Haverhill man getting ready for 75th marathon
HAVERHILL, Mass. (AP) — Jim Laprel may be the classic example of how the tortoise beats the hare.
Actually, the 58-year-old Haverhill runner may never win a race but, regardless of his speed or lack thereof, he will probably outlast the competition and be proud of it.
As far as numbers, there are few runners who can compare with Laprel, who started his running career as a 15-year-old Haverhill High junior cross country runner under the legendary Tony Sapienza.
Laprel recently competed in the Yankee Homecoming race for the 35th time in 40 years, he will be competing in his 35th straight New York City Marathon Nov. 4, he’s run in 40 Boston Marathons and he’s got streaks going at — among other races — the Gloucester 25K and the grueling Mount Washington Road Race, which he has run 33 times.
When he completes New York in November, Laprel will have completed his 75th marathon.
‘‘I like keeping track and I like streaks,’’ said Laprel, who has participated in more than 700 races in his career. ‘‘One of my heroes when I was young was Lou Gehrig because of his (consecutive-playing) streak.
‘‘It means something to me to keep going, especially with New York and Boston (marathons). One of the main reasons I run is that it’s part of a healthy lifestyle and it benefits you in a lot of ways.
‘‘I use those two marathons as my motivational tool for healthy living. My year is split into two parts, training for one or the other.’’
The sheer volume of Laprel’s distance races is noteworthy and almost any runner would have to be impressed. But, there are some who are not so impressed, if only because of his lack of speed.
There are now few races in which Laprel can run better than 10-minute miles, which makes his marathon times almost embarrassing. There have been six times when he has finished Boston in over six hours, a time frame which can cause problems.
‘‘There have been a couple of times when the (marathon) clock had been taken down before I finished, and that was stressful,’’ said Laprel. ‘‘I had to record my time on my watch and then contact the BAA to get it listed.
‘‘And then there’s the problem of getting home. I usually take the bus in with the (Merrimack Valley) Striders and I've missed the bus returning four or five times. I take a cab home and it costs $100. Now I just budget it into my (race) expenses.
‘‘I've been a member of the Striders since 1993 and it’s a little humiliating that some people in the club only know me as the guy who misses the bus or can’t break six hours.
‘‘They don’t realize that I used to be a fairly good runner, But even if my times are a little embarrassing, I'd rather run than not run.’’
In fact, Laprel was indeed once a pretty fair marathoner, recording a best time in Boston of 3:04:57 back in 1975, and he ran Newburyport’s 10 miles in 63 minutes in 1974, but a number of injuries have diminished whatever speed he had,
Over the years, Laprel has struggled through a stress fracture, hip injuries, a sprained ACL and a bad case of plantar fasciitis. But the toughest thing to deal with has been a chronic back problem that he has suffered through for more than 20 years.
‘‘What happened is that my back problem caused me to run less and that caused me to slow down,’’ said Laprel, who has recorded every mile he has run since high school and is closing in on 48,000 miles. ‘‘I'm the runner I am now because of my back issues. For the races I do, it’s all based on 15-20 miles a week.
‘‘A lot of runners hear that and say they'd never try to do what I do with that (limited) training, but I don’t have any choice.
‘‘I know some people consider me a hack and roll their eyes when they hear about all the races and how slow I'm going — I understand that — but I do what I want to do and I feel good about it.
‘‘Some people stop running because they don’t want to run and not be competitive, but not me. I'll keep doing it until I die. I want to keep feeling good and feeling good about myself.
‘‘That’s my goal and I can’t worry about what other people think.’’
That’s not a bad goal, especially for a tortoise.