Larry Cole, right, a Korean War veteran and former master sergeant in the U.S. Army, stands with Sgt. Howard Luckett, a veteran of the Army, Marines, and Coast Guard Auxiliary. The two were named co-grand marshals for the 2018 Boston Marathon.—Courtesy of the Boston Athletic Association
When Larry Cole pulled a flyer out of his mailbox about a marathon in honor of stroke victims, he decided to lace up his running shoes and give it a try.
Cole’s wife was a stroke victim, and the race would benefit the American Stroke Association, he said.
Though he hadn’t run a marathon before, his time playing old timers hockey had kept him in shape.
That was 2005, and Cole, a Harwich resident, has been running since.
Now, at 85, Cole is the oldest runner in this year’s Boston Marathon. Cole brushes off the idea that running a marathon at 85 is a monumental feat. After all, he’s completed the Boston race twice before — in 2012 and 2017. Plus, he said there’s athletes in his age category that will finish long before he does.
“This will be my third attempt to beat the six-hour clock,” Cole said in a recent interview with Boston.com.
The two times he’s run the marathon in the past, a couple of different factors prohibited him from crossing the finish line before his goal time.
In 2012, it was the heat. Cole said he cramped up around mile 22 and had to stop for 15 to 20 minutes in a medical tent. He finished the race in around 6 hours and 15 minutes. Cole said he was “on track” to finish in under six hours in 2017, but suffered back pain that slowed him down. He finished in about 6 hours and 20 minutes.
“I’m optimistic,” Cole said of his upcoming third attempt. “The training runs have gone well.”
While he didn’t run the marathon in 2018, Cole was an honorary grand marshal alongside Sgt. Howard Luckett. They were chosen because of their military service — Cole, a master sergeant, is an Army veteran of the Korean War.
Cole runs six days a week. He uses an online training program that spans about 18 weeks.
“They’re a mix of short runs and long runs gradually building up and tapering off,” he said, adding that, in training for Boston, there are specific exercises for tackling the amount of downhill running. “There’s a recommendation about doing leg-lift exercises so after you finish Boston, you don’t have to walk backwards downstairs for two days.”
Thinking back to before he ran his first marathon in early 2006, Cole said he was “always physically active” and enjoyed sports.
“I concentrated on hockey, but, to stay in shape for hockey, I did some jogging,” he said.
But training for a marathon was different. He recalled losing about 20 pounds and taking on a training schedule that “was all new.”
Cole is part of the New England 65-Plus Runners club, which, as its name indicates, is open to people over the age of 65. Each year the group receives some waivers for the race.
“As usual there were more applicants for the waivers than there were waivers,” he said. The club mandated that one of the waivers had to go to someone 80 years old or older — Cole was the only applicant. “That’s how old, local plotters like me get into an event like Boston.”
For Cole, running is recreational.
“I enjoy the people, and the beer afterwards,” he said. “That’s the attraction.”