Steve Donnelly asked a golf buddy if he wanted to hit the course one day years ago. The friend, also a UPS co-worker, told Donnelly, a frequent golfer, he would be running a 5K race instead. Donnelly was miffed.
“What, are you crazy? You’d rather go running instead of golfing?” Donnelly recalled saying.
What a difference a few years make.
Donnelly, 53, completed his seventh consecutive Boston Marathon on Monday. No really. Donnelly, a sportsman all of his life, but formerly not one known for long-distance jaunts, completed one of the running world’s most prestigious races in 3 hours, 23 minutes and 34 seconds.
Like a lot of runners, the long-distance Boston jaunt was Donnelly’s first marathon in over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. So Donnelly, known throughout Malibu thanks to his 16 years as a local UPS driver, struggled some but said he really enjoyed completing world’s oldest annual run marathon.
“I grew today because I realized that I am not defined by the ‘times’ I run but by effort and perseverance put forth in training and racing,” he said after the race. “I really took it all in today and engaged the crowds, and this seventh Boston [Marathon] may have been my most enjoyable.”
The younger, golfing-mad version of himself, Donnelly said before the 125th Boston Marathon, would be bewildered at Donnelly being the running man he is today. In the past, Donnelly, who played baseball in college, viewed running as a form of punishment used by coaches after players made mistakes in team sports.
“But it is through my mistakes and successes in life and the wisdom and character that is gained through them what defines me on who I am today,” he said.
Donnelly was one of 20,000 runners to race the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. Benson Kipruto of Kenya won the men’s marathon in 2:05:13. Colin Bennie was the top U.S. runner, coming in seventh with a time of 2:11:26. Diana Chemtia Kipyogei of Kenya was the top finishing woman with a time of 2:24:45. Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the event’s wheelchair event in 1:18:11.
The New England running spectacle was held for the first time since 2019 and six months later than its regular time in April because of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, because of the concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the race had one of its smallest in-person fields ever. Thousands participated in a virtual marathon.
Donnelly completed the 2019 Boston Marathon in 3:11:27. The year before, he finished the race in 3:16:10 and in 2017 he finished in 3:19:59. Donnelly finished the race in 3:22:30 in 2016 and 3:14:35 in 2015.
Donnelly finished the 2019 Chicago Marathon, his final race before the outset of the pandemic, with a time of 3:02.29. The run was Donnelly’s fastest ever and it qualified him to compete on Boston’s streets on this month.
Donnelly called the Boston Marathon a special event.
“It’s something all runners strive for—it’s our Super Bowl,” he said. “It is every runner’s dream to go there. Everyone in the city goes out at watches it—parents bring their kids out—the city takes a lot of pride in the race.”
Donnelly didn’t consider endurance running until a UPS customer mentioned participating in a marathon. Donnelly thought that was something he could do, so he started running around his block and then walking home. He began running farther and farther. He then went to Long Beach to participate in a half marathon with friends but ended up running a full marathon.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” said Donnelly, who finished the event in a little over four hours. “It was mainly willpower. I was hobbling at the end. I refused to walk.”
Donnelly tried to compete in a golf tournament the next day but could barely stand.
“I didn’t realize how difficult marathons were, so I gained a new respect for how difficult they are,” he said.
A friend told Donnelly he had to run another marathon to beat his first marathon time. Then, Donnelly learned about the Boston Marathon.
“I set that as a goal to qualify for,” he said. “At the time I was so far away from it I didn’t think it was realistic, but the human body is amazing when adapting to training. I never thought I would do seven of them.”
An avid marathoner was born.
Donnelly has completed 29 marathons since 2012 and traded in his golf clubs for running shoes.
He has worked for UPS for 35 years and in Malibu since 2005.
Anne Payne, a resident of the Serra Retreat and Civic Center area, called Donnelly a Malibu asset and a beloved and thoughtful driver.
“He is worshipped by every local dog; each of them knows the sound of his big, brown UPS truck and the dog biscuits which are delivered for good dog behavior by smiling Steve, who knows the dogs by name,” Payne said.
Malibuites have probably seen Donnelly running at Legacy Park or along Pacific Coast Highway on his days off or after spending all day delivering packages. He runs 65 to 80 miles per week.
Training in 2020 was tough, Donnelly said. He and other UPS drivers worked 55 hours weekly. He was acutely focused on competing in marathons in London and Boston, but both were canceled.
“It was a big challenge because of the uncertainty,” Donnelly said. “It’s hard to push yourself after you have done it a couple of times and races are canceled.”
He plans to return Beantown for its marathon when it is held on its normal date in the spring.
Donnelly’s ultimate running goal is to finish a marathon in under three hours. He also wants to continue running in the Boston Marathon yearly.
He said residents of the city treat marathoners similar to how Malibuites have treated him and other UPS drivers.
“They treat you like a part of the community,” he said. “Malibu is the same way, a close community that treats the people that work there like part of the community. Going to work every day is like seeing an extended family. They make it a lot easier.”