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Boston Marathon

After 54 straight Boston Marathons, Bennett Beach reflects on his historic streak as it comes to an end

Bennett Beach made it 50 straight on the streets of Boston in 2017.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

There were no qualifying standards when Bennett Beach ran Boston for the first time in 1968. To obtain a starting number you only had to convince Jock Semple, the race’s wary Scottish sentinel, that you could go the distance.

“What makes you think you can run 26 miles,” Semple would ask when supplicants phoned, his Glasgow accent always coming through.

“Jock was very skeptical of me,” recalled Beach, now 72, who then was a Harvard freshman with no running resume. “He was understandably concerned about guys who were doing this as a fraternity joke.”

Beach was persuasive enough to get an entry form and when he finished the race on Patriots Day in 3 hours, 23 minutes, and 50 seconds, he was hooked. “That was the thrill of a lifetime,” said the longtime resident of Bethesda, Md. “To be running down Boylston Street to the Pru with thousands of people cheering and my name being announced — that was a mind-blowing experience.”

That was the first of his 54 consecutive completed Boston Marathons, a record for all global 26-mile races. The streak will come to an end this year in the wake of a bike crash in late February that cost Beach weeks of training time and convinced him that the odds of running up to his standard were daunting.

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“I hadn’t run a single mile in March,” said Beach, who tried to compensate by walking, riding a stationary bike, and using an elliptical trainer. “Maybe I could manage to complete the course, but it was a poor bet and I didn’t want to put my family through so much worry.”

Beach always had been able to cover the course capably and in his younger years he was more than competitive. He finished 34th in 1985, ran 2:27:26 in 1981, and shares the race record for most sub-2:40 clockings (17) with the legendary Johnny (the Elder) Kelley.

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“Obviously you need to have a lot of luck and I have had a lot of luck,” observed Beach. “My injuries always seemed to be minor enough that I could get through it and there weren’t that many.”

His biggest challenge came in 2002 was when he was diagnosed with dystonia, a neuromuscular disorder that disrupted his running gait. “I really thought that was the end,” Beach said. “The lesson for me was the adaptability of the human body. So although my stride was messy at least I could keep going.”

Beach kept going for two more decades and was optimistic that he could post No. 55 on Monday until the crash upended everything. “I just [lost] too much time,” he said. “I told myself, this is a fool’s errand. It’s been great but not worth killing myself. But I’m grateful that I’ve been able to keep at it.”

As popular as last autumn’s rolling start was with partcipants, the BAA will revert to its usual format on Monday now that the field has returned to its customary 30,000 runners, up from 18,000 last time.

“A larger field and less time,” explained race director Dave McGillivray. “The cities and towns gave us an extra hour last fall. That’s why we started the race at 9 [a.m.] and not 10. Because we have less time and more people this year, we can’t deliver transportation-wise on a schedule that would allow a drop-and-go. It would never work.”

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What race organizers have done is tighten the transportation timeline to reduce the wait for the fourth and final wave which starts 75 minutes after the first group. “So at least those on the back end aren’t going to have to wait that long,” said McGillivray.

Monday’s weather should be favorable for runners with sunny skies, temperatures around 50 degrees, and a moderate breeze.

“It’ll be chilly in the morning so it’ll probably be one of those years where we have more trash and leftover clothes,” said McGillivray. “People will bundle up and right before the gun they’re going to start taking things off.”

Defending champ sidelined

Kenya’s Diana Kipyokei, who won last year’s women’s race in her Boston debut, isn’t back to defend her title due to an unspecified complication with World Athletics, the sport’s governing body.

“There was a situation in which she was involved that they are investigating,” said her agent Gianni Demadonna. “She is not suspended. She wanted to come back but it was better not to come back until the problem is clarified.”

Scheduling quirks

After last year’s COVID-scrambled calendar, the Abbott World Marathon Majors series is being held entirely in one calendar year for the first time in 2022, having previously been held on a two-year cycle since it launched in 2006. The series, which includes Tokyo, Boston, Berlin, London, Chicago, New York, and the world championships, awards $250,000 each to the man and woman with the most points in two qualifying races. Albert Korir is the reigning men’s titlist and Joyciline Jepkosgei and Peres Jepchirchir the women’s co-champions. All of them are running here on Monday.

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Happy anniversary

This is a notable year for Boston Marathon anniversaries: The first race, starting in Ashland, was 125 years ago; A freight train cut off the leaders from the rest of the field in Framingham 115 years ago and Tom Longboat went on to win easily; The distance was changed to the official 26 miles, 385 yards 95 years ago; Korea’s Yun Bok Suh became the first Asian victor 75 years ago and the only man to set a world record on the course; Johnny (the Younger) Kelley became the only BAA runner to win 65 years ago; Race official Jock Semple tried to rip off Kathrine Switzer’s number 55 years ago; Eight women were the first to officially compete in the race 50 years ago; And Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley staged their “Duel in the Sun” 40 years ago.