Four local runners competed in the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon on Monday in the worst weather conditions in the history of the race.
Of the 45 elite runners scheduled to take part in the marathon, 23 dropped out because of the weather conditions. The four area runners — Paul Denny, Meghan Collins and Joey Slate, all of Mount Airy, and Tony Riggs, of Cana, Virginia — all finished the race, according to Denny and Riggs.
Denny, Riggs and Collins are coached by Justin Collins, Meghan’s husband.
Riggs said it was 35 degrees and sleeting in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where the race begins. Winds were a steady 25 miles per hour all through the race and increased to 52 miles per hour for one portion of the course. Runners faced a steady headwind for the last 20 miles, or most of the marathon’s 26.2-mile distance.
“The sleet was just pelting us in Hopkinton,” said Denny. “We were miserable already, and we hadn’t run a step.”
By comparison, it was 85 degrees on marathon day a year ago.
“But the people of Boston were out there,” said Denny. “You’d thank them for being out in the weather, and they’d say, ’No. Thank you for coming.’”
“Little kids were there, giving you high-fives,” said Riggs. “I have never been to a marathon where the support is solid for the whole 26 miles.”
“You’ve always got course support,” said Denny, “but this was something else.”
Collins and Denny finished with a time of 3:45.06 and Riggs’ time was 3:51.08. Riggs and Denny said they would have been devastated by those times under normal conditions, but were just fine with them given the horrible weather.
“Being able to wear this jacket and have this medal in my pocket means so much,” said Denny.
Both Riggs and Denny said it didn’t bother them that few people in Mount Airy knew what their orange jackets mean as they’ve been wearing them around town after returning from Boston. The jackets are only worn by competitors who complete the Boston Marathon.
“Running for me is so personal. This is my reward to myself,” said Denny, as he displayed the 122nd Boston Marathon medal he has in the pocket of his finisher’s jacket.
“This is the Lombardi Trophy for marathon runners,” Riggs said, referring to what the Super Bowl champion hoists. Denny agreed with that characterization of their medals.
Collins, Denny and Riggs all qualified for the Boston Marathon at the Newport News, Virginia, marathon in March 2017.
“We qualified together, we raced together, we finished together, and we went out for a celebratory drink afterward together,” said Denny.
The Boston Marathon differs from most other races in that runners must qualify to gain entrance to the race and face stiff competition in that process. Of the 30,000 slots available, a few are held out for elite runners and 10,000 go to charity runners: runners affiliated with a certified charity who raise tens of millions of dollars for those charities. Runners must qualify for the remaining 20,000 slots by beating a qualifying time at a certified course with a distance of 26.4 miles which is not a net-downhill course.
Denny qualified on his fourth attempt, and Riggs had a near miss of 20 seconds at the Raleigh marathon.
Denny said making it to Boston on the fifth anniversary of the bombing there was extra special. He noted that since the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the race has been even harder to get into.
“Marathon runners are strange,” he said. “You’re not going to keep runners away from something.”
The 2018 crop of Boston Marathon runners are not the first Mount Airy residents to make the journey. Steve Driver and Clarence Cropps have done it before, said Denny, naming two of the other local runners who have made it to Boston.
“It was harder to get in back then,” said Riggs. “And they did it in Converse high tops, not the high-tech running shoes we have now.”
Riggs and Denny agree there is a strong runner’s culture in Mount Airy, more so than a lot of cities of its size.
Both men credit that to the city’s extensive greenway system.
“You can run a half-marathon and never be on a city street,” said Denny. “Mount Airy’s greenways rival those of a large city.”
Denny cites Raleigh’s greenways that circle Meredith College, and said Mount Airy’s greenways rival that, and adds that it’s a lot easier than the old days when he’d park his car at Grace Moravian Church, run down to Lebanon Street, over to Old Franklin, then behind Walmart, up by InSteel and cross Highway 52.
“You’d be all over the highways to get your mileage in.”
Both Denny and Riggs credit an excellent support system with allowing them to be successful in such a time-consuming sport.
“This is not our full-time job,” said Denny.
“I have a wife and kids, and the kids have things they do. Sometimes you have to run at 4 a.m. to get your miles in,” said Riggs. “Sometimes you’re running late at night.”
“You’ve got to work and find the balance. I have a teenage daughter and a seven-year-old and they understand my goal, but they have things they want to do as well,” said Denny. “Sometimes you have to miss a run, and you have to be okay with that.”
Neither Riggs nor Denny plans to try and qualify for Boston next year.
“I’m going to ride this for a while,” said Denny.
Riggs added,”Eventually, we all want to go back one more time.”
Denny said he wants to get back to running marathons ‘for fun.’
“Not that this hasn’t been fun,” he added.
Riggs admits he’s been flirting with the idea of running longer distances and admits a 100-mile ultra race is a bucket list item.
“Some people (competitive distance runners) say they don’t care about Boston. But I kind of don’t believe that,” said Riggs.
After reaching their goal of running the Boston Marathon following the months of training that led up to it which in turn followed the years of competitive running needed to qualify for Boston, the Mount Airy runners wanted to go out and celebrate.
The rain, sleet and wind stopped.
“It was like someone turned off a spigot,” said Denny.
He decided to walk the quarter-mile from his hotel to where Denny and Collins were staying.
“Like a goober,” he said of the way he must have looked on his evening stroll through Boston wearing his marathon finisher’s jacket with his medal around his neck.
He met his friends and they had a celebratory drink together, congratulated by every Bostonian they met.
“People warned us they weren’t very nice, but that wasn’t true,” said Riggs.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.