It had to feel surreal for Eric Bennett as he crossed the makeshift finish line for his virtual Boston Marathon race this past Saturday during Labor Day weekend.
The 27-year old, who had never run a full marathon before, came to the finish of his 26.2 miles at the Falmouth Town Green. Along the final half-mile of the race there was cheering and applause from friends and family that helped push him to the finish, and then, waiting for him at the conclusion of his three hour, 38 minute and 50 seconds jaunt along the course laid out by the Cape Cod Marathon for their race, was the man he was running for, doing something that he’s done his whole life.
Seated in a chair at the finish line, Eric’s grandfather, Bob Kovner, blew out the iconic notes of Rocky Balboa’s theme from “Rocky” as his grandson finished a race that he had dedicated to him.
“It was all pretty amazing,” Bennett said. “I was overcome with emotions. You really can’t fathom the moment when you’re going through it.”
Bennett couldn’t really fathom the idea of even running a marathon a few years back. Growing up in Sharon, and visiting Mashpee in the summers to see his grandparents, Bennett was more of a team sports guy. He played basketball and some other sports as teenager, and was always looking to compete and push himself, but running wasn’t really at the top of his list of favorite sports. Until about a year ago he had never run more than a 5K race.
Moving back to the Boston area, after living in New York City, that changed. The running community in Boston drew him in, and he began to run more and more for fun, and to scratch his competitive itch. Nine months ago he figured that running the Boston Marathon would be fun, and a way that he could honor his grandfather and support the team that helped keep him alive.
Back in 2007 Mr. Kovner took a nasty spill outside his home after returning home from work at his music store. He was rushed to the hospital and eventually was treated by Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, in Boston, for injuries that he suffered. Through the hard work of his grandfather in rehab, and the great team of doctors that oversaw his care, Bennett’s grandfather returned to health. Bennett said that Spaulding Rehabilitation deserved a ton of credit for the way that they cared for his grandfather, and he wanted to say ‘thank you’ by running the Boston Marathon to benefit their mission.
Everything was on track for him to do that for the race that was supposed to be held in April. Unfortunately when the pandemic struck the marathon was postponed and then eventually canceled as an in-person event and turned into a virtual race, much like the Falmouth Road Race. Bennett then pivoted and decided that he’d run the race on his grandparents turf and make a fun reunion out of it, setting up a Labor Day weekend race for himself along the Cape Cod Marathon’s course in Falmouth.
Having already raised $6,500 for Spaulding, Bennett toed the starting line this past weekend and pounded out the miles. He found the race to be along a gorgeous course, but without the crowds and other runners to help him along, he said that the longer the day went the more challenging reaching the finish line became.
“I had a good time going, and was thinking about breaking 3:30, but then around mile 23 I just hit a wall. With these virtual races, you don’t get the support you’d usually get with the crowds yelling and pushing you along,” he said. “Miles 23 to 25 were tough. It was all mental, just me and my thoughts and I had to push through to the end. I was running along the bike path, and there are just families out there riding their bikes, or out for a walk, and I’m trying to get to the finish line. It was a little surreal.”
By the time he got close to making the final left-hand turn onto Main Street he knew that the finish was close. Friends and family got behind him and helped him get to the end, and then he saw his grandfather, and heard the 91-year old blaring out the notes on his trumpet. It would have taken a literal wall to keep him from breaking the yellow finish line tape that was stretched out for him to cross.
“Honestly, the whole thing exceeded my wildest expectations,” he said. “Once you see your family, you forget that you’ve run that far...That was just a priceless moment.”
With his first marathon under his belt, Bennett said that he still feels like he has some goals to meet. He wants to run the actual Boston Marathon, saying that “breaking the finish line on Boylston Street” is a big goal of his. He also thinks it would be fun to run the Cape Cod Marathon course during the actual marathon here, and see what it is like to run with the crowds and other runners on the roads with him.