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Keeping Their Streaks Alive: Virtual Boston 2020

Marathoners with 25 or more Boston finishes prepare to do-it-themselves in many varied conditions as the first Virtual Boston Marathon takes place Sept. 5-14

The first Boston Marathon was held in 1897. Now, 123 years later, the first Virtual Boston Marathon will be held from September 5 to September 14. With 15,000 runners and its DIY framework, the Virtual Boston is sure to produce a deep well of memorable stories. Here are a few previews plucked from a group of runners that have run Boston 25 times or more.

Ben Beach, 71, retired editor, Bethesda, MD.

Runner, Ben Beach, with bib that says NO GUNS.
Photo: Ben Beach

Fast Facts:

  • Beach holds the all time record for consecutive Boston finishes — 52 and counting.
  • He has a PR of 2:27 at Boston, and ran under-2:40 17 times.

Beach ran his first Boston as a Harvard freshman in 1968, finishing in 3:23:50. He’s been back every April since, except for this spring. In recent years, Beach has been slowed by a rare neurological disorder, dystonia, that disconnects his leg muscles from the brain input that says, “Move, dammit.’ Result: He runs with a significant hitch or limp in his stride. Generally, he trains just three days a week, covering maybe 15 miles in total.

His motivation hasn’t slackened, however. In addition to his Boston streak, Beach has run all 48 Cherry Blossom 10-milers in Washington, D.C. with times ranging from 53:35 to 1:55 for this year’s virtual race.

Beach expects to run his Virtual Boston on Labor Day, Sept. 7, if the weather is decent. Accompanied by a friend from Connecticut, and part way by his physical therapist and two sons, he’ll likely pass through two states and the District of Columbia. “If there’s a Boston Marathon, real or virtual, I want to be there,” he says. “As we run, I’ll imagine the Boston course — the Framingham train station, Wellesley, the fire-station right turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, Boston College, the CITGO sign, and the run down Boylston Street.”

Mark Courtney, 64, race timing and management, Grove City, PA.

Man, Mark Courtney, running in white tank that says, "Runner's High."
Photo: courtesy Allied News

Fast Facts

  • Courtney has run Boston 40 years in a row with a best time of 2:32:49 in 1980.
  • He requalifies at Boston every April but ran faster at Columbus in 2019 (3:28:55) than at Boston (3:35:54).

Courtney has been in the race timing and management business (Runner’s High) for more than two decades. This is a great background to have when you find yourself unexpectedly needing to run a marathon in a year riddled by Covid-19. You can use your skills and experience to put on a brand new marathon … which is exactly what Courtney has done.

He has organized and will be participating in the NOTSOB Marathon (“Boston” spelled backwards) on Sept. 13. The race will take place on a flat, certification-pending 5.4-mile loop in the private community of Lake Latonka, Pa., about an hour north of Pittsburgh. Field limited to 70 runners. 

“The truth is, I have no desire to run a virtual marathon in September or any other month,” admits Courtney. “But it’s Boston, and I’ve got a long streak to extend. They’ve got me by the gonads.”

Joy Hampton, 73, retired social worker, Clarksboro, NJ.

Joy joy Hampton running in pink shirt.
Photo: Joy Hampton

Fast Facts

  • Hampton has completed 32 Boston Marathons in a row.
  • She has a best Boston time of 3:18:03 in 1991, and qualified by running 4:34:25 at the 2018 Rehoboth Marathon.

Hampton belongs to Boston’s Quarter Century Club for runners with more than 25 Boston finishes, and has the second-longest active streak among women runners. She hopes to extend it at the Sept. 13 edition of the Chasing The Unicorn Marathon in Washington Crossing, Pa. Normally this event, run out and back on the Delaware River canal path, is a last-ditch Boston qualifier. This year, it has permission for 220 runners to start in waves of 25 each with a 30-second gap between waves. 

Hampton’s recent Bostons have been tough. Last year she had a bad case of shingles, running in pain. In 2018, the cold, stormy weather caused her to become hypothermic and to fall just short of the finish, striking her head on the road. A policeman rushed to her side, offering assistance. “Don’t touch me,” she said. “I’ve got to finish on my own.” From the medical tent she was whisked to a local hospital for wound-cleaning and stitches in her scalp.

No fan of summer heat, Hampton hopes only to complete the distance on Sept. 13. “I don’t care about my pace,” she says. “I’d just like to break 6 hours. At my age, I don’t want to wait another year to get my 33rd Boston. It’s wonderful that we can do it virtually. I’ll hope for number 34 next April.”

Dan Larson, 69, retired physician, Queensbury, NY.

Dan Larson racing in white tank that says "YALE".
Photo: Dan Larson

Fast Facts

  • Larson was planning to run his 50th Boston last April.
  • He has a Boston PR of 2:27:41 from 1978, and always runs in a Yale singlet.

Larson’s not happy about this Boston-in-September virtual thing, as he has always enjoyed cross-country skiing through the winter to get ready for Boston-in-April. Summer heat? Not so much. Most recent summers, he has run just 5 to 10 miles per week, spending much more time on his bike. To prepare for a Virtual Boston in September, he ramped up to 30 miles a week in August.

He and his wife Victoria, who has been to every Boston since 1978, have had other new responsibilities of late: babysitting his two grandchildren of his daughter, Sunny, and her husband. They joined the household in March, seeking rural escape from Covid-19. “I don’t know how I managed to train when I was working 50 or 60 or 70 hour weeks,” Larson reflects. “Maybe I was younger and more energetic then.”

Long known as a free-spirit by his friends, Larson says he has no idea when or with whom he will run his Virtual Boston. “Planning is overrated,” he claims. He’ll likely trace neighborhood loops in the early morning with Sunny, while a few friends will tag along for the final miles. “I had intended to run my 50th and final Boston last spring,” Larson notes. “Now I’m not sure if I will do the real thing again when it reappears, like Brigadoon out of the mist.”

Dave McGillivray, 66, Boston Marathon race director, North Andover, MA.

McGillivray in blue finishing a race with arms up as two children hold the banner.
Photo: Dave McGillivray

Fast Facts

  • McGillivray dropped out of his first two Bostons, and has since completed 47 in a row, with a best time of 2:29:58.
  • He qualified for Boston as a member of the Quarter Century Club.

McGillivray has already run one Boston Marathon this year, as he covered the distance on April 20 (the original Boston 2020 date) by running seven laps of a 3.6-mile road loop in his neighborhood. However, he’ll be out there again on September 7, likely on the same local roads. “I want to “play by the rules” for the Virtual Boston, so I’ll do it again, mostly alone, maybe with a few family members part of the way,” he says.

That will give McGillivray three marathons for the year, as he also ran 26.2 miles (and cycled 40 miles) in mid-August to celebrate his 66th birthday. “At least at the Virtual Boston, I get to run in the morning and not be on my feet all day, and then go out to Hopkinton to start my personal marathon at 5 or 6 pm.” That has been his habit since he assumed Boston Marathon race director responsibilities in 1988.

“When I finished my first Boston in 1973, I committed to myself to run Boston EVERY year for the rest of my life,” McGillivray says. “Since I’m not dead yet, I have to keep the commitment!”

Phil Stewart, 70, race director Cherry Blossom 10-Mile, editor Road Race Management, Bethesda, MD.

Phil Stewart running Boston in a bright yellow hat.
Photo: Phil Stewart

Fast Facts

  • He has run Boston 24 times with a best of 2:19:58 in 1975.
  • He qualified for Boston with a 4:18:04 at the 2018 NYC Marathon.

Stewart has one of those simple, mathematical goals that many runners find so personally compelling. He wants to be able to say that he ran Boston in six decades of his life: 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. To achieve his goal, now that he’s 70, he has entered the Sept. 12 Pine Creek Challenge Marathon (and ultras) in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. The course is mostly a rail-trail, with a world class start/finish address: 176 Straight Run Road. (Honest!)

Stewart suffers from the same neurological condition, dystonia, as his friend and fellow Bethesda resident, Ben Beach. However, Stewart’s case has proved much less severe, and he has run some excellent marathons in his late 60s.

“I’m running the Virtual Boston in case it ends up having to serve as my ‘Boston Marathon in my 70s,’” says Stewart. “I will also consider it as my 25th Boston Marathon, since I’m not sure I’ll be able to qualify in the future.”