The Boston Marathon is a bucket-list item for many runners, but for a select group, it is not just a lifelong goal but an annual event.
Finishing the race is not an easy task, but runners trying to maintain a consecutive-race streak face the added challenge of repeatedly getting to the starting line. Over the years, factors such as injury, illness, and life changes are additional hurdles to overcome.
But marathoners are a determined bunch, and many will do whatever they can to keep their streaks alive.
For Mark Buciak of Chicago, who will be lining up for his 43rd consecutive Boston Marathon Monday, not even open-heart surgery could keep him from running this race. After learning he had a leaky heart valve, Buciak, 62, underwent surgery in February 2006, just 11 weeks before that year’s Boston Marathon.
“It was definitely unchartered territory,” said Buciak. “And my cardiologist said, ‘You can’t run it’. But he didn’t say I couldn’t walk it. We made sure I was very cautious. But my first goal that year was to make it to the starting line.”
Buciak, who holds the eighth-longest active streak, is vice president of the runner-led Quarter Century Club, a group of Boston Marathoners who have completed 25 or more consecutive races.
Buciak almost missed his first. Qualifying as a college sophomore in Illinois, he debated the cost of traveling to Massachusetts until a supportive professor with Boston roots and a local banker helped fund his trip.
Of the 109 members of the QCC with active streaks, about half are from the Northeast and just a third from Massachusetts, making travel costs and logistics a legitimate obstacle for the rest.
A team dinner and bus ride to the start are not the only benefits of membership in the Quarter Century Club. According to the Boston Athletic Association, if they have completed the previous year’s marathon, runners with 25 or more consecutive finishes are allowed to register early for the next one without needing a qualifying time.
Seeking to join the club is John Gorman, 64, of North Andover. With an active streak of 22 Boston Marathons, and 33 altogether, Gorman has had his share of bumps in the road that could have prevented him from getting to Hopkinton.
Over the years, he has had broken bones, a torn meniscus, Lyme disease, prostate cancer, and most recently in February 2020, a pulmonary embolism that would have made for a tight timeline for recovery if that year’s race had taken place in April instead of being run virtually in September 2020.
“I had just recovered from a stress fracture in my foot,” said Gorman. “The end of January, I started training but I had a hard time breathing. I thought I was just out of shape.
“I actually had a double pulmonary embolism and was hospitalized. That was mid-February right around the time COVID hit. I wasn’t sure if [doctors] would let me run Boston.”
Gorman wasn’t the only runner whose streak was at risk in 2020. Former Boston resident Betty Yung, 38, now of New York City, would have been 35 weeks pregnant for the originally scheduled running in April, though she never considered not running.
“I was always going to attempt it, give it a shot, and hope that the crowds and the adrenaline would get me through,” said Yung, who will be running her 15th consecutive Boston Monday. “My goal was to try to run all the downhills and walk up all the uphills or any slight incline. And then give birth at Newton-Wellesley [Hospital] if I had to.”
Yung ran the Steamtown Marathon in Pennsylvania in 2019 while eight weeks pregnant. Despite being nauseated and under-fueled, she finished in 3:33:18, bettering her 3:35 qualifying standard and ultimately using the time to gain entrance to the 2021 Boston Marathon, the year the race turned down the most qualifiers to date because of a reduced field size.
Fortunately, Yung had completed 13 consecutive Boston Marathons at that time, and the BAA gives athletes who have completed 10-24 consecutive races access to an early registration period. The benefit has proven valuable in the years when the cutoff for entry was greater than the qualifying standard. In 2021, Yung otherwise would have needed to run 7:47 faster than her qualifying standard to keep her streak alive.
While some streakers treat Boston as a celebratory run after qualifying elsewhere, others seek to re-qualify at Boston each year to avoid the pressure of running another fast marathon prior to the next registration period.
“If I had my way, Boston would be the only marathon I run,” said Alain Ferry, 50, of Harwich. “Other marathons are just a path to Boston for me.”
Sometimes, especially in less-than-ideal circumstances, just finishing is the goal. Ferry will be running his 18th consecutive Boston Marathon this year, but he almost ended his streak in 2017 when he broke his fibula in March, just weeks before the race. Unable to bear his full body weight on the broken leg, Ferry never ruled out the possibility of running. A week before the race, he met with his doctor and discussed the possibility of completing 26.2 miles on crutches.
“The risk wasn’t of doing permanent damage or making things worse,” said Ferry. “The risk was twofold. One, it may take longer to heal. And two, it’s going to be really painful.”
Aaron Russell, 49, of New Albany, Ohio, is one of the newest members of the Quarter Century Club. He almost called it quits on Heartbreak Hill during the 2021 race, and while he did end up finishing his 25th consecutive Boston, he acknowledged that each year gets more difficult.
“We have five kids, and they have their own activities, and their sports are more important now than my running,” Russell said. “Most weekends are consumed with their activities. So life just happens. And going fast is not a priority. And even if it was, I’m not sure I could go much faster, unfortunately.”
Marie Caulfield, 52, of Charlestown has run almost 25 consecutive Boston Marathons as a charity fund-raiser. She began in 1996, but had two interruptions — in 2009 to go on a medical mission to Rwanda and in 2021 when she sustained a back injury.
Over the years, she has raised about $155,000 for various causes to honor several loved ones with cancer, and she hopes to add $10,000 more for Dana-Farber this year. Now her friends and family budget their annual charitable donations with her fund-raising in mind.
“[They] say, ‘We wait for your letter, we wait for your email. This is who we want to donate to,’ ” said Caulfield. “There are a lot of people that are not able to run, choose not to run, or … are not able to do the fund-raising. I’m just lucky that I have that ability.”
While their streaks and paces may vary, one thing these runners all share is the place the Boston Marathon holds in their lives.
“It’s just a great tradition,” said Gorman. “Everybody wants to run the Boston Marathon. I’ve been blessed to be able to run it, to [live] so close, and I really enjoy it. A legacy to be proud of.”
More 2022 Boston Marathon stories
- When will the world’s fastest marathoner run Boston?
- They were known as ‘bandit runners.’ But there’s little place for them in the Boston Marathon these days.
- Running has been a big part of ‘Bachelorette’ contestant Zac Clark’s recovery from addiction, and now he’s taking on Boston
- Tarzan Brown’s granddaughter hopes for a statue honoring him on Heartbreak Hill
- The Boston Marathon ‘streakers’ — those who run year after year — are a dedicated bunch
- Your guide to the 2022 Boston Marathon
- 2022 Boston Marathon: Here is the list of street closures and traffic restrictions
- Here’s how to keep track of your favorite runners during the 2022 Boston Marathon
- How to watch the 2022 Boston Marathon on TV or streaming