Seven hours, 26 minutes and 37 seconds after the start of Sunday’s Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon, two men hit the finishing strip at the same time.
On the right, bent over at the chest, head pointed to the pavement, arms draped around a volunteer, is 68-year-old John Peters. To the left is 75-year-old John Peters.
Two men. One name. Same finishing time. It was no coincidence they finished side-by-side. They’ve known each other 13 years and have run four marathons together, always starting and finishing at the same time.
The 68-year-old is John Michael Peters of Marinette, Wis., about 50 miles north of Green Bay. The 75-year-old is John William Peters of Las Vegas.
Between them they’ve run 93 marathons. Neither have ever been exceptionally fast. Wisconsin Peters’ PR is 4:06:22, which came in his first of 55 marathons. Vegas Peters’ PR is 3:56.
“We’ve both gotten old slow, so we don’t worry about the time,” Las Vegas’ John Peters says.
Their meeting and late-life friendship is an ode to curiosity, bonds that runners form and an appreciation for completing what you start, no matter how long it takes.
Las Vegas’ Peters was surfing the Internet in 2002 when he came across a site that logged runners’ marathon results. He came across a man with his same name. Remarkably, the man ran seven marathons in 2001.
“Actually, he ran eight,” says the Las Vegas Peters. “They hadn’t recorded the last one yet.”
Las Vegas Peters sought out to track down his Wisconsin name twin. Unable to find an e-mail address, Peters sleuthed Peters’ physical address. Vegas Peters mailed Wisconsin Peters a letter, including his contact information. Soon the men were e-mail buddies.
Four years after that initial contact, Wisconsin Peters headed to Nevada for the 2006 Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon. Standing at the expo in the Mandalay Bay, Wisconsin Peters held up a sign that read, “John W.”
John Williams Peters found John Michael Peters. They shook hands and have been friends ever since. They’ve vacationed at each other’s homes. Their wives get along as splendidly as the men do.
Upon asking what they talk about, Wisconsin Peters says, “We both kind of brag about our past marathons. We enjoy talking about running.”
Las Vegas Peters doesn’t exactly carry the typical marathoner’s background. Diagnosed with a heart murmur as a youth, he was told he couldn’t participate in sports.
“So I just smoked and drank,” he says. At one time he sucked down three packs a day.
Peters quit smoking at 40, soon dumping an ugly addiction for a healthy one. He was playing tennis one day and saw some people running around a high school track.
“I thought, ‘Well, shoot. I can do that,’ ” Peters says. “I found out I really enjoyed it.”
Soon came word about this newfangled idea. A marathon with bands and cheerleaders spread throughout the course in San Diego.
“I thought that might be fun,” says Peters who was living in San Diego at the time. “And I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about the weather.”
The man has run all 18 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathons.
Meanwhile, Peters from Wisconsin ran 5Ks and 10Ks regularly. Friends told him he needed to step it up to 26.2 miles. “I said there’s no way,” he says.
His friends’ persistent needling wore him down. He ran the Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee, but it would be inaccurate to say it was love at first sight. It was another two years before he ran his next marathon.
“I felt so bad [after the first 26.2-miler], I said I’d never do another one,” he says. His next marathon will be his 56th.
This past Sunday in San Diego, marathon number 55, was painful. Back spasms kicked in at about Mile 18. By Mile 20, Peters was stopping every five minutes to stretch his back. He fell down at about 23 miles on the steep Pershing Street downhill, east of Balboa Park.
“I thought he had no business finishing. He was in so much pain,” Vegas Peters recalls. “His memory of the last two miles is very slim.”
At one point Wisconsin Peters remembers being told by a volunteer that he had to stop, quit the race, get in a van and be taken to the finish line.
“I turned around and started back on the route. If I had gotten in that van, that would have bothered me for the rest of my life,” Peters says. “I knew whatever it took, I was going to get to that finish line on my own.”
At the finish, John Peters’ right arm draped around a bike volunteer’s neck. With his head down, staring at the 13th Street pavement, he grabbed onto the shoulder of his friend, John Peters, to his left. Friendship. Teamwork.
Three days after the race, having stepped inside the house after the flight home, Wisconsin Peters assesses his physical condition.
“I’m limping right now,” he says. “I can hardly walk up the steps. But I’m thinking about my next one already.”
Of course, John Peters can count on one man to be there for him. John Peters.