Fresno State’s ‘Campus News’ asked Marie Gilbert, director of the Central California Center for Excellence in Nursing, about her work at Fresno State, her running hobby and preparing for the Boston Marathon. Written by Payton Hartung, student news intern, University Communications.

Gilbert, a dedicated trail runner and triathlete, is training for her first Boston Marathon this year.  The monumental marathon was originally scheduled for April 20, but has now been postponed to Sept. 14 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My dream lives on and I will be in Boston in September,” Gilbert said. “Not only do I get to run the Boston Marathon, I get to be part of Boston Marathon’s history as it will be the first time in 124 years that it’s in September. Sept. 14 will be a state holiday this year just like Patriots’ Day and will be ‘Marathon Monday.’ It’s going to be an amazing day.”

Before coming to Fresno State five years ago, Gilbert was a pediatric critical care nurse at Valley Children’s where she also served as a clinical educator and education specialist. Gilbert was also director of clinical education at Saint Agnes Medical Center and worked at various hospitals in her homeland of England.

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L: Marie Gilbert runs in the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon to qualify for the Boston Marathon (May 2019).

Gilbert completed her initial nursing education in England at a hospital-based School of Nursing, and earned her diploma in professional practice nursing from the University of Salford and a bachelor’s degree with honors in nursing studies from the University of Manchester. Gilbert continued her education across the country in Fresno, earning a master’s degree in education from Fresno Pacific University and later, a doctorate in nursing practice from the California State University, Northern California Consortium.

While working from home, like many colleagues across campus, Gilbert is enjoying time with her husband, Mike; her German shepherd rescue dog, Sasha; and her goldfish, Mr. Fish.

What do you do at Fresno State and what do you like about it?
I’m the director of the Center for Excellence in Nursing. The goal of the center is to advance nursing education, research and clinical practice in the Central San Joaquin Valley. To do this, we collaborate with the College of Health and Human Services and other academic, clinical and community partners. The collaboration is what I love the most.

Have you run the Boston Marathon before? If not, why do you want to?
No, this will be my first Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon and this year will be the 124th Boston Marathon. Twenty percent of the marathon’s spots are reserved each year for charities, sponsors, vendors, licensees, consultants, municipal officials, local running clubs and marketers. The remaining 80% are for runners who have qualified. Unlike the majority of marathons, a runner has to run a specific marathon time to qualify to run the race. You must first complete a certified marathon course within a certain time. This time is based on your age and determined by the Boston Athletic Association. It is referred to as a BQ (Boston Qualifying Time).

I had never come close to a BQ until the Two Cities Marathon in 2018. In May 2019, at the Mountain 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura – almost 16 years to the day since I ran my first marathon- I acheived a BQ.

Running the Boston Marathon is a runners dream and even though I ran a BQ, it’s still very competitive to get a spot. In September, there is a two-week window for everyone who ran a BQ to register for the marathon, and then spots are awarded depending on how much faster than the BQ you ran. My time of 3 hours 52 minutes was fast enough, and I received notification that my registration had been accepted.

Finishing any marathon is always an emotional experience. I can’t imagine how amazing crossing the finish line in Boston is going to be.

How did you get into running?
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with running for many years. Initially, it started as a way to lose weight and get fit. I then started doing triathlons and the cross training of swimming and biking helped my running. When I went back to school for my doctorate, my running, triathlon and fitness took a back seat to work and school. I gradually lost fitness and my motivation dwindled.

Even when I completed my doctor of nursing practice, I struggled to find the joy in running. I had always wanted to run a trail 50K when I turned 50. With a lot of encouragement, I signed up for a 50K trail run. With a new goal, I found new commitment and a love for trail running. Unbeknownst to me, this is probably where my Boston journey started. In 2018, I completed the Shadow of the Giant 50K and the San Joaquin River Trail 50K. It was during training for the San Joaquin River Trail 50K that I came close to a BQ.

How do you train for the marathon?
I think the key is consistency. I have followed various marathon-training programs depending on my level of fitness. I’m currently using an online running program which involves long runs, short runs, recovery runs, fast runs and runs with various speeds which keeps things interesting.

I’m running six days a week and run between 40 to 60 miles per week. When I ran my first marathon, I ran three days a week and ran between 10 and 30 miles per week. On the first training program, I ran/walked all of my long runs (four minutes of running to one minute of walking). There is definitely a science to physically preparing your body to keep moving for 26.2 miles, and also to prepare you mentally for the physical and emotional ups and downs of training and running a marathon.

When long-distance running, what goes through your mind? How do you stay motivated to continue?
It depends if I’m running alone or with someone, and whether I’m on a long run or a shorter tempo run. If I’m running with someone, we usually chat about anything and everything. If I’m on my own on a long run, I often listen to music and just let my mind wander. If I’m running a fast tempo run, especially towards the end, I find myself trying to keep my shoulders relaxed and my breathing controlled, which takes conscious effort when you’re getting fatigued.

Motivation is something I have previously struggled with, but I find having a buddy to run with a couple of times a week almost always guarantees I will run those days. On the days I’m running on my own I find motivation in remaining myself, that each run is one step closer to my dream (in this case Boston). I also remind myself that I am more likely to regret not going for a run than going (I always feel so much better after a run). Finally, I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to go out and run. There may come a day when I can’t run any more so I’m grateful that today is not that day.

What is your goal for the upcoming race?
To get to the start line healthy and happy, and to enjoy the experience.

How has running affected your life?
I find running clears my mind, and think of it as my way to meditate and find balance. I’m a morning runner and find it a great way to start the day. I also find that running (or any exercise) is energizing, and I always feel sluggish and a little grumpy when I can’t run for a few days.

What kind of advice do you have for others who would like to start running?
Invest in good running shoes and start with short distances. Running, or any exercise, is an investment in your health and well-being. It should be enjoyable and not one more thing you feel you have to do. Try running with a group (we have a great running community in Fresno), try running on your own, try running with and without music and find out what you prefer.

There really are no rules, just take it easy, take walk breaks and find the joy.