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Beeman eager to run 23d straight race

By Allen Lessels, Globe Staff, 4/15/2000

ike Beeman was far more basketball player than runner when he first got the urge to run the Boston Marathon.

''Running was a vehicle to get in shape for basketball season,'' said Beeman, now the boys' basketball coach and a business teacher at Londonderry High School in New Hampshire. ''But I started to like it more and more and any runner who gets the bug thinks about the marathon.''

Beeman ended up with more than a Boston bug. He got the full-scale, foot-race fever.

He ran a couple of marathons in the fall of his senior year at Merrimack College and qualified for Boston - he ran a 3:01 in 1978.

''Back then, when you're a senior in college, all you think about is what you're going to be doing on spring break,'' Beeman said. ''Your mind-set isn't futuristic. I don't think it really dawned on me until after maybe four or five in a row that I'd be doing this for a while.''

A while?

Beeman will get up sometime around 6 Monday morning at home in Derry and head to Boston to grab a bus to Hopkinton. He will try to catch a nap on a piece of lawn at the high school before going to the starting line for the start of another Boston Marathon.

''This is 23, all official starts and, knock on wood, finishes,'' Beeman said.

Twenty-three and counting. He qualified last fall in Lowell for next year's Boston. And has no plans to stop there.

The Boston Athletic Association, while it doesn't keep track of such things officially, hears that there are longer consecutive streaks around. Beeman, 43, is still chasing his own buddy, John Noftle, the running reverend. On Monday, Noftle plans to run in his 27th straight Boston - though some were without an official number. Noftle is 73.

''The sky's the limit,'' Beeman said. ''I want to keep going. I use John Noftle as the measuring stick. He's running at 73. If I could be running 30 years from now, that would be pretty nice, wouldn't it?''

Beeman's best Boston was a 2:37:08 in 1982 and he's shooting for 3:10 or under this year. Like most, he does not run primarily for the numbers, nor the times. But he loves the challenge.

''With me, it's part of my overall fitness regime,'' he said. ''I love to run. I like to run marathons. If there was not a qualifying time for Boston I might not run it. It has the element of something there to achieve. It's the carrot thing in front of me.''

There have been a whole bunch of carrots since that first one in 1978.

''I remember how intense the crowds were and how loud the level of the applause was,'' Beeman said. ''I remember the Prudential Center, where we used to finish, and how cold and dank it was. What a place to put 8,000 people after they finished running 26 miles. Back in those days, they had little fenced-in areas, little chicken cages where you got your baggage. It was real primitive.''

And he remembers sitting down on a curb.

''I looked beside me and there was a lady with a wreath on her head,'' Beeman said. ''Not in the limelight, mixed in with the crowd.''

The lady was Gayle Barron, the winner that year, the seventh year women were allowed as official entrants and the year before Joan Benoit won her first of two Bostons.

Frank Monahan, the coach at Merrimack in some of the school's basketball heydays and until last year a high school coach in New Hampshire, went to the Marathon that year to watch Beeman.

''Right by Boston College, I can see it to this day,'' Monahan said.

And his basketball player/runner?

''Once he set his mind to something, he always accomplished it,'' Monahan said. ''He always made his goals, be it making the team at Merrimack, being an outstanding student, running a good business, which he did, or being a terrific coach. He does a good job with the kids, always has. He's just a first-class guy.''

Noftle, who knows a little about marathon streaks, is a fan, too.

''It takes a lot of focus, a lot of time,'' he said. ''And Mike Beeman is the kind of runner who puts in the time.''

Beeman and Noftle tell about the days when Noftle ran his age on his birthday. Noftle was 61, maybe 62 that year, and broke the miles down into segments. Beeman ran 20 miles with him - 20 miles broken up by a pancake breakfast at Bickford's.

It was a practice Beeman called on a couple of summers ago when he ran the length of New Hampshire - 240 miles from Pittsburgh to Salem - pushing his 2-year-old daughter, Melanie, in front of him. They did it in eight days and raised $23,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It's an event he plans to do again in a couple of years if his next child - he and his wife, Marie, are expecting a baby in September - enjoys the stroller.

That birthday run with Noftle paid off.

''It was almost like I was a little kid and John had to reassure me. `Mike, it's going to be fine,''' Beeman said. ''And it was. That helped me on my north-to-south run. I'd go 10 miles and break, 10 miles and break, and try to eat in between.''

No time for snacking Monday.

He'll pull on the shirt with ''Go, Daddy'' stenciled on it and try to have a memorable day like last year, when one of his basketball players jumped in with him for the last 8 miles, or like 1994, when buddies John Mortimer and Matt Downin, now running at Michigan and Wisconsin, jumped in for the last 10 miles. And less like 1995, when he limped through the race after ripping his hamstring in January, or 1993, when he stepped on a beach ball and fell and ran the last 9 miles with a handkerchief covering a cut on his elbow that would need nine stitches.

Mostly, as he has for nearly a quarter-century straight, he will run. Just run it.

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