The oldest male entrant in this Sunday's 50th annual New York City Marathon will have local ties, with 84-year old John Capen partaking in the historic 26.2 mile race through New York.
Capen, a Plainville High School graduate from the class of 1954, is now a Long Island native. He's currently a pastor, having started at 29 years old after holding several different positions. He
Capen had run with several other runners close to his age in the New York Marathon in previous years, but the call he received Monday informed him he was the oldest male entrant after not being able to run last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They notified me (Monday) that I am the oldest male, the oldest female is 85," Capen said. "... I was waiting anxiously to see what would happen last year but of course the marathon didn't happen. It'll be my 161st marathon."
Thr 161 marathons come with a storied history. As a bandit (unregistered runner) and entrant Capen has logged miles across the east coast for decades. One of his last races came in Hartford, where he completed the race in 9:14:17 on October 2. His fastest time he's ever logged came at 4:05.0, when he was 49 years old.
However, marathoning hasn't been something he's done all his life. He didn't run cross country at Plainville High, or join a club in his youth, instead getting his first steps in a marathon in his mid-40's after a few years of prep.
"I didn't start running until I was 38, in 1975. I didn't do my first marathon until I was 44 (in the Foxboro Marathon). I was doing one a year, and then two year, Boston as a bandit and New York as an official entry. When I found out about Hartford I had to do it because it was my home area. ... Around 2015 I started aiming for 12 marathons a year."
The process to prepare runners for distance races has been to log on the miles, which is common among high school cross country runners and other marathoners.
Capen, now into his 80's and with a defibrillator as of the spring of 2020, joins other marathoners in piling on the miles with careful preparation.
"About 2004 or 2005 I decided I've got to do 2,000 miles a year on foot," said Capen. To put the 2,000 miles into perspective, Capen could walk from downtown New Britain to downtown Atlanta and back on foot and still not reach his yearly goal.
The meticulous prep doesn't include him running, instead electing to walk.
"I keep very careful track and I'm 37 miles ahead for the year. ... You don't worry about running when you get into your 80's, you don't want to run what you've got or push yourself over the edge," Capen said. "It's a wonderful health program and you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. ... You just do the 26.2."
This Sunday marks the 22nd official New York Marathon he will race. He has 10 unofficial races under his belt as well, as a bandit, which he says he "still got the 26.2 done."
With 12 marathons a year still his goal, despite saying it's "iffy" on continuing the pace, Capen has no plans on slowing down for father time any time soon.
"I'd like to keep going until I'm 100," said Capen.
The 50th running of the New York City Marathon will kick off at 8:30 a.m. on ESPN2, with local coverage beginning at 7 a.m. The race will include 33,000 runners and will run through New York City's five boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan.