‘I’m proud to represent Needham’: Locals run Boston Marathon

April 1, 2024
• Needhamites will gather in Hopkinton April 15 to join thousands of runners in the Boston Marathon. Here’s a look at some of their stories and why they took on the challenge.

Father-Daughter Duo

For the Nowlans, the Boston Marathon represents a homecoming and a full-circle moment.

Back in 2012, then-Needham High School student Clara Nowlan and her dad Mike ran the Falmouth Road Race, a seven-mile run participants must finish within an hour and 45 minutes.

Twelve years later, the father and daughter team will face a much more daunting task: Run 26.2 miles through Boston. Luckily, they’ll also be running this one together, and Clara Nowlan will travel from her new home in Culver City, CA to participate.

Michael Nowlan smiles with his oldest daughter Clara after completing the Falmouth Road Race in 2012. The pair will be running together in the Boston Marathon this year. (Courtesy The Home for Little Wanderers)

Growing up in Needham, Clara Nowlan said she admired the reverence and revelry around the Boston Marathon, and she misses that fanfare that doesn’t really exist on the west coast. To train for the big day, Clara said she’s tapping into her athletic past — she was a three-sport athlete at NHS, playing soccer, basketball and lacrosse, and she continued playing lacrosse in college.

“It’s been interesting rediscovering the side of myself that’s competitive and goal-oriented and can push my body,” Clara Nowlan said. “So it’s been a really hard but really rewarding journey, coming back to that athlete I used to be.”

The Nowlan team is running for The Home of Little Wanderers, a Boston-based nonprofit that supports kids through foster care, adoption, mental health programming, education and more. Mike Nowlan previously served as the nonprofit’s interim chief finance officer, and Clara Nowlan is a social worker for the Los Angeles Unified School District, so the cause seemed fitting.

The Nowlans plan to stick together for most of the race, though Mike Nowlan said they have very different pacing.

“I don’t want to drag her down too much,” he joked.

“I think we’ll need each other the most towards those last six miles everyone says are awful,” Clara Nowlan said. “It’s just a reminder [that] not everything needs to be this insane competition, and it’s so cool to just have the experience and do it together.”

Finding their Stride

Being a years-long spectator, Caitlin Twomey understands the intense energy surrounding the Boston Marathon, which she considers a New England “institution.”

Caitlin Twomey runs past Boston College, her alma mater, while training for the 2024 Boston Marathon. (Courtesy Caitlin Twomey)

Joining this year’s race as a runner, the Needham resident said she was excited to belong to a local contingent of runners hoping to make a difference. Following the Boston Athletic Association’s 20-week training program, she kicked off her official runs in December, adding to years of running experience.

Though a marathon appears challenging — and running in Massachusetts during the winter isn’t the most fun — Twomey, 36, said it’s not all about physical agility.

“I’ve learned anyone can do it,” Twomey said. “It’s so mental. It’s more mental than anything.”

This will also be lifelong Needham resident Christian Iantosca’s first marathon, but he’s no stranger to the sport. Iantosca, 45, started running 10 years ago for stress relief and to stay fit, and he’s completed four half-marathons in that time. Still, finishing a full marathon was daunting.

But when his teenage boys started driving and living more independently, Iantosca found himself with extra time, which he channeled into runs, often accompanied by his 3-year-old Italian water dog Toby. On recovery runs, Iantosca and Toby head to the Needham Town Forest.

Christian Iantosca, of Needham, and his dog Toby. Iantosca is preparing for the 2024 Boston Marathon and will be running with the Brigham Stepping Strong team. (Courtesy Christian Iantosca)

Iantosca’s early morning runs give him purpose and a sense of pride before starting work as a real estate agent. He told Twomey he’s sad the training is almost over.

Both Twomey and Iantosca will be running for The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation, a unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital founded after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

Twomey’s connection to the Stepping Strong team is personal — her 2-year-old son Jack spent time in the Brigham NICU when he was born.

“It’s a really wonderful cause, and I’m really grateful to be able to run for them,” Twomey said. “It’s pretty amazing, the work that they’re able to do.”

In December, Twomey partnered with Needham’s Treat Cupcake Bar, who featured a blue-and-yellow cupcake that helped her raise funds.

And the Needham connection doesn’t end there. Iantosca’s former neighbor, Dr. Matthew Carty, helps lead the center.

A graduate of Babson College, Iantosca said he remembers watching the marathon locally. Now, he’s in it.

“It feels good to be at home and have that level of support,” he said. “I’m proud to represent Needham.”

Racing to the Finish

While she’s intent on raising money for the cause, Rachel Glazer also wants to be fast. This April marks her 29th marathon and her 12th in Boston.

An event planner and mother of two NHS sophomores, Glazer’s passion for running runs deep. Her first marathon was the New York City Marathon in 1999, but more locally, she completed the Fenway Park Marathon and Gillette Stadium Marathon, which involved running over 100 laps around both arenas.

Given the stiff competition and popularity of the marathon, the BAA set stricter qualifying times in this year’s race — though Glazer qualified by two minutes and 36 seconds, qualifying spots were only granted to those who qualified by five minutes and 29 seconds. She was one of 11,039 qualifiers that were not accepted this year, according to the BAA website.

Regardless, Glazer said she’s excited to fundraise for Massachusetts General Hospital’s pediatric cancer team. She’s raised about $9,000, just short of her goal of $9,500.

Needham resident Rachel Glazer celebrates after completing the 2023 Boston Marathon. (Robert Castagna Photography)

Having run both as a qualified runner and charity runner, Glazer said she admires the camaraderie with those running for a cause. A couple weekends ago, she saw that spirit in action.

“[About] 200, 300 of us went to the starting line in the pouring rain and ran from the starting line all the way to Brookline,” Glazer said, “so you have a built-in community, built-in structure.”

Glazer has also volunteered along the marathon route, including at the finish line during the bombing. The impact of the tragedy, experienced first-hand, solidified why Boston is so special, Glazer said.

“It’s the most prestigious marathon in the world,” she said.

Glazer visited Israel a couple months ago for the Dead Sea Marathon as part of a solidarity mission, and just six days after Boston, she’ll run her 30th marathon in London.

As she gears up for another 26 miles, Glazer said she looks forward to encouragement from the crowd, as well as her family, who’ll be waiting by the Wellesley tunnel to cheer her on before Heartbreak Hill. Living here and running this very route, Glazer said she feels ready to give it another go.

“I know every crack in the course from Wellesley into the finish line,” she said. “Knowing the course really gives you an advantage to being a Boston runner.”

Role Reversal

Needham resident Alyssa Pannozzi smiles after completed a 5K in Chicago in October 2023. She now will race in the Boston Marathon, her first marathon, this April. (Courtesy Alyssa Pannozzi)

When Alyssa Pannozzi crosses the finish line on Boylston Street, she’ll check one thing off her bucket list. As a full-time spin instructor, Pannozzi has spent nine years helping others reach their fitness goals, but this time around, she’s been training herself.

This will be her first marathon, joining the race with her husband Mike, who’s a veteran marathoner. She grew up in Needham and moved back to town in November, and her father reported on the Boston Marathon annually.

Pannozzi’s finished six half-marathons, most recently last fall, and she’s altered her own exercise routine to get in shape for the long stretch ahead of her. Physical therapy, a healthy diet and good sleep are all part of it, she said.

“A lot of people think if you just run, eventually you’ll be able to run 26 miles, but to me, there’s a lot more of the training that goes into it,” Pannozzi said. “It’s a whole different realm of fitness that I think also helps me push further than I thought that I could go, which is really cool.”

Pannozzi is running for the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation, a youth sports advocacy organization founded by former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Pannozzi’s fundraising will benefit the construction of the foundation’s new playground off the Charles River Esplanade.

She keeps the charity, and her four-year-old daughter, in mind as she eyes the start in Hopkinton. She gets chills just thinking about the race.

“On the long runs where I’m like, ‘I’m done. I’m all set. I want to quit,’ I picture the ribbon cutting of bringing my daughter to that playground for the first time,” she said.

The BID Connection

Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Needham’s reach spans generations of Conor McGovern’s family. McGovern, a 2018 NHS graduate, is a longtime runner who loves watching the Boston Marathon from his aunt’s house in Newton.

The Patriots Day tradition means a lot to McGovern, who decided recently he’d join the festivities as a competitor.

BID – Needham helped his family in their time of need, which inspired McGovern to run in their memory and in support of the institution. He recently reached his goal of $8,500.

Conor McGovern, then a Needham High School student, runs in a cross-country race. (Courtesy Conor McGovern)

“It was always something that made us feel better knowing that Beth Israel is right there,” McGovern said.”The same applied to grandparents who unfortunately I never met, but they were cared for in the later phase of their lives by Beth Israel, and it definitely helped give my family some ease during that period.”

The farthest McGovern ran in high school was 13 miles, but it was “a complete accident” — the group had just gotten lost. Now, running 12 miles is a breeze, he said.

He lives near Boston College, so he’s enjoyed striding down the course. McGovern said he slightly dreads the incline and last six miles, which are notoriously tough.

“This morning, I ran the first mile for the first time in Hopkinton,” McGovern said Saturday, “just trying to get myself familiar with the hills and the terrain and knowing when to go here, when to ease up a bit.”

During his NHS running days, McGovern said his dad would often appear in “the most obscure locations during cross-country races,” but his presence helped motivate McGovern to continue on. This year, he’ll be standing at the top of Heartbreak Hill, and other family members will hang out along Beacon Street and near the Newton firehouse.

Family doctor David Buckle has belonged to the BID – Needham community for more than 25 years, and for the last three, his daughter has honored his service to the region through the Boston Marathon.

Sofia Buckle first ran — sort of unofficially — in 2020 as a senior at The Rivers School in Weston, raising money for BID-Needham. Now, as a senior at Vanderbilt College, she is training for her third Boston Marathon and third round of fundraising to support her dad’s work. In total, she’s raised more than $27,000 for the hospital, she said.

Sofia Buckle hugs her father David Buckle outside BID – Needham in 2020. (Courtesy BID – Needham)

“It’s an extra cherry on top of the whole marathon thing,” she said of the effort. “I love doing it. It feels good.”

As a soccer player, Buckle said running for a marathon presents a whole new challenge. For this marathon, her goal is to be “super, super fast.”

As she balances her five classes with running, Buckle said Nashville’s terrain adds to that challenge — the city is “crazy, wildly hilly,” she said, reminding her of Heartbreak Hill in Boston. She remembers the difficulty in mounting that hill the past two runs.

“The first time I did it, I basically cried during Heartbreak Hill. The second time I ran it, also kind of cried during it,” Buckle said. “I’m hoping third time’s the charm [with] no tears.”

Her high school friends who attend local colleges will be cheering from the sidelines. Buckle said she enjoys running by Boston College in particular.

“Every time I pass, it’s a really fun stop along the way, all the college kids being wild,” she said. “Slightly envious, but it’s fun to see them for sure.”

We also have a video feature on this year’s Needham participants, take a look!

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