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RUNNING: Southington trio taking on Beantown — virtually

RUNNING: Southington trio taking on Beantown — virtually

reporter photo

SOUTHINGTON — The YMCA will fill in for Hopkinton, Andrews Street for Heartbreak Hill, the Linear Trail for Boyleston Street.

There will be no Boston Marathon this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. There will be a virtual version, though, and three Southington runners who qualified for the 2020 edition will put in their 26.2 miles Saturday morning on the streets of their hometown.

Go-time is 7:30 a.m. for Marc Lennon, Kristin Lopa and Amanda Lynch. They will meet at the Southington YMCA, set their Garmin running watches and spend the next three hours traversing a course of their own design.

Three hours, more or less. Lennon, who has run in 17 marathons, including the last two in Boston, holds a personal-best time of 2:47. Lopa and Lynch, who were due to run in their first Boston event, both qualified with 3:27s.

So they’ll probably get separated somewhere along the line. But if you live along streets like Mulberry or Berlin, Andrews or Flanders, keep an eye out this morning. Boston Marathon runners will be passing you by, and that will be a first.

“A little different this year,” Lennon said Friday. “Not the same feel, but that’s the world we live in nowadays, I guess. But it will be fun. You make the best of it and it’s kind of fun to make your own course anyway.

“Hopefully, next year, back to normal Boston. But until then, it’s kind of neat Boston allowed us to do this virtual course.”

This marks the first time in its 124-year history that the Boston Marathon won’t actually be run. Yet the Boston Athletic Association, which stages the event, is keeping tradition alive the same way far less famous races have in these pandemic times: virtually.

In the virtual format, race participants run a set distance on their own and report times to event organizers. It’s what the Southington YMCA, for instance, will be doing with the Apple Harvest Road Race this year from Oct. 2-12.

With the Boston Marathon, qualifiers must run between Sept. 7-14. No breaking up the miles over several days, of course. Marathoners must cover 26.2 miles in one fell swoop.

The Southington trio picked a good day to have at it. Saturday is forecasted to be sunny, in the 70s, with low humidity and light wind. That’s ideal running weather — a far cry from the heat and high humidity in which Lennon, Lopa and Lynch have been training this summer.

All three have been doing quite a bit of running since the pandemic set in. Name the sport that naturally achieves social distancing better than distance running.

“It’s kind of keeps me normal. That was the one thing I feel I could control was keeping up running,” Lennon remarked. “It’s a good outlet for me. I’ve been consistent doing it all year. It keeps your mind off things.”

Lennon has been mostly logging solo miles. Lopa and Lynch are part of a running group at the YMCA.

That’s how the two met. Recreational runs morphed into races — 5Ks, half-marathons, “girls trips” on the weekend.

“There’s a whole group of us,” Lopa said. “We all met at the YMCA and we’ve been training and running together, so it’s a real fun thing.

“Eventually we worked our way up to wanting to qualify for Boston,” she added. “We finally did it and they cancelled it.”

Lopa was introduced to marathon distance by happy accident, though it wasn’t exactly happy at the time. Showing up at a Hartford Marathon to run the half-distance event, she learned that race had sold out. It was either run the marathon or go home. Lopa chose Option A.

“I would not recommend doing that,” she said. “It was pretty bad.”

It got better. Lopa ran the Newport Marathon. She returned to Rhode Island and ran the Providence Marathon in May of 2019. It was there that she posted her 3:27 qualifying time for Boston.

Lynch, meanwhile, twice ran qualifying times at the Hartford Marathon.

“Amanda and I, it was our first time qualifying, so we were really excited to run it,” Lopa said. “We had our hotel booked in Boston.”

With the onset of the pandemic, however, the Boston Marathon, like the entire sports world, pulled the plug in mid-March. The race was rescheduled to September, but ultimately cancelled by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.

“We’re really just hoping for 2021, hoping that one actually happens,” Lopa said.

Lopa, Lynch and Lennon are all in their 30s. They are proof running is a sport one can take up at any time. Lynch ran track at Naugatuck High School, but didn’t continue at Central Connecticut State University. Lopa, who grew up in Southington as Kristin Paradis, didn’t run until after she graduated Quinnipiac University.

Signing up for a half-marathon about half a dozen years ago got Lennon back in stride. At 35, he still has good speed, though recovery sometimes takes an extra day. He figures he still might have a few more “PRs” in him. He’s run marathons in Chicago, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“They’re all fun,” Lennon said. “Sometimes you’re feeling great and you feel like nothing can stop you, and other times it’s a struggle. But any time you cross the line in a marathon, you’re never disappointed.”

Today, that finish line will be the starting line at the YMCA. The trio will run down the linear trail to downtown Plantsville and hook over to Recreation Park via Carter Lane, Old Turnpike Road, Mulberry Street and South End Road.

After looping through the park, they will head back down South End Road and follow Meriden Avenue past Lewis Farms to Oakland Road. They’ll head east on Berlin Street down to East Street, and cut over to Andrews Street via Kensington Road.

Andrews Street will be an uphill grind out to Shuttle Meadow Reservoir. The trio will loop that, then head down the steep curving grade of Mine Hollow Road.

From there, its Flanders Road to Flanders Street to Pleasant Street to Berlin Street, ultimately back-tracking toward Rec Park and retracing their initial miles back to the Y.

No, it’s not Boston. But, hopefully, there will be a 125th edition waiting in 2021. For now, there is an upside. Getting to the “race” and heading home afterward will be considerably easier.

“Yeah, it’s kind of no pressure,” Lennon said. “Sometimes you need those races. You go out and have fun and run your best. You get some local support and make the best of it.”

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