(4-19) Ben Beach has run and finished 51 Boston Marathons in a row, and he'll be on the line again Monday morning in Hopkinton. Beach's streak is the longest in Boston Marathon history, and probably in world marathoning. The 69-year-old from Bethesda MD broke 2:30 four times in younger, faster days but now battles a rare neurological disorder that puts a "hitch" in his stride. It's not enough to stop Beach, however.
When did you start running and why? I enjoyed baseball, football, and basketball, but by age 16 it became clear that I lacked the size and strength to be successful in any of them. I started dabbling in running and discovered that I had an appropriate body for it. I was never on a HS or college team; I just ran on my own.
How much did you run in your peak years? Probably just over 100 miles/week, but I hit that only during a brief period while training for a marathon. In my peak years, I ran about 3,000 during the year.
Top race performances and/or proudest achievements?
I've run every Boston Marathon since 1968. My best marathon was in New York: 2:26:29 in 1981. In Boston I was under 2:30 four times and under 2:40 17 times. I ran the Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler in 53:15 in 1978.
An estimate of your total lifetime miles? This is a wild guess because I have almost no info from age 16 to 25. (But I wasn’t racking up too many miles during the first half of that span.) Since 1974, I’ve run about 75,000 miles.
How much are you running and cross-training now? Strength work? Stretching? My dystonia [see below] has ruined my gait, so I run only three days in an average week and probably total only 15 miles. In March (2019) I hit 102 miles, my first month over 100 in 13 years. Pathetic! I do at least two workouts most days, with a mix of running, biking, swimming (summer only), weight-lifting, rowing (on a machine), and use of an elliptical trainer and exercycle. I love the variety. I stretch a lot but remain tight.
Any recent race results? Embarrassing! I ran the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten-Mile in 1:44:45 on April 7, 2019. I believe that’s my only race the past six months.
Does it bother you that you are slower now and how do you stay motivated? Yes, it’s very frustrating that it takes me twice as long to run a marathon and that when I put in an hour on the roads, I have covered only five or six miles. I tell myself that at least my body is still capable of running. As my times deteriorate, I can still set goals and compete in my age group. I try to compare myself to other 70-year-olds rather than to Ben Beach at age 35.
Diet, weight, supplements? I weighed about 125 pounds when I graduated from college and am still 125, though I’ve probably grown a couple of inches. I have been taking glucosamine for a number of years in hopes it’s good for my joints. I tend to doubt that it is, but I haven’t heard that there’s any downside to the stuff, and I’m willing to pay for it (usually stocking up when it’s on sale). I’m not a big fan of supplements; I believe that if I eat a reasonably balanced diet, I’ll get what I need.
My biggest health issue arose when I was in my early 50s: a neurological disorder called dystonia. In my case, the brain, for some reason, tells my left hamstring to contract when I’m trying to stride. The result is a very awkward gait, to put it charitably. I get botox shots every four months, which help somewhat. I thought my running days were over, but the human body is incredibly adaptable. [Video, 12 years ago, of Ben and his awkward, dystonia-induced stride.]
What 3 short tips would you offer to younger runners who want to run for a lifetime?
2--Listen to your body.
How does running & fitness improve your life on a daily/weekly basis? I can’t imagine life without exercise. I certainly concur with all those studies showing the many benefits of exercise. One thing I particularly appreciate is the freedom to eat more.
What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned from running? Steadiness pays, and you get out what you put in. Pardon the platitudes! I want to stay healthy as long as I can.