Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen likes to emphasize the importance of mental toughness to his players. The next time he sees his team, he’ll be able to draw from personal experience.
Mullen completed the Boston Marathon in 4 hours, 28 minutes, 35 seconds. Not bad for someone who had never competed in a race, never mind a marathon.
“I’ve never even ran a 5K,” said Mullen shortly after crossing the finish line. “I trained for this, but I’ve never done any type of race before.”
Yet he never had any doubt about being able to complete the race.
“It was just a matter of how painful it was going to be,” said Mullen. “But there was no chance I wasn’t going to finish.”
Mullen’s expertise may be on the gridiron in the highly competitive Southeastern Conference, but as a child he lived in New Hampshire for 14 years and attended Trinity High School in Manchester, so he was very familiar with the Boston Marathon.
“My mom’s still in the house I lived in when I graduated high school,” said Mullen. “A lot of my friends came out to cheer me on today. It’s a pretty special group of guys I went to high school with. Once a year, all of those guys get together and come down to a game and cheer me on.”
He was fully aware the spectators were supportive, but even he was surprised by all of the encouragement.
“It was just cool running through all of the small towns,” said Mullen. “All of the people out there, the fans, it’s just an unbelievable experience. You get to about Mile 19, and all of those fans are just trying to push through to finish.”
Like most runners, Mullen appreciated the support while running through Wellesley.
“That was fun, that was an experience,” said Mullen with a laugh. “It’s amazing, your stride picks up a little bit there. You have to watch it and keep the pace down so you don’t burn yourself out.
“I smiled a lot,” said Mullen. “I enjoyed the first half a lot. I wasn’t smiling as much the second half of the race.”
The idea to run Boston struck Mullen last summer, when he was visiting with representatives from Adidas. (The sports apparel company designs the uniforms for the Mississippi State athletic department.)
One of the representatives said they could get a waiver for Mullen to run in Boston.
Mullen saw it as an opportunity not only to tackle a challenge, but also raise money for the Mullen Family 36 Foundation, whose mission is to give children in Mississippi opportunities to succeed. The foundation contributes to 36 charities.
“I’ve been blessed in my life to live all kinds of dreams,” said Mullen. “It’s our opportunity to give back to the kids of Mississippi and give them the opportunity to realize their dreams.”
Waiver in hand, Mullen needed to get running, and began training around his football schedule last summer.
During the football season, his runs were limited to 6 miles. Once the season was over, he ramped up his routine, beginning with a 13-mile run on New Year’s Day. He continued to train, dropping 25 pounds along the way en route to building up to a 20-mile run on Easter.
Mullen already was thinking ahead after the race, trying to come up with another challenge, but he was not sure where that would lead him.
“It’s going to be tough to top and do a different one,” said Mullen. “I don’t know if there’s any one better than the Boston Marathon.’’