The Master of Boston: Interview With Reno Stirrat

Reno Stirrat is part of an elite group of 31 runners with sub-3:00 marathon times. Photo: Melissa Sylvester

This 60-year-old has quite a streak going—and he plans to continue it at this year’s Boston Marathon.

To some, the age of 60 may seem like a time to slow down, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth for Reno Stirrat.

On April 21, the Quincy, Mass. resident will be in the second corral at the start of the 118th edition of the Boston Marathon. Simply put, Stirrat is a running machine. According to the Association of Road Racing Statisticians, Stirrat is a member of a small and distinct group: He’s one of 31 people who have logged a sub-3:00 marathon for five decades in a row. At last year’s Boston Marathon, he placed second for his age group, coming across the line in 2:47:17.

You’re turning 60 right before the start of the Boston Marathon, right?

Yes. April 19.

That’s two days before Boston. How are you feeling going into the race?

It does feel a little strange. To me, 50 wasn’t that big of a deal. Physically, I didn’t feel much different. But 60, it does feel a little bit different.

How so?

I would say that the biggest difference is that for the first time, physically, I don’t feel as strong as I used to. I feel like I’m starting to lose a little bit of my muscle mass. It’s very strange, because I’ve never felt that way before. I can almost physically see it, too. With me, because of my competitive nature, I’m not that worried about it. I’m still going to go out there and be as competitive as I can. My goal for Boston is to try and be on the podium.

What does that mean for what you think you can run, time-wise?

I’m thinking around 2:55. The biggest reason is that I lost four months from June through October, because of a piriformis injury, and so I started back in November, and then I had some issues with my hamstrings and so I wasn’t able to train with the quality that I am usually able to do. Then with the winter on top of it, it made it even tougher.

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Yeah, this winter was brutal—especially for a marathoner.

Yes. You can get the miles in, but a lot of time, this winter for everybody, it was tough getting the quality miles in.

You’re a Marine or were a Marine. I guess once a Marine, always a Marine, right?

Yes.

That Marine attitude—don’t quit, be strong mentally and physically—has that helped you as a competitive marathoner?

It’s strange that you said that. As a kid, I grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s watching John Wayne and Gary Cooper [in The Sands of Iwo Jima]—a  lot of those Marine movies. It kind of motivated me. And then my high school coach was also a Marine. So I’ve got a very strong tie before I went into the Marine Corps. It’s something that’s either there or not there. I believe, of course, that the Marine Corps brings it out even more. It’s that attitude that you can. It’s also a confidence boost, too.

You live in Quincy. How long have you been in the Boston area?

On and off, probably 20 years.

So this is a big year for the Boston Marathon given all the tragic events that happened at the finish line last year. What does it mean to you to run Boston this year?

There’s no question. It’s a whole different feeling and attitude. You get caught up in it. For me, it’s just about giving back for what happened. It’s all those people who got hurt and that died. It’s a give back to them. You talk about the Marine Corps motivation, but then you have the bombing motivation and that’s a whole different world. It will be very emotional. The marathon is emotional for us for different reason, but this one for everyone, it’s going to be that way. One of the things that might happen from it is that it could end up being a very fast race.

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Why is that?

Because of that motivation. Because you’re out there at 23 miles and you’re feeling like crap. There’s nothing left in your legs. Physically, you’re just wasted. You start thinking about those people and the bombing. You start to see people holding up signs. For me, personally, I’m going to see that and will say, “This one’s for them; look at what they went through.” It can never compare.

So you think the race will be fast across the board?

I think so. I’m a firm believer that if the front goes out fast—I’m not even talking about the elites, they’ve got their own way. Everyone else that’s behind them will go out fast. Plus you have this field. I haven’t seen a field this fast at Boston in I don’t know how many years. Normally, corral one, which is right behind the elite people—usually if you run about 2:50 you are in corral one. This year, I had a 2:47 and I’m 100 places in corral two.

That sounds like the old Boston days.

It’s closer. It’s not quite the same. There’s no question, it’s the fastest it’s ever been. When you’re talking about 1,000 people under 2:50 in the marathon, that’s pretty incredible in this day and age for being deep. People that are at the end of that corral are going to feel like they have to go faster, because they are going to be in the way of other people. Between the emotions and all that, I think it’s going to draw it out super fast—especially if it’s good weather.

What are some secrets or tips that you can share for Masters-level runners?

I would say one of the big key things is to never give up and to never become discouraged, because as you get older, there can be times where your training can be great, but it’s not translating into races. Then you find that other times your training is awful, but you’re racing faster. That gives a lot of people problems, especially as a younger runner, that’s hugely not so much the case. When you are younger, they are very similar. You can kind of get away with stuff. As you get older, especially when you are moving up from 40 to that 60 to 70 range, the body is going through changes. It gets tougher. That’s the key—to not let that get to you. You adjust and you keep moving on. If you’ve been running for longer, you are used to certain times. You kind of get into a routine and that is what you accept. All of a sudden that doesn’t happen. And you feel like you are a failure. That’s a difference, I believe, for longevity. A lot of these [Masters] runners out there don’t let it get to them; they are just always readjusting. You’ve got to keep plugging along. I like looking at every ten years as almost like a different life. It’s tough when you are in your late 50s and all of a sudden you see 60 and then you start a new life. For your PRs as a 60-year-old, you’ve never been there, so there you go.

You’ve got five decades of sub-3:00s, right?

Yes. Starting in the 1970s, then the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s. But it’s actually all sub-2:45s.

So you need to hold out to 2020 then.

Yes, somehow I don’t think I’ll be under 2:45 then, but I just have to run sub-3:00 to keep the streak going. There wouldn’t even been a group for that if it was under 2:45.

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What’s your favorite stretch of the Boston Marathon course? You can’t say the whole thing.

[Laughs.]  Believe it or not, that’s a very easy question. When I’m running very well, when I come off of the firehouse hill by the carriage road, at that section, I just love it. I feel like I’m reborn there, because it’s pretty flat and downhill, even though you got one of the Newton hills, but it’s the smallest of all of them. That whole stretch, you’re going down a little here and there. All of my very good Bostons, I’ve just flown through that section.

That’s all I have for you, Reno.

One more thing: You can put it in or not is that I’ve noticed something this year when I’m out running in Quincy or some of the other areas around here, people are so aware. I’ve had people look at me and smile. The words that almost come out of 90 percent of their mouths are, “Boston Strong.” In the past years, people would see me wearing a shirt and maybe say something, but this year they see me with my Boston Marathon shirt on and they nearly all say, “Boston Strong.”

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