by marlys good
Nathan Stamstad realized a life-long dream April 18 when he competed in the world-renowned Boston Marathon and finished 1,124th overall, 847th in his age group, and as the top runner of the 49 competing Wyoming and North Dakota competitors.
Quite an accomplishment for a young man who was introduced to the world of track when he was in the sixth grade at Greybull Middle School.
His mother Janna recalls his “initiation” was at a middle school meet in Cody. “He was going to run the mile; it was cold and rainy, and he didn’t have any Under Armor; I couldn’t afford to buy it for him, so he borrowed some from Mike Collingwood.”
Mike was a muscular young man and his Under Armour was way too large for the skinny Stamstad, but it kept Nathan warm, he finished the race and he hasn’t stopped running since.
He ran in middle school, he ran in high school, and he continued running at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. where he competed in cross-country, indoor and outdoor track for the UM Marauders. He graduated from college in 2012 and for the past four years has been teaching math and coaching cross-country track at Wilton High School – and running.
“I think I first learned about the Boston Marathon in late elementary school, and since it was such a big event, I wanted to take on the challenge. I’ve always challenged myself to be better, whether that’s intellectually, spiritually, athletically or whatever,” Stamstad shared.
“I have a saying I give to my students and athletes regularly: ‘Do something today that will make you better than you were yesterday.’ I feel like that can apply to just about anything; I’m very competitive, and when something piques my interest, I can get very passionate about it, as I have with running.”
Stamstad ran, and ran some more, pushing himself; finally in a full-marathon held in Bismarck, N.D. on Sept. 21, 2013, he posted a time of 2 hours, 55 minutes, 10 seconds, fourth overall and second in his age group, surpassing the pre-qualification time of 3.05 for the Boston Marathon.
Unfortunately, Sept. 20 was the deadline for qualifying for the 2016 marathon. So he bided his time and continued training, although he had to overcome a foot injury in 2015 that set his training back.
“I made sure to start training for (the 2016) marathon a little bit earlier than I normally would; I took things a little bit slower in the beginning. I had to avoid another setback or another injury.”
Stamstad ran all of December (2015), January, February, March and even into April. “If I didn’t want to run because I was too tired or just didn’t feel up to it, I thought about my competitors and how they were out running, making themselves better. That approach helped me get through many cold and not-so-pleasant runs during the winter.”
When April 18 rolled around, Stamstad was ready. He and wife Megan flew to Boston several days early, rented a car, rented a room as close to the starting point as they could – and did a little sight-seeing.
Race day, “I was nervous but confident; ready; my entire body was filled with energy. My goal was to run under 2:50, and to place in the top 1,500,” Stamstad said. “I had prepared for the hills and wind; training in North Dakota, there’s no choice but to be ready for the wind,” he quipped. What he wasn’t prepared for was the heat. “It was only 65 at the start of the race, but when you’ve trained at temperatures less than 40 degrees for four months, it feels very hot.”
According to Stamstad, there was an “electric” air to the entire marathon. “It was literally 26.2 miles of fans cheering people on. It didn’t matter if you were in first, last, or anywhere in between; the fans were cheering. It was awesome.”
Runners were split into “waves” of 7,500. Due to his qualifying time, Stamstad was in the first wave. “When the gun went off, there was no breathing room. In fact, I didn’t have breathing room for almost the first six miles; it was that crazy.”
He stayed relaxed and calm; he hit the splits he wanted. When he reached mile 10, Stamstad felt like something was wrong. “I was starting to labor more than I what I should have for what my training had prepared me for.”
He made it through the halfway mark, 13.1 miles in 1:24.10, a pace that would have allowed him to meet his time goal. “But something just felt off. I didn’t know whether to take more water, less water, or what; I didn’t figure it out until it was too late.”
At mile 16, he started to cramp. “One came on in my left quad; that’s when I knew I was in trouble.”
He took in more water, but that led to side stitches, and for the final 10 miles, Stamstad battled through leg cramps and side aches.
The third quarter of the race was mostly uphill, with no protection from the sun. Stamstad said several runners had to stop and walk, while others got cramps and had to stop and stretch.
As Stamstad got into the greater Boston area he knew his pace was off and any hope of hitting his goal time was gone. The atmosphere got more intense the closer he got to the finish line. “The last mile was just a blur,” he recalled.
He finished in 1,124th place (out of over 30,000). “A lot better than what I had thought when I crossed the finish line. Looking at the results, I saw a lot of people struggled with the heat; several people fell off pace in the second half. Knowing I wasn’t the only one who had ‘blown up” made me feel better.”
Stamstad said while his time was not what he was hoping for, “It was still pretty good, good enough for me to meet my place goal, but not good enough for me to be satisfied. It left me with a hunger to go out and do better next year (Yes, he plans on competing in the 2017 marathon).
When Stamstad and Megan got to the airport Monday, he said, “There were hundreds of other people wearing this year’s marathon jacket; that was so cool. There was a feeling of camaraderie with all these strangers. We had just finished the Boston Marathon; we were all exhausted, sore, and probably still slightly dehydrated, yet we were all happy.”
It was back to planet earth Tuesday; back to the classroom for Stamstad. As he talked to fellow teachers and the students about his experience, he said, “The question I got the most was, ‘Why would you do that to yourself?’”
Stamstad said he doesn’t know if he fully understands it himself. “It’s just a part of who I am, I guess. God gave me this incredible gift and I don’t want to waste it.”