Marathon Man

Marathon Man

Ben Beach '67 holds the record for most consecutive Boston Marathons: 54. He ran his first Boston Marathon in 1968 when he was 18 years old. In 2021, he completed his 54th, finishing in 5:47:27. But he has also kept pace by keeping his Govs classmates connected over the years as a class secretary.

GOVS:
What started you on your running career?

BEN:
In elementary school, I figured I would grow up to be a Major League shortstop for some lucky team. That expectation slowly lost altitude, and then, sophomore year, I was cut from the JV squad; I realized I wasn't even good enough to play on a high school team. One problem was that everyone around me was getting much taller and stronger than me. By the time I graduated, I wasn't more than 5'2" or 5'3".

I began to run a bit and thought maybe my size was an advantage. As a senior, I did a five-miler with classmate Ray Huard '67, a three-sport future Govs Athletic Hall of Famer. One cold and soggy Wednesday in April, I sat in my Eames room listening to the radio and came upon the Boston Marathon broadcast. I thought to myself. "These guys are running 26 miles in the sleet! That is bizarre—and I think I'd like to do it next year." You had to be 18 to enter, and I would be by then.

I didn't have a clue about how to train. I was a coxswain for crew, so I ran a couple of miles a day with the oarsmen. In the last month before the race, I tried to add a mile per day—it was a stupid way to train. Fortunately, there were only about 1,000 entrants in those days and no qualifying standard. The temperature was 70-something, and as I rode the bus out to Hopkinton, I thought I had made the mistake of my life. But it all worked out, and after three hours and 20 minutes, I was running down Boylston Street toward the finish at the Prudential Building. Thousands of people were cheering for this JV reject. It was a moment I doubt I'll ever forget.

GOVS:
What does marathon training entail for you?

BEN:
After the first few years, once I learned how to train, I would begin increasing my mileage on January 1, building up to 90-mile weeks, including a 22-miler on the weekend. Plus, speedwork at the track once a week. As I approached 50, my legs needed more days off, so I began supplementing the running with other exercise.

At age 53, I suddenly was hit by a movement disorder called dystonia, part of the Parkinson's family. For some unknown reason, my brain started sending a signal to my left hamstring whenever I took a stride. The message was to contract instead of extend. The result is a very awkward gait that has slowed me tremendously and limited my mileage. I am grateful that I can run at all. It's amazing how adaptable the human body is. Nowadays, I manage only about 25 miles a week, which is a far cry from marathon training. I cranked up the cross-training, doing two workouts a day. I use a rowing machine, weights, an exercycle, an elliptical trainer, and my bicycle. In the summers, I swim and do some kayaking. I stretch a lot.

GOVS:
You were training and ready for your 55th Boston Marathon, but a cycling accident derailed your plans. 

BEN:
On February 25, I went out for a bike ride and must have hit something in the road—may be a pothole. I have no memory of it, thank goodness. Next thing I knew, I was in the ER. I had internal bleeding in my brain (stable now) and fractured the #5 bone in the back of my neck, and the left side of my face took a big hit. But no broken legs!

I spent two nights at the hospital and was directed not to run or bike for a month. I spent five weeks in a neck brace. On April 4, two weeks before the race, my neurologist said I was recovering well, and he left it to me to decide if I was up to covering 26 miles. I've been riding an exercyle and walking — can I manage to do the marathon? We'll see. I try to remind myself that my luck has held up over the decades. 

GOVS:
What are your most memorable Marathon memories?

BEN:
Besides the first one and finishing my 50th, there were the years when we had to deal with extreme heat, heavy rain, or strong headwinds. And every year, as I pass by Fenway, I am greeted by about ten classmates who are treated to that day's Red Sox game by Bill Alfond '67. In my heyday, they had to leave the game a little early to see me. Now that I'm so much slower, even if the game goes into extra innings, they have to kill some time before I come stumbling into view.

By the way, I think it's great that David Abusamra P'93 began the tradition of taking a group of students to Boston every year to volunteer at the number pickup. I loved having a Govs student hand me my shirt. During last year's marathon, I got a kick out of knowing that Peter Quimby '85, P'14 was also out on that course somewhere.

GOVS:
What is the most challenging aspect of marathon running? And your biggest motivator?

BEN:
The greatest challenge is dealing with the uncertainties: injuries, unexpected cramps late in the race, and the weather. You have to be ready for anything.

The biggest motivator is the thrill of the finish, even if I'm totally wiped out. When I'm struggling out there, I keep reminding myself that each step carries me closer to the Hancock Building. I also think about family members, including my five grandchildren — the eldest of which was there for my 50th race!

Ben post-race with his daughter, Emily.

GOVS:
What was it like when your Class of 1967 honored you at your last Govs Reunion with a new outdoor track dedicated to you: the Bennett H. Beach '67 Track.

BEN:
Our class has always had a special chemistry, but I was astonished! Since classmate Chuck Davis '67 had taken the lead in the track donation campaign, I assumed his name would be on it, if anyone. 

GOVS:
How has GDA made an impact on you? 

BEN:
I was crushed the night in eighth grade when my parents told me they thought I should go to boarding school. We made a deal: I would go, but if I was still unhappy when they came up for Parents' Weekend five weeks later, I could climb into the station wagon and go home. 

Fortunately, by that time, I had become comfortable and saw that I was in the right place. I liked my new friends, enjoyed the sports, found the teachers stimulating, and I welcomed the day-to-day energy. I also liked the history and beauty of the school. Some of my closest friends today date from those four years in Byfield—former Trustee President Dan Morgan '67 is the godfather of one of my sons.

At the class of 1967 50th reunion, classmates honored Ben Beach '67 with a new outdoor track: the Bennett H. Beach '67 Track.

When we heard that the school needed a new track, a number of us thought what a nice gift from our class and why not name it for Ben. - Chuck Davis '67

"Ben has been instrumental in keeping our class in touch, and he is a runner of great renown, so it seemed perfect," added Davis.

"From our first year away from GDA and each other, Ben has been tireless in communicating; he keeps the radio turned on with each of us," Daniel Morgan '67 says. "Ben will randomly make a phone call, stop by for a visit if he happens to be in your city, or just send a postcard out of the blue."

"Ben has empathy and passion for Govs and our classmates," says Bill Alfond '67. "The successful giving rate of our class has been in 70-80 percent, and Ben deserves a lot of credit for rallying us to stay involved."  

Beach has also inspired classmates in other ways. "Ben's attitude is always upbeat," Davis says. "He certainly inspired me to run a few marathons myself. My three–one in Boston and two in New Yorks–pale compared to his!"

April 11, 2022: As of this story's publication, Ben has wisely decided to sit out this year's Boston Marathon and give his injuries a chance to fully heal.