While she holds blazing fast PRs of 16:41 (5k), 34:50 (10k), 1:14:01 (half marathon), and 2:34:45 (marathon), you may know Hilary Dionne as the runner who held hands with Meb at the 2015 Boston Marathon. Needless to say, she’s so much more than that! She’s a Dartmouth grad and a Boston-based runner who competes for Craft Concept Racing, works full-time for Jobcase Inc., and competed in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials.
Hilary and I ran together back in 2011 through 2013 when we both ran for Boston Athletic Association. More than just a great runner, she’s also very driven in her career, and is someone who can inspire us all. I spoke with her shortly before and shortly after she competed in the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon where she finished 20th with a time of 2:45:31.
Poppy: Swimming was your first love. You swam and ran in high school competitively. What led you to let go of swimming to focus exclusively on running? Did you find any overlap or complement between the two sports?
Hilary Dionne: I swam from age seven through freshman year of high school. That year, I did cross country and outdoor track, and the cross country coach strongly encouraged me to run all three seasons if I thought I wanted to run in college. I was also a better runner than swimmer relative to my competition. So that’s what I did. I, of course, did the distance swimming events, so the endurance and individual nature of the sport was very similar.
P: You then went on to run in college at Dartmouth. Did you run all four years? If not, how long did you run?
HD: I ran freshman through junior year at Dartmouth. DXC and track were a great experience overall. I met my husband on the cross country team, and many of our wedding guests this summer were former teammates.
P: After college you took some time off, when did you start up again? Was there anything in particular that motivated you to get back into the competitive side of the sport? Did you join up with any clubs or teams immediately?
HD: I was always still running in and after college, just not training towards any specific races. I wanted to be able to focus on starting my career and keep my running very flexible around an unpredictable schedule of long consulting hours. I always knew I’d get back into racing and wanted to run Boston. One of my coworkers was a marathoner and that helped get me to try a marathon.
P: We know each other from the BAA and you spent some time running for their club team, the mascot of which is the mighty, majestic unicorn. What years did you run for the BAA? How do you feel about unicorns, fact or fiction?
HD: I was with the BAA from the very end of 2011 through April 2015. Working at a startup, Jobcase, Inc., I have to say we love the idea of unicorns, especially the chance of being an East Coast Unicorn! [Editor’s note: “Unicorn” is the term for a start-up company worth $1 Billion.]
P: You now are part of the Craft Concept Racing Team, a women’s running club. What motivated you to leave BAA and join CCR?
HD: I realized I wanted a smaller, closer and supportive team and one that was more flexible. Plus, the entrepreneur in me loved the idea of being part of a new team from the beginning. We have diversified but (have) complimentary strengths in our best distances, running approaches and our coaches, so far it’s worked really well. [Editor’s note: To learn more about the Craft Concept Racing Team go here.]
P: You work for a start-up called Jobcase Inc., as we’ve mentioned. Can you describe a bit what you do?
HD: I’m on the executive team at Jobcase, a social media site dedicated to empowering the world’s workforce (think LinkedIn for industries that don’t use LinkedIn). My title is “VP of Operations and Media Analytics”; I run our Member Acquisition team and do a lot of cross-functional leadership, projects and resource coordination.
As anyone who works at a startup would tell you, I wear many hats and my day-to-day is constantly changing. My hours per week vary quite a bit. Maybe 60-65 hours? Usually days in the office are packed and intense, and then I’m always checking in to keep things moving at night and on weekends. It’s difficult to fully disconnect.
P: On top of your busy job schedule, you fit in some impressive training (80-90 miles per week while marathon training, with a couple of workouts thrown in). How do you structure your weeks with running? How do your weekdays differ from weekend days?
HD: Yes, I typically have two longer and harder weekend days, sometimes a Saturday workout and Sunday long run, especially if I have to do a shorter mid-week workout to accommodate a meeting or travel for work.
P: With balancing your job and training, is there anything you feel gets neglected or less attention than you’d like?
HD: All of the little training extras like stretching and massage. Also, the closer I get to a marathon, the less time I spend with family and friends.
P: You are coached by Terry Shea (aka Mr. Poppy and also my coach too), how long have you been working with him? Do you find that working remotely with a coach works well for you given all that you balance? Any drawbacks to that sort of coaching situation?
HD: Terry is a great, very thoughtful coach. I started working with him when he was still coaching the BAA (around 2013), and then resumed when I switched over to CCR. The best thing about Terry as a coach, and why it works so well with my training approach, is that he allows for and encourages being flexible. He’ll give me a long email with any number of contingency plans depending on my work week, the weather, how my legs are feeling. [Poppy’s note: this is true of Terry, anyone he coaches can attest to the thorough emails he sends out regarding weekly training and workouts.] Terry is also working with more semi-professional/sub-elite/have-a-day-job successful marathoners than most are aware of.
P: As I mentioned in the intro, many runners know you as that gal who held hands with Meb at the finish line of the 2015 Boston Marathon. What was that like? Were you totally caught off guard when it happened? How was the aftermath to that moment? Are you and Meb BFFs now?
HD: It was crazy: my 15 minutes of running fame. I gained 800 Twitter followers overnight! But on a more serious note, Meb’s genuine gesture of sportsmanship reinforced how running, though often done alone, isn’t an individual sport. Racing in an event like the Boston Marathon is about supporting the community and inspiring others — not just whether or not you hit your goal time or have a bad race.
P: Any interests or hobbies outside of running, assuming you have the time?
HD: Sailing, wine tasting, modern architecture and interior design.
P: You just raced the NYC Marathon. We heard the wind played a part in the race and that many people ran slower than what they had hoped for. How did your finish time compare to what you thought you were in shape to run and what you hoped you’d finish in?
HD: I ran about six minutes slower than I was aiming to based on the course and a lingering hamstring issue. My place goal was top 20, which I did do.
P: You’ve had the luck of running in some tough conditions: hot Boston ’12, windy NYC ’14, cold and rainy Boston ’15, hot LA ’16, hot Boston ’16, and windy NYC ’16. How did NYC this year compare to some of those other marathons? How do you stay tough in adverse conditions? Clearly you have a lot of experience of performing well in less-than-ideal marathon weather!
HD: NYC this year was not quite as windy as in 2014, but the effect of the wind did surprise me. I think the important thing about performing in tough weather conditions is this: recognize that you can’t control the weather, that it’s impacting everyone (not just you), and to reset goals as needed so you don’t go out too hard trying to hit a certain mile pace and then lose steam in the second half.
P: What are your plans and goals going forward? Short term? Long term? Will you consider trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials?
HD: To be honest, I have not planned anything yet for 2017! Really focusing on recovery and work and spending less time thinking about running these last few weeks.
Thanks to Hilary for taking the time to chat with me! We look forward to seeing her succeed in whatever she goes after next!
What would you like to know about her training, racing, or non-running life?