The Boston Marathon can seem daunting for those unfamiliar with the 26.2 mile course, but for Bennett Beach, it’s old hat. He’s already done it 49 times.
The 67-year-old ran his first Boston Marathon in 1968 at the age of 18. Since then, he’s never missed a race. This year will be a major milestone for Beach. If he finishes, he will be the first person to have completed 50 consecutive Bostons.
As the marathon regular prepares to continue his streak, Beach shared five helpful hints for having a successful Marathon Monday:
1. Pace yourself.
The excitement and energy of Hopkinton can be contagious and make you want to run a little faster than you originally trained, but Beach’s best advice is to reign it in.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the early miles,” he said. “You’re feeling good; the crowds are big; people are going downhill so, boy, there are a gazillion of us going out too fast — and then you’re coming out of Upper Newton Falls, and you’re like, Uh oh, I should have gone at least a half-a-minute slower back in Framingham or Ashland!”
2. Don’t forget to bring a jacket.
It looks like mom’s advice holds true for the marathon running, too.
“I have this windbreaker, and about eight years ago I decided to take that with me, and I can tie it around my waist. It’s not much of an impediment because it is very light. It doesn’t do a whole lot in the rain, but it does help when you pick up these headwinds when you head into the final miles.”
Still, after fighting through howling winds and torrential rain during the 2007 Nor’easter, Beach said he “was scared silly” and learned that there’s only so much runners can do to prepare for unpredictable weather.
“If there’s a perfect thing for bad weather, I haven’t come upon it,” he said.
3. Mentally prepare for “the longest two miles in the world.”
Beach never looks forward to the two-mile homestretch between Cleveland Circle and Coolidge Corner. “They may want to remeasure that because I swear every year it gets longer,” he said. “It just never seems to end.”
To push through, Beach recommends visualizing the payoff. For him, that involves thinking about anything from his family and friends to the food waiting for him at the finish line.
“More and more over the years, I’ve tried to think of each step as getting me closer to the finish so they add up, but I think that is sort of a typical marathoner’s mindset,” he said. “You visualize going through Kenmore Square and making the right turn onto Hereford and making the left onto Boylston, and then you see the finish. So visualizing what the payoff will be and how happy you will be if you can just drive your way through those tough miles and hills is helpful.”
4. Run through a list of the U.S. senators.
When visualizing the payoff isn’t cutting it for Beach — who never listens to music while tackling the race — the Boston regular said he tries to distract himself with a less conventional approach.
“Another thing I started to doing in recent years is I will run through the U.S. senators. I know their names, so I will start in Maine and then end up in Hawaii,” Beach said. “I may do the presidents, but that takes less time.”
5. Get familiar with all the Newton hills, not just Heartbreak.
Heartbreak Hill may get all the hype, but Beach said it’s the other hills runners need to worry about.
“Be prepared for that hill when you come out of Newton Lower Falls and you cross over 128. That’s a tough spot, and it’s not technically considered one of the Newton hills,” Beach said. “I often start to feel the miles there, and often there’s a crosswind or headwind so that’s a spot to be prepared for. And then when you’re into the Newton hills, even well into my years of running this, I would get confused. I’d look around and ask myself, ‘Where am I in these hills?’ It’s easy to get confused especially when you’ve just run all those miles and you’re not thinking so clearly anyway.”
Beach also had a few additional tips for spectators along the course.
“Stay for the slower runners,” he said. “I’m really grateful to the spectators who stick it out until mid afternoon when I’m finally making my way down Beacon.”
He added that as a self-proclaimed Red Sox superfan, he always appreciates getting score updates from the crowd during the annual morning game at Fenway. “That game is one of my favorite traditions of the day,” he said.
Photos: The Boston Marathon through the years