In April of 1967, 20 year old Neil Weygandt headed up to Boston for his first Boston marathon. As he made his way up the hilly course, running from Hopkinton to Boston for the first time, Neil heard new music blaring from the radios along the way-- the Beatles "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields", Procol Harum’s "Whiter Shade of Pale" and from each end of the rock behavior spectrum “Wild Thing” and Aretha Franklins “Respect”.
In April of 1967, Lyndon Johnson was the president, the Red Sox led by Carl Yastrzemski were just starting their “Impossible Dream” season and the Beatles had just announced signing a contract to stay together for another 10 years. Weygandt, a student running for PMC College (which later became Widener) finished his first Boston in 88th place, a 2:47 finish, which was overshadowed by race director Jock Semple trying to tear the race number from Kathrine Switzer in a pique of anger during the race.
Despite the contract, the Beatles wouldn’t stay together much longer, but Neil and Boston would. In fact, Neil’s first finish would be the start of one of the best stories of the Boston Marathon, the world’s most historic and possibly greatest road race. Since that time Neil from Drexel Hill, Pa., has run 43 straight Boston Marathons, the longest consecutive finish streak in history. Neil’s fastest finish was a 2:36:51 in 1983 and he once ran 23 straight Boston’s under 3 hours. To put the streak in perspective, the longest consecutive streak for John Kelley’s 58 Boston finishes was 24. Coincidentally, there are three other runners nipping at the heels of Weygandt’s streak-- Ben Beach of Maryland (42) is the closest with 42 consecutive finishes, Martin Duffy of Massachusetts and Mark Bauman of New York are next, both have 40 consecutive finishes.
After this years finish, Weygandt sat down to talk about his running career, his influences and of course the streak.
JH: First-- how did you feel after Boston this year?
Neil: I was happy to finish and keep the streak going! However, I’m a bit embarrassed by my time of 4:45:38. It was 10 minutes slower than last year and my slowest Boston ever.
JH: How were you feeling before the race?Neil: Occasionally my left knee is sore after a run. I was thankful that it doesn’t bother me during training.
JH: What is your routine for the marathon?.. How do you get up to Boston, do you stay at the same place or eat the same things before the race?Neil: I usually fly to Boston but I took Amtrak this year…$136 round trip, senior discount! I stayed at the Copley Square Hotel for years, but this year stayed at the Radisson. I like pasta the night before and muffins race morning.
JH: Do you have a favorite race among your Boston races?
Neil: It’s a tie between my first Boston in 1967 2:47:11—88th place. I flew up with my mentor Tom Osler , and 1983, my PR in 2:36:51- 581st place! A lot of people PR’d that year!
JH: Which year was the weather the toughest?
Neil: Probably 1970 as it was about 35 degrees with a cold rain the whole way. Ron Hill ran 2:10:30 for a course record in his fishnet singlet!
JH: What is your key workout that enables you to finish Boston every year?
Neil: When I was at my peak, a hilly 24 miler every two weeks—now it doesn’t matter!
JH: Do you like the ways the Boston Marathon has changed?Neil: Yes and no. Yes for the official water stops and mile markers. No is for the fact that it’s too crowded at the start.
JH: I was thinking how lucky we are to have grown up with Browning Ross and Tom Osler as friends and part of our running lives. Do you have any thoughts on their influence?
Neil: Browning was a great role model as you could see how talented he was and how much he loved running. Yet, he was very humble and supportive of new runners. Tom was a friend and a coach and advised me on the details of training. He would talk about Boston and he convinced me to give it a go. I have great respect for Tom as he got the most out of average talent through trial and error and intelligent training.
JH: Would you like to run Boston again next year?Neil: Definitely! I want to keep the streak going!
Long time friend and mentor Tom Osler had this to say about Neil: “Neil is a compassionate and caring person and a loyal friend. His Boston streak is really quite an accomplishment. To be healthy enough and fit enough at the same time of year, every year to be able to finish Boston like he has is really remarkable.
To give you an idea of Neil’s willpower-- I was surprised to find myself approaching him during a recent race in Avalon. I‘ve been pretty far behind him for years. I caught up to him and said “Neil, if I beat you you’ll never live this down!” He smiled and said “You’re right!” Then he quickly pulled away and was gone.”
Written by Jack Heath, Courtesty of Runners Gazette Magazine: http://www.runnersgazette.com/
For more on Neil:
Diane McManus from the news of Delaware County:
A July article from Joseph Tanfani of the Philadelphia Inquirer: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/home_top_left_story/51285017.html?cmpid=15585797
And John Power from the Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/sports/marathon/articles/2009/04/19/time_after_time/
Note: Neil finished the 2011 Boston Marathon in 5 hours, 52 minutes and 14 seconds for his 45th consecutive finish.