The last time Ben Beach was around for a Boston Marathon broadcast, on the radio, Lyndon Johnson was president and Beach was a high school student. The next year he ran, and has kept that up for the last 54 years, setting the race’s record for consecutive finishes.
That’s where the record will end. This Monday, Beach, 72, will be watching, likely from home in Bethesda. After a late February bike crash left him with a broken neck, a five-week recovery period and seven weeks to go until race day, he decided last week that a two-week buildup was not going to set him up for success.
“I just thought this is a fool’s errand, and as much as I care about that streak and how the race has been part of my existance since I was 18 years old, I just thought it was stupid and and unfair to my family,” he said. “My family has been very patient over the years. For the last 10 years, they’ve just sort of held their collective breath as I push it a little too far.”
On Feb. 25, Beach was biking east on Jones Bridge Road, past Connecticut Avenue, when he pumped the brakes while heading downhill and went flying.
“I don’t remember what happened,” he said. “I guess I have a very brief memory of telling the guy who is picking me off the road that my wife was home, so he could contact her.”
As he lay in Suburban Hospital for two days while the bleeding in his brain was treated and his broken neck and orbital bone were addressed, Beach deduced that he must have squeezed the wrong hand brake on his bike that was recently tuned up, making the slowdown more dramatic than he intended.
Beach trained on an elliptical as his neck healed and held onto the hope that his doctor wouldn’t rule out a marathon a few weeks later. On April 4, he gave running a try.
“I did a little bit of running and I just realized how pathetic I had become,” he said, noting reduced training he had done on his feet over most of the last two decades as he grappled with dystonia, which has caused spasms in his left hamstring. “Before I decided that it was a stupid idea to run, I thought it would really be interesting to see if I could run this thing after breaking my neck.”
He has spurned friends’ invitations to join them in Boston for the race, to go to Red Sox game and soak in the atmosphere Beach has only witnessed from the other side.
“I’m sure you know there’s a part of me that dreads Monday, but a part of me is also curious what it will be like to wake up at home on Patriot’s Day when the race is supposed to go off,” he said.
Beach no longer has to qualify for Boston, so that gives him a healthy cushion if he wants to try to top Johnny Kelley’s 58 non-consecutive finishes.
“I don’t know, I always figured when the streak was over I’d be done, but I guess you never say never,” he said. “Right now, it would be a poor bet for someone to say, ‘oh I think he’ll be back out there in 2023.'”
Among his personal highlights are picking up tips on the race from experienced runners on the bus ride to this start of his first race in 1968, his 2:27 in 1981, his 34th place finish in 1985, the harsh weather in 2007 and 2018, forging his way to the edge the scene in the wake of the 2013 bombing and, of course, the 5:47:27 he spent on the course last year, in the race’s only Fall running. He broke away from Neil Weygandt for sole possession of the consecutive Boston Marathon finish streak in 2013.
Beach did, however, keep another, more managable streak going. He finsihed 10 miles, completing the virtual Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile and retaining his title as the only runner to complete every one of those races since 1973.
The National Park Service plans to reopen Beach Drive to cars for nine months of the year, but is accepting comments through Thursday.
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