THE 119 BOSTON MARATHONApril 9th, 2015
Despite Brain Tumor, Nona Cerveny Hopes to Complete 30th Consecutive Boston Marathon
Cerveny, who has longest active women's streak in Boston, condenses her training for the 2015 race after undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.
Cerveny, who spent much of her running career living in Cumberland, Rhode Island, but moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, about 10 years ago, had been feeling tired last summer, so she had visited a couple of doctors. One was treating her for a thyroid condition, but none had discovered the root of the problem.
“My daughter came into town on the 22nd of August and said, ‘Mom, there’s something wrong with you.’ She could tell by the way I was keeping house,” Cerveny told Runner’s World Newswire.
The following morning, Cerveny walked five miles with friends before her daughter brought her to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.
Perhaps it’s the toughness that comes with making it to the finish line of the Boston Marathon 29 years in a row, but Cerveny says she never really felt that bad.
“When the doctor started to examine me, I said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel fine,’” Cerveny says. “I never even had a headache the whole time. The only symptom I had was that I just wanted to rest a lot.”
Doctors found a golf ball–sized tumor in Cerveny’s head and operated that evening. Though doctors were unable to find anything unusual in Cerveny’s intestines, a pathology report from her brain tumor suggested that the tumor originated in her intestines, and that she had intestinal cancer.
Cerveny spent two weeks in the hospital and began radiation treatment in September. Following radiation, Cerveny started chemotherapy treatments, which she completed February 24.
The treatment didn’t stop Cerveny from running, however.
“[The doctors] were holding me back,” Cerveny says. “I don’t think I started running until October. It was actually November 11th when they gave me the okay, but I snuck out a few times.”
Understandably, Cerveny’s Boston buildup has been far from ideal, which explains how a 29-year veteran of the Boston Marathon has found herself using an unconventional marathon training plan.
“I [am] trying to do this program, ‘Train and run a marathon in 30 days—are you crazy?’ If you put that in the computer, there’s a program,” Cerveny says.
Cerveny is expecting to cover the Boston Marathon course at 20 minutes per mile on Patriots’ Day. Her daughter, Tara Moscaritolo, will accompany her, with the hope of ensuring her mother’s safety. It’s a far cry from the 3:21 Cerveny estimates she ran at her fastest in Boston, but crossing the finish line for a 30th consecutive year is important to her.
In answering the question of why, Cerveny speaks with the understatement typical of a longtime New England resident.
“Well, I’m a runner, and we do things like this,” Cerveny says. “I think it’s a lot because it’s number 30 and there are people out there that have been following me every year, that are friends of mine, and you know, it gives me a sense of worth.”
Cerveny took over the women’s lead on the list of active Boston streakers in 2014, after Andrea Hatch ran the 2013 race and then retired her 36-year streak. There are 65 active streakers who have run 25 or more consecutive Boston Marathons, led by Ben Beach with 47. Of those 65, only five are women.
When Beach began running the race in 1968, women were not an official part of the Boston Marathon field. Women officially joined the field in 1972, but only eight of the 1,219 entrants that year were female.
Cerveny didn’t take up running until December of 1982, when her children were 5 and 3. She started out with the goal of improving her tennis game, but about three years later, at age 36, she ran what she believes was her first marathon—the 1985 Ocean State Marathon—in 3:42.
She began running the Boston Marathon because some of the other runners in her running club were doing it and it was convenient—at the time she lived only about 50 miles from the race’s finish. When she began running the race in 1986, the open women’s qualifying time was 3:20, as fast it has ever been. In 1987, it was raised to 3:30, and in 1989, when she hit age 40, her qualifying standard was relaxed to 3:40. While Cerveny requalified for Boston in Boston some of those years, other years she had to run other marathons to requalify for the race.
The Boston Athletic Association now allows those who have run 10 or more consecutive Boston Marathons to enter the race without a qualifying time, but Cerveny believes she did not get any special provisions getting into the race until she had hit at least number 15 or so.
After she had run Boston seven or eight times, she became more conscious of her streak and determined to keep it alive. It wasn’t until after she hit number 25, however, that she became aware that there was a “Quarter Century Club” of Boston Marathon streakers, which she has since joined.
Cerveny is particularly proud of her 25th Boston Marathon, in 2010, when she ran 4:29:05 and snuck under her qualifying standard of 4:30. Like many others, Cerveny was stopped around the 25-mile mark of the 2013 Boston Marathon, after the bombings at the finish line closed the course. Though many of the active streakers were unable to finish the race that day, race organizers announced that those who reached at least the halfway point of the course that day could consider themselves to have finished the race.
Cerveny says that if she is able to reach the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon, it may be the last time she does so.
“I think that this is probably going to be my last year,” Cerveny says. “I did have a knee surgery a couple years ago. It was just arthroscopic, but people are telling me to stop running. So I don’t know if this is going to be my last one or not.”
Patty Hung, 69, of California, and Joy Hampton, 68, of New Jersey, are close behind Cerveny on the list of active Boston Marathon streakers, with 28 and 27 consecutive finishes, respectively.
Cerveny says that while her doctors do not expect her to make a full recovery for another six months to a year, she does have her doctors’ blessing to run the marathon.
“My brain surgeon wants a picture of me coming through the finish line,” Cerveny says.