Milestones in people’s lives compel them to do strange but often meaningful deeds, and so for a Trail man turning 60, it meant tackling one of the most demanding and iconic races ever – the Boston Marathon.
Bill Van Beek always kept himself in shape but with the spectre of his 60th birthday looming, the Teck employee decided to kick it up a notch.
“I was turning 60 and I said, ‘I don’t mind getting older, I just don’t want to get old.’ So I decided I wanted to run Boston,” said Van Beek. “It’s the whole nostalgia around it, it’s like the Super Bowl, it’s like the U.S. Open, it’s just one of those bucket-list items. I think it’s the oldest running marathons and just the whole aura around it.”
Indeed, the 118-year-old event is the longest-running marathon in the world, and since the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, it has taken on even more significance. The event is held on Patriots’ Day, which commemorates the 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord that kicked off the American Revolutionary War, and ironically the detonation of two homemade bombs that killed three people and injured over 200, made Americans and Canadians like Van Beek even more patriotic.
“After the bombing in Boston . . . I think we have to show support that we’re not going to be intimidated,” said Van Beek. “We have to live free.”
However, before Van Beek could make the jump to the Massachusetts’ race he had to qualify. He trained for and ran the BMO Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna in October where he made the qualifying time by a slight margin, then he tackled the Eugene, Oregon Marathon in May where he finished with the sixth best time in his age group and beat the qualifying time by a full 12 minutes.
Eugene was another ‘bucket-list’ item for Van Beek. Known as Tracktown U.S.A, the normally sleepy town is home to the University of Oregon, which has hosted the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field in 1972, ’76, ’80, 2008, 2012 and will again in 2016.
It was also here that Nike took wings, when former Olympian and University of Oregon Track Coach Bill Bowerman and, then, middle-distance runner Phil Knight forged a partnership that ignited the beginnings of what would become the largest sports and fitness company in the world.
“The Universtiy of Oregon is sort of ‘THE’ track and field university in the U.S. so again for me it was kind of one of those sub-iconic places to go visit and run,” he added.
The father of three has put a lot of thought into the process. Realizing a marathon wasn’t something he could just jump into, Van Beek trains daily and plans his routine and races rigorously. He hits the pavement at least three times a week running varying distances, intervals, and paces, combined with cross-training and strength training on the off days.
“There’s a lot of science to it, and it’s not just a matter of going out and beating the pavement. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I hadn’t done the research into seeing how do you run a marathon successfully. Anyone can run it but how do you do it to the best of your ability? How do you train for it, and how do you keep from doing the wrong things?”
Van Beek learned a lesson on his first marathon as he came out of the gate too fast and laboured for much of the race. In Eugene, it was a different story. The evening before the Tracktown marathon, a keynote speaker divulged the three secrets to running a successful race.
“Start slow, start slow, and start slow.”
Van Beek followed the advice, he started slow and maintained a constant pace, slashing 10 minutes off his Kelowna time and finished sixth in his age category, completing the marathon in three hours and 43 minutes. But Van Beek doesn’t run marathons to compete, for him, it is a personal challenge, a journey to good health, a realization of one’s goals, and to prove to himself that time is indeed relative.
“You have to do it well or you can hurt yourself, and I think it’s more about how do you keep an active healthy lifestyle.” added Van Beek. “I guess part of it is anybody, at any age can participate in these things, you’re never too old. My view is I turned 60, I wanted to demonstrate to myself that you have to age gracefully, you don’t have to get old.”
Van Beek lives in Trail with his wife Enid and will retire in August.