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This September, from the 5th – 14th, the very first Virtual Boston Marathon will take place due to COVID-19. With 15,000 runners and its DIY organization style, the online-scored event is sure to be a novel and memorable experience, particularly for older participants. Here are a few previews from a group of Boston runners ages 75 and older.
Frank Bright, 77, retired attorney, Shreveport, LA.
- Fourteen previous Bostons, with a best of 2:54:43.
- Marathon PR of 2:44 at Dallas in 1983.
- He qualified for Boston by running 4:29 in the Manitoba Marathon in June, 2019.
Bright recently formed a loose internet group, The Bright Forum, of Boston Marathon runners over age 75. It has two dozen members who share everything from best training programs to best running books. But mainly they motivate and inspire each other.
Bright is one of many Boston runners who enjoy the annual trek to the northeast for its generally cooler weather than their hometowns. This year, with Covid-19, the early September date, and the virtual running format, he won’t get that opportunity. He’s stuck deep in the steamy South. “I’ve never been a morning person,” he notes, “but I’m up and running at dawn these days to escape the heat.”
An in-stadium spectator at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Bright has been an avid track and field fan ever since. He’ll run his Virtual Boston in Shreveport on Saturday, Sept. 12, beginning at 5:30 a.m. on a three-loop cloverleaf course organized by a local running store, Sportspectrum. “I’m running Boston for the same reason climbers are drawn to a mountain,” he says. “It’s there, I qualified, and I think I can do it. Also, to be immodest, it’s fun to be praised for running the famous Boston Marathon.”
Tony Guttmann, 75, retired emeritus professor of mathematics, Melbourne, Australia.
- Raced one previous Boston, 1988.
- He qualified for the Virtual Boston by running 4:16 at the Marathon de Senart (France) in May, 2019.
Guttmann has run 15 marathons in various locales around the world, with a PR of 3:05. He says, “I consider my running a triumph of application over genetics.” In other words, he’s not talented, but steady.
Guttmann entered the 2020 Boston Marathon to celebrate his 75th birthday, which occurred in early April. Then came the Covid-19 Boston postponement; then he actually contracted Covid-19 in mid-March. There’s some bad juju for you. Guttmann didn’t need to be hospitalized, but spent most of several weeks asleep in bed, losing 11 pounds and a great deal of strength-endurance. On his first day back to running, it took him 22 minutes to shuffle 1 kilometer (a pace of 35:00/mile).
Melbourne is currently under a Covid-19 restriction that allows only one hour of outdoor exercise per day. “I think I’ll have trouble breaking 60 minutes for a marathon,” Guttmann quips. The restriction might lift on Sept. 14, giving him one opportunity for his Virtual Boston. Otherwise, he’ll have to get creative. “To run Boston will be a celebration of life — especially life after Covid-19,” says Guttman. “Also, I want to see if I can do it!”
Bob Johnstone, 75, still-working hospital anesthesiologist, Morgantown, WV.
- Raced one previous Boston, a DNF.
- Qualified with a 4:23:51 at the Erie Marathon, September, 2019.
- Marathon PR, 4:08 in Burlington, Vt.
A runner for 40 years, Johnstone mainly ran shorter distances until getting a bit more interested in half-marathons and marathons a few years back. He started Boston once, in 2016, but fainted at the 15-mile mark, probably from dehydration, and failed to finish. He’d rather we not talk much about that, but acknowledges: “I have a personal need to finish a Boston Marathon.” One additional reason: Three of his children have finished Boston multiple times.
In the meantime, he’s taking care of others. Head of anesthesiology at his hospital, Johnstone is still scrubbing into surgeries at 7 a.m. That means he has to get up at 4 a.m. to train for the Virtual Boston. He doesn’t just save lives; he inspires good habits among department members at the hospital. “Many if not most are now running,” he says. “They recognize that if I can lead such a busy department at age 75 through a lifetime of running, then there must be something magic and good in it.”
Johnstone will vacation to Vermont for his Virtual Boston, running solo out and back on a 6-mile stretch of rail-trail. He’ll make sure to stop for a long drink of water at the end of each lap. “I’m running Boston because life is uncertain, and I can,” says Johnstone. “Minor victories are important to keep going through major challenges. I will get much personal satisfaction from finishing Boston.”
Kenneth Williams, 78, retired business owner, Corinth, MS.
- Williams has completed the last 18 Bostons in a row, qualifying for 17, then running for the Martin Richard Foundation.
- He finished last year’s Boston in 5:19:59.
Williams lost his wife of 57 years in late spring. “We shared many great Boston experiences over those years,” he remembers. “She would definitely encourage me to push on.” He has also finished five of six World Marathon Majors, lacking only Tokyo.
Like several others from Southern states, Williams expects to start his Virtual Boston before dawn on Saturday, Sept. 12, beginning in darkness on the high school track. From there, he and several other Corinth-area runners will mostly use the local (certified) Coke 10K race course. It’s a race that Williams himself started 39 years ago.
When several members of the Bright Forum were debating whether or not to run the Virtual Boston, Williams cut through the discussion. “Maybe I’m missing something,” he wrote to his fellow runners, “but it’s a pretty quick and easy answer for me. We have an opportunity available that a million runners would jump on. We’re probably freaks of nature that we can continue running Boston at our age. But remember, the window is closing for all of us. That’s why I’M IN!”
He adds, “I’ve got 19 children and grandchildren, and 18 Boston finishers’ medals. All my other reasons pale beside this one.”
Amby Burfoot won the 1968 Boston Marathon. He offers KISS Training Programs (Keep It Simple & Smart) at RunWithAmby.com.