(Aug. 2021) Ray Charbonneau started running as a quarter miler in high school, then took some time off for Doritos and beer. Since coming back, he has found himself drawn to marathons and beyond. Now, 60 and living in Arlington, MA, Charbonneau still feels the force, but also deals with a "brittle" body. He says that getting slower doesn't bother him as much as knowing "I'm going to keep getting slower." He advises other runners: "On race day, you can run faster than you’ve trained or farther, but not both." When not running (or cycling, or kayaking), he operates an independent IT company, writes books and articles, and helps freelance authors to publish their books on Amazon and other digital platforms.
Career-profession? After many years of corporate IT, I am now sole proprietor of ReallyFixIt.com, an IT service business, and y42K Publishing Services, where I helpindependent publishers with the technical aspects of getting their books out. I also do some freelance writing and have written five books on running and edited another.You can find out more at y42k.com.
When did you start running and why? I can’t remember not running, and not just because I’m getting old. I’ve almost always been in motion,unless I’m sitting and reading. I started more organized running on the track as a quarter-miler in high school, then took some time off to eat Doritos and drink beer before picking up road racing when I was in my early 30’s. I started running longer distances mostly because all the Doritos and beer were adding up, but I soon found I liked it for its own sake.
How much did you run in your peak years? Not as much as I would have liked. I’ve always been a bit brittle, never getting in as much as 2000 miles in a year. The only time I’ve ever run 100 miles in a week was when I did it in a day. When things were going well, I’d get into the 40s or 50s per week (if you count running-equivalent miles on a bike) on my longer weeks, interspaced with 20s and 30s.
I probably would have been more competitive if I focused on shorter races, but I always preferred to feed my addiction in longer events. Objectively, I was never anything more than a threat to place in my age group if a race was small enough. But subjectively, there’s a long list of things I’m proud of. Qualifying for Boston was a challenge, but I finally did it for the first time when I turned 40 and got a little faster. At 55, I won my age group at LakeTahoe and six weeks later ran a -9:42 mBQ at Rehoboth. I was one third of the 2012 USATF-NE Masters Marathon championship team (see quotes below). In 2005, I ran the Bull Run 50 Miler in Virginia, then in the following week ran all the Boston Hash Harriers marathon weekend events and a 3:48 at Boston, which included multiple beer stops along the way. (My picture was up on the wall of the bar I stopped at in Framingham, a bar sadly no longer there).
I’ve also finished the VT 100, guided a blind runner at Boston in 2013, qualified for Boston in 2014 (post-bombing) and 2018, where I ran with Amby and friends to celebrate his 50th anniversary of 1968.
Getting published has also been fun. I’m quite happy with some of the things I’ve written. And I’ve met a lot of fun, interesting people along the way. Those results count too.
Any estimate of your total lifetime miles? Just about 40,000 since I started running again. That’s pretty accurate as I’m one of those obsessive loggers. I still have my paper logs from 30 years ago.
Current running and cross training? The last few years have been tough in that regard. First, I ignored hamstring pain until I could no longer sit at my desk to work. That took most of a year to rehab. Most of my cross-training is on the bike, which has gotten much harder now that I’m not in “run a marathon whenever” shape. Biking is fine as a supplement, but when I’m forced to take time away from running, it just doesn’t cut it the same way as a lifestyle choice. I also kayak (great core workout) and my wife and I go cross-country skiing when climate change permits. I regularly do body-weight strength training at home, as much as I dislike it. And I try to stretch, just because doctors always ask if you do, but I never get any more flexible.
After stormy 2018 Boston Marathon.
Any recent races? With injuries and COVID, my most recent race was a slog through my hometown Turkey Trot in 2018. But I’m not dead yet…
Does gettting slower bother you? Getting slower doesn’t bother me that much. What bothers me is that I’m going to keep getting slower. Luckily, I’m so slow now that if I can put together any decent running at all, I’ll get faster again, at least for a while. One big motivator is remaining relatively fit as I get older. I may not be as fast or have the endurance I used to, but I know that my life is still better than it would be if I weren’t getting any exercise.
Diet and weight changes through the years? I weigh about 5-7 pounds more than I “should”. I actually got down to my fighting weight when COVID started and we weren’t going out to eat as often, but I got over that as COVID-time went on. My diet is fairly typical American, though the last few years I’ve eaten more veggies in the summer as my wife and I try to eat through our weekly farm share.I take a multivitamin daily. Not sure if it helps. I also take a few meds to help combat general oldness, which probably also help my running.
Injuries or other health issues? Calf strains are probably my most common problem, but I am rife with general inflammatory issues. While training for my first marathon, I came down with both an ITB problem and plantar fasciitis. The podiatrist I went to took a look at my rigid cavus feet and told me I’d never run a marathon. Another time I had a problem that only bothered me when I was running, and a doctor told me it was a good thing it wasn’t anything important. So finding good medical care is an issue. Of course, if I were a better patient and didn’t try to run through everything that wouldn’t matter as much. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.
Any favorite inspirational quotes? “If I didn’t run when something hurts, I’d never run.”--me. "I’m always happy to be the slowest guy on a fast team."--me again “We are all an experiment of one.”--George Sheehan
Three tips for hopeful lifetime runners?
1--LSD (Long, Slow Distance) is the most important part of your marathon training unless you’re one of the gifted few.
2--Decide what you REALLY want. If you want to perform as well as possible, you need to specialize some, and can’t go all-out all the time.
3--On race day, you can run faster than you’ve trained or farther, but not both.
How does running and fitness improve your life on a daily basis? I’m much more tolerable to be around when I’m running. Ask anyone who knows me.
Biggest life lessons learned from running? If you keep taking the next step, sooner or later you reach your goal.