Boston Marathon Runners Over-75 Form Internet Group
By Frank Bright
Had the Boston Marathon been run on Patriots’ Day in April of this
year, Tony Guttmannwould not have been able to run the race. He had contracted a severe case of COVID-19 in March. A visiting lecturer from London, England, apparently brought the disease to a mathematics conference in Tony’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia, and infected several people who attended his lecture or met with him, including Dr. Guttmann.
Tony, retired from the University of Melbourne after what a local newspaper described as “a long and fruitful career as one of Australia’s top mathematicians,” is part of what, over the past few months, has become a network, or community, made up of men, ages 75-79, who had qualified for and were entered in the 2020 Boston Marathon.
Another member of the network with a COVID-19 connection is Bob Johnstone, a practicing anesthesiologist at the medical school and hospital associated with West Virginia University. He is on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients.
The term “running community” did not exist in my part of the world in 1961 when I began running.I experienced the loneliness of the long distance runner. Much has changed in that regard. I am now part of a large running community in Shreveport, La., and using the Internet, I easily can contact the running community in any locale which I might visit, worldwide.
When I moved into the 75-79 age group, as a Boston Marathon qualifier, I thought that there could be efficient networking among the members of this smaller running community. Although the idea intrigued me, it wasn’t until I reached age 77 in 2020 and was “locked down” in April during the COVID-19 outbreak that I took the first step toward making something happen. The marathon had been postponed until September, so hopefully there was time to put the group together and have some communication among members before the running of the race.
It seemed to me that there would be a real desire, among those few of us who have been fortunate enough to continue our form of exercise at a relatively high level into our late 70s, to share past, present, and future experiences and also our ideas. I thought that this would turn out to be a very interesting group, and it did.
As a start I sent an e-mail to the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) FAQ seeking to have my spiel forwarded to the members of the male 75-79 age group, but my e-mail went unanswered. I had copied Jack Fultz with the e-mail, mentioning to the B.A.A. that he could vouch for me and that he might have some “stroke” with them. Jack lives in the Boston area and is well plugged into the running/biking community, having won the Boston Marathon in 1976, the year that the temperature went into the 90s.
My connection to Jack began through his two nephews, Daryl and Steve Fultz, who live in Shreveport. One day, about 10 years ago, Daryl approached me in the men’s locker room at the Downtown Shreveport YMCA. He said, “I heard that you are running the Boston Marathon. Is that right?”
When I answered in the affirmative, he said, “Well, my uncle Jack won the Boston Marathon.”
Assuming that this was a locker room tall tale, I replied, “Yeah, right Daryl, your uncle Jack won the Boston Marathon.” The name Jack Fultz didn’t mean anything to me. Up until that time, my main interest in the marathon was crossing the finish line uninjured and with a respectable time. In any event, Jack and I have become friends through Daryl, one mutual friend in Boston, e-mails, and several lunches squeezed into his busy Boston Marathon weekends over the past few years.
Since my pleading and his celebrity “cut no ice” with the B.A.A., Jack volunteered to help if I wanted to search the Internet for the 46 entrants worldwide. With not a lot to do, and being in “the demographic,” meaning old, it seemed like a good activity for me while waiting out the pandemic at home with Suzzanne, my wife of 50 years. Fortunately for this project, she is a tech-savvy person.
Having taken the lead in searching for “missing” classmates for my high school’s 50th reunion a few years earlier, I decided that an Internet search might be something I could handle. First, I needed the names and hometowns of the 75-79 age group entrants. This was available from the B.A.A. website.
Although I was unable to get one list of the entire group, it turned out that I could search for “males age 75” and get a list of those. Repeating the process for ages 76, 77, 78, and 79 produced the needed information. It was helpful to have the recent hometowns, as of the September 2019 registration period, which were on the B.A.A. entry lists. I felt in much better shape than when I was searching for my blue collar high school classmates from 50 years earlier, since jail sentences and flight from ex-spouses did not appear to factor into my new search. The search did turn out to be much easier than searching for my high school classmates.
Many of the age group runners are local legends, the subject of newspaper articles that show up when you “Google” someone’s name. One of my earliest searches, in fact, led me to a newspaper article, but not one about the man’s running. The article was a feature article about this man and his wife who were a big part of their community in the state of Washington. Bob Cremin was called a “captain of industry” in the January 2020 article. I was a bit intimidated by what I had read.
Undaunted, however, I continued and found a phone number for him which produced a wonderful telephone conversation.
Another way to find the runners was through local running clubs and running stores. This was how I found Joe Noonan wintering in south Florida and Roger Barker in southern Ontario, Canada. Newspaper and television sports departments were another source. Sportswriters in nearby towns led me to Joe Garcia in southern Alberta, Canada, and Colin Shaw in West Sussex, England.
Colin is a British runner who mentioned in passing that he had run five marathons before his full hip-replacement surgery and six marathons since. He also said that he had taken some falls while trail-running but none on the “tarmac.” This amazed me because, for most runners I have known, hip-replacement surgery in the United States basically ended their running careers.
The day after I first located and talked by telephone with Kenneth Williams of Corinth, Miss., his wife of 57 years died. Not knowing that he was dealing with the loss of his wife, I sent a group e- mail which asked for a response from everyone. He very considerately responded two days later by e-mail, even as he was preparing for his wife’s funeral.
After a couple of weeks of searching, the group numbered over 30. A lot of ideas began to circulate. Our younger son’s father-in-law is in marketing. He was the first to suggest a chronicle like this one. He suggested T-shirts! Someone said, “The group needs a name,” and suggested the BGs, not in honor of the singing group that we were all old enough to remember, but for Boston Geezers.
Someone suggested “Frank’s Bright Idea,” which I really liked, but I didn’t think that FBI T-shirts would be legal. Some other suggestions were The Bright Forum, Boston Seniors (BS), Boston Old Blokes, and Boston Bad Boys. Through a democratic voting process a name, The Bright Forum, was chosen. As with my friend who spent a year planning a retirement boat that took another year to build, the name was “the toughest part of the whole thing.” I was humbled by the selection.
I first reached Jean Larose of Quebec, Canada, by telephone, but since his first language is French and mine definitely isn’t, we now communicate most pleasantly and effectively by e-mail and Google Translate.
I suggested a few rules about 1) forwarding humor, or political, or religious e-mails (not allowed), 2) name dropping (allowed) and 3) bragging on your running, your career, or your family (also allowed).
Jack Fultz and Tony Johnson, a retired accountant from northern California, put the information gleaned from responses to a questionnaire and from biographical sketches from each of us, on an online accessible spreadsheet.
One questionnaire item was the number of current consecutive Boston Marathons run. Ronald Kmiec of Carlisle, Mass., was far and away the winner with 46. He is the founder of the Quarter Century Club whose members have finished at least 25 Bostons. Ronald is a concert pianist who once competed in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Russia. Joe Noonan of Mashpee, Mass., is second with 30 consecutive Bostons and Kenneth Williams has 17.
In addition to the two with the long streaks mentioned above, Phil Pierce of Falmouth, Maine, rounds out the top three in total non-consecutive Bostons run with 31. His longest consecutive streak of 19 was broken by a case of pneumonia.
The average age at which the runners began running is 43, and the average age at which they ran their first marathon is 51. A contributing factor to the late blooming is that we were already over 30 years old when the popularity of marathon running spread across the country in the mid-1970s. The youngest rookie marathoner in the group was 31, and three of the group tied for the oldest first-timer at age 69. The average number of marathons run is 36.
Ronald Kmiec leads the way in total marathons run by a large margin at 102. Dr. Johnstone has averaged running 50 miles a week for the past year, which is the most in the group. The average for the group over the past year is 31 miles a week.
I ran my first marathon at age 35 but began running as a senior in high school, beginning training in February and by early May winning the large-school Louisiana state track and field meet in the one-mile run. The college track coaches that recruited me must have recognized me as a “late bloomer.”
In the spring of my prior years in high school, I could be found at the baseball diamond carrying out the duties of student manager, statistician, and scorekeeper for an “all business” high school baseball coach. When some of the other coaches on the staff announced that all 5’6” and 120 pounds of me was going to run track (they knew that I had water-skiing endurance enough to ski until the boat motor ran out of gas and that, as basketball student manager, I could easily beat all of the varsity players in their pre-season distance running), the baseball coach had a terse reply, “no way.”
A compromise was reached in which I was to return to my baseball duties immediately if I didn’t “win.” Fortunately for my running career, I won. My college coach at Louisiana Tech, Jim Mize, lived to be 100 and long enough to know that he fostered in me a lifelong love of running.
My first marathon came after a couple of years of no running while struggling to get a solo law practice off the ground. At the end of a work day I was more “spent” than I had been during my years of running two hard workouts a day. I decided that I needed to change. I began running again and within two years ran my first marathon.
Another in our group, Peter Krasa of northern California, explained getting into running and then into marathoning. “I am an accidental runner. I was ultra-lazy way into college – so lazy that I would wait a long time to snag a parking space in front of a store, and several times, when a store’s electric doors malfunctioned, I complained to the manager that I was forced to manually push them open.
“Not only did I not run, but I kind of despised walking…until the day I broke both of my heels after falling off of a second story fire escape (no fire), being reckless. My doctor told me that I may never walk again, which made me recall and notice those who were on crutches, amputees, in wheelchairs, and paralyzed. I desperately vowed that if I were have a second chance with the priceless gift of mobility, I would celebrate and appreciate it for the rest of my life. I went nuts! I embraced all kinds of sports with fervor: like golf; tennis; skiing; biking; hiking; swimming; basketball; etc., and also a little running.
“I am an accidental marathoner. At age 43, if I hadn’t read that one sentence in the newspaper describing the Big Sur International Marathon, there is absolutely no way that a marathon would even remotely reside in my consciousness. That historic sentence was, ‘Buses will pick up stragglers.’ What a ‘no harm, no foul,’ no-brainer that was. It was an adventure invitation with no downsides. I somehow, miraculously, managed to complete the race in staggering fashion, and I was super stoked. That was the first of 31 consecutive Big Sur Marathons.”
In addition to biographical information like Peter’s story, one-on-one e-mails proliferated as we noticed and reacted to specific common interests and experiences, whether running related or not. A major item of discussion was when the next Boston Marathon would be run. There was grave doubt among the group as to whether a September marathon in Boston would actually take place. We now know that there will not be a 2020 Boston Marathon in Boston. A virtual Boston Marathon is planned for September. We also now know that we are all re-qualified but our acceptance has not been “deferred” to April 2021. More information on this has been promised by the B.A.A.
The big question now is whether we will be guaranteed a place in a 2021 Boston Marathon, which is presently scheduled for its normal date, the third Monday in April which is celebrated as Patriots Day. The B.A.A. has, in recent years, used a formula for accepting entrants who meet the “standard” set for each of the B.A.A.’s respective designated men’s and women’s age groups.
Not everyone who meets his or her standard has been accepted in recent years. For example, for 2020 the cutoff time for the 30,000 entrants was about 1 minute and 40 seconds faster than each respective standard.
Tony Johnson soon came up with another idea that was adopted and became popular with The Bright Forum (TBF). Tony created a Google Group. This was my first venture into the realm of social media. The same was true of others in the group. Initially it was not much different from the group e-mails that we had previously used, but soon I would get comfortable with some added helpful features.
In addition to the article I have mentioned about one of us recovering from COVID-19, other runners have shared articles about themselves as well as articles they have written. The latter have been both running related and otherwise.
We have learned that our resting pulse rates range from the mid-40s to the high 50s, with only one of us having a rate that is above 60. Most of us have rates in the 50s. We have shared book recommendations, both running related and otherwise. We have encouraged those dealing with an injury. Plantar fasciitis and meniscus knee surgeries are common ailments experienced over the years by the group.
Bob Cremin and I have each had two meniscus cartilage knee surgeries. The second surgery on my left knee was performed in early April 2013, after I put 10,000 miles on the first surgery. My orthopedist was amused by the mileage information. I had entered the 2013 Boston Marathon but could not run due to the surgery. Some local media outlets assumed that I was running and were concerned enough to contact me after learning of the bombing.
We now have an online-accessible spreadsheet with a lot of information about each other. We have an online forum where we can start a discussion or contribute to an ongoing discussion on such topics of interest as stretching, GPS running watches, walk/run regimens during a marathon, running shoes for races, running shoes for training, nutrition and hydration during a marathon, training programs followed, strength training, and the likelihood of a 2021 Boston Marathon next April.
There is potential for sharing our workout histories online, which I have never done. I have always been “old school” and recorded my workouts in my hard copy “Jim Fixx” running logs (I bought one the first year they were printed, 1979, and have used one every year to the present). I have never had the urge to share my workouts with anyone and knew no one who would have been interested in receiving them until I became a part of this group.
Some of our group raise money for charities through running the Boston Marathon. For example, Bob Cremin runs for Horizon for Homeless Children headquartered in Roxbury, Mass., and also for Achilles International, NYC.
The former helps teen mothers. “Their mission is simple. Help teenage moms with a kid(s) that need a job,” Bob said. “They teach the girl how to interview, how to find a job, and buy her a dress to launch her into the work force.”
He added, “Horizon cares for the child during the first year that the mom works. This charity concept is proven and starting up in other cities now.”
Achilles International, NYC helps athletes with disabilities to compete in events when they otherwise would not be able to do so. Bob said, “The organization has 40 U.S. chapters and 110 chapters on six continents. Achilles encourages disabled people to participate in mainstream athletics. They work with all kinds of disabilities: visual impairment, stroke, cerebral palsy, paraplegia, amputation, cancer, etc.”
Bob has provided both feet-on-the-ground and organizational support. “I’ve served as a running guide for 15 years and also on their Board of Directors. I’ve helped guide blind people and war-wounded amputees through the marathon courses to get their medals. In some cases, we’ve finished together in 10-plus hours, in the dark, after the finish line was shut down. We always get these athletes their well-earned medals,” he said. “We also build custom wheelchairs/hand cycles for newcomers to the marathon sport.Whatever it takes!”
Kenneth Williams was planning to run in 2020 for Martin Richard Foundation. Eight-year-old Martin Richard was killed in the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon. Kenneth was a half mile from the finish when the bombs exploded. He has established a relationship with Martin’s father which Kenneth says has been a blessing.
In conversation, a Shreveport friend suggested that TBF aggregate its mileage data and come up with the total lifetime mileage (at least since “recorded history” began). I have accurate data in my running logs for the past 40+ years. Many others of us have kept meticulous records. Some of us have had to estimate our mileage totals for all or part of our running careers. The grand total for the members of TBF who could come up with mileage records is over 1,040,000 miles, which is roughly the distance from Earth to the moon and back twice, or 40 trips around the Earth’s equator.
A million miles, wow! Jim White of Belleair, Fla., contributed the most lifetime miles, 107,000. That is over four times around the Earth’s equator! The average for our members is 37,300 miles.
Members of the group continue to amaze. Johnny Ouweleen, who just turned 80, was the overall winner of the Indian River County (Florida) 100 Mile Challenge run done over several days in June. He beat out over 600 competitors!
TBF’s big topic of discussion presently is the official Virtual Boston Marathon which is open to those who qualified and were accepted into the 2020 Boston Marathon. Tony Guttmann is regaining the fitness level he had in March before contracting COVID-19 and plans to run the Virtual Boston Marathon, hoping to overcome current Australian pandemic exercise restrictions. Specifically, he is limited to one hour of outside exercise no further than 5 kilometers from his residence.
In order to get the B.A.A. Unicorn medal and the official T-shirt and to extend a “Boston streak,” we have to run a marathon sometime during the period of September 7-14, 2020. There is no time limit, other than to finish on the same day that we start. The final details have not been worked out regarding submission of proof of completion. The virtual marathon cannot be used as a qualifying time for the 2021 Boston Marathon. I was hesitant to commit to the training in July and August for a virtual marathon, because of our heat and humidity, until Kenneth Williams shared his sentiments:
"I have been intrigued by the conversation of whether the members of this group were, in fact, going to participate in the Virtual Run or not. Maybe I’m missing something, but here are my thoughts:
"I’ve made the trip to Boston 18 times, run an average of 600 miles to get ready for each, spent an average of $5,000 each trip, neglected family and business as I trained for 3 months, rode a crowded Yellow Dog 30 miles; laid on the ground in heat, cold, or mud then chased the Unicorn back to Boston — all for bragging rights, a medal and a finisher’s shirt.
"So now the decision is whether I, within a few hours of 79 years of age, walk to the end of my block; jog, slog, walk and/or run 26.2 miles with no time limit and I get the same bragging rights, medal and finisher’s shirt? All this for 50 bucks? AND, I get to keep my streak alive? Maybe I’m missing something….maybe there is a Part B to the question that I didn’t see…..but if not, it’s a pretty quick and easy answer for me….I’M IN!!!!
"If I’m lucky enough to finish (COVID-19, injury, etc.), I certainly don’t plan on considering this medal ‘tainted’ or less important than the others….just as I don’t consider the one I got in 2013 tainted, when I was one half mile from the finish when the bombs went off, prohibiting my finish.
"Make sure you think through your decision not to participate….just because it’s ‘not like the ones before.’ Remember, you EARNED the right to run this race….you didn’t win it in a lottery. You have an opportunity available to you that a million runners would jump on. I know that we are probably all looked on as ‘freaks of nature’ that, at our age, we continue to run well enough for Boston. But, the window for us all is closing. Your time to add a medallion to your collection is very limited.
"Think through your decision carefully."
Another motivating factor for me was an effort, being made by some friends of the local running community, to organize the virtual run for six of us here in Shreveport. There will be aid stations every two miles. Each of us will have a cyclist or runner accompany us for the entire race. These motivations, along with the general need for a goal, have me on track to train for the virtual marathon in Shreveport’s worst heat and humidity.
Frank Bright, 77, is a retired attorney living in Shreveport, LA. He has finished 60 marathons (best, 2:44), including 14 Bostons.