Eric Rubinson is training to compete in the Boston Marathon. He's no novice to the sport, but crossing the finish line in the most famous 26.2-mile race will end a journey that even the most obsessive long-distance runners could never imagine.
When Rubinson makes his last stride across Boylston Street on April 16, he will have run at least one marathon in all 50 states. An incredible accomplishment, to be sure, especially when he makes one startling revelation.
"I never really saw myself as a runner. It was just something to do," he said with a grin.
Despite having completed 53 marathons, Rubinson isn't your usual runner. By by the end of the line in Boston, he will have logged 2,096 miles in competition. Generally, long-distance runners obsessively track every facet of their training; Rubinson doesn't worry abut finishing times or how many marathoners he leaves in the dust. He even insists that, for him, this remarkable achievement has never been about being the best athlete in the pack. Instead, it's about being his own personal best and accomplishing the goals he sets for himself.
"You have to work really hard to get to the point where you can see what you're made of," the slender, 35-year-old said just minutes after an afternoon run.
You Have To Walk Before You Can Run Really, Really Far
When Rubinson, a biology major who graduated from Rutgers University in 1998, began working in the pharmaceutical industry, he noticed that too many business dinners were taking a toll on his waistline. So, in June of 1999, he started a running program to get back in shape.
"I was a non-athlete in high school. I ran from fights, that's about it," Rubinson quips."I used to look at the local 5K races and think, 'That's more than three miles, I'm not doing that.'"
His goal was to train for a marathon in Chicago in 2000. He signed up and had initially only planned to run 18 miles and walk for the remainder of the race. But at one point, he overheard a person in the crowd say that the person who crossed the finish line had broken a record. It was then that he realized he needed to run the entire length of the course.
"I had to be part of that," he said.
By 2006, Rubinson had run five races in five states. Despite a leg injury requiring physical therapy, he continued the momentum, signing up for marathons in additional states.
"Once I had done that, I started looking for races," he said.
The Chase For Five Seconds
The first time Rubinson ran a race that could've qualified him for the Boston Marathon, he fell short by five seconds. He was in New Mexico, and the course was challenging. His finishing time was 3 hours, 11 minutes and 4 seconds.
"In that race, if I was five seconds faster, I would've qualified for Boston," Rubinson said. "It set the course for my life, where I was constantly chasing those five seconds."
Rubisnon said that even though he has since managed to qualify for the Boston Marathon, he's "still chasing those five seconds," and the fraction of time has changed his perspective on racing — and life.
"You don't have a destiny," Rubinson said. "It's about life being a series of decisions that take you someplace that defines who you become."
It also made him realize that how fast he finishes a race isn't as important as the experience itself. And he's had some very unique experiences.
Rubinson said the coldest conditions he ran marathons in came in two unlikely places, Alabama and Mississippi. He even ran the DisneyWorld marathon, which winds through all five amusement parks and gives competitors the opportunity to mingle with the likes of Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Jiminey Cricket.
Rubinson said his most emotional race came at the 2001 New York City Marathon, which took place two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I was never so scared and so determined at the same time," Rubinson recalled, saying that he talked with others runner and wondered if terrorists would attack the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as they ran across it. "It was very humbling."
Charity, Baseball and Beer
Rubinson insists that his goal of running 50 marathons in 50 states isn't about winning the races, but about experiencing them and the states in which they're held. And he's always looking for ways to enhance the experiences.
One way he does this is by trying to visit a different microbrewery following each race. He also makes an effort to visit ballparks in each state he visits.
In addition, Rubinson has raised more than $50,000 for various charities during his run across the country. Every year, for example, he picks one raise to raise money for the Cancer Support Community, a national charity. He said that he's run in many marathons organized for charities or that honor veterans.
Rubinson got emotional as he discussed the Bataan Memorial Death March is one such race, is a run through the high desert terrain of the White Sands, N.M. Missile Range. The race is conducted in honor of service members who defended the Philippines during World War II. Many of them lost their lives during the mission. Some of the veterans who served during that time show up to watch the race, and Rubinson said interacting with them is an honor.
"It's an amazing thing to be part of. It's bigger than anything. It's bigger than running," he said.
Run, Eric, Run!
Getting motivated to wake up early and run several miles a few times a week isn't always easy, but Rubinson's determination usually outweighs his desire to sleep in.
"I made the commitment to do the marathon, so I've already made that decision to run," he said, crediting his wife, Nutan, for supporting him in his lengthy quest to run "50 in 50."
Along with their three-year-old son, the couple often travel as a family to Rubinson's marathon destinations, so that they can spend time together, visiting baseball stadiums and taking in the sites of the unique destinations in which they find themselves.
His pre-race routine usually involves reducing the number of miles he runs, loading up on carbohydrate-based foods and getting plenty of extra sleep. And if you think a little rain or freezing cold temperatures will keep the former Middletown man from pounding the pavement, think again.
"I'll run in anything but ice and lightning," he said.
Not Making Any Plans...
Although Rubinson doesn't plan to abandon running altogether after he reaches his goal in Boston, he is going to run fewer marathons. The races have been a huge part of his life for the past decade, but now that his son is getting older, he is ready to shift his focus.
"So many times this has steered my life, and so many times it's been an impediment," said Rubinson. Once this road warrior crosses the finish line on Patriot's Day in Boston, he will have nothing to chase — and he's okay with that.
"It's kind of nice to not have a plan."