When Belleville native Meghan Trapp (Zahn) takes her first few steps and begins the odyssey which is the Boston Marathon on Monday, it will mark another milestone in a running career which began over 15 years ago on tracks and cross-country courses throughout southwestern Illinois.
One of the most successful long-distance runners and the only athlete — male or female — to win four straight Belleville city cross-country championships while at Belleville West, Trapp will be running in her 26th marathon since 2006. But to compete in the most prestigious event for marathon runners in the nation, on a 26.2-mile course which begins in the rural New England town of Hopkinton and ends in Boston, is truly a dream come true.
“When you think of all the history and all the great runners who have competed in the Boston Marathon, it’s just amazing for me to think that I’m going to actually run on the same course in the same race,” Trapp said earlier this week. “My goal is to run the race in 3 hours, 40 minutes.
“Now I’m not one to go over race courses, but what I’ve heard and people I’ve talked to about it, I understand it’s a difficult course. I’m just excited to have the opportunity to run in the race. It’s a dream come true.”
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Held as part of an annual Patriots’ Day celebration, the Boston Marathon has been held annually since 1897. Over 30,000 runners from all over the world will compete.
Trapp, 27, who is a special education teacher at Abraham Lincoln School in Belleville, met the qualifying time for her age group at the St. Louis Marathon last April. when she finished in a time of 3:32.40. The required time for women ages 18-to-34 is 3:35.
The daughter of David and Beth Zahn, of Belleville, Meghan Trapp competed in many sports while growing up. A high-level swimmer, Zahn said she actually began running at the age of eight.
“I started swimming when I was eight years old and that and running basically became my life. When you think about it, swimming and running are the basis of so many other sports. They help with endurance. I started running to stay in shape for other sports. Soccer and basketball ... I wanted to do everything.” Trapp said. “But then I narrowed it down to the ones that I loved. The ones that I truly loved and that was the running and the swimming.”
Trapp stayed involved in swimming for several years after graduating from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She was a coach with the Kingspoint Swim Club for many years before giving it up two years ago.
But after graduating from West in 2005, where she was a standout in both track and cross country, Trapp did not compete in athletics at the college level.
“I still loved to run but after high school, I took a little bit of a break. I wouldn’t say that I was burned out. I just needed something different and I didn’t know if college would give me what I wanted to do with my running,” Zahn said. “I still loved track and I still loved cross country and I still wanted to be able to do something with that. I just needed to figure out what.
“I wanted to be able to run when I wanted to run. Not when I had to run.”
Running with dad
Dave Zahn, a long-time Belleville fireman, and Beth Zahn, have always been their daughter’s biggest supporters, fans and coaches.
“My dad has been my coach and still is my No. 1 coach. I remember in middle school and high school he would stand at the 220-meter mark and my mom would be on the other side near the finish line. I had both sides,“ Zahn said, laughing. “My dad is 54 now and yes he still runs marathons. I think he’s still got probably a couple of good years left.”
It was Dave Zahn who talked his then 19-year-old daughter into running in the Lewis and Clark Marathon in 2006.
“I had just turned 19 and my dad had just signed up to run his first marathon. I remember when he talked to me about running in it. I’m like, a run? a marathon? Sure, there’s nothing to it. It’s only 26 miles.” Zahn said with a smirk. “There were two 13-mile loops. You ran the first 13-mile loop and the 1/2 marathon runners got off the course and the rest of us kept right on going. I finished in 4 hours and 21 minutes. The key word there is that I finished.
“I do remember that I was exhausted and wondering why I had done this to my body.”
Marathon No. 2 came the next year at the Lewis and Clark Marathon, again with her father. But it wasn’t until the 2008 event that she began to fall in love with the long-distance race.
The 2008 Lewis and Clark Marathon was cut to 10 miles because of Hurricane Ike, which caused part of the course to be flooded out.
“I remember going back to my car after the race had been stopped and being really frustrated because I had trained really hard for that race and wanted to see what I could do,” Trapp said. “I remember calling some friends and doing some research about when the next marathon was. I saw the Chicago Marathon was coming up. I got into the race and finished with a time of 3 hours, 55 minutes, which at that time was a personal record by something like 30 minutes.
“It was at that point where I realized that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my running. I was getting back to the point to where I was really enjoying running again. When I finished Chicago in ’08, I was so excited. It is a total marathon there. Everybody runs the entire 26 miles, people are standing 5-10 deep along the stands watching. it’s really some event.”
Trapp was forced to take nearly three months off in 2009 after suffering a stress fracture to her foot.
“It was really the first time I had a major running injury,” Trapp said. “I took extra time off to make sure it healed properly so I wouldn’t have any issues with it in the future.
“I do not run everyday. I’m to the point where I listen to my body. I run five days and don’t run at all the other two.”
Meanwhile, Trapp‘s times continue to improve. This past January she posted her fastest time to date — 3:30.48 — at the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge.
The marathon in Boston will be in the 17th different state which Trapp has run a marathon.
That’s an easy one.
The Kona Marathon in Hawaii in 2012, where she and her husband Toby Trapp had their overdue honeymoon.
“We had been married for about nine months we decided I should run in the marathon since we were going to be there,” Trapp said. “It was breathtaking and we just had a wonderful time.
“We try to do that when I compete in marathons. We try to make mini vacations out of them. See the sites and have a some fun.”
Ready for Boston
The Trapps arrived in Boston late Friday night and plan to tour the city before the Monday morning. Last Wednesday, April 15, marked the second-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings in which three people died and 260 were injured.
Trapp said that since that tragedy two years ago, security is much tighter. But the thought of something happening is still in the back of your mind,
“Everywhere we go now, it’s (security) is much tighter. There are bag checks in which they go through each bag,” Trapp said. “You are there to compete and have a good time running in the most famous marathon in the world.
“But still, in the back of your mind, you are thinking and hoping that some crazy person doesn’t do anything stupid. Actually you are praying that doesn’t happen.”
Trapp said she plans to run in marathons for many years to come and has already met qualifying time for the 2016 Boston Marathon. But she may try to broaden her horizons even more.
“I’m thinking about and let me say again ‘thinking’ about maybe getting involved in triathlons,” she said. “With my running and swimming, it makes sense that I may try it. Even though I’m not very big on riding bikes.
“I still love to run and hope to do it for as long as I can. I’ve run in 17 states. I’ve still got 33 to go.”