BY COSHANDRA DILLARD
Since finishing the Boston Marathon on Monday, Harold Wilson has set aside a few days for some much-needed rest. At his South Tyler home, the 80-year-old has found comfort in his living room chair, nursing achy joints and sore muscles.
"I was feeling pretty good," Wilson said about his performance. "I'm a little sore now, but other than that I'm feeling pretty good."
While unofficial, it is believed that Wilson has broken the 80-84 year-old American age group record for a marathon. Wilson finished with a time of 3:53:54. The qualifying time for his age group is 4:55.
"I was shooting for anything under four hours," he said.
According to USA Track and Field American Masters 80-84 road records, Michigan resident Jerry Johncock set the record for that age group in 2008 with a time of 3:59:05 performed at a Minnesota marathon. The records were last updated Jan. 17, 2012. Johncock also maintains on his Facebook page that he currently holds the record.
"To our knowledge, no 80-year-old man has run a marathon as fast as Harold ran this one, in the United States," said Wes Volberding, a member of the East Texas Striders and fellow Boston Marathon runner. "There's one man in Canada who we know has run a faster race." (Ed Whitlock, of Canada, finished a marathon in 3:15:54 in 2011 at the age of 80).
Wilson didn't set out to break records. He just wanted to continue a good streak. In 2005, at age 72, he won in the Boston marathon in the 70-74 age group with a time of 3:48:41. At 73, he finished at 3:37:20.
"My goal was to try to win it when I was 80 years old," he said.
Wilson was among 579 runners older than 70 to compete in the race. There were 11 other runners who are 80 and older but he was the only one to complete the race. He finished about 10 minutes before a bomb went off at the finish line.
"The remaining competitors never made it to the finish line because of the explosion," Volberding said. "Had there not been an explosion, the second place competitor would have been probably been an hour later. That's how far ahead he was."
Regardless of a possible record-breaking achievement, his success on Monday is comparable to men half his age.
"If one were to adjust his age to a man who were say, in his 30s, this would be equivalent to a sub four-minute mile for someone his age doing this performance," Volberding said.
The horrific series of events during the Boston Marathon will forever change the city, the individuals who were injured and the three families who lost a loved one.
It also robbed runners the opportunity to relish in their feats, their accomplishment now a footnote to the bigger stories about victims' recoveries and capture of the suspects.
"This attack is a theft of the honor to all of these runners," Volberding said. "However, there will be another day when the honor can be bestowed on these athletes."
When Wilson's fellow running mates speak of him, it's all praise. They say he inspires them to do better and that he's living proof of what the human body can do when you challenge it.
"A person's age is in his mind and Harold is the youngest man I've ever met," Volberding said.
Volberding said Wilson understands that individuals can be happy and physically active throughout life by daily exercise and a careful diet. He added that he is able to maintain the lifestyle because he's dedicated.
"Harold is inspiring because he never quits," Volberding said. "He has never, as he's become older, decided that he did not want to live life anymore and sit in a chair and watch it go by. He is an aggressive, competitive, ambitious man who thinks, acts, and works as a man 50 years younger."
Dr. John Camp, who also ran the marathon on Monday, echoed the sentiment, noting that aging doesn't have to entail a sedentary lifestyle or medications.
"It is very inspiring to see somebody out there consistently," Camp said. "Every Sunday he's there. That's the thing: you can't just do it off and on. He's consistent and that's what it takes to be a champion, like he is."
But Wilson is more humble about his achievements.
"There's a lot of people who could do something like this," he said. "They just have to train. I don't consider myself someone who is elite."
Wilson said he relies on his fellow runners — as well as his wife and faith— to remain strong.
"I get a little tired from running and I say, ‘well, they believe in me and I can't let them down,'" Wilson said. "I don't say ‘I think I can, I think I can.' I say, ‘I can't let them down. I can't let them down.'"
BOSTON ON THEIR MIND
East Texas runners on Wednesday and Saturday ran in honor of Boston victims to show solidarity. The event has highlighted the strong ties that bound all runners.
"Runners have a bond with each other that extends from elite athletes at the front to the slowest person at the back," Camp said. "We are all a part of the same struggle to do our best. When someone attacks a runner, to blow his legs off, is about the most offensive act that anyone can do to a group of runners."
On the day of the bombing, Wilson may not have known what was going on if there weren't people running in the direction toward him to get away from the area. He said he's hard of hearing but does not run with his hearing aid. He looked up and saw a big ball of smoke, curious as to what had happened. He quickly left the area and returned to his hotel.
"I'm tired but you forget about that and move," he recalled. "I thank the lord I wasn't 10 minutes late. But you know, there's no guarantee in life. I just say ‘thank you good lord' and pray for the ones who were injured and pray that it won't happen again."
Camp said Boston hosts the most prestigious marathon as it's the only one in the country where runners must have a qualifying time from a previous race to register .
Four East Texas Striders have qualified for next year's race based on their times Monday. Camp, an orthopedic surgeon at Azalea Orthopedics, has qualified six times and ran the marathon four times. He and Volberding say they look forward to next year's race.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Camp said. "With all of this terrorism stuff I think that (returning runners) will aspire to go back more so than if it hadn't happened. I'm hoping it'll be a record turnout next year, both from a spectator and runner standpoint."
Wilson has previously said he would not return to the Boston Marathon but admitted on Thursday that he would like to go if he has sponsorship.