Marathon on Sunday: famous second-place Boston finish taught runner to dig deep

Dick Beardsley was the old guy in the back of the room as elite marathoners in Sunday’s 39th Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon were introduced at the Victoria Conference Centre on Friday, but he was the only one with a 2:08 finish under his belt.

Thirty-six years later, the now 62-year-old’s heartbreaking second-place finish in the 1982 Boston Marathon remains legendary. Beardsley crossed the finish line two seconds behind Alberto Salazar, with whom he ran step-in-step for the entire 42.2-kilometre race.

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Both men broke the previous course record and never ran that fast again.

Beardsley, who is from Minnesota, said he wouldn’t trade his 2:08 second-place Boston Marathon finish against Salazar that day for a first place Boston Marathon win at a slower pace. (The official world record is 2:02:57 and Kenya’s Daniel Kipkoech, who hopes to win his fifth Victoria marathon in a row on Sunday, has a personal best time of 2:18).

It was that “duel in the sun” in 1982 that taught Beardsley about digging deep past pain, exhaustion and self-doubt when he thought he had nothing left.

Unable to feel his legs, thinking he couldn’t sustain his pace and with less than 1.6 kilometres to go, Beardsley pushed on. In the last 45 metres, he pulled ahead of Salazar. He could feel the win. Then his hamstring popped. The pain was blinding. Salazar passed him.

The race could have ended there for Beardsley, but he dug even deeper — telling himself to just keep moving forward.

The cheering crowds obliterated his view. Beardsley accidentally stepped into a pothole that ironically stretched out his leg and popped his hamstring back into place, but he had run out of room to advance.

Beardsley lost by mere steps. Salazar won with a record-breaking 2:08:51 and Beardsley crossed at 2:08:53. The third-place finisher was about 41Ú2 minutes behind, said Beardsley.

“I looked up at the clock and it said 2:08 something and I finished second?” said Beardsley, as if he were still stunned. “Half of me was never so elated and half of me was so disappointed.”

Beardsley returned to his hotel room to evaluate every step of the race to find out what he could have done better and concluded “absolutely nothing.”

“That day, we both gave everything we had,” said Beardsley. “I would learn more about myself in the last two minutes of that 1982 Boston Marathon than at any other time in my life.

“No, I didn’t win, but I didn’t give up and I pushed myself right to the end.”

Little did Beardsley know then how he’d need that motivation.

Later, Beardsley would suffer a succession of near-fatal accidents — mangled in farming equipment, a car crash, a climbing accident — that would require numerous surgeries.

The athlete got hooked on painkillers. Within a frighteningly short period of time, he was shopping for doctors to give him prescriptions. He advanced to forging prescriptions and then on Sept. 30, 1996, he was caught forging. He got probation and community service and has been clean for more than 20 years.

But again, he was not prepared for what lay ahead.

On Oct. 4, 2015, Beardsley’s 31-year-old son, a gunner on a Black Hawk helicopter in the Iraq war, returned with post-traumatic stress disorder and later shot himself with an AK47 assault rifle.

Once again, Beardsley had to tap his inner strength and resilience. It’s a message the motivational speaker will share with elite runners from all over the world this weekend prior to Sunday’s race.

One of those racers who will be watching is Kipkoech.

With a winning time of 2:21:03 last year in Victoria, he’s hopeful for another win. “It would mean a lot to me, it would make me so happy,” said Kipkoech. He’s expected to get competition from American Mizael Carrera, whose personal best time is 2:21:50.

Runners can still register for the marathon, half-marathon, eight-kilometre race and the Thrifty Foods Kids Run at the Race Expo at the Victoria Conference Centre from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

The marathon early start for runners who expect to finish in 5 1/2 hours or more is 6:30 a.m. The half marathon and full marathon kick off at 8 a.m., while the eight-kilometre road race starts at 8:50 a.m. The kids’ run starts at 10:15 a.m.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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