Boston Strong for Brendan

With two marathons under his belt, Dayton University (Lambda Theta) Pike heads to Boston.
Brendan Cunningham Boston Marathon

Brendan Cunningham (Dayton, Lambda Theta '15) crosses the finish line during the 2016 Boston Marathon.

By Andrea Wade (Memphis, Phi Mu)

Boston, MA - No stranger to endurance, 20-year-old Brendan Cunningham (Dayton, Lambda Theta ’15) has competed in long-distance races since his early high school days. Cunningham never pictured himself taking on a marathon, but that changed quickly after he showed up to cheer on his cross-country coach and mentor during a local marathon. “That day, I saw the strength and commitment that went into these races. At that point, I got the crazy idea that I wanted to take on the challenge,” reflected Cunningham.

Brendan didn’t start small. At 18, he took on the Chicago Marathon and placed 4th in his division. By 2015, he had Chicago Marathon number two under his belt; he was hooked. “I wanted to run in as many cities as possible. After my second race in Chicago, I started considering Boston 2016. I saw that race as the cap. I became determined to say I did it,” said Cunningham.

Training. Time management became a skill Brendan quickly learned to conquer while juggling his education at Dayton University, leadership roles in PIKE and training for the big race. “My family and fraternity brothers gave me their complete support. When brothers would go out, they’d give me hard time knowing I needed to stay back and rest but, it was always in good fun. Closer to race time, they’d encourage me to stay in because they know the worth of this race to me,” he said.

Boston Arrival. Brendan arrived in Boston the Friday before the race. Once he landed, Brendan and his family stayed in the downtown area to pick up his bib and take a look around the finish line. “That’s when it all set in for me.” That day, the city held a ceremony at the finish line honoring the 2013 victims and their families. Brendan began to feel the overwhelming support from the city describing it as “unreal.” “It was so much different than Chicago. Knowing each racer had earned their spot in the marathon and having the chance to run in it as young as I am was an honor.”

Race Day. The morning of the race, Brendan, and several other athletes took a bus into the city to be dropped off at the starting line. “There were “Boston Strong” signs everywhere. I started to get a rush of energy from the crowd.” Before the race began, a moment of silence swept through the entire city to remember the bombing victims. Brendan recalls that once the moment of silence ended, the sense of unity in Boston lasted the entire day.

Downhill is Harder than you Think. Early on, he knew it was going to be a tough race. The temperatures were not ideal for race day. Brendan noted that most racers finished 10 minutes or more over their projected times due to the weather. “I wasn’t prepared to run in the heat and it really took a toll on me from the get go,” he said. To make the first few miles in even tougher, they were mostly downhill. “Downhill seems like a breeze, but beating your legs at a downward slope for several miles is brutal. My quads started to wear down.”

Marathon Monday at Mile Nine. However, Brendan’s voice perked up when he described running through mile nine. “Marathon Monday is observed by all of the grade schools and universities in the city. Students are out of school and most of them come out to support runners. At the ninth mile I reached Wellesley College. Essentially, this point is known for the hundreds of screaming girls cheering competitors on. The students fired some much needed pep into Brendan’s stamina as he sailed through.

Pushing through the Mental Barrier. By mile 18 he breached the point in the race otherwise known as Heartbreak Hills. “At this point in the race I was so dehydrated.” Cunningham began to feel the effects of the challenging course and got off pace. “I was starting to question if I could even finish. I had to take breaks to drink my water instead of run with it,” he said.

Along with maintaining his physical determination, Brendan made sure to conquer his mental state. At the beginning of every other mile, he would repeat the phrase “here we are” as a personal mantra to keep going. “A fraternity brother of mine always says that to be funny. When I would think of that I’d honestly laugh to myself. It kept me positive throughout.”

Friends Provide a Recharge. With more than half of the course behind him, at mile 21 things were looking up again. A close friend of Brendan’s and several other guys came out to support him on the Boston College lawn. “When I neared them, they went absolutely nuts. My friend even sprayed me with a water bottle. It was the recharge that I needed.” After seeing them, Brendan knew he was coming up on the tail end of the race. He had to push himself hard.

To Brendan, he was home free. At mile 26 he noticed the infamous Citgo sign, otherwise known as the one-mile marker to the finish line. Once I saw that, I got pretty emotional which is unlike me. This course forced Brendan to exert himself more than ever before. He was humbled by the exhaustion sweeping through his body and the supercharged support from the Boston crowd.

Finishing with a time of 3 hours and 14 minutes, Brendan breathlessly looked up to see his parents applauding him in the stands near the finish line; the same spot that Boston will never forget. “In that moment, I simultaneously felt beat up to my core and the strongest I’ve ever felt.”

For more information contact the Pi Kappa Alpha Foundation at (901) 748-1948 or pikeinfo@pikes.org