On his way from Amherst to Boston Monday morning, Jim Benkert drove through a fierce storm. Lightning, thunder and rain greeted him. It was raining so hard, it was causing car accidents.
“It was a little scary,” the Lihue resident said.
Not exactly the weather he was hoping for as he prepared to run the Boston Marathon for the first time.
“It looked terrible,” he said.
Later, after a bus ride to the starting line in Hopkinton, thousands of men and women milled around in an open muddy field, trying to huddle under a large tent to stay warm.
Benkert readied himself for the worst.
Instead, as his 10:50 a.m. starting time drew near, the sky cleared, the sun came out, the wind stopped.
For the next 26.2 miles, it stayed that way.
And Jim Benkert ran the race of his life.
“That’s the best run I ever had,” he said in a phone interview with TGI Tuesday morning. “What a great race. It really is what they make it out to be. It was just awesome.”
Benkert, who restores bikes for the needy and helps lead the monthly Bikes on Rice in Lihue, finished in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 15 seconds — seven minutes faster than his goal.
The 56-year-old placed 10,590th out of some 30,000 finishers and was 424th in his age group.
But it’s not the numbers Benkert will remember.
It was, start to finish, a most excellent adventure — beyond what he expected.
“The crowds were easily as much as they hype it out to be,” he said. “They carried me along. The run was enjoyable and the crowd put it over the top.”
Benkert said his training was limited due to a hamstring injury. His longest run was just 15 miles, which worried him.
Like the others who qualified for this Holy Grail of marathoning, Benkert went out fast with the starting gun. Yet, those early miles seemed easy as runners passed through Ashland, Framingham and Natick.
“I wasn’t sure what would happen over the last 11 miles,” he said.
Good things happened.
Benkert continued clicking off mile after mile at close to 8-minute pace. He hit the halfway point in 1:45:03, well ahead of his goal pace.
But he knew the toughest miles were ahead and hoped he could hang on.
“I gotta keep hammering,” he thought.
And, shirtless now in true Hawaii fashion, he did.
When he went passed through the Wellesley College “Scream Tunnel,” he was energized.
“That was my favorite part,” he said. “It seemed like everybody was there.”
Wellesley College women, lined up for hundreds of yards, yelled and many held signs that said “Kiss me.”
Benkert, whose wife Lori is a real estate agent and property manager on Kauai, said with a laugh that he did not.
“I gave a lot of high fives,” he said.
Still, Heartbreak Hill remained.
That famous climb has been a breaking point for many marathoners. Benkert, though, didn’t even notice it until he reached the top of an incline and saw a sign: “You’ve conquered the Heartbreak Hill.”
“It was nothing like the hills on Kauai,” he said.
With five miles to go, Benkert refused to back off, cruise in and savor the magical moments in Beantown.
“I just keep pouring it on,” he said. “I knew I had a chance at something cool.”
Thousands lined both sides of the streets right to the historic finish line on Boylston Street near John Hancock Tower in Copley Square.
“It was incredible,” he said. “Super exciting. Everybody there made that possible.”
Shortly after Benkert completed the race, the weather abruptly changed. Clouds rolled in, rains fell, winds returned.
No matter. Not even Mother Nature could dampen this day.
Benkert said he originally looked at the Boston Marathon as “no big deal.” After running it? Yeah, it’s a big deal.
“It’s worth what you have to go through to get there,” he said. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Benkert bikes, swims and has completed Ironmans, but when it comes to running, the Boston Marathon “is the best ever.”
It wasn’t even that he ran well. Rather, it was what he saw and heard that day — so many people who spoke different languages, came from different backgrounds, with different abilities, each with their own story, coming together with a common goal and encouraging each other to get there.
There’s nothing, Benkert said, like the Boston Marathon.
“It’s truly a gem,” he said.