Bob McCune is a goal setter.
On April 18 the Escalon man will stand among a sea of 30,000 people just like himself — goal setters. Some 24,000 of those 30,000 will have made their way there the same way he did; they ran fast enough.
The third Monday each April, celebrated as Patriots’ Day, marks the 120th Boston Marathon and McCune will toe the line of the coveted race as he watches a goal come to fruition.
Running the prestigious race was not always on the radar for the relatively new distance runner. Following the encouragement of a friend, McCune ran his first full marathon in the summer of 2013 in San Francisco.
“He was looking at the times and he said, I think you could qualify for Boston,” McCune said of his friend and the training leading up to his first run at the 26.2 mile distance. “He said based on your age and what we’re running. So I said okay, let’s try it.”
But trying brought its own set of challenges.
“It wasn’t very smart,” McCune said, chuckling, acknowledging the city’s terrain as less than ideal for a fast marathon time. “There were a couple more hills and everything else and I actually missed the qualifying time (for Boston) by like a minute and 20 seconds, but I was spent.”
Three weeks later McCune went back at the goal and registered for California International Marathon 2013 that December. A race which earned him the original qualifying time he was chasing, yet the Boston Athletic Association had increased the times based on event popularity and the number of qualifiers that previous year.
“I missed it by like 28 seconds,” he said. “So I BQ’d (Boston Qualified), but I still missed it. So then, I was like… okay…I’m going to get this thing.”
In 2014 McCune returned to CIM and did exactly that, but with a twist. As fate would have it, his birthday would place him in a higher age group (known as ‘aging up’) from the previous two races. A cushion typically welcomed by a runner chasing the Boston dream, but not McCune.
“I wanted to still qualify at the younger age group,” he said of his goal. “That was the thing. I set my time for this goal; I’m not going to fold for the older age group. So I actually qualified for the younger age group, which was almost nine minutes (faster than) for the older age group.”
McCune qualified for Boston in the 50-54 age group with a full Marathon time of 3:21:34. In September of 2015 he was able to click the ‘register’ button and received his acceptance into the 2016 event.
“I think I can get to a 3:11,” the runner stated, sharing that the belief comes through a 24-week strategic training plan filled with five days of running followed by three days of weights. “But, then you start to read everything about Boston and you see that’s probably stupid. I think I can BQ at Boston, that’s goal number one. I think I can run somewhere between a 7:30 and a 7:40 pace.”
Running the Boston Marathon is not about the prestige, notoriety or bragging rights for the Valley local. He shared it’s about setting and achieving a goal.
“Not a lot of people get the opportunity to do that. I’m very, very fortunate in that regard and to also be supported by the family,” he stated.
The majority of McCune’s training has been in the early morning hours long before his family is awake. A sort of ‘mantra’ he shared, as he worked at making his personal goal have little impact on family life. A ‘mantra’ which is noteworthy and impressive when one considers a typical training week holds 40 to 50 miles of running, with one of the five days consisting of a long run (15 to 22 miles at once).
“I like to check the box,” he said. “I like to say I challenged myself to do this and I checked the box to say I did it.”
The opportunity to take to the streets of the oldest US marathon and represent the city of Escalon is not lost on McCune. As he reflected on the endless miles he’s run solo through the small farming community and the support he’s received from so many, his gratitude and emotion becomes apparent.
“Escalon’s a great community,” he said. “It’s neat that people appreciate that someone from Escalon is going to go run it. I really, really enjoy everyone being supportive.
“You know it’s a neat thing when you run down the chute and they say, Bob McCune, Escalon,” he stated proudly.
Hearing it in Boston will only add to the accomplishment.
“I’m looking forward to crossing the line,” McCune said of the Boston Marathon. “When we started training, I said I’m going to train for Boston, and then they had the bombing. I still remember coming up and we were running San Francisco (Marathon) and there were fire trucks and police cars and bomb dogs and I thought ‘those damn terrorists.’ That really bothered me.”
McCune noted the popularity the race gained after the 2013 bombings and its elusiveness as he prepares to take it all in and ‘check the box.’ A goal set before the tragedy of 2013 that now has the finish line in sight.
McCune will travel to Boston with his wife Lisa and their two children, Shelby and Wyatt.
“I’m probably worried more about my family being there than anything else,” he said. “We’ll go Saturday and do the number pick-up and everything. Maybe see a Red Sox game on Sunday and then Monday I go run.”
Finally getting to run will help put it all in perspective.
“I’m going to finish Boston,” he said, “and I don’t think I can be disappointed with what the result is, because I’ve done all of the things I need to do to be prepared. I didn’t leave anything to chance with the training.”
The preparation has been both mental and physical.
“I’ve challenged myself with the training. I hadn’t really recognized what this meant (qualifying for Boston) until I started reading about it and what people go through to get there,” McCune summarized. “So you know at 5:03 in the morning when it’s cold out and its windy and you have a head lamp on and a flasher on and you’re the only one out there … You start to think about things and those things make you get to 5:04. People get kind of excited about you doing it and while that’s not what it’s about, it’s nice to know you have people behind you.”