A Boston Marathoner’s Life of Running

By: Sheri Matthews

65-year-old Win Englebert is less than a week from completing his 80th marathon at the 116th Boston Marathon. There are only a handful of his 79 medals hanging up in his La Jolla Bank of the West office. One from Maui and London, two framed finishers certificates from the Boston and New York Marathons, and one 1985 serigraph type painting/photograph of 1st Avenue at the 1985 NYC Marathon.

I sat down with Win on the one-year anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon, three days before he was set to board a San Diego flight to participate in his 80th Marathon. My cheeks still hurt from smiling.  I’ll be running Boston myself, and I can tell you that excited and nervous does not begin to describe the feelings about this race, especially one year after the bomb that rocked the nation’s most historic finish line.

The first thing I did was point to the NYC Marathon painting to the left of Win’s desk with 1980s runners in headbands, slouch socks and short shorts. Win’s mind immediately went back, and like that, we were off and running.

ATLX:  So, have you always been running?

Win: No. I’m from Michigan, my high school only had 300 people and I got a full-ride basketball scholarship to the University of Arizona.  After college, in 1976, my first wife said, ‘you’re becoming a bum.’ I was living in LA and tennis was a bit expensive. I didn’t even own running shoes! I put on some soccer shoes with rubber cleats one Sunday and jogged to the corner store for the paper. It was maybe a half-mile … I was gasped.

ATLX: So how do you go from fetching Sunday papers to 80 marathons?

Win: By 1981 I was doing the typical build; a 5k, maybe a 10, then get crazy with a half-marathon. My first full marathon was the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in Scottsdale. After six marathons I thought I was done. They were just too hard. Then, I happen to run into a track coach from U of A who knew me when I played basketball. I was about to run one of the canyons in Tucson when I see him training some of his runners nearby. I tell him about my marathon dilemma, and he says, ‘Win, you probably are running like you are running a fast Break on the basketball court! No wonder you don’t like running. Especially 26.2 miles. So he made some adjustments in my stride and posture, and voila! I was back enjoying running for 74 more enjoyable marathons and ten 50k races.

ATLX: What’s your favorite marathon?

Win: Boston is the Holy Grail, but outside of that, New York is magical and Big Sur. Big Sur is difficult and has incredible views. Oh, and the Wild Wild West. You have to do that one.  Austin is definitely in the top ten. Nicest people ever. You have to run it. There’s Napa Valley, too. That one has wine at every aid station and hot soup at the end.

ATLX: Do you think you will you ever stop running marathons?

Win: I wonder that, but no. I don’t think so. I am finishing the world majors of marathons. I’ve run New York, Chicago, Boston, London, Berlin will be September 28th of this year, and then Tokyo in 2015.

ATLX: You have an amazing amount of energy. What’s the secret?

Win: I rest a lot. I don’t run every day. And I eat right. We grow most of our food ourselves.

ATLX: You didn’t run the Boston Marathon in 2013. How come?

Win: I was already doing the London Marathon, and that was six days later. Those journeys are long. You have to factor in sleep, rest and the time change. London is an incredible race. But six days after the Boston bomb, it was such a somber mood. It was just a sad tone on the sport; people were hurt. You could hear a pin drop at the finish line (in London).

There’s no doubt that the 2013 Boston Marathon tragedy will live forever in our nation’s memory. It was a terrible day. But the worst tragedy of all would be for us to forget the beauty of this race, to allow one heinous act to cast a shadow over all that is great about the Boston Marathon. As I’m concluding my talk with Win, telling him that I hope to see him in Boston, he reminds me to not forget about “Heartbreak Hill” – one of the most difficult ascents of the course between miles 21 and 22.

“Look for the bronze statue on the left,” he tells me.

The statue, which went up in 1993, is of two-time Olympian and Runner’s World magazine’s Runner of the Century John Kelley, who won the Boston Marathon in 1935 and 1945. In 2001, at 93 years old, Kelley ran in the last of his incredible 61 Boston Marathons, and fittingly, Win was there. In fact, Win ran past Kelley as he was being honored on Heartbreak Hill. Kelley was surrounded by Massachusetts State Troopers, one of which happened to be a man that Win wound up running alongside in the Tahoe Marathon just a few years later. Indeed, runners live in a small world. We all feel connected.

Win recalls the time he met a 23-year-old intern at a Cinco de Mayo party. His name was Michael, and he wasn’t really a runner. The two of them got to talking about running, a conversation that saved Win, as he puts it, from a party he didn’t really want to be at in the first place. Eventually, Win wound up getting Michael into the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon under the false pretense of an injured runner. They ran alongside one another until Michael left Win in the dust with four miles to go.

“And the young man’s been running ever since,” Win says with a smile. “I am going to stay with him and his family in Berlin this fall. You meet people running, and you remain lifelong friends.”

I could sit and listen to Win talk all day. He’s infectious. Joyful. He’s everything good about a runner. I find myself doing the math, finding it hard to believe that Win is 65 years old. He doesn’t look it. Or act it. They say that running adds years to your life, but in looking at Win, I’m thinking it’s the other way around. I’m thinking that running adds life to your years.

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