The sport of running in general — and the Philadelphia Marathon in particular — fosters a top-notch sense of community and togetherness. It's not uncommon to see finishing runners greeted by competitors and peers--sometimes by the very people they just beat across the line.
However, when 20-30 runners gather around one man at the finish, that runner stands out. But to those runners, Shannon Price will stand out for a much more important reason.
Price, a native of Fort Collins, Colorado, was the pace-runner for the "3:05" group — runners attempting to complete the 26.2 mile course in less than three hours, five minutes. There were other pacers like Price, separated by five-minute intervals, but Price's job carried some added significance.
"Under 3:05," he explains, "is the time needed for males age 35 and under to qualify for the Boston Marathon."
With thousands upon thousands of runners entered in the biggest marathons, winning a race is a noble, but often unattainable goal. Therefore, qualifying for Boston is a goal and achievement in itself. In fact, the term "BQ" or "Boston Qualifier" holds a unique status in the running world.
For Shannon Price, running 3:05 wasn't the goal; Price can run a marathon in under two hours, 40 minutes when he's on top of his game. But he'd rather add 25 minutes, and countless memories, to his marathon time.
"I've been running competitively for more than a decade," Price says. "I've done somewhere around 250 marathons."
The thrill of pursuing a personal record lost its luster for Price some time ago. He's found his true marathon calling in pushing other people to their goal — 'paying it forward' in his words. 3:05, he says, is the time he prefers to run because of the accomplishment associated with qualifying for Boston.
"Breaking 3:05 is more mental than physical," he says. "People need someone by their side who's been there, who knows what they're going through and can push them to that goal."
He's not kidding about the pushing, either. Price knows what it takes to get to Boston, but perhaps more importantly he knows some people just won't have what it takes. It's not unheard of, he says, to have to drop someone from his pace group in a race — even if it means the end of their Boston dreams.
"I'll motivate, I'll encourage, but when it comes down to it, I'm very much a 'no mercy' type of guy," says Price. "I do all I can, but there comes a point in time where you've got to think about the other people. You've got to drop people and let them go."
Of course, Shannon Price vastly prefers the flip side of that coin — the people who almost drop off, but are able to dig a little deeper and find the strength to keep going all the way to Boston.
"We had a guy here today who'd gone as fast as 3:05:03," Price recalls. "Today, I was with him for about 25.8 miles before I turned him loose to go for the finish."
Instead, though, the competitor started to let up. "As a pacer, that's when you've got to get in behind somebody and tell him, 'I know it hurts, but it doesn't matter,' says Price.
As the t-shirts read, pain is temporary, but pride is forever. And so is that 'Boston Qualifier' status.
"He came across the line crying today," Price said of his protege. "He made it to Boston."
Thanks in large part to Shannon Price, so did dozens of other Philadelphia Marathon runners.