John Byrd is the ‘Marathon Man’

Former teacher qualifies for Boston event (again)

John Byrd probably isn’t the person most people expect when they think of a marathon runner.

But Byrd, a 74 year-old retired Clinton High School teacher, just qualified for the 2022 Boston Marathon after completing the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon in Toledo, Ohio, with a time of 4:11.14

Byrd taught at Clinton Middle School for a time before teaching biology at Clinton High School for just over 11 years. After retiring, he taught elementary school science part time, with Byrd saying that it was “a humbling experience.”

“I think every arrogant professor and high school teacher should have to do it,” Byrd said. “They should have to teach elementary school. It’s humbling. It’s intimidating.”

Byrd started running in his late 20s after an illness left him hospitalized for an extended stretch of time.

“I got cat-scratch fever,” said Byrd. “It’s a bacterial infection you get from cats. It left me with a 104-degree fever that I couldn’t get down. It’s not something you see very often, so the doctors were stumped.

“I remember I had to be put on ice packs at night. That was … fun. When I got out, though, I was so excited just to walk down to the mailbox and back that I had the thought that I’d like to run a marathon.

“Fast forward to 1980 and I ran the Atomic City Marathon,” he said. “I’ve only run two marathons in my whole life.”

This is actually the second time that Byrd has qualified for the Boston Marathon. He ran a 2:42 to qualify in 1980, when the race didn’t have the presence in popular culture that it has today.

“Back in 1980, it was just starting to gain popularity,” Byrd said. “Unfortunately, I got a stress fracture and couldn’t go and then life got in the way and I basically stopped running. I played basketball until age 69, then I realized that if I kept going I was going to blow out a knee or get seriously hurt, so I picked up running again and realized I needed to put a check next to that Boston Marathon box.”

Byrd will be running in the 75-79 age group, where the qualifying time is four hours and 35 minutes, meaning that Byrd qualified with a decent buffer. Byrd said that part of what he wants to do is dispel the myths around running.

“A lot of people have this idea that running is a lonely sport, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a true team effort. I’ve had a lot of people, especially two or three close friends, that have helped me train, and without their support or encouragement, it would have been very, very tough. It was hard anyway, but people should know that running is a social outlet. One thing that running will do for you, especially at higher distances, it will humble you. You have to reach pretty far down sometimes to get through those 20 mile training runs.

“It’s not necessarily for everybody, but it doesn’t ruin knees. If you’re half-way smart about it, it’ll help build bone and cartilage. It doesn’t damage your body like some people think. You have to be smart about listening to your body, but there’s a lot of myths about running floating around out there.”

In the vein of running being a social sport, Byrd said that he meets plenty of new people all the time, with plenty of stories that continue to inspire him.

“There’s always uplifting stories. I ran along a mile or two with a young lady who was 17 years old. She was a senior and her senior year was basically a bust because of the pandemic. Rather than sitting around, she decided to train for a marathon, and she did quite well. I thought that was very impressive for a 17-year-old. I found that to be a pretty uplifting story.”

Ultimately, Byrd said, to him, it’s important that other people see an older person exercising, and see the benefits of exercise in general.

“I think it’s important to people that are a little older. I’ve heard it said many times, but it’s true. It’s never too late to start exercising. Any way we can promote or encourage people to exercise, I think that’s an obligation we have to each other. You don’t have to run marathons. There’s plenty of ways to do it. You can swim or cycle or lift weights or row.

“There was a time where people didn’t look at running as something for a 75 year old or a 65 year old to be doing, but that’s starting to change a little bit. There were eight of us in my age group for my last marathon: four 70year-olds, three 74 year-olds, and a single 71 year-old. My friends around here that know I do these races, they always ask me “Did you win?” and I always tell them, “Of course I did, I’m the only one in my age group. It’s not hard to win when you’re the only one competing.”