year. As a military wife, she’s lived in a lot of different places, which eases access to try different destination races — other venues that also appear on a lot of marathoners’ bucket lists.

“When we lived in Monterey (California), I did the Big Sur one and when we lived in Norfolk (Virginia), we drove up and did the Marine Corps Marathon (in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia),” she said. “I’ve done the Honolulu Marathon. I guess it’s one of the perks of being in a military family for the things I get to experience.”

Seekatz has thoughts of taking a break for brunch

After maneuvering through a multiple-step system in place to get runners to the start — a story within itself — Seekatz settled into his “wave,” which are groups determined by qualifying times.

Seekatz said that in general, miles 18 to 24 are the toughest mentally.

“Just because you know you’ve been going for a long time and your body is starting to feel really poorly,” he said. “That stretch of 18 or 19 to 24, it’s where you’re getting to around two hours of running. You have to really focus mentally and it’s the part where you’re thinking, ‘you know, I really could just slow down and go eat some brunch or something like a normal person does on a weekend morning.’”

Beyond the mental, Seekatz also had a physical challenge to overcome. Just over three weeks prior, he suffered a serious calf strain.

“My main goal going into it — since I didn’t run the 3-1/2 weeks before, was to just not walk and see what happens,” Seekatz said. “When I started, my calf was feeling really, really strong. I started my first mile pretty slow and then I had like the gung-ho mentality of ‘you surprised yourself in Portland, why don’t you just go out and try to run fast.’”

Seekatz came to regret that approach when he got to around mile 15.

“But even with some of those very slow miles in the back half, I proudly never walked and I finished — that’s what matters,” Seekatz said.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.