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Monday morning, for the 47th year in a row, Ben Beach will line up in Hopkinton to run 26.2 miles. The Maryland native holds the record for the most consecutive Boston Marathon runs in history. But his road to the record hasn't always been easy.
1968: The First Race
Ben Beach first ran the Boston Marathon in 1968.
“I ran it the first year mainly out of curiosity,” he said
He was 18, a freshman at Harvard.
“I had never run more than 5 miles at a time until about three weeks before the race,” he said. “So, you would look at that and you’d say, ‘This guy is really stupid.’ ”
He said he unwisely ate a steak for breakfast that morning. He didn't know he was supposed to inhale carbs.
Despite his misguided breakfast of champions, he finished that first race, and got hooked.
Now, he's 64. And he's run every year since.
“It's a good form of exercise,” Beach said. “And it's simple for the most part. So I intend to do it until my body absolutely quits.”
Beach is much, much slower than his prime. The glory days were 1981 — when he could run this race in 2:27:00. This year, he's aiming for a 10- or 11-minute mile pace.
But beyond his speed, Beach says so many things about this sport have changed. He remembers a simpler race.
“In 1968, you showed up at Hopkinton Junior High School, and some guy would put a stethoscope on your chest to confirm that you were healthy enough to run it and hand out your number, and you were on your way,” he said. “It's just a different world.”
Back then, he said the athletes were rewarded at the finish line with beef stew and showers at the Prudential Center. But, then again, back then, there were only about 1,000 runners.
The Apartment On Beacon Street
Beacon Street, near Fenway, is a sort of memory lane for him — he's run this course so many times. He remembers the apartment where his sister hung a banner back in 1976.
“My sister lived up there in that corner, so whenever I go through here, I look up and wave,” Beach explained.
In 2002, Beach's legs started to give him trouble. He was diagnosed with a neurological condition, dystonia. He walks and runs with a limp now.
He thought it would be the end of his running, but somehow, his legs adapted.
“And, yes, I still limp, and I'm much slower, and I don't go very far, except on Patriots’ Day,” he said.
And, on Patriots’ Day, he's kept going.
In 2012, he tied the record for the most consecutive Boston Marathons run.
Last year was supposed to be his run for the record books. His kids, his old high school buddies, even a cousin were in town to celebrate.
But his legs gave out, and he had to start walking. He was still on pace to finish when two bombs exploded on Boylston Street.
He never crossed that finish line.
“This obviously was on my mind that my streak has been stopped — sort of – that I can’t finish,” he said. “But the overwhelming thing is how awful thing had happened to those people, to the city, and everybody involved.”
Eventually, the Boston Athletic Association decided anyone who had reached the halfway point, technically "finished" the race. So, his run counted. But, Beach said there's a still an asterisk in his mind about whether he truly holds that record. Even then, he said he can't walk away from this race.
“I think even if I felt the streak was over, I still wanted to run,” he said. “It's just what I do on Patriots’ Day. Just what I do. It’s part of me, part of my identity.”
Beach said he's not sure how many more Boston Marathons are in him.
He doesn't know if he can come close to Johnny Kelley, who holds the record for the most Boston Marathons ever finished: 58.
But, Beach said he felt he had to come back Monday to cross the finish line because last year was the first Patriots’ Day in 46 years he didn't.
This story aired on April 21, 2014.
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