Updated – April 18, 9:10 a.m. – Bethesda resident Ben Beach completed his 50th consecutive Boston Marathon on Monday, finishing with a time of just over five hours. The time keeps his record finishing streak alive and allows him to go for a 51st consecutive finish in 2018.
— Andrew Metcalf (@AJwatchMD) April 17, 2017
— m2c4 (@tidalsoundings) April 17, 2017
Original story – April 11 – Ben Beach is preparing for a weekend that will take him 26 miles through Boston and atop the pitching mound at Fenway Park.
The 67-year-old Bethesda resident is planning to finish his 50th straight Boston Marathon on Monday—a record for the most consecutive races, according to race organizer the Boston Athletic Association.
Fifteen years ago, this shot at a golden anniversary seemed unlikely.
That’s when Beach was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes the muscles in his left hamstring to contract involuntarily.
“It screws up my gait,” Beach said last week during an interview with Bethesda Beat. “My right leg tries to compensate for it so if you’d see me out on the trail you’d say ‘wow, that guy has a serious problem.’ But I’m not injured, I just have this wacky gait.”
After he was diagnosed Beach thought he may have to give up running, but he pressed on and something interesting happened—his body adjusted to it.
“It’s amazing that I can still run at all,” Beach said. Botox shots he gets at the National Institutes of Health help stabilize his hamstring and prevents further injury. “It’s not painful in and of itself. It just makes my running very awkward and tiresome.”
Despite the condition, the former state department editor has kept his streak alive with persistence. Before kicking off in Hopkinton on Marathon Monday this year, Beach has been cycling and training on an elliptical machine to build endurance as well as doing low mileage runs. He recently ran the Cherry Blossom 10-mile run in Washington, D.C. on April 2. Beach has ran that race every year since it was founded in 1973 and is the only individual to finish every edition of it.
“I don’t do the kind of training that any self-respecting marathoner would do,” said Beach, who once clocked a 2 hour and 27 minute marathon. “There’s no real substitute for actually running, but all these other things keep me in some sort of condition.”
Provided by Ben Beach
Beach in his first Boston marathon
He’s also had some help keeping the streak alive. In 1968, the race director reluctantly let him sign up as an 18-year-old Harvard freshman despite not having any marathon experience. Four years later, he entered the race with a nagging knee problem and about three or four miles in he started looking for the bus that picked up stragglers. It wasn’t there and a nearby police officer told him the bus wasn’t coming around so he kept running, his knee numbed up and he finished the race.
A decade ago, Beach failed to make the qualifying time for his age group for the first time, but he caught a break from the Boston Athletic Association, which allowed runners with significant streaks to keep participating in the race.
When the Boston Marathon bombings happened in 2013, Beach was a little more than halfway through the race when the organizers’ shut it down—putting his finishing streak at risk. The Boston Athletic Association later ruled that anyone who had made it halfway through the race at the time the bombings would be counted as a finisher—a technicality that kept the streak alive.
Beach’s family will be with him Monday for support.
“My sons may run alongside me part of the way,” Beach said. “They may have plans they have not shared with me. They like the element of surprise.”
He’ll also take the field at Fenway Park Sunday, the day before the marathon, to throw out the first pitch. He has long been a Boston Red Sox fan. He said the opportunity came about because a friend who has a stake in the Red Sox thought Beach throwing out the pitch would be a good way to commemorate his streak. The friend talked to Red Sox officials and they agreed it would be a good idea, Beach said.
Beach noted that Easter Sunday will also be his late father’s birthday.
“My father died about 12 years ago and he was an enormous Red Sox fan,” Beach said. “That moment will probably choke me up.”
Like the race, Beach is preparing for the pitch too.
“I’ve been working on my throw so I won’t embarrass myself,” the Edgemoor resident said.
But will this be Beach’s last marathon? Probably not. He ran the 2016 marathon in 5 hours, 31 minutes and 21 seconds—more than 20 minutes below the six-hour cutoff time the Boston Athletic Association requires him to finish by to maintain his streak.
“My plan has always been to keep running as long as I can,” Beach said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Beach makes his way through the streets of Boston in last year's marathon. Provided photo.