Marathon guest speaker a legend at going the distance
CHAMPAIGN — The Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon has a guest and speaker who has run a couple of the most famous long races ever.
Dick Beardsley matched favorite Alberto Salazar almost stride by stride in 1982, one of the last Boston marathons dominated by American runners — the "duel in the sun," which Beardsley lost by seconds.
"I got out-kicked in the last 100 yards," he recalls.
Just the year before, in an inspiring show of sportsmanship, he and Norwegian Inge Simonsen intentionally crossed the finish line together, holding hands, in a time of 2:11:48 in the first London Marathon.
Beardsley, 61, is the only man to have ever run 13 consecutive personal bests at the marathon level.
So the Bemidji, Minn., farm boy knows about personal bests, and he says the Illinois Marathon on Saturday might be a good place to get one.
Beardsley, the 2017 Guest Legend at the marathon, will appear at expo events, give a talk at 2 p.m. Friday in the ARC Auditorium, 201 E. Peabody Drive, C; give another talk at 6 p.m. Friday, also at the Activities and Recreations Center; and co-host the Illini Radio Group pre-race radio show at 5 a.m. Saturday.
It's his second trip here.
"I was down here for the very first event, and I couldn't believe how big it was for a first time out," he says.
Beardsley, who peppers his speech with "Minnesotese," including a lot of gollies, got into distance running late and not for the purest of reasons.
"When I was in high school, I was so into fishing and hunting, but girls started coming into the picture," he says, "so I went out for football. I lasted less than an hour on the roster. I figured a letter might be easier in cross-country."
But cross-country turned out to be a bit of a challenge, too.
"The first day of practice, we ran around 2.5 miles. I had to walk about a mile. When I at least finished, I thought: 'Yeah, I made it,'" he recalls.
But he turned out to be a natural and moved onto collegiate competition.
"In college, it seemed like the further I ran, the better I got. Every coach got me better," he says.
At 21, Beardsley ran the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley, Wis., a Boston qualifier.
"I ran 2:47, so I was really happy, because I'd never run like that before, and I started a string of new personal bests. In 1979, I hooked up with New Balance, and they set me up for the London Marathon, which was a pretty big deal for a Minnesota boy," he says.
That's where he and Simonsen had their dual finish, and "Inge and I are great friends to this day."
As for Boston 1982, where he and Salazar ran pace for pace far ahead of the rest of the racers, "I remember that race like it happened yesterday."
"It was the first really nice day in Boston all spring, and the fans were out there in droves. Until about the 22-mile marker, most people were cheering for the hometown hero, but later they were cheering for both of us, two young American boys going all out against each other," he remembers.
"He started kicking before I did, and I ran out of room to catch up."
Achilles' heel problems kept him off the 1984 Olympic team, he says:
"I went to the '88 Olympic trials, thinking that would be my last hurrah. I didn't make it, and moved back to my dairy farm."
That was where his running took its truest turn for the worse.
In 1989, he had an accident with a shaft on a tractor.
"I got wrapped up in that thing, and I was lucky I didn't die. It nearly took my leg off, and I had a punctured lung," he says.
Both he and Salazar had problems in the next few years.
Salazar had a heart attack and a serious bout with depression. He also faced doping allegations.
Beardsley became dependent on the painkillers he took for the tractor accident, and eventually started a foundation to combat the nationwide problem.
He has had two knee replacements — one in 2009, the other in 2010 — but still runs 45 to 50 miles a week.
Now, he has a lifelong view of the marathon.
"Boston will always have a special place for me, but I like Illinois," he says.
"It's a nice, flat course. That has its pluses and minuses. The nice thing about having hills is you use different muscle groups uphill and downhill, and it gives your other set of muscles a chance to rest. But flat courses are usually fast."