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Girls on the Run Coach Weathers Nasty Conditions in Boston

05/29/2018 | Featured Columns & Series

This year's Boston Marathon saw record low temps, heavy rain, and wind gusts of more than 25 miles per hour. It saw elite runners wearing elaborate face masks, spectators donning nuclear power plant suits, and dozens of cases of hypothermia.

But in a race that saw DNFs from former Boston runner-up Galen Rupp and two-time Boston winner Lelisa Desisa, Girls on the Run Coach Matthew Wells weathered the storm, crossing the finish line in 3:29:59.

It wasn't the first time he'd beat the odds. Out of more than 1,600 outstanding applicants, Hyland's, the Official Cramp Relief Sponsor of the Boston Marathon, had selected only 13 distinguished educators to compete in the legendary race, widely known for its notoriously difficult qualification process.

Matthew's love of running and devotion to service—both in the classroom as a teacher and on the track through Girls on the Run—had landed Matthew a spot on this unique all-teacher team, alongside fellow Girls on the Run Coaches Lisa Abramowski and Jackie Baker.

Since he began running nearly 15 years ago (merely as a way to lose weight and stay healthy), Matthew has completed 45 marathons, five 50-milers, and two 100-milers. But he called Boston "the most exciting opportunity I’ve had related to running."

"Despite running in other marathons, I never thought I would be able to run Boston," he said. "I get chills thinking about running on the same course as the world's best runners like Shalane Flanagan. I hope my [GOTR girls] see that anything they want to do is possible."

When a school counselor who had no experience with running approached him about coaching with GOTR, Matthew immediately saw the program was about so much more than just running laps around a track.

"Being a part of a team is powerful and having time to work on social and emotional development outside of an academic arena is vital," he said, adding that active children are often better students.

Furthermore, while his students sometimes struggled to see the immediate correlation between their hard work and their success in the classroom, his runners could see the immediate correlation between their hard work and their progress on the track.

"In GOTR, girls see, feel, and experience the relationship between hard work and progress as they monitor their progress in their logs, and more importantly, feel themselves becoming stronger runners and more equipped to handle any issues that may arise," Matthew said, adding that the biggest GOTR lesson is that with hard work, any goal can be reached.

It's a lesson he took with him to Boston.

"We knew the weather would be horrible and the history and reputation of the race would be overwhelming," Matthew said. "But it was important to remember that the actual running part was just like any other training run or race."

In fact, prior to the race, he and his fellow teachers had the opportunity to hear from Courtney Thompson, an Olympic Volleyball player, who shared her experiences with positive and negative self-talk during the London and Rio Olympics. Just like in GOTR, she helped the teachers develop their own positive self-talk phrases to use during the race.

"It is powerful for the girls to see the same concepts taught in their lessons being used in the Olympics!" Matthew said.

So what lessons does he hope his girls take from his experience?

"Set goals and chase them passionately," Matthew said. "Success is not about winning the race, but about showing up and finishing."

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