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A shared passion

Mother and son Elena Parker and Grayson Penfield are two of 12 area residents registered for Boston Marathon


Three thousand miles is a long way to travel just to run 26.2.

But that is exactly what Forest Grove’s Elena Parker and Grayson Penfield are going to be doing in a few days.

Of course, Parker and Penfield are not crossing the country to run in any old marathon. Instead, they are traveling to the East Coast to run one of the most iconic and storied marathons in the world, the Boston Marathon, whose 117th edition is slated for April 15. And as mother and son, they are doing it together.

“I think it will be cool to run in the most famous marathon in the world, and the whole ‘You have to qualify’ thing is kind of like an added challenge,” Penfield said last month while spending some time with his mother at her Forest Grove townhome.

The number of participants among the roughly 27,000 entrants scheduled to run this year’s Boston Marathon who are somehow related to one another is unknown. The Boston Athletic Association, the organization that puts on the race, does not gather that information, said Marc Davis, communications manager for the BAA.

But the number likely is not sizeable, especially given that marathoners must hit a time standard within a certain window to qualify for the race and then must register for the event before it sells out.

Penfield and Parker are the veterans of several marathons apiece and both have qualified for previous editions of Boston but have yet to run it. Penfield, 21, graduated from Forest Grove High School in 2010 and is now a junior mathematics major at the University of Portland. He earned his qualifying mark in the 2011 Portland Marathon — where he ran his personal-best time of 2 hours, 57 minutes and 38 seconds — and won the men’s under-19 age division.

Parker, 55, also qualified for this year’s Boston with a personal-best effort. Her time of 3:39:31 in the Vancouver USA Marathon, staged this past June in Washington, was the top effort by a female masters runner and the 13th-fastest among women in that race.

“When I qualified before, I was in the middle of moving and financially I couldn’t do it,” Parker said. (Trips to Boston don’t come cheap.) “And then when I qualified last summer and Grayson had qualified in 2011, it just seemed like if we had the opportunity for both of us to be able to do it together — we’re not going to run together but we’re going to be in the same race — it just seemed like an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up as mother and son.”

That Parker and Penfield have qualified to race Boston shows how much they have evolved as runners. Parker, a longtime administrative assistant for the Forest Grove United Church of Christ, had run a half marathon at age 19 and a marathon by her early 30s, but she said she was somewhat inconsistent with her running until finding a regular running partner several years ago. (That running partner just so happens to be Hillsboro Tribune Managing Editor Nancy Townsley.)

And Penfield even disliked the sport in his younger years. Having to run the mile during PE class when he was a boy was torture, especially because he tried to sprint rather than pace himself.

“I always hated it because it was really painful,” Penfield recalled. “My lungs would burn and my legs would hurt, and it was always a horrible experience.”

But during his freshman year at FGHS, Penfield jogged a couple miles home with a friend after a basketball game, and something clicked for him.

“It was just kind of like the feeling of being able to do something that I never thought I’d be able to do,” Penfield said. “Actually doing it was really satisfying. I still feel like any time I run eight miles or whatever 10-mile run. It’s always like, that’s really satisfying, like feeling that I can do that with my own feet and my own body.”

He finished his first marathon at age 17 with Parker by his side — he called his mother’s influence on his running “very subtle but very pronounced” — and has cut more than an hour off his initial time. And good thing, because Penfield needed almost all of that improvement to qualify for Boston: the benchmark for men age 34 and younger is a speedy 3:05:00, a clip of 7:04 minutes per mile.

But on April 15, neither Parker nor Penfield will run Boston with expectations of setting a personal best. Instead, they spoke of wanting to enjoy the experience of the marathon and seeing the city, though Parker said she does hope to finish in less than four hours.

The pair will fly to New York on April 13 and then stay the night with Parker’s sister in Connecticut. The day before the race, Penfield and Parker will travel to Boston, pick up their race packets and see the sights of Boston before spending the night in nearby Cambridge. And on that Monday, Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, they will run those famous 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston, like thousands of runners before them.

That is hallowed ground for distance runners. But unlike many, this mother and son get to cover it together.

“I’ve heard that it’s the most amazing race, and that the whole time you’re running people are cheering you on,” Parker said. “I’m just looking forward to that experience and having fun and being with Grayson.”



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