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Homewood police Chief Denise McGrath trains for Boston Marathon

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Immediately after finishing the Chicago Marathon in 1998, her first marathon, Homewood police Chief Denise McGrath said she had the same thought most runners have: she would never run another marathon.

But also like most runners, McGrath didn’t mean it. As she steps off in April for the 128th annual Boston Marathon, raising money for Semper Fi & America’s Fund, she will be running her 11th marathon.

“Boston is iconic amongst marathon runners,” McGrath said. “Because I already had this relationship with Semper Fi & America’s Fund, it was kind of a no-brainer for me to run for them.”

McGrath said she ran the Big Sur International Marathon in 2017 to raise money for Semper Fi & America’s Fund, an organization that cares for U.S. critically wounded, ill and injured service members, veterans and military families, and has remained involved with the organization.

McGrath has a goal of raising $10,000 and as of Friday had raised $7,787.

“We are so proud of our chief of police,” said Homewood village manager Napoleon Haney. “We appreciate Chief McGrath’s commitment and willingness to align with Semper Fi & America’s Fund values.”.

McGrath, 61, said she had always been an active person, but didn’t start running until she joined the Police Training Institute in Champaign in 1992. McGrath said she was always the last one to finish the daily run, which would be anywhere from 3to 5 miles.

“I did find that if I stuck with it, was consistent and persistent, then those efforts paid off,” McGrath said. “What I like about it is the work that you put into it you see the results from.”

The first run she did was the Park Forest Scenic 10, a former 10-mile race, McGrath said. That race was a challenge, she said, because she had never run more than 5 miles before that race.

McGrath said she kept training and ran that race multiple times over the years.

“I learned, well OK, if I want to run that distance I need to prepare for that distance,” McGrath said.

After that first Park Forest Scenic 10 race, McGrath said she just kept signing up for more 5k, 10k, 10-mile and half-marathon races.

During non-marathon races, McGrath said she carries an U.S. flag with her and then gives it to a family who has lost child or service member. The first time she did it was during the Naperville Women’s Half Marathon and then sent it to the family of Carmen Schentrup, who was killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

When she was 37, McGrath said she set a goal of running a marathon the year she turned 40. But she decided to sign up for a marathon that year, when she was 37, to see what it was like.

In 1998, McGrath ran the Chicago Marathon and found it difficult, but said she also knew how to correct that. The biggest mistake she made, McGrath said, was not fueling during the race.

In 1999, McGrath said she ran the Chicago Marathon again, and with proper fueling she was able to shave about 40 minutes from her time.

“You learn a lot from your first marathon. You think about all the things you would do differently if you did it over again. You have that immediate reaction of, ‘I am never doing this again’ and then a few hours or a few days pass and you start going, ‘if I did this differently, I would have a better outcome.’”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, McGrath said she ran three “virtual” marathons. McGrath said she ran the Marine Corps Marathon — which is normally held in Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. — with about 30 other runners in West Virginia. A few volunteers set up water stations. The other two marathons she ran locally, she said.

As she trains for Boston, McGrath said she’s been running her long distance training runs at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. The arboretum hills have helped her train for Boston’s hills, she said.

During the week, McGrath said she either does short distance runs in nearby neighborhoods or cross training.

Her goal is to finish the Boston Marathon in about six hours, McGrath said.

“I look at it as I get my money’s worth,” McGrath said.

After the Boston marathon, McGrath said she’s already signed up for the 10 mile race as part of the Soldier Field 10 held Memorial Day weekend. She’s also deciding on which half marathon to do in the fall, she said.

McGrath said her favorite part of running and being part of the running community is meeting new people.

“Runners are the nicest people. They have such big hearts,” McGrath said.

McGrath said anyone considering running a marathon should go for it.

“If someone is thinking about running a marathon and doubts their ability to be able to do it, I guarantee if I can finish a marathon they can do it,” McGrath said.

akukulka@chicagotribune.com