On April 16, I became the third qualifier in history to run the Boston Marathon while juggling, as well as the first person to ever run any marathon while displaying a personal Twitter hashtag. Like everything in life, it was an experiment. This is what I learned.
Part One: The Launch
While I’d been joggling and training for the marathon for close to a year, I wanted there to be a formal launch of my plan to run the Boston Marathon while juggling - even though, if you followed me on Twitter, you knew about it for months. After all, the easiest way to get people to think something is a big deal is just start acting like it’s a big deal.
The plan had long been to go with a video launch - the only way to grasp the concept of running while juggling is to see it visually. And videos, more than any other medium, have to be designed to be shared, incorporating humor, cute kids, kittens or the other secrets to viral videos. Luckily, this part was easy, as I had long wanted to embrace the awkwardness of the sport of joggling by creating a video revolving around the double entendres associated with the word “balls.”
Next, the key was the right release date. Justin Doubleday and I finished the video right after spring break - four weeks out from the marathon. We held it a bit to make sure my sponsor had seen it, and by the time that was done, it was Thursday, March 29, two-and-a-half weeks out. While overnight viral sensations are always possible, the goal was to allow enough time for the story to ratchet up the media ladder, while not releasing too far out, which would have allowed the story to stall.
Within two weeks, the story was on the ABC News’ homepage in the United States, featured in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, and I was on radio stations from Boston to Auckland, New Zealand. A few thoughts:
The press release is dead. I sent out emails to three or four newspapers and/or blogs. They were conversational in nature - hey, this is me, and I’m doing this - not in any press release format. The majority of coverage came from the fact that I already had an established social media presence (reporters already followed me on Twitter, but gained interest in the story with the formal launch) and the fact that there was a video. On April 10, UNH Video Services put up a video they made regarding the story, which in turn attracted more media outlets (theirs was more straightforward and had less double entendres) In the age of the web, having free video content to give with a story is alluring to news outlets who want to take advantage of their digital nature.
Bad publicity is awesome. The hardest thing about marketing isn’t getting a good reaction - it’s getting any reaction at all. Two-thirds of the views on my original YouTube video came on the day the video was posted on an extremely-snarky local Sports blog. The post was entitled “This UNH Joggler Sums Up Everything I Hate About the Marathon,” and the author called me “the ultimate d**khead.” The next day, Boston radio stations started reaching out to me. (Who sent the blogger the link to the video? Me, using multiple newly-made anonymous email addresses).
News Aggregation is like the game “Telephone” - the more levels you go without contacting the original source, the less reliable your information. Obviously, I tracked this story more than the average story - notably because the latter isn’t about me. Plenty of outlets reached out to me - local papers, even ABC News. Others used their content (and maybe a cursory look at my blog) to write their own stories with their own reporters’ bylines. You can tell which ones took the time to actually report. (And I was more than willing to do so - on the Thursday before the marathon, I did four separate phone interviews. If they had asked, I’d have been glad to talk.)
Here’s the timeline of the launch and resulting coverage:
March 29 (Thursday): “Ball So Hard: Joggling the Boston Marathon” is uploaded to YouTube
March 30 (Friday): “UNH Senior to ‘Joggle’ Boston Marathon” story posted on Portsmouth (NH) Patch
April 1 (Sunday): “It joggles the mind: UNH’s Gounley goes for world joggling record” story appears in Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, NH)
April 2 (Monday): “This UNH Joggler Sums Up Everything I Hate About the Marathon” posted on Boston Barstool Sports
April 6 (Friday): “This Dude is Running the Boston Marathon With a Twitter Hashtag Tattooed on Him…While Juggling” posted on BostInno
April 9 (Monday): I call in to the “Carson and Kennedy Show” on Mix 104.1 in Boston. The show airs Wednesday.
April 10 (Tuesday): “UNH Joggler” is uploaded to Youtube by UNH Video Services
April 11 (Wednesday): “College Senior to Run and Juggle Through the Boston Marathon” appears on ABCNews.com
“I’m going for a joggle: College student to run Boston Marathon while juggling the ENTIRE 26.2 mile course (and then he plans on breaking 50 mile record)” appears on the (UK) Daily Mail’s website
April 12 (Thursday): “Thomas Gounley, UNH student, Will Run the Boston Marathon While Juggling” posted on the Huffington Post
“One ‘Joggler’ is Prepared for the Boston Marathon” appears on Competitor Magazine’s website
“Boston Marathon’s New Attraction: A Juggler” appears on the New York Daily News’ website
I call in to Radio Live NZ, a national station based in Auckland, New Zealand.
I do phone interviews with WBZ News Radio in Boston, along with a reporter from the Boston Herald (the latter appears to have never made it into print, or at least never put up online).
April 13 (Friday): UNH’s video makes Runner’s World’s Weekly Digest.
April 15 (Sunday): “Look for Newport News’ Thomas Gounley in the Boston Marathon - He’ll Be the One Juggling” appears in the Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
“Social Media Has Runners on New Path” appears in the Portsmouth (NH) Herald
“Joggling is Claim to Fame for UNH Senior” appears in the Portsmouth (NH) Herald
“NH Runners Eye Boston” is published in the New Hampshire Union Leader (not available online)
April 16 (Monday): “Boston Marathon: Runner Will Juggle the Distance” appears in Metro Boston
Part Two: The Marathon
Let’s cut to the chase - I ran the Boston Marathon while juggling in 3:52:33, or 8:52 per mile. I was very pleased with the result, particularly in light of the fact that my focus wasn’t on Boston, but rather on my attempt to set the Guinness World Record for joggling 50 miles, which I’ll attempt on May 12. I also thought I did well considering the conditions - it was extremely hot, with temperatures approaching 90 at the finish line. Like many other runners, I was in survival mode for much of the second half.
The craziest thing about running this year versus last year (when I ran like a normal person in 2:56:05) was the crowd. Boston has amazing spectators, but this year all of those spectators were focused on me - it was 26.2 miles of being in a scream tunnel that consisted of people calling me “The Juggler,” “The Joggler” or “MEAT HOUSE!” It is a very strange sensation to be the center of attention in a large road race, but the reaction was universally positive (or all the mean remarks just got drowned out). The best part of it was that not only was I not an annoyance to my fellow runners, but I was something to be enjoyed. Quite a few people would run ahead of me, only to turn around and start taking photos or video with their phones/cameras - while we were both running. It was fun out there.
I went into the race concerned about the start. You start in waves of 9,000 people. I was qualified to start with wave 1, the fastest wave, but thought that I would start with the second wave, which might let me get out in front a little more and avoid having to juggle in a crowd for the initial miles. I was just about to do this, and was watching the final runners begin moving, when an announcer made a last call for wave 1 runners and said any left could just hop in the back of the line. I figured it was way better to be the last in the line than near the front - no need to worry about being trampled if I dropped a ball. The situation worked perfectly. I never felt like I was joggling in a pack.
Yes, I dropped. But I didn’t drop for the first time until mile 14, which was six miles longer than my previous record for going without a drop. Then I dropped 6-8 times in the next 12 miles, most because my reaction time was slowed due to fatigue. Whenever I dropped, I just returned to the point of the drop and resumed running and juggling from there.
Whenever I wanted to drink or eat, I had to stop running and juggling completely (I followed the guidelines for setting a world record in joggling, although this was not a world record attempt). In cooler weather, I would have tried to limit stops at aid stations to once every few miles. Unfortunately, that simply wasn’t possible with the temperatures on Monday. I ended up stopping at nearly every water/gatorade stop from mile 3 to 25 (there are stations every mile). I would stand on the side of the course next to either the first or last aid station table while drinking, then resume running and juggling from there. I took in a gel around mile 12 and another at mile 17 (I carried those in my pockets). Some of the aid stations volunteers were pretty cool and would take photos or offer to dump entire pitchers of water on my head.
While I certainly wasn’t hoping to, I did walk 3-4 times for short stretches. The first time was around mile 15 or 16 - I don’t remember exactly. It’s a long, gradual hill. Luckily, I never became reliant on walking and managed to keep the practice to short stretches. Yes, I kept juggling while walking (which is annoying, because the rhythm you normally have between your legs and your arms while joggling is completely off). I didn’t walk up Heartbreak Hill at all. The final miles in Brookline and Boston were probably the hottest. The miles didn’t really start dragging until 22 or so.
After I finished, I talked briefly to a reporter from the local newspaper in Dover, then had to sit on the curb for a solid 25 minutes, just … sitting. I didn’t even get as far as gathering my space blanket. Thankfully, the volunteers weren’t as pushy in getting runners to keep walking until they were all the way out of the “chute” (not really a chute). Eventually, I made it to friends at the family meeting area (Ten friends came down to see me - or was it drink? - which was much appreciated), where I laid on the ground for a while.
Part Three: The Social Media Experiment
I was a bit surprised to realize a few months ago that no one had run a marathon with a Twitter hashtag on. I mean, people have tweeted while running one, but never sat back and let people tweet about them. In an era in which nearly every Super Bowl commercial ended with a Twitter hashtag, I figured I’d take a similar step in an attempt to gather the conversation in one place.
(While I certainly looked kind of crazy with a Twitter hashtag airbrushed on my chest, the notion wasn’t that extreme, I realized when I was hanging out in Athlete’s Village prior to the race. Plenty of runners, after all, run with their names written on their arms, legs or T-shirts. Maybe it was just a natural step).
From running around UNH, I knew people tended to tweet about me while joggling. Boston attracts 500,000 spectators and is the ninth-most social media savvy city in the nation. I figured if it would work in any situation, this would be it. I convinced my current employer with that pitch, leading to their sponsorship and getting #MeatHouseJoggler on my chest. (Part of this whole ordeal was that I’ve always wanted to claim I was a sponsored runner).
During the marathon, hashtag usage was certainly not explosive, but was certainly respectable. As an added bonus, the stunt influenced conversation in the real world as well - pretty much every spectator took note of the joggler, with a good half of them simply calling me “Meat House!”, and often noting their personal love of the store.
Here’s a Storify with more results: