What can you accomplish in four days? The answer is quite a bit, with the advances in technology and travel we can do so much more in so much little time than we used to. However, the challenges of balancing professional and personal life means that the bigger goals are tougher to accomplish at the same time. For Iowa State gymnastics coach Jay Ronayne, he accomplished a professional and personal goal all in the space of four days.
Last Friday saw Iowa State gymnast Caitlin Brown compete in her second NCAA Gymnastics Championship. She finished off her Iowa State career strongly, just missing out on the event final on balance beam with a 9.875 and earning second-team All-America honors and recording a 39.175 in the all-around.
For many gymnastics coaches, the end of a team or student-athlete’s season would mean time for some rest from the four-month grind of the season, or get back into recruiting for the future. For Ronayne, he went from Fort Worth to Boston to run in the Boston Marathon.
Ronayne has run multiple marathons in his life, with his running in the 2013 Des Moines Marathon earning him qualification to the Boston Marathon. However, his Des Moines qualifying time came too late to register for 2014, meaning he was off for the 2015 Boston Marathon.
In the time between his qualifying he and wife Mary Ronayne had a major life change that meant a different approach to preparing for the marathon, the birth of his son Jack in January 2014. Balancing time with his son and his gymnastics program meant less time to train for Boston.
“The program I do are four months prior to the race, and that goes right through gymnastics season,” Ronayne said. “I did not train as hard for this one, as I would for others because of gymnastics and my son. I didn’t want to take away from either. I only ran roughly 40 miles a week. At one point, I had run 79 miles per week when training for Des Moines.”
Though Ronayne is a native of the Boston area, he was not born a marathoner. However, like many Bostonians, the watching of the marathon was a yearly tradition for the Ronayne family.
“It is a dream that evolved over life,” Ronayne noted. “When I was a kid, I thought those people were crazy and I would never do it. I was still fascinated by it, my dad was a track guy and we were both interested in it. It is a big deal in Mass. It was not until I was in my 30s that I ran a marathon.”
One of the challenges of the Boston Marathon is the unpredictable weather due to its Northeast geography. There have been many years where Boston has featured temperatures in the 80s, there are many years when there have been near freezing temperatures. Ronayne ID’d his ideal marathon conditions as 50 degrees, no humidity, no winds and overcast. That was not the hand he was dealt last Monday.
“It was raining nearly the entire time,” Ronayne stated. “We had two passages of storms before the race even started. It was not raining at the start of the race, and for the first five miles or so, but then the rains came down almost the rest of the time until the end.
“We ran into a headwind the entire time,” Ronayne continued. “And I had picked up a cold the week of the race. Yet, with all of that, I would not change anything.”
The finish to the Boston Marathon is one of the best in road racing. After nearly 26 miles, the runners make one last turn from Hereford Street onto the boisterous Boylston Street. For the last three blocks, the street is lined by fans cheering on every runner, from the elite level runners to the last finisher. For a first-timer like Ronayne, making that turn lived up to the hype.
“You round the corner, and you see the finish line all the way down the street,” Ronayne noted. “I had decided about three miles earlier that once I made it there, I was going to run as hard as I can. When I saw the finish line, I found another gear. A weight is lifted off your shoulders seeing that finish line. It was really exciting and fulfilling.”
So what is next for Iowa State’s marathoning-gymnastics coach? Probably not any more marathons, but that is not a bad thing, he has a lot on his plate as is.
“This is probably my final marathon, but I reserve the right to come out of retirement,” Ronayne concluded. “I have never actually run any other distance than marathons, I have never done a 5 or a 10K, so there is always that. Maybe once Jack grows up, I will make another appearance in a marathon.”
Regardless of what Ronayne does, he can say that he has accomplished a great feat, particularly for a Massachusetts native like himself. There are many other tasks ahead for Ronayne, both involving Iowa State gymnastics team and not. For one day, he got to go home and live one of his dreams.