Maria Chevalier loves to run. She’s been doing it for nearly two-thirds of her life, starting with her years as a cross country and track standout in the early ’90s at Clear Creek High School in Idaho Springs, Col., and she’s taken part in everything from a simple 5K to a grueling 50-mile trail run.
But when it comes to the one race she enjoys running the most, the nine-year Cumberland resident won’t hesitate to give you an answer.
“It’s the marathon,” she quickly admitted. “I would say I like it more than the other races because it’s long enough to challenge you, and it’s short enough that it’s not a once-a-year goal. It’s something that you can do more than once and constantly have a different experience (each time).”
The 37-year-old Chevalier will be experiencing her 33th marathon (and 27th since 2006) on Monday morning when she joins over 27,000 runners in answering the starter’s pistol for the 116th edition of the Boston Marathon, long considered the granddaddy of the 26.2-mile race.
It will be the third straight Boston Marathon for Chevalier, who finished in a 3:54:31 time in 2010 and 3:43:03 last year and would dearly love to produce a time under 3:40 that will satisfy the new qualifying time for her age group and give her a chance to return next year.
“It’s hard to beat Boston because it is what it is,” she added. “Boston is like that bucket list marathon that everybody puts out there. That one is probably my favorite as far as the essence of being a runner.”
And when it comes to being a runner, Chevalier has a resume that stands out.
She’s raced in over 750 road races and collected her fair share of age division awards, and not only has Chevalier run in 32 marathons, but she’s done so in 25 different states.
Chevalier’s first marathon was the Steamboat Marathon in Steamboat Springs, Colo. It was in 2000, and she had graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in Music Performance. Even though she didn’t run competitively for her college, she still found time to hit the roads.
“I ran 5Ks and 10Ks and I dabbled with a half marathon here and there, but I really liked the idea of something huge, something that was much bigger than what I was,” Chevalier added.
“I just graduated from college and I didn’t have anything career-wise that was challenging me, so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try it out.’ I went to my local running store and they had a group there that was advocating for signing up to do it with a charity. I fell in love with the idea and the rest is history.”
Chevalier’s performance in that race was not something to write home about, and even though she ended up finishing in a 5:23:26 time (“It was horrible,” she recalled with a laugh. “It was probably the most painful marathon I’ve ever run.”), it didn’t stop her from coming back for more.
“I moved to Minnesota the following year, so I did two there, and then the next year, I did one more,” she noted. “And then I met my husband, Richard (in 2003), who is a Cumberland native, and moved out here, and I just kept going.”
In 2005, she took part in her first New England marathon when she headed to Newport for the Breakers Marathon. For Chevalier, running in R.I. was just another state in another part of the country she could add to her records, but it soon transformed into something much more.
“During that time, I was still in touch with a lot of my running friends from Minnesota and we were traveling to at least one state a year,” said Chevalier. “We were trying to go to a new location and run a race together and that’s when I started thinking about the idea of doing the 50 states and joining the 50 States (Marathon Club).
“It was kind of a fun way to see different locations, but it was also a fun way to see the different people I knew because I had a lot of friends and family in different places. So I started checking (the states) off, and it started becoming, like most runners, another obsession.”
From Newport came marathons in nearby places like Lake Placid, N.Y. and obscure ones such as Brooking, S.D. and Okoboji, Iowa, and also the North Country 50-Mile Trail Run in Wellston, Mich. in 2007, which she finished in 11:41:11.
In October 2008, Chevalier did the unthinkable and ran in three marathons in as many states in a span of eight days. On back-to-back mornings, she ran the New Hampshire Marathon and Peak Performance Maine Marathon, and six days after Maine, she headed to Hartford for the ING Hartford Marathon.
“I wanted to round out my New England states and get them all checked off,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t put a whole lot of effort into New Hampshire because it was all hills. I wanted to be conservative and I think I ran shy of a five-hour marathon that day. But I ran a lot better the next day in Maine and I felt fine in Hartford.”
In 2009, Chevalier joined the Wampanoag Road Runners, a running club that features close to 200 runners from southeastern Mass. and this state, and that same year, she broke the four-hour mark in a marathon for the first time when she hit a 3:59:02 at the Humboldt Redwoods Marathon in California.
“After joining them, I broke (the mark),” said Chevalier, who is currently the club’s membership director. “It really advocates for the power of running with a group. You’re only as good as the support group around you.”
The following year, Chevalier got the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon through an invitational number that the club received. While she was happy to receive it, she didn’t need it for the 2011 race -- she qualified for it by posting a 3:38:33 time at the Omaha (Neb.) Marathon that September.
“I used my Omaha time again to get my name in there for (the 2012 race), but then I went down and did the Marine Corps Marathon (in Washington D.C.) and I got a 3:33:12,” she added. “That was great, but I’m hoping to break 3:30 at Boston.”
And Chevalier has worked hard for that goal for the past five months. She’s put in long hours on the road each week, often training early in the morning and late at night around her 8-to-4 job in insurance.
As for her road race schedule, it features four difficult races that has helped her prepare for Boston -- the extra-hilly Boston Prep 16-Miler in Deary, N.H., Martha Vineyard 20-Miler, grueling Stu’s 30K in Clinton, Mass., and New Bedford Half Marathon.
“Those are fantastic setups for Boston,” Chevalier reported. “If you can get through those races, you can get through Boston.”
Once Chevalier gets through Boston next Monday, don’t expect her to take a break from running. Less than two weeks after Boston, she has back-to-back marathons on her schedule, with the Frisco Railroad Marathon in Willard, Mo. on April 28 and the Oklahoma City Marathon the next morning.
That will push her to 35 career marathons and give her the 26th and 27th states in her pursuit to complete all 50 states.
“It would be great to have it done by the time I’m 50,” she added. “I would love to culminate my 50th year with my 50th state, but it’s not easy to afford to travel to all these places, and I also don’t want to rush though them either. I’d like to enjoy the places I go to and the experiences of them all.”
After those two races, Chevalier’s still not done. On the weekend of July 21-22, she will lace her running shoes for her first 100-mile event, the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, one of the original 100-mile runs in the country, in West Windsor, Vt.
“You have 30 hours to run it,” Chevalier said. “You have to get acclimated to running it at all different times of the day and night and learning how to digest food at all those hours. Next week, I plan to start doing long double runs and more night and early morning runs.”
But before she can focus on any 100-mile races or back-to-back marathons, there’s her date with Boston. The weather is expected to be sunny and reach 80 degrees and close to 500,000 fans will line the streets from Hopkinton to Boston, and Chevalier is amped up and ready to deliver excellence.
“I feel fantastic,” she remarked. “I’m excited for it. I feel strong, I feel ready. I have a great support group of friends and co-runners and my husband’s been my biggest fan. I’m not so nervous that I’m freaking out about it like my first Boston Marathon, but I still have butterflies, and I’m just praying for that day to be my day.”
Here is a list of the Woonsocket-area runners who will run in Monday’s 116th running of the Boston Marathon:
RHODE ISLAND RUNNERS
Hoard, Christopher - Woonsocket
MacDonald, Meghan - Woonsocket
Coats, Katharine - Lincoln
Gousie, Alan - Lincoln
O'Hern, Sean - Lincoln
Candage, Jennifer - Cumberland
Chevalier, Maria - Cumberland
Constantino, David - Cumberland
Deines, Jason - Cumberland
McGinnis, William - Cumberland
Reilly, Jason - Cumberland
Russell, Timothy - Cumberland
Skurka, Craig - Cumberland
Sterlacci, Paula - Cumberland
Sean Cassidy - Smithfield
NEARBY MASS. COMMUNITIES
Carter, Harry - Blackstone
Harvey, Melissa - Blackstone
Carroll, Michael - Millville
Smith, Elizabeth - Millville
Atchue, Kristen - Uxbridge
Deary, Justin - Uxbridge
Foley, Daniel - Uxbridge
Foley, Katie - Uxbridge
Jones, Alfred - Uxbridge
Levine, Jennifer - Uxbridge
Miller, Glenn - Uxbridge
Abbott, Kevin - Bellingham
Blackwell, Lee Jr. - Bellingham
Dinan, Helen - Bellingham
Jeffers, Christina - Bellingham
Murphy, Cindy - Bellingham