Cole was the oldest finisher in the 2019 Boston Marathon. His name isn’t listed in the results as he finished after the six-hour cut off. Although he started running in high school, Cole didn’t run a marathon until he was 72. Now 86, Cole, from Harwich MA, has a lot of great running memories. In 2018, he served as co-grand marshal of the Boston Marathon that honored the 100th anniversary of the WW1-era Boston Marathon of 1918. The grand marshals were selected for their past military service. Cole himself served in the Korean War. As an athlete, Cole’s first passion was hockey. He ran just to stay in shape for his favored sport. When he was 82, he finally quit hockey. “My team was better off playing short-handed," he jokes.
Career-profession? I retired in 1997 after a career as an administrator and economics professor at the University of New Hampshire and later an economist in the private sector. I was active in Harwich politics as a selectman and on several committees on Cape Cod. For many years I volunteered to drive disabled veterans to appointments at the Providence VA Medical Center.
When did you start running and why? I started running my senior year at Vermont Academy in the spring of 1951. It was a school requirement to play a sport for three seasons. I wasn’t good at baseball - I was the local strikeout king – so took up running. My specialty was the quarter mile. I got my letter but was just an OK runner.
After high school I pretty much stopped running. Ice hockey was my passion but I did some running to stay in shape. During my corporate years I ran the corporate challenge but that was a joke. But then in the summer of 2005 I got a flyer in the mail from the American Stroke Association to run a marathon. My wife had suffered a stroke in 1987 (and survived). I felt it was time to give back and signed up for the 2006 Phoenix Marathon. That was actually my first official race and marathon. I finished in 5:30.
How much did you run in your peak years? I've run nine marathons total, including three Bostons. After my first marathon, I got serious about training and followed an 18-week training program by Hal Higdon. I logged upward of 50 miles in a week, including a long run of 24 miles. In non-marathon years, my weekly mileage was more like 35-40.
How much are you running and cross-training now? Now I normally run five days a week, a mix of short runs and long runs, an average of 25-30 miles, plus some bike riding in good weather. I even do roller blading sometimes.
Top/Memorable performances? My most memorable experience was running the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon. Early in the race a young Korean-American guy passed me. He noticed that I had printed on the back of my Army tank top I was wearing the legend "F Co., 5th RCT (Regimental Combat Team), Korea, 53-54." So, as he went by, he said, "If you had not been there, I might not be here." That sure made my service there worthwhile.
Other memorable races include my 85-89 age group win (1:21:55) at the 2019 USATF Masters 10 Km Championships hosted by the James Joyce Ramble, and prior to that, the 80-84 age group win at the same event in 2014. I also won those age groups in the Falmouth Road Race.
Any recent race results? Yeah, a pretty bad one! In Feb 2020 I ran a 5K in 49:39. I limped through the race, which explains the abysmal time. Probably shouldn't have run it, as I've had mobility problems ever since. But the beer afterwards was a very satisfying double IPA.
Does it bother you that you are slower now? Of course!! What really bothers me is that my times are declining faster than the Ray Fair model says they should.
Diet or weight changes? While training for my first marathon back in 2006 I lost 20 pounds and have kept them off. In general I follow a mostly Mediterranean diet, but I’m not giving up a good steak to shave off a minute or so in a race!
What injuries or other health issues have you faced through the years? How have you dealt with these? I’ve experienced both highs and lows in health issues. At the low end, in 2006 I had bursitis in my right hip, which was painful. In 2010 I developed osteoarthritis in my lower back. Not much you can do but keep exercising and stretching and applying pain patches.
Now the big ones. In 2014 I started experiencing a shortness of breath walking upstairs, puttering around the yard, and while running, too. I had read a story about Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray having coronary disease and decided to get a check-up. Like McGillivray, it was discovered that while I was fit, I wasn’t healthy. I had an irregular heartbeat and a pacemaker was implanted. My cardiologist recommended I slow down a bit, but I didn’t. I feel fine. Am I stubborn? I guess so. I’d prefer to say I’m persistent. I work hard. I suppose I’m a Type A with a lot of nervous energy and I like to be physically active. I think all this is good for my health.
In 2015 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent six weeks of radiation therapy. A few days after my final treatment I ran a 5-mile race on July 4th.
I’m now thinking of getting a hip replacement and talking to doctors. I’ve been reduced to walking with a cane due to the pain. From what I’ve researched, I think I’ll still be able to run so I have hope!
From the comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It’s a take-off on the military saying, “We have met the enemy and he is ours,” which derives from the infantry objective of "closing with and destroying the enemy."
Three tips for other would-be lifetime runners?
1--Set goals and keep at it.
2--Understand why you are doing it and what the objective is. Is it health? Competition?
3--If you are serious about competing, hire a coach, and see how good you can be.
How does running & fitness improve your life? My limbs aren’t atrophying! I’ve been fortunate through running and overall exercise to feel fit at my age. People say I’m still sharp as I was when teaching. And running has brought me to so many fun venues and I’ve met wonderful people that I look forward to seeing (and hopefully beating) and calling them friends.
What are the biggest lessons (life lessons and running lessons) you have learned from running? As mentioned above, the importance of setting goals, working towards them, and the rewards of accomplishing them. Without goals, life can devolve into drifting. You just drift through life. I’ve had a few drift moments in my life and I can say that being active, whether it is running or playing hockey, is far better than drifting. Even with the bumps and bruises.