There were telltale signs that this was the Boston Marathon.
Some of the hill work was familiar.
All-female Wellesley College made its presence felt halfway through; Boston College showed up later.
And there were telltale signs that this wasn’t the Boston Marathon.
It was September. Much of the hill work was missing. The weather was perfect. And Brant Lake, west of Lake George, shimmered in view off to the side.
But this was, indeed, the Boston Marathon, and we know this for sure because 68-year-old Dan Larson started and finished it, for the 50th time, no less. Then he had a beer with his friend and former Scotia-Glenville High School cross country teammate Jim Forbes, another Boston Marathon-specific tradition.
Yep, this was the Boston Marathon, 2020-style.
Larson, a retired physician and long-time Queensbury resident, became the fourth person to complete the race 50 times, and increased his streak of having successfully finished Boston, which was first run in 1897, to 45 straight years, also one of the longest streaks on record.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Boston Athletic Association in March to postpone the marathon from April to Monday of this week, then the BAA later turned it into a virtual event, a common development with road races big and small this year in the spirit of social distancing.
With questions swirling about what this would mean for people like Larson, who wanted to reach that nice round figure of 50 finishes, the BAA relaxed the rules on streak maintenance and milestones, while still hoping to host a real marathon next year. Larson submitted a photo of the finish time on his watch — 4:38:29 — after having run six 4.4-mile loops along the shores of Brant Lake on Saturday, Sept. 5, the first day of the 10-day window for runners to complete a 26.2-mile “race” of their choosing as a substitute for Boston. So, it’s official.
“The virtual Boston turned out to be a whole hell of a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” Larson said last Friday.
“I was kind of dreading it in some ways, and there was no way I had to do it. But it was a self-imposed pressure to get No. 50 under my belt. The weather was perfect. I started with 40 degrees in the dark, then watched a beautiful sunrise. It was probably up in the low 60s with low humidity by the time I finished.”
And, like always, he and Forbes enjoyed a cold beer afterwards.
It just wasn’t at the Park Plaza Hotel bar in downtown Boston, but who’s to quibble these days?
Larson first ran Boston when he was a Yale University undergrad in 1970 and finished five straight before having to pull out in the middle of the 1975 race with a high fever. He got back in the saddle in 1976 and has finished every Boston since.
That puts him in the elite company of the Quarter Century Club, a registry of those who have finished at least 25 straight. For a race that draws tens of thousands of runners each year, there are well under 100 in the club.
Once the virtual option became available, Larson came up with a 4.4-mile loop at Brant Lake, which carried some added Boston identification. An old college friend cheers for him in Ashland, Massachusetts, during the race each year at the 4.4-mile mark.
“I always look for him and I thought there was a certain nice symmetry, when I was trying to pick which distance loop I was going to do,” Larson said. “There’s lot of fun little things to incorporate.”
That included some signs held by well-wishers along the Brant Lake course.
Larson ran about 20 miles of the course with his daughter, Sunny, and Forbes joined him at the half marathon. He also ran with another Boston veteran, Dan Olden.
Forbes had planned to run a marathon in Ireland last weekend as part of his 39th wedding anniversary with his wife, Sue. Instead, with that trip canceled, Sue Forbes stitched a commemorative quilt for Larson made from old Boston Marathon t-shirts. She wanted to have Larson’s medal from the Boston’s 100th anniversary race attached to it, and when he couldn’t find his, Jim Forbes generously donated his medal to the cause.
Larson’s wife, Victoria, and several grandchildren and grandnephews turned out to supply a rooting section along the Brant Lake course, which Larson began at 5:30 a.m.
“The first 4.4, I did that solo,” Larson said. “But I had company, support, it was something to look forward to and really turned into an enjoyable experience.
“The course probably had some resemblance to the park from [mile] 2 to 6, where it’s gentle rolling in Boston. But I think there was probably a couple 25- or 30-foot hills. So I did a 30-foot hill 12 times. But it was very gentle rolling and all went along the shores of Brant Lake, so it was aesthetically beautiful.
“And having the family support was great. Our grandchildren and grandnephews made all these fun signs and posted them along the way … ‘You’re almost there’ and ‘Why 4.4? Because 6.3 would just be too crazy-long,’ ‘Wellesley Girls’ for the halfway.”
With 2.2 miles left, a 52-year-old Boston College grad friend of Larson’s was there to supply a beer, and he downed all four ounces of it, “just to say I got a beer from a BC student.”
Based on Larson’s watch and the Strava exercise app on his daughter’s phone, Larson actually ran more than 27 miles, at least a mile more than the standard marathon distance.
His official time will go down as 4:38:29, the fastest he’s done in the last three years.
And he didn’t have to walk a mile through cold, rainy weather to the Park Plaza. The post-race beer was handed to him at the “finish line” last Monday. His legs didn’t get beat up like they usually do, either.
He was on speaker phone with his wife present for the interview last week, while answering a question about next year, or beyond, and whether he would consider running Boston again if we ever reach a point where a large public sporting event like that can be pulled off. The answer (which Victoria wasn’t thrilled with): “I’m thinking about running it.”
“Prior to this [virtual race], there was a very hollow feeling,” Larson said. “I was like, I don’t know, it’s not really fulfilling and you’re just doing it to grab the number or something.
“I would say that there is still a little bit of a hollowness that you didn’t have that magical feeling of finishing and running down Boylston Street, looking for friends and meeting Jim for beers at the Park Plaza bar, all that stuff. But it was really more joyous and less hollow than I felt it would be.
“It was just a wonderful, fun experience.”