Thursday, December 18, 2014

Running Forever

Steve Boone has run 591 marathons. On a recent visit to Kochi, where he took part in the Spice Coast Marathon, along with his wife Paula, they talk about the joys of running

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos by Mithun Vinod: Steven Boone; With his wife Paula. 

It was around the 18 km mark, during the Spice Coast Marathon at Kochi, that Steve Boone, 65, began to feel tired and dehydrated. Even though the race took place in the early morning, Steve was drenched in perspiration. He drank a lot of water, but still felt dehydrated. He began to slow down. Soon, he was walking. Many runners went past him. But the bystanders cheered him on.

It was my lack of preparation that did me in,” he says. “I came on a Friday from the United States, did not take adequate food or rest, and raced on Sunday morning. I also found it difficult to adjust to the humidity.”

The members of the organising team, Soles, poured an 18 litre bottle of water on him. Soon, they offered to drive him to the finish line. But Steve said no, and struggled on. Finally, 6 hours and 40 minutes later., Steve completed the marathon, the longest he has taken. The average time which he takes is 3 ½ hours.

The Spice Coast Marathon was an unique experience for Steve. “The people were so friendly and encouraging,” he says. “It was also the first time that I have shared the street with goats and cows.”

Steve has run in all the 50 states of the United States five times, and in Iceland, Africa, China, Germany, Brazil, and South Africa.

In the Entabini Game Reserve, in Johannesburg, there were lions, giraffes and rhinos. “We waited for the rhinos to cross the road,” says Steve. “They did look at us and wonder who we were. I am told that rhinos are vegetarians, so there was nothing to worry.”

Another run, which he enjoyed a lot, was the Nanisivik Midnight Sun Marathon
in northern Canada. “It was about 750 kms from the Artic Circle,” he says. “In July, the sun never sets. But ironically, it was quite hot.”

In most of his runs, he is accompanied by his wife Paula, whom he met at the Boston Marathon in April, 1997. They fell in love and got married in 1998. It is a second marriage for both.

Asked about the best aspect of running, both of them unanimously say, “It is the friendships that we have made all over the world. We all share the same passion.”

One of their friends is Mathew Mapram, of Kottayam origin, who lives in the US. “It was Mathew who invited us to take part in the Spice Coast Marathon,” says Steve. “And both of us will be here next year.”

In India, Steve has a clear agenda. He wants to inculcate the joy of running among the people. “You can run anywhere,” he says. “And anybody can do it. At the starting line-up, you cannot tell who is rich or poor. When you run, you tend to develop a positive attitude. For the women, it will empower them. For the children, it is good fun.”

The couple do their bit to encourage youngsters. In Houston, where they live, Steve and Paula hold running events for schoolchildren which have become very successful. In 2014, 9300 children in 24 schools ran 42 km or longer during the school year to earn a Marathon Challenge T-shirt, provided by Steve.

Incidentally, Steve came to running accidentally. He is a computer systems analyst who owns his own company. One day, a customer, Bob McDowell challenged him to run a marathon. So Steve began training for it. When he completed his first race, he was hooked onto running. Now, ironically, after 28 years Bob has only run 47 marathons, while Steve has reached marathon No. 591.

In order to ensure that Steve completes all the marathons that he participates in, he runs 75 kms a week to develop endurance and flexibility. “Then you will feel comfortable during a marathon,” he says. “The joy of running is that you can think about a lot of things, without the interruption of the phone, or e-mails. In short, nobody is bothering you.”

But you can be bothered by the weather. In a race in Delaware, there was a wind chill of minus 58 degrees below zero. “It was so cold that the water in the cups would freeze, before the volunteers could give it to us,” says Steve. “And after a few hundred metres, I received the full blast of the wind and found it difficult even to breathe.”

In Arizona, the couple ran a race in 42 degrees Celsius. “Even though the race was held in the evening, it was too hot,” says Paula. “We drank lots of water. It was pitch black. The roads were dusty. From the knee down, our legs were covered with black dust. But we finished the race and felt proud about that.” 

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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