‘Mr. Ken’ to run in 113th Boston Marathon
April 18, 2009
On Monday, Ken Gerrard’s legs will take him somewhere he never thought possible.
Gerrard, for years adored and commonly known as “Mr. Ken” by elementary school children in Lake Tahoe Unified School District, will participate in the 113th running of the Boston Marathon.
And to think, five years ago, Gerrard wasn’t even a runner.
“My older brother (Randy), he’s my inspiration. He drug me into a race in Carson City four years ago, and from that point I got the bug, and I’ve been running ever since,” said the Sierra House custodian.
Prior to catching the running bug, Gerrard was dealing with health issues ” namely with his legs.
“The last thing the doctor told me was don’t run,” he said. “It’s the best thing I ever did. It’s strengthened my muscles and helped my cardio, and it’s developed into a passion.”
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The 52-year-old Gerrard quickly worked his way up to the marathon distance. He has logged four marathons and has completed the Lake Tahoe half marathon three times.
It was his previous marathon, the California International Marathon last December in Sacramento, that set him apart from other runners.
“At one point, I didn’t think (Boston) was reachable. The cutoff time is 3:35 and I’d been running 3:50, 3:49 and 3:45,” Gerrard said.
But in previous marathons, Gerrard hadn’t looked to pace himself with another runner. In Sacramento, he found a rabbit in Auburn’s Tim Twietmeyer, the five-time winner of the Western States 100 and the only runner to have completed the event 25 times in under 24 hours.
“He was my pacesetter at mile 18. I told myself that I’ve got to hang with this guy or I’m not going to make it,” Gerrard said.
Gerrard didn’t need to sweat the 3:35 cutoff for male runners ages 50-54. He finished in 3:34:03, beating Twietmeyer by 48 seconds.
“It was one of those moments that I can’t believe I did it,” Gerrard said. “I realized at that moment, you can do anything if you wrap your mind around it and are persistent.”
Before a school assembly in his honor last week, children at Sierra House have been questioning their favorite runner about his chances in the big race.
“They are getting pretty excited about it. They ask me if I’m going to come in first, and I go, ‘Well, I think I’ll be with (the top) Kenyan for the first 10 seconds,'” Gerrard said.
Training for Boston in the Sierra hasn’t been easy for Gerrard. Rain, sleet, snow and cold haven’t, however, kept him from running 16-18 miles three days a week. Completing the granddaddy of marathons won’t be easy, Gerrard said. He’s enlisted advice from other runners in the area who have done Boston and pored over the course map.
“There’s a few hills … four at about 18 miles. That’s going to be a little tough for me,” he said. “I’m good with hills when my legs are fresh, and I’m sure that’s why they put them there.”
South Lake Tahoe resident Lisa Burts participated in the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996. She has helped Gerrard with logistical facts.
“The main things that I told him is not to change anything. What he is doing right now is working for him now, his diet, shoes, clothing,” Burts said. “When I did it, the biggest joy was qualifying for the marathon. I told him to savor every moment and not feel any stress about his performance.”
As for Heartbreak Hill, Burts said that Gerrard shouldn’t be concerned. “That’s just a legend. Heartbreak Hill isn’t any harder than running the hill on Al Tahoe Boulevard,” Burts said. “The only reason it is talked about is because it comes around mile 18 and people may start to get tired by then.”
Among the expected 25,000 entrants for the oldest marathon are four-time champion Bill Rodgers and Olympian Ryan Hall. With so many participants, organizers will send off the runners in two waves. Gerrard barely made the first wave and will begin his quest at 7 a.m. PST.
His key to running a good race will depend on his head space.
“Some of my best runs are when I let my mind go free. I think about things, think about people,” Gerrard said.
And he’ll most definitely think about the Citgo sign.
“Once you see that, there’s only one mile to go,” Burts said.
Kids, look for bib No. 13605. That will be “Mr. Ken.”
Note: The marathon can be watched on universalsports.com, and progress of runners can be monitored through the AT&T Athlete Alert program on bostonmarathon.com.