Just being able to qualify for the Boston Marathon and finish the race once is a grand achievement. But doing it 47 years in a row? That’s downright amazing, not to mention an all-time record. Yet Ben Beach, a 65-year-old runner from Bethesda, Md., will be in Hopkinton on April 20, ready to run his 48th consecutive Boston Marathon.
Beach, who works as an editor for the State Department in Washington D.C., is a testament to perseverance. He suffers from dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes the muscles of his left hamstring to contract involuntarily.
“I run the same amount of miles a month now that I ran in a week back in my prime,” Beach admits. “If you saw me running, you’d think that I was injured or will be injured, because my stride is such a mess.”
But Beach doesn’t give in. He says he’s thankful that he can keep running with little pain and is happy to stay relatively injury-free despite his condition. “I’m still trying to accept the fact that I’m training for a marathon on so little road work, but I’m getting in a decent amount of cross-training so that I have a decent shot of doing all right. My times now are terrible, but I do what I can.”
But how he feels and runs today aside, Beach’s history at the storied Boston Marathon is nothing short of magnificent. He clocked 3:23:50 in his first Boston Marathon back in 1968 when he was an 18-year-old Harvard freshman, and has a 2:27 best on the course.
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He’s been through all kinds of tests both in the race and in training for it. In fact, the 2013 edition of the Boston Marathon, Beach’s streak nearly came to an end due to the horrific terrorist bombings that occurred at the finish line that year. He had been struggling with intense calf pain since mile 10 and was gutting through it until he was stopped at mile 16 because of the bombings. The Boston Athletic Association later ruled that his race counted since he had technically run more than half of it. For Beach, his injury had been a blessing of sorts, because his family and friends would have been at the finish line with him when the bombs exploded if he had been running his goal time.
Of all his Boston Marathon finishes, Beach says the one that most clearly stands out in his mind is the first one. “I was totally unprepared for it,” he recalls. “I was completely ignorant. I had no coach. I had no idea what to expect. It was such a thrill to get to the finish.” Beach contends that he wasn’t much of an athlete as a child and was thrilled to have throngs of people cheering for him. “To have my name announced over the loudspeakers at a premier athletic event—that was overwhelming.” He was also thrilled with his first time that was run on very little training mileage and on a hot day. Beach had initially targeted just going under 4 hours
Beach also thinks back to his fourth running of Boston when a knee injury left him with doubts during the race. “I tried to drop out 2 to 3 miles into it,” he recalls. “I was looking for the dropout bus. But the bus wasn’t around so I just figured I’d keep on going.” Luckily, Beach’s knee stopped hurting and he was able to finish the race. “I was thankful that the bus wasn’t there,” he says. “At that point I wasn’t thinking about a streak, but looking back now, I’m doubly grateful that the knee didn’t give in and the bus was a no show.”
The concept of starting a streak in anything related to running usually doesn’t happen right away. Beach says he got the idea to keep running Boston around his 10th or 11th showing. “I remember thinking, ‘Well 10 is respectable. Why not do another?’” Beach says that he had wanted to always run the Boston Marathon, because he loves the city and had friends there.
Beach says pure luck has played a role in maintaining this amazing streak. He isn’t superstitious—he doesn’t rub something like a lucky rabbit’s foot or follow some special routine that gets him to the starting line time and time again. He says he often wonders how he’s been able to make it to Boston for all these years without being sick. “I’ve never had the flu or anything like that,” he says. “I guess if I were sick it would depend on how bad it was—if it was coming or going.”
Nowadays, Beach runs Boston much slower—5:26 last year—but he keeps lacing up his shoes and keeping the streak alive. Regardless of finishing time, Beach is still getting out there. “My times now are terrible, but I do what I can,” says Beach, who has been running less and cross-training more. “I’m going to keep running it until I can’t do it anymore.”