Mary Kate Shea loves running. She’s been at it since seventh grade, running races, triathlons, even 50 and 100 milers. And she’s not showing any signs of slowing down – earlier this month, she ran her 21st Boston Marathon!
Her job couldn’t be a better fit with that passion: as Senior Director, Sponsorship and Endurance Marketing at John Hancock, she recruits elite athletes for John Hancock’s Boston Marathon team. We talked to her about what that entails, and how she manages to fit in her own race while managing Olympians and record-breakers for the day.
Our elites Amy Hastings, Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Linden, threw out the first pitch during Marathon weekend in 2016.
What is your job all about?
John Hancock is the only sponsor that brings in athletes for a major marathon. My job is to secure the best runners in the sport. This year, we had 41 athletes coming from 11 countries, with 19 Olympians, six Boston Marathon winners, and other winners of major running events from around the world.
It’s also my job to tell the world about these phenomenal athletes. Our team does everything from creating press materials to managing sponsorship of race-related events like the World Premiere of “Boston,” a feature-length film about the marathon.
And, of course, we manage the experience for the athletes, arranging travel, hotels, meals, press events, and previews of the race course. We get them to the start line and take care of them after they’ve finished their run. We also coordinate their appearances for John Hancock outside the race – business unit fun runs, the Fit Foodie Race Series, etc. There’s never a dull moment!
What does race day look like for you?
I’m up around 4:30am, have breakfast with the elites, then we all get bussed to the start line in Hopkinton, where I ensure they’re lined up and ready to go. Then, after seeing them off, I run the race myself. Because of all the road closures, it’s actually the easiest way to get back to Boston! Once I’ve crossed the finish line, I get briefed on the race, check if anyone was injured or dropped out, take the elites to the award ceremony, then it’s off to the post-race party – I usually make it to bed around 2:00am. It’s a long but incredible day – I wouldn’t change a thing.
What do you love most about your job?
Working with the athletes is such an incredible experience. Understanding what motivates them to achieve fascinates me. I also love that what I do makes a difference. My job supports healthy living, and it has helped raise funds for so many good causes. Since our sponsorship of the race began, John Hancock and Boston Athletic Association non-profits have raised $264 million!
What inspires you to continue running after 21 Boston Marathons?
Being around world-class athletes is motivating. A couple of years ago, I visited a high-altitude training camp in Kenya, where I watched athletes working hard every day, with such a hunger for success. It showed me you don’t achieve greatness without a huge amount of hard work.
How did the 2013 attack on the marathon affect you?
It was a scary experience, but I’d prefer to focus on the good things that happened after. Like when John Hancock helped initiate the One Fund to help the survivor community, and when the 2013 winner gifted his medal to the City of Boston; moments like that transcend hatred and violence and remind us that the world is full of people who care for each other.
What tips do you have for aspiring runners?
Here are two things that help me get to the finish line:
- Do the work. Whether it’s your first short race or a full marathon, getting race-ready is a whole lot of hard work. If you put in the time and effort to train, you’ll succeed. Running isn’t about skill or talent. It’s about endurance. Just putting one foot in front of the other and getting it done.
- Run in the moment. I once asked an elite runner what motivated him. His answer was simple: “I run in the moment.” It has become my mantra for everything, from racing to getting a project done at work. If you’re at mile 15, but you’re worried about a mistake in mile 1, you can’t focus. And if all you can think about is how far you still have to go, it can feel insurmountable. Focus on what you can achieve right now. Whether it’s getting to that next mile marker or answering that next email, staying in the moment can be a powerful thing.