As a kid, Ben Beach tried football, basketball and baseball. But he didn’t have the right build. “I failed at other sports. I have a runner’s body,” says Beach, who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 125 pounds.
So at age 16, he started running—and he hasn’t stopped since.
The 71-year-old from Bethesda holds the record for the most consecutive Boston Marathons, completing his 53rd this past year. When the 2020 event was canceled because of the pandemic, runners were given the option of doing a timed 26.2-mile route elsewhere. Beach finished his in September, his sons, Carter, 40, and Evan, 33, each running about a half marathon with him through parts of Montgomery County, Virginia and Washington, D.C. (His 5-year-old grandson, Brooks, rode his scooter alongside him at one point, too.) Over the years, Beach has pushed through injuries and a diagnosis of dystonia, a movement disorder that has affected his stride for nearly two decades. “I started cutting back my mileage because my gait is so awkward that I’m prone to injury,” says Beach, who now wears gloves to cushion any falls. “It’s amazing to me that I’m not totally sidelined. Somehow my body has adapted to my weird running style.”
Beach ran his first Boston Marathon in 1968 when he was a student at Harvard. There were three years when he ran it in just under 2½ hours. Although he’s slowing down (last year’s time was 5:24), Boston race coordinators waive the time qualification for him and others who have completed at least 25 in a row. Beach is also the only person to finish the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in D.C. every year since it began in 1973.
How does he do it? Beach cross-trains (swimming, biking, rowing, lifting weights) and credits his regular medical treatment at the National Institutes of Health, an understanding family—including his wife, Carol, a fellow runner he met at a race in 1977—and fate. “You can’t have a streak like this without being lucky,” Beach says. He hopes to continue competing this year.