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Like thousands of other Harvard students, junior Brinkley Brown arrived at her dorm in late August to move in for a new school year.
But unlike the rest of her community, Brown didn’t get to Cambridge by plane, car, train, bike, or boat. She ran.
All the way from Concord, New Hampshire. In the end, she ran nearly 70 miles.
Brown, a sociology concentrator, hatched her plan after spending a summer working for the Appalachian Mountain Club and exploring the outdoors in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
“I'd been running a bit, hiking, biking, swimming, all this stuff,” she said. “And I wanted a fun way to end the season. So I was looking for a race to do before coming back to school, but races are just honestly so expensive, and I would have had to travel a bit to get to one. And so I thought, why not run back to school?”
So Brown packed her bags into her parents’ car, hopped out of bed at 3:45 a.m. on Saturday, August 31, and took off, sporting a lightweight backpack, a red tank top, and a headlamp to light her way in the predawn darkness.
A former high school varsity cross-country runner and swimmer, Brown was well-equipped to handle an endurance challenge. She admits, though, that 69 miles was pushing it, even for her.
“The longest race I had done before was a twenty-miler, and I did that in the spring,” she said. “I really loved it. And I thought, you know, why not do something kind of crazy? See how far I can go?”
Her route took her essentially south with a slight bend out to the east, according to a map of the run she provided to the Crimson. Much of the run tracked New England’s north-south Route 28 highway.
Her father documented her feat on camera and compiled the footage into a YouTube video set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
Brown ran with a steady, bouncing gait, sometimes wearing a baseball cap to shield her from the sun, and periodically flashed an infectious smile to the videographer or waved her arms in milestone celebrations.
Friends and family joined Brown throughout the day, and she credits them with helping her persevere on her odyssey. She had posted to Facebook in the days leading up to her run and invited friends and family to accompany her for short stretches along the way.
“Join me in this adventure!” she wrote. “The more the merrier. I am beginning bright and early [on Saturday morning] and letting wind, love, food, friendship, and the two best parents in the world support me the rest of the way. Here's to living life in adventure!”
Her father even jumped in to trot alongside his daughter during a critical leg of the journey.
“At around mile 52, I was in so much pain, and you know, it's difficult,” said Brown. “So my dad actually got out on the side of Route 28 and ran with me for a mile, which was a lot for him. And having him there, running with me, even though he doesn't run, it just meant a lot. And, like, if people hadn't joined me, I don't know if I could have done it. That was a really important part.”
Brown’s mother also played a key role, especially in maintaining her physical energy throughout the journey.
“I had a little backpack with water, and my mom would always mix my electrolytes and salt in the water and rebuild my backpack,” said Brown. “The minute you get thirsty or hungry, you're already behind. So you need to be constantly drinking, constantly eating. My parents were just like the best crew ever.”
Brown, who occasionally runs with the recreational Harvard College Marathon Challenge team, pointed out that the culture of the school help buoy her to success.
“We're Harvard people,” she said. “When you have a goal, and you see the end, you just know you're going to get there. I knew I was going to get to school that night no matter what. I didn't know if I was going to be running, if I was going to be walking, if I was going to be crawling, but I knew that I was going to get there by sunset. I never doubted that moment would happen.”
Indeed, it did. Twelve hours and twenty-one minutes after she took her first step, Brinkley Brown jogged through the gates of the Leverett House courtyard along with a small entourage of fans and friends. They popped a bottle of champagne, smiled for the camera, and together closed the book on a unique move-in experience.
— Staff writer Ben Stern can be reached at email@example.com.
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