This year’s Boston Marathon was one for the history books as the world watched Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai set a new marathon record with a time of 2:03:02, nearly a minute faster than any other runner has ever completed 26.2 miles. Just 23 minutes later, second-year UMass Medical School student Kevin C. Jillson crossed the finish line as well, completing his first Boston Marathon in a very impressive 2:25:52. Jillson was just the 46th runner—in a field of 24,000—and the 21st American man to finish, a remarkable achievement for a 23-year-old who had to juggle a tough course load with a rigorous training schedule during one of messiest winters in recent memory.
“I was really pleased with how the race turned out,” Jillson said. “It’s been a rough winter to train, and it’s been even harder balancing the workload of second year with my training schedule.” He put in more than 12 hours and 90 to 100 miles a week leading up to the marathon, running through sleet and snow throughout Worcester and on the track at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and ending many of his sessions by running up Belmont Hill, where he lives, between the University campus and the Memorial Campus of UMass Memorial Medical Center. He also trained on the hills behind Biotech Park and in Greenhill Park, so he wasn’t too concerned about the infamous Heartbreak Hill that can knock out less-conditioned runners.
“Heartbreak Hill wasn’t so bad, after training on Belmont Hill,” he said. “I think training around here prepared me pretty well for it.”
Jillson used his long training runs to review his classes; he recorded course lectures and listened to them on his iPod while running. “Friends tell me that’s pretty geeky, but I think it works for me; it just helps me review the material.” (Though he didn’t listen to recorded lectures during the Boston Marathon, he did have an exam the morning after the race.)
Jillson said his interest in medicine stems from eighth grade, when a car accident left him with a broken leg and several broken ribs. “My orthopedist was really great, really inspiring. I always liked science anyway, and the four or five months I spent in casts and the rehab that followed got me thinking about medicine.” Though Jillson hasn’t kept in close touch with that orthopedist, he is currently writing the doctor a letter to update him on his medical school and running careers. “He might like to see how well his work has held up!”
Jillson, who grew up in Sandwich and graduated from Sandwich High School in 2005, has almost always been a runner. His father is a runner (though his three older brothers are not), and Jillson was a sprinter on his high school track team before getting into distance running while on the team at WPI, where he graduated in 2009. He decided to run his first marathon—the Hartford Marathon, held each October—in 2009 to raise money for multiple sclerosis, a condition his mother has. By any measure, he did remarkably well: he placed fourth, with a time of 2:34. The following year at Hartford he placed seventh, though his time was just one minute off his previous time. This February, he won the Hyannis Half Marathon in 1:08—which calculates to an average pace of just 5 minutes and 15 seconds per mile.
Jillson’s training is sponsored by Saucony, the running shoe and apparel company. A friend from his high school track team who works at Marathon Sports in Norwell—a bit of a mecca for serious runners—mentioned Jillson to the Saucony representative. The rep took a shine to the fast young runner and the company now provides him with shoes and apparel, including the bright orange top Jillson wore for the Boston Marathon.
“I’m not sure how I’ll be able to manage [marathoning] with the third-year schedule,” he said, noting that he hopes to get into clinical electives that expose him to orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, an area he hopes to pursue. He and fellow student Antranig Kalaydjian formed the sports medicine interest group (SMIG) this year; open to all students, the SMIG currently has an email group of about 60 students. Jillson and Kalaydjian organized a panel discussion with their faculty advisor, Lee A. Mancini, MD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health, who specializes in sports medicine, and Nicola Anthony Deangelis, MD, assistant professor of orthopedics & physical rehabilitation. They hope to facilitate other events next year.
Jillson is confident that, over the long term, he can balance his medical career with his passion for running. “Distance runners peak in their 30s,” he said, “so I think I’ve got time to focus on medical school and keep running a part of my life. I think being an athlete, and having had injuries, might help me identify with my patients.”