Pam Keenan is one of only six people from North Carolina to complete the Abbott World Marathon Majors
Running stories, like the courses on which they play out, are rarely linear. Uphills, downhills, big curves.
Wilmington resident Pam Keenan has followed the road like anyone else, but she keeps finding the tangents at just the right moments.
“I’m desperate to go back to (the Boston Marathon),” the 63-year-old recently said. “I have quite a story.”
Its latest chapter closed Sept. 24 at the finish line of the Berlin Marathon, where Keenan found herself in elite company twice over. Her finish of 4 hours, 35 minutes, 40 seconds qualified her for the 2019 Boston Marathon. It also completed a whirlwind quest of the Abbott World Marathon Majors — a group of six major races around the glob
The woman who started running to join her daughter’s bucket list is now a member of one of the most exclusive running clubs on the planet.
“I thought to myself, ‘OK, that’s pretty ambitious, and good luck getting into all those races,’” Keenan’s daughter, Christine, said. “It’s really tough to get into London. I thought about it more from the challenge of logistics, because when she sets her mind to it, she has a laser focus. She figures out a way to make it happen.”
Only 2,414 people are on the World Marathon Majors’ list as a finisher in all six events. Of that group, Keenan is just the sixth from North Carolina.
The adventure started in Boston, a race she watched and volunteered at as a child. She qualified for the 2015 race and finished it alongside her sister despite a bout with food poisoning. She also qualified for New York that year. And with two of the six down, well, why not keep going?
London and Chicago were done in 2016. That left the two farthest races — Tokyo and Berlin — and their inherent challenges for 2017: Food differences, language barriers, long flights halfway across the world.
Thank goodness for American hotels in faraway lands, and a trusted husband, Tom, who always was in the right place at the right time with water, bananas and a familiar face. But even he couldn’t solve everything, including a food surprise in Japan: A bread roll, filled with black bean paste.
“I had to spit that out. It was awful,” Pam said with a laugh. “I was running and see it, ‘Oh, it looks like a roll. I’m really hungry.’ Uh, no.”
Despite the solitary results of running, Keenan’s found all her success thanks to a massive support network of runners, coaches, friends and family.
“That group is the reason this has happened, the coaching, the camaraderie, the support. There’s a huge power in a group,” she said. “And age doesn’t matter. I could be the mom of half those people…but that’s what I love about this. That’s why I’ve been able to do well.”
And the woman who crossed the finish line in Boston, New York, London, Chicago, Tokyo and Berlin is the same one who had an escape plan all set for her first coaching session.
“I was so afraid to go to Without Limits the first time,” Pam said. “My husband drove me to the track for the first time, 5:45 in the morning, and he sat in the car. … I didn’t think I was fast enough, I thought I was too old, all of the things. But they want you to have a good experience, and I have.”
“I remember that day,” her coach, Sami Winter, said. “She told me that at the end of practice, and I said, ‘I’m not that scary, am I? Well, you’re coming back, right?’ … It’s something new, and she’s 60, and a track practice. How many 60-year-olds would do that? I think she fell in love with it and found a good support team.
“She really has inspired a lot of people in this group. I don’t think she realizes how many of us are inspired. There’s some of us thinking, we can do this too.”