Yet he will be at the starting line Monday morning, as he has been every Patriots’ Day since 1968, expecting to traverse the full 26.2 miles of the 115th Boston Marathon, past Wellesley’s shrieking collegians, up Heartbreak Hill and into the throngs at the finish, for the 44th consecutive time.
Now, Beach runs — even though he can barely run — because he cannot stomach the idea of the race going on without him. He finished in 4 hours 40 minutes 35 seconds last year.
“A lot of people wonder how crazy I must be to keep doing this, especially if they’ve seen me running. It’s not a pretty sight,” he said. “I’m just so caught up in the streak . . . I can’t seem to find a way to stop.”
To Carol Beach, Ben’s wife, this is normal. She does not worry about her husband, whom she met at a road race in Rock Creek Park. She does not fear for his health. She does not consider that he will not finish.
“The only way it would be,” she said, “is if he fell down unconscious during the race. He’s told me he would crawl if he had to. What am I going to do?”
She will just have to cheer. Years ago, she realized her husband’s annual jaunt through Boston’s heart was as much a mission as a marathon. Beach has run five labored Boston Marathons on a bum leg and 38 with two strong legs at impressive speeds. He has competed on pleasant days and in near-monsoons, in fields with Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit,
Rosie Ruiz and Uta Pippig.
Beach hopes to outlast his spirited rival in Boston streakdom: Neil Weygandt, age 64. Weygandt has run 44 straight Boston Marathons, which gives him a one-year edge on Beach for the all-time record. The two exchange holiday cards and greetings on race day, but there is no question each wants to outkick the other in the race for record longevity, and neither expects the other to quit.
“I just assume Neil is going to show up,” Beach said. “The two of us will stagger toward the finish, and chances are both of us will get there — though it takes longer and longer and longer.”
Beach ran his first Boston out of curiosity as a freshman at Harvard, finishing in 3:23.50. He ran for fun and competition for years after that, posting a personal best of 2:27.26 in 1981 — just 40 seconds behind the women’s winner.
He considered dropping out only once, when his knee got sore during his fourth race in 1972. He couldn’t find a ride to the finish, so he just kept running.
Beach earned a law degree at Catholic University, assisted with George McGovern’s presidential campaign, worked for a former Michigan lawmaker on Capitol Hill, met and married his wife, fathered three children, put them through college, wrote for various magazines and became senior editor at the Washington-based Wilderness Society as he knocked off one Boston Marathon after another.