For the last 35 years, on the third Monday of April, Mike Beeman has been a fixture at the Boston Marathon starting line near Hopkinton Green. He always has completed the grueling 26-mile, 385-yard race, never once failing to reach the finish line on Boylston Street, recording a personal best of 2:37.00 in his fourth start in 1982.
“It was the same year as the Duel in the Sun,’’ Beeman noted, referring to the epic showdown between eventual race winner Alberto Salazar and runner-up Dick Beardsley. “I was dueling with them at the start, and then the gun went off.’’
For the last six years, Beeman’s admiring former students from the Class of 1979 and 1980 at Salem (N.H.) High School, several of whom have been inspired to run Boston, have celebrated the humble and self-deprecating runner’s amazing streak of longevity and perseverance.
As has been their custom at a carbo load dinner party every Saturday night before the race, they gather at the Salem home of Paul Fallisi (Class of ’79) for a mini class reunion to toast their former track coach and favorite teacher, who now teaches marketing at Tift County High in Georgia, and to wish the Derry, N.H., native well on yet another Boston Marathon jaunt.
“I ran my first marathon in 2006 and Mike had seen my name in the paper and he looked me up to congratulate me,’’ Fallisi said. “I was just flattered that Mike Beeman even remembered me, because he was the inspiration for me even doing it.
“Ever since he moved to Georgia, I’ve had Mike come stay with me and we get reconnected once a year and enjoy the celebration of the Marathon.’’
This year, though, the party was in jeopardy of being called off – and Beeman’s streak in danger of running its course — when the 56-year-old suffered a bilateral quadriceps rupture during an early morning run last Labor Day near his home in Tifton, Ga.
“It’s an extremely unusual injury, and it comes from basically having run 114,000 miles on my body, a lot of basketball, jumping, quadriceps straining,’’ said Beeman, who played basketball at Merrimack College and was inspired to run his first Boston Marathon in 1978 after watching his college buddy, Dave McGillivray, run the year before. “I had done a jump rope and plyometrics and just beat the crap out of my body.’’
And so, while he was out jogging last Sept. 3, Beeman’s left quad snapped. He immediately dropped to both knees, which caused the right quad to snap as well. Beeman was left helpless, all alone in the middle of the road, unable to get to his feet. He recalled how he calmly sat himself up on the hot Georgia asphalt and pulled his kneecaps up from his shins, waiting in agony until a female cyclist came to his aid and called for help.
“It’s hard to believe I’m seven months removed from that,’’ said Beeman, who underwent surgery that afternoon and was on his feet three days later, shuffling around on a walker. He spent the next three months rehabbing, and walked his first mile on Oct. 23. He worked his way up to a 6-mile walk on New Year’s Day, adding a mile every week until he jogged and walked to a 2:19:00 in a half-marathon Feb. 17 at Jacksonville, Fla., which set the table for Beeman to do his first marathon since his injury, jogging and walking his way to a 5:02:00 in the Albany, Ga., Marathon March 2.
“I was at a Walmart here and I ran into somebody who wondered if I was going up to Boston as a spectator this year,’’ Beeman said recently by phone from Georgia, where the divorced father of two has made his home for the last decade. “I guess everybody just assumes that I’m done, but I’m not. I don’t feel that way at all. I don’t feel like it’s time.’’
After walking and jogging his way to a 4:47:59 in a brutally hot Boston last year, Beeman is prepared to see his streak, tied for 13th-longest among active runners in race history, extended to 36 consecutive starts when he lines up for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon Monday.
“Wouldn’t it be ironic if I came close to that time with two new legs?’’ Beeman mused. “It would tickle me. But I’m just going to enjoy it and I’m going to walk a lot and listen to my body for a change and spend a lot of time in Wellesley, because those girls are amazing and so much fun.’’
It used to be Beeman ran Boston with his head down, oblivious to all the scenery he passed along the way. He pounded the pavement, killing himself to post a decent result to qualify for the next year’s race.
“I think Mike smells the roses a lot more now and just realizes how big and how beautiful Boston is,’’ Fallisi said. “He spends more time slapping high-fives with the people lined up on the side of the course. He enjoys and embraces and looks forward to Heartbreak Hill. I think he enjoys Wellesley College a lot more than he had in his first 30 marathons.’’
Last year, the marketing teacher came up with a T-shirt that read “I [heart] Wellesley.’’
“It was brilliant because they were groping for me like I was Justin Bieber at a high school dance,’’ Beeman said, laughing. “So one girl grabs at my shirt, pulls me over and gives me a smooch on the cheek. She had a sign that said, ‘Kiss me if you have chest hair,’ and I did.’’
With the help of Facebook, Beeman struck up a fast friendship with the Wellesley College student, Mari Padilla, who since has graduated but is planning to be in Brookline Monday to cheer and support Beeman.
“That was just a special memory of Boston that year when she did that,’’ Beeman said.
Beeman hopes to make another memory this year. He will be accompanied to Boston by his daughter, Melanie, who will be coming up (on her first plane trip) to watch her first Boston Marathon. Fallisi will break from tradition by driving to Logan Airport, instead of Manchester, N.H., to pick up Beeman and his daughter.
After collecting his bib (No. 21097), he will reunite at Saturday night’s dinner with the likes of Marjorie Olson, one of Beeman’s former high jumpers and sprinters on Salem High’s track team. Olson loathed long-distance running, but was inspired to run Boston after she came to watch the race in 2010 and was surprised by a chance encounter with Beeman as he was making his way down Boylston Street. Recognizing Olson, Beeman stopped, did an about face, and came back to hug his former track pupil.
“She went from someone who hated distance running and became a marathoner,’’ Beeman marveled. “I’m so proud of her. I’m so proud to see these people, 30-35 years later, so fit and so strong. It’s amazing.’’
It pales, however, in comparison to Beeman’s feat of making it back to Boston. While it could be the end of his streak, his former students do not believe it is.
“I don’t think he would do it if he came back from all that he did,’’ Olson said. “He’s definitely not ending it. My feeling is that he’s going to keep going, because it’s his passion.’’
Fallisi, who ran Boston five times, once crossing the finish line with Beeman in 2010, agreed with his classmate. “I’m living vicariously through Mike with this whole streak,’’ Fallisi said. “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s younger than him that’s ahead of him on the list. I hope Mike’s going to be the longest-running person in Boston Marathon history, like the Cal Ripken Jr. of the Marathon.’’
Beeman, though, knows his limitations. His next marathon will be his 96th overall. And while his doctors and physical therapists have given him the green light to report to Hopkinton Green, Beeman is prepared to accept whatever fate his body ultimately dictates.
“I’m not looking at anything other than Monday,’’ Beeman said. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Whatever’s in the plans, if [the streak is] over, then it’s over and I’m OK with it. You just have to be thankful for the 35 years I’ve been blessed to run Boston.
“It’s been a real great journey. I’ve had some ups and downs. I’ve had some real fast times and I’ve managed to qualify all these years and I don’t know how, but it’s been a fun journey.’’
Then, with a laugh, Beeman added, “I don’t think I should be lauded for it, I think I should be committed for being such an idiot.’’