By Kim Howard
John Duncan’s 1991 dusty, dark blue Volvo may get almost as much credit as its owner for getting Duncan qualified for the Boston Marathon on April 16.
If it weren’t for the Volvo, Duncan would have missed his chance to run the New York City Marathon last fall, interrupting his goal of running the race every 10 years from 50 to 100.
“Tradition is important to me,” Duncan, 60, said last week. “This is something I had to do.”
If it weren’t for the Volvo, which has 236,000 miles on it, Duncan also would have missed the marathon that qualified him for his dream race, the Boston Marathon.
On Patriot’s Day, when thousands of Massachusetts school children and government officials will be on vacation for the state holiday, more than 20,000 people from around the world will descend upon Boston for the pinnacle of running competitions. Duncan will be among them, wearing bib number 18365.
“I was proud of him,” fifth grader Amanda Beatty said, explaining why she bought “Mr. Duncan” a purple tie with runners on it after he qualified for the Boston Marathon in New York. “He made it to what he wanted to do.”
Various shapes of construction paper hang from the ceiling of Duncan’s classroom in which Amanda is a student. Each shape lists the goal of one of the homeroom student’s goals for the year. Duncan’s goal is visible, too: Run the New York City Marathon in under four hours and qualify for Boston.
Duncan logged all the usual long training runs and months of conditioning that made him physically ready for the New York City race. What his Volvo did, however, was give him a place to sleep a half dozen times on the streets of New York City so that he could run the races he needed to run to get into the New York City Marathon.
Like the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, entry to New York’s race is based on a lottery. Duncan didn’t win the lottery, so realized his only chance to run the race he promised himself he’d run was by joining the New York Road Runners Club.
The Club holds a series of nine races in Central Park; those who complete them gain automatic entry to the New York marathon. Duncan couldn’t afford to stay in hotels that many times, so he had a friend build some curtains for his car and he slept on an air mattress in the back on Riverside Drive.
“I’d have my Powerbar and I’d have my grapefruit there in the morning,” Duncan said. At night, he’d walk to a diner on 100th Street to use the bathroom and have a dish of ice cream before bed.
“I slept like a baby every night,” Duncan said. “Well, most nights. Some nights were pretty hot.”
Duncan did the half-marathons and the five and 10-kilometer races that eventually earned him a slot for the New York marathon. After one of the races, the Run Hit Wonder, he met his music idol, Joan Jett, and secured her autograph and a picture of himself with her inside her bus. At another race, he met a runner and his wife with whom he has become good friends.
“It was more than just running the New York marathon in hopes of qualifying for Boston,” Duncan said. “It was a whole life event.”
Duncan said when he finally ran the New York Marathon, it was more than just him doing the running. He wanted his students to look at him as a 60-year-old and feel inspired to push themselves, too. Some of his students, he said, followed his race progress on the Web that day.
At 3 hours, 56 minutes and 35 seconds, Duncan became one of four Vermonters age 60 or over to qualify for the upcoming Boston Marathon.
Amanda said she thinks her teacher “can do it,” but acknowledged 26.2 miles is a long way. Her teacher’s stick-to-itiveness, however, has made Amanda want to work harder in swimming to achieve her goal – to make it to the state competition for swimming.
Watching Mr. Duncan, Amanda said, has made her think that “anything can be possible.”