When Hilary Dionne graduated from Dartmouth College in 2007 after a spectacular running career for the Hanover, N.H. school, she put her focus and energy into the next step of her life â€” entering the work force and making a good living for herself as she entered her mid-20s.
Dionne continued to run, but aside from a few appearances at the CVS Downtown 5K and some other local road races, she mostly stayed away from racing for the next three years.
But when a co-worker encouraged her to run in a marathon, she responded by toeing the starting line for the Philadelphia Marathon late in the fall of 2010 and finishing it in a remarkable 2:55:15 time.
Eleven months later, proving that her success in Philadelphia wasnâ€™t a case of beginnerâ€™s luck, she went out and captured the Cape Cod Marathon, winning the womenâ€™s title by nearly three minutes in a 2:48:21 clocking.
But it wasnâ€™t until Dionne ran the Boston Marathon the following year that she made her name known well outside the region. She overcame that yearâ€™s torrid heatwave to become the third American woman to finish the race, doing so in a 2:51:56 time.
Last year, Dionne returned to Boston and ended up with a personal-best time of 2:39:34 to become the fifth U.S. finisher, and tomorrow morning, she will be back at Hopkinton for the 118th running of the event, looking to make her third trip to this historic race a charm and possibly shave some time off her PR and place again among the countryâ€™s top finishers.
â€śIâ€™m feeling excited leading up to the race,â€ť added Dionne, who currently resides in Charlestown, Mass. and is an associate director of media analytics for Percipio Media in Cambridge, Mass. â€śI had a good winter of training despite the weather, so Iâ€™m looking forward to getting up there and being competitive again.â€ť
Dionne, who graduated from Cumberland High in 2003, was one of the best competitors in the history of the Clippersâ€™ fabulous running program. In cross country, she was a three-time All-State selection, and as a senior, she was the outdoor track and field champion in the 3,000 meters.
The same can be said for her brilliant four-year career at Dartmouth. In the classroom, she double-majored in English and economics, and outside it, she earned multiple All-Ivy League honors and posted PRs of 16:48 for the 5K and 34:50 for the 10K.
Upon graduation, Dionne accepted a job in Waltham, Mass., and as she worked full-time, her running became part-time.
â€śI was still running, but not racing as much,â€ť she confessed. â€śI did some local 5Ks, but I wasnâ€™t really training for races. I just needed a little time to focus on work and have running be a stress release.â€ť
Then came 2010. Dionne â€śstarted getting confidence in doing long runs againâ€ť and proceeded to have her race to remember in Philadelphia.
â€śWhen I got to the starting line, I ended up bumping into someone who was on my college team, Jillian Mastroianni,â€ť she recalled. â€śShe was a few years older than me and had already run 10 marathons, and she was trying to run a 2:55. I was lucky to run with her and a few other people who knew how to pace themselves. She ended up beating me by a few minutes, but I ran with her for most of the race. I donâ€™t know what would have happened if I was on my own. I probably would have went out too hard.â€ť
After winning the Cape Cod Marathon, Dionne took a major step in her running career that winter when she joined the prestigious Boston Athletic Association running club, which features some of the elite runners from New England and beyond.
Training with some of the BAAâ€™s runners and coaches and spending a lot of time working out on the Boston Marathon course, Dionne entered her first Boston Marathon the following spring well prepared and eager to top her time from the Cape Cod Marathon.
But the dayâ€™s temperatures, which hovered in the 80s, made it a tough day to operate for Dionne and the rest of the field, but she managed to stay hydrated and finish in well under three hours. Not only was she the third U.S. finisher behind Maineâ€™s Sheri Piers (2:41:55) and Washingtonâ€™s Sheila Croft (2:48:31), but she was also the 15th overall female to cross the finish line.
â€śI was very surprised,â€ť Dionne recalled. â€śI didnâ€™t know where I placed until I crossed the finish line. I ran most of that race kind of alone. Everyone got pretty spread out with the heat, and it was just hot enough to get through and finish.â€ť
Dionne eventually got a PR that October at the ING Hartford Marathon with a 2:40:33 time that not only saw her run a negative split, but also broke the course record and saw her win that race by more than six minutes, and when she returned to Boston last spring, she bettered that time by a minute and a second.
Since that race, Dionne has been busy. Her bid to defend her Hartford Marathon title (and set another PR) came up short when her time of 2:39:36 was 83 seconds behind the eventual winner, Erica Jesseman, but she won the Winter Classic 5K at the Asgard two months later in Cambridge, Mass. in a 17:27 time and took third at this past Marchâ€™s New Bedford Half Marathon in 1:14:52.
In the meantime, Dionne had been hard at work getting ready for tomorrowâ€™s race. The training and the weather had been tough, but she got tougher and now hopes her hard work pays dividends again.
â€śIâ€™m looking forward to Monday,â€ť she remarked. â€śAs much as I want to PR and do really well, I also want to be really aware of the crowd, especially at the end of the race, and how important this is to everyone. Itâ€™s not all about the runners and itâ€™s not all about my race; itâ€™s about everyone else thatâ€™s going to be out there. Itâ€™s going to be a great day.â€ť
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24