SARANAC LAKE - When age begins creeping in, many people tend to slow down. But that isn't the case for Greg Wittmer.
At age 57, the Saranac Lake resident is as fast as he's ever been, and that's enabled him to achieve a dream he has held for 20 years. On April 16, Wittmer will be running in his first Boston Marathon.
An avid runner since seventh grade, Wittmer decided back in 1992 that he would someday run in the world's most famous distance race after completing his second marathon in Columbus, Ohio. His wish came true when he ran in the 2010 Green Mountain Marathon, a race that takes place in South Hero, Vt. and follows the shore of Lake Champlain.
Greg Wittmer of Saranac Lake poses for a picture in Riverside Park on Friday afternoon. Wittmer is preparing to run in the Boston Marathon on April 16.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
It will be the ninth marathon for Wittmer, an Ohio native who moved to the Adirondacks in 1996 when his wife Susan took a job at the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake. The trip to Boston will be the first for Wittmer, who is looking forward to running with thousands of other competitors in a festive atmosphere.
"It's the Cadillac of all the marathons. It's the mother of all marathons," Wittmer said. "The most runners I have been with was 2,200 in Columbus. There will be 26,000 in the Boston Marathon. It's will be a big party."
Wittmer just missed punching his ticket to the Boston Marathon during the 2009 Green Mountain race, but came up just 35 seconds short of the qualifying time for his age group. A year later when he was 55, Wittmer turned in a finish time of 3 hours, 36 minutes and 46 seconds to earn his spot. That was a personal-best finish time for Wittmer, who will be looking to slice even more off in Boston.
"It was a lesson learned in the 2009 Green Mountain Marathon," he said. "I wrote down the splits I needed to be on and I followed them for the first half of the race. I felt good during the second half but I wasn't checking the split times. I came up just short. It was disappointing. I wasn't going to let that happen again. I memorized the split times in the 2010 race, and made sure I kept a cushion the whole way."
Distance running has been a big part of Wittmer's life since he was a high schooler in Sandusky, Ohio, where his forte on the track team was the 2-mile. He set a school record in that event as a junior, but it didn't stand when he was disqualified after apparently forcing a runner off the track in a bid to take the lead in a late-season race. Wittmer said he never did bounce back to set that record, but still continued to love running for "miles and miles and miles."
"Running is my life," Wittmer said. "On the long runs, there is a serenity that just can't be found anywhere else. There's an inner calm, an inner tranquility. When I'm out on the roads and trails, I really find myself connecting with nature.
"There are so many by-products derived from running," he added. "You stay healthier, your head is clear and it keeps you young. There's no feeling like it in the world."
Injuries forced Wittmer's wife to retire from running, but she has been cheering her husband on at every marathon he has appeared in. His mother Norene, who is now 85, even made the trip up from Ohio to attend the 2010 Green Mountain Marathon to lend support to her son in his quest to qualify for Boston.
"They helped me do it," he said.
Wittmer has also ran in the Adirondack Marathon that circles Schroon Lake, and described the race as beautiful run. That event is also a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, but the hilly course makes it tough to put down a fast time.
Wittmer said he runs 35 to 40 miles a week, including 8-mile round trip treks to and from his job selling windows and doors at Ace Hardware in Saranac Lake. He also paddles his canoe to work on occasion. In order to prepare for the Boston Marathon, he took on an 18-week training regimen, which is now in the tapering-down phase heading into the race. Today, he planned to run 11 miles and eight more Monday. He will wrap up his training with with 3- and 4-mile runs later this the week before leaving for Boston next Saturday.
At age 57, Wittmer gave thanks for what has been so far an injury-free career, and it's one he plans to continue for years to come.
"As a Christian, I thank god for my health. I've been so fortunate," Wittmer said. "I want to keep running as long as I can. My goal is a marathon a year until I'm 80, and then I reassess things from there."
Wittmer is one of five area runners who qualified for the Boston Marathon. Also heading to the race are Lake Placid residents Rachel Butler, Lawrence Luepschen and Joni Lundin-Gerkin and Katherine Smith of Keene Valley.