Boston Marathon

Why this 84-year-old runs the Boston Marathon

Left: Jimmy Green, four days before the 1960 Boston Marathon in his Boston Athletic Association singlet. Right: A recent photo of Green in his 1959 Pan American Games sweatshirt.

Jimmy Green ran the 1997 Boston Marathon with his son.

He was 64 years old, and it was going to be his last. He was sure of it.

And he was right—for 17 years, that is.

On April 15, 2013, when two bombs exploded near the marathon finish line, Green thought of the victims. He thought of the survivors. And he thought of his former running buddies who had passed away.


“I had, by that time, three or four close teammates that had died, including young Johnny Kelley, and that made me, I don’t know, think, ‘Boy, if these people were still alive they would be loving to run this race again, especially in honor of what happened,’” Green said recently while sitting in a rocking chair in his Marblehead home, an oversized running watch wrapped around his wrist.

To most, “young Johnny Kelley,” as Green calls him (not to be confused with “old Johnny Kelley”), was a Boston Marathon champion and two-time Olympian. To Green, he was a teammate and friend.


Left: Green runs a race in Hyde Park on March 29, 1958. Right: Green and Johnny Kelley at the race.

Green and Kelley both started running for the Boston Athletic Association in the 1950s, under the direction of Jock Semple. After Kelley won the 1957 Boston Marathon, he and Green took the gold and silver, respectively, in the marathon at the 1959 Pan American Games.

In 1960, Green, a Quincy native, finished third in Boston with a time of 2:23:37. He narrowly missed joining Kelley at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, losing a tiebreaker for the final spot in the marathon.


The following winter, Green believed he had a real shot at Boston’s laurel wreath, but a pulled hamstring ended that dream in March 1961.

“Sixty-one, if I ever had a year, it was that year,” he said. “But, again, that’s part of the game, getting injured.”

Green was the first man out on the 1964 Olympic team, too. He went on to run for the BAA for nearly 50 years.

Green in his Marblehead home with his energetic dog Panda.

Retired from teaching and 81 years old, in 2014 Green thought he’d run about 4:40 in Boston based on his finish in a 15-mile race he did when he was 79.


“But I turned 80, and Jesus, everything gets harder suddenly,” he said with a laugh. “I bottomed out.”

Green thought of his late teammates as he made the 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston. Each mile mark brought back a memory, a struggle from the distant past.

“I pushed myself kind of hard,” he said. “I didn’t walk one moment until I got opposite Fenway Park.”

After the race, Green found his wife, Michele, to whom he’s been married for 51 years. They went to a nearby restaurant.

“I started feeling a little dizzy,” he recalled. “Then I had a beer and some potatoes—typical Irish diet.”


He doesn’t know why, but someone thought to call a medic. His blood pressure was dangerously low.

Green trained through the brutal winter of 2015 and returned to Hopkinton in April to race again.

“When you get old, really old,” he said. “There’s not many adventures left.”

Green took more fluids and walked a bit more. His 5:35:27 from the previous year became a 5:57:54, but he came away unscathed.

After a series of injuries held him out in 2015, Green has been training every other day, almost always alone, for the 121st marathon. He often runs around Marblehead Neck or along the beach in Lynn.

“[My wife] didn’t want me to run this year,” he said, “but anyways, she wasn’t insistent on my non-running.”

The field of just 197 runners in 1960 has grown to more than 30,000. And on Monday, Green will be the second-oldest among them.

That morning, he’ll have his oatmeal—“a little bigger portion” than usual—and Michele will drive him to Boston, where he’ll board a bus to Hopkinton. They’ll meet again at the finish line.

“Hopefully, I’ll finish before it’s dark,” Green said, “but I’m not optimistic.”

Will this time be his last?

“I don’t know,” Green said. “That’s a good question.”

Photos: The Boston Marathon through the years

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