Having already completed twelve other marathons in as many years before running in April's Boston Marathon, you might think that Air Force Maj. Theodore J. Rieth would find the challenge routine. After all, except for the scenery, all marathons are the same distance - 26.2 miles or 42,000 meters or about the distance from Fredericksburg to Dahlgren. Yet, for Rieth, Boston was anything but routine.
"Boston was my favorite so far," said Rieth, "The history and tradition of the race are second to none. I've followed the race for many years and finally being able to be a part of the history felt awesome."
"The best part was the excellent spectator support and experiencing all of the sights along the course first hand, such as running by Wellesley College, Boston College, and up Heartbreak Hill," Rieth said. "The toughest part was the fairly challenging course and the warm temperatures."
Rieth finished the race in three hours, 48 minutes, and eleven seconds. That compares to his qualifying time of 3:13:29 at Rehoboth Beach, Del. in December 2010, his best time for a marathon to date. His time was slower than normal, he said, because temperatures the day of the race were 30 to 40 degrees higher than normal, a factor that may have contributed to a few thousand runners simply not showing up at all and others dropping out before finishing.
"I actually didn't feel too well immediately after the race," Rieth said, although he never considered dropping out at any point. "For the first time ever, I ended up getting a bag of IV fluid in the medical tent due to dehydration. After that, I felt much better." Otherwise, the only after effects were muscle soreness and sunburn, he said. He returned to work at the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC) the next day.
Begun in 1897 following the first modern Olympics, the Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon. It averages 20,000 runners a year with nearly 27,000 runners signed up this year alone and more than 500,000 spectators along the course.
"While Boston attracts a large field of runners, it was fun and exciting to participate with so many people that enjoy running as much as I do," Rieth said. "The atmosphere was mutually supportive one since nearly all of the runners need to meet qualification standards to enter. They all know the work it took even to get into the event."
To qualify for the Boston Marathon, for example, runners must first meet standards based on gender and age. For the 41-year-old Rieth, that meant running another marathon in less than three hours and 20 minutes. Other entries are reserved for race sponsors and charity runners where no qualification standard is required.
Also, with such a large field of runners, it is impossible for everyone to cross the start line together. Runners are seeded in groups, which are divided into waves and corrals, Rieth said. Rieth was in the first wave of three.
With 7,000 people in front of him, it took more than ten minutes after the start of the race for Rieth just to reach the start line. He estimates that it took another eight or nine minutes after that to break free of the pack after the first mile and find his own pace. Once he hit his stride though, he maintained an 8:43 minute-a-mile pace the rest of the course.
When not in training for a race, Rieth averages about 25 to 35 miles a week, increasing his mileage by 5 to 20 miles a week when preparing for a marathon, all of which helps him stay a spare 140 pounds. He begins training for a marathon about three months in advance. Rieth can be seen running around the Dahlgren base most weekday mornings when most employees are just arriving to work.
Rieth joined the Air Force in 1988 and started working at JWAC in 2010 where he heads the command's human resource division. Originally from Towanda, Penn., he is married with two children and lives in King George, Va.
Rieth started running regularly in 2001 and participated in his first marathon a year later. He sees running as an extension of the military culture, which instills physical fitness in its members, and he enjoys the simplicity of the sport - the runner, some modest equipment, the road or trail, and the clock. "It's hard to find another exercise that provides the bang for buck that running does," he said.
Rieth is already making plans to compete in his next marathon in San Antonio, Tex. this November. As for returning to Boston, "If I qualify again, I'd like to go back in a few years," Rieth said.