Shannon Kirchmer

After third-year optometry student Shannon Kirchmer achieved her longime goal of running her first marathon — the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama this past February — she realized she was just two minutes shy of qualifying for the 2019 Boston Marathon.

“I knew I could do it,” she says.

With her new goal of competing in the world’s oldest annual marathon, she sought the help of a coach through a Birmingham running group to help her with a training plan.

On Nov. 4, she ran a personal record of 3:20:25 (a 7:39 mile pace) in the CNO Indianapolis Monumental Marathon — qualifying her for the Boston Marathon.

Training for marathons while in optometry school has been a challenge, but one Kirchmer took a day at a time.

“At times it was hard to get in 10, then 12, then 14 miles before school as my training plan progressed,” she says. “Those were some mentally and physically exhausting days.”

But the challenge also had its benefits.

“I truly enjoy running, and it’s always been my go-to form of stress relief,” she says. “[Training for a marathon] is probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done but also one of the most rewarding.”

Originally from North Carolina, Kirchmer received her bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After she finishes optometry school, she says she plans to return to North Carolina to practice.

“Like with many things, it helps to have a goal, and for me, I know I need something to look forward to even if it’s a fun 10K,” she says. “Have a reason why you’re doing it — and some great training partners — makes it easier to get up before 5 am.”

The training is the hardest part, Kirchmer says.

“The race itself is fun, trying at time, but overall a great experience,” she says. “I can’t say I’m ready to sign up for one in the next few months, because I am calling part 1 of boards my next marathon.”