By BRENNA GRITEMAN
A Findlay man and his son will be among the 30,000 runners pounding the pavement in today’s soggy Boston Marathon.
This year marks Chris Roberts’ 20th time running the famed 26-mile race.
He has run through horrendously cold conditions with strong headwinds, and under the hot sun with temperatures in the 80s.
In 2013 — the year two brothers planted a pair of bombs near the finish line — he and his family learned of the tragedy while in a hotel lobby, not long after Roberts had finished the race.
“We knew something had happened, but we didn’t know what,” he recalled, noting the commotion outside the hotel — located just past the finish line — and the many helicopters circling overhead.
Roberts said race security has since been tightened, but the terrorists in no way have ruined the spirit of the day.
“It really is such a celebratory day, and it was such a tragic event,” he said. But “the crowds were probably the biggest ever in 2014.”
“In 2014, the year after the bombing, I wore an American flag on my race shirt, which drew chants of ‘USA!’ from the crowd,” he said.
Roberts is a retired orthodontist, having practiced in Findlay for 30-plus years. He still teaches in the orthodontics department at the University of Michigan a few days a week.
He said running “keeps me sane.”
“No matter what the temperature is, I’d rather be outside than running inside on a treadmill,” he said.
He began running track and cross country in high school, then continued as a student at Ohio State University. Roberts ran his first Boston Marathon in 1998 and said his fastest performance was 2 hours, 56 minutes (that’s a pace of about 6 minutes, 50 seconds per mile).
At 62, Roberts is not too proud to admit that “my days of sub-3-hour marathons are over.”
He started gearing up for this year’s marathon about 18 weeks ago, running an average of 50-60 miles a week. He plans to complete this year’s marathon in 3 hours, 30 minutes — about an 8-minute-per-mile pace.
This year’s race will be sweetened by the company of his son, Brian Roberts, a 2001 graduate of Findlay High School.
Brian is an emergency medical physician in New York City who, at age 36, is running his inaugural Boston Marathon.
“I’m just so excited to be running with my son this year,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be so much fun.”
Running has traditionally been a family affair for the Roberts family. The elder Roberts ran several 5Ks and 10Ks around Findlay with his son and daughter while both children still lived at home.
He and Brian ran Grandma’s Marathon together in Duluth, Minnesota, and he ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., with daughter Sarah.
The course in Boston, however, is notoriously challenging.
“Boston is a very difficult course, because the first several miles are downhill. And it’s very easy to start off running too fast,” Roberts explained.
During miles 17-22 comes a series of four hills, the last of which is dubbed “Heartbreak Hill.”
“And it comes at a point where, quite frankly, you’d rather not be running uphill.”
The Boston Marathon is unique, too, in the fact that it is not a looped route. The race begins 26 miles west of the city in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and leads runners through a series of small towns until the finish line in downtown Boston.
The race is held each year on the third Monday of April — Patriots’ Day — which is a holiday in New England. This allows some half a million spectators to come cheer on the runners on the day commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord, the start of the American Revolutionary War.
Roberts said he’ll keep running the race as long as he can qualify, and encouraged others who might be interested in running to give it a try.
He advised would-be runners to start small and increase your mileage slowly.
“If it means running from one telephone pole to another telephone pole, that’s a great way to start,” he said.