Howell couple overcomes challenges of parenthood to run fast Boston Marathons

Clay (left) and Stefanie Woll of Howell point to their names on a wall listing the 2023 Boston Marathon entrants.
Clay (left) and Stefanie Woll of Howell point to their names on a wall listing the 2023 Boston Marathon entrants.

HOWELL — Just getting to the start line of the 2023 Boston Marathon was a significant challenge for Clay and Stefanie Woll of Howell.

Where does one even find the time to train for a 26.2-mile race while parenting three children ages 4 and under?

But they managed to pull it off, arriving in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on Monday, April 17, well-trained and prepared to crush the point-to-point course to Boston.

Clay, 31, was first among ten Livingston County finishers with a time of 2 hours, 49 minutes and 28 seconds. Stefanie, 30, was the county’s top female, finishing in 3 hours, 29 minutes and 49 seconds.

As difficult as running marathon can be, even for the most fit competitors, it must have seemed easy at times, compared to Wolls’ journey to Boston.

“Of course, Clay and I work really well together as a team,” Stefanie said. “A lot of times, kids want (their) mom or the kids are sick. You’re on duty 24/7. We did go through a really tough patch for six weeks around the holidays. We had stomach bugs, we had COVID, we had upper-respiratory junk; it felt relentless. It's tiring as a mom, but our girls are already 4 and 3 and love running.”

Stefanie was five weeks pregnant with the couple’s third child when she qualified for Boston with a time of 3 hours, 29 minutes and 38 seconds at the 2021 Detroit Free Press Marathon.

“We haven’t slept through the night yet with two toddlers and a baby,” she said. “I had to be a mom and train. It’s something for me, personally, to get to own and say you can be a mom and still have athletic goals.”

Clay has another group of kids for whom he’s responsible as coach of the Howell cross country teams and distance coach for the track and field squad. He has to squeeze in his training around work, family and coaching.

Stefanie (left) and Clay Woll of Howell show their bib numbers prior to the 2023 Boston Marathon.
Stefanie (left) and Clay Woll of Howell show their bib numbers prior to the 2023 Boston Marathon.

“It’s really, really difficult to train during track,” Clay said. “Obviously, we’re only a few weeks into the season, but the whole winter leading up to it, it’s tough training in the winter in Michigan; it kind of blows. It’s not really an enjoyable process to go out and do long runs.”

The Wolls don’t train together, managing their schedules so they have time for the long runs necessary to build endurance for the marathon.

Clay qualified with a time of 2 hours, 37 minutes and 41 seconds at the 2022 Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City. He believed his training had him in 2-hour and 32-minute range for Boston, but the sneaky downhills in the early miles took a toll on him.

He clicked off five-kilometer splits of 18:04, 18:16 and 18:27 through 9.3 miles, an average of 5:52 per mile. His pace dropped to 21:05 for the fourth 5K. From there, it was a battle to keep his race from completely unraveling.

“In training, I thought I had done a good number of hills in Howell,” he said. “There are a handful of hills around the area. I’d done Kensington (Metropark). It was just a different kind of beast. I could feel it from the get-go. The hamstrings and hips were starting to get tight. I tried the best I could and backed off the pace.”

The large throng of spectators lining the course through each of the towns between Hopkinton and Boston provided motivation, maybe even shaming him into pressing forward.

“You feel guilty stopping,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘You look great! You can do it! Keep going, 694!’ I’m like, ‘I can’t actually do it.’ You keep on running.”

Stefanie was only 11 seconds off the time she ran to qualify on an easier Detroit course.

Stefanie Woll of Howell was the first Livingston County woman in the 2023 Boston Marathon.
Stefanie Woll of Howell was the first Livingston County woman in the 2023 Boston Marathon.

“If I was at 3:30 or under, I told myself I would be super, super thrilled,” she said. “I was at 3:29. I’m Boston-qualified again. I’m thrilled with my time. Honestly, I didn’t have any other expectations but to be right around there.”

Regardless of how their races unfolded, the memory of running in the world’s most prestigious annual marathon is one the Wolls will never forget.

“It was just incredible,” Stefanie said. “Just driving into the city on Saturday and literally everywhere you look people are running. The whole city is filled with runners. It’s just such a cool thing as a runner to see the running community. Everybody is so friendly and upbeat. There’s such a buzz about the city that was really, really neat.”

The trip to Boston came shortly after the Wolls celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary.

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“It was definitely an enjoyable trip to fly over here and do the whole thing, especially doing it with my wife,” Clay said. “That’s a pretty rare thing to have a married couple doing Boston together. It was really cool to do it together. I gave her a hug before I took off, I finished and I was able to see her finish. Then we struggled walking back to the car. It was the best bonding experience.”

And what’s next?

“Tomorrow,” Clay said, "We have three kids to take care of when we get home.”

Livingston County Boston Marathon Finishers

1685. Clay Woll, Howell, 31, 2:49:28

8497. Scott McLean, Pinckney, 53, 3:17:42

12155. Stefanie Woll, Howell, 30, 3:29:49

12566. Pamela McDonald, Howell, 43, 3:31:14

12633. Mackenzie Allan, Howell, 19, 3:31:30

13767. Ryan Maxey, Brighton, 47, 3:35:39

14582. Cristina Noble, Brighton, 48, 3:13:57

16585. Chelsea Goodwin, Hartland, 37, 3:47:06

17251. Barb Isom, Howell, 55, 3:49:50

22003. Cathy Markham, Brighton, 55, 4:22:38

Contact Bill Khan at Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.

This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Howell couple overcomes challenges of parenthood to run Boston Marathon