Hill police officer to lace up for the Boston Marathon

  • Published
  • By Catherine McNally
  • Hilltop Times Staff
The Boston Marathon extends over 26 miles and 385 yards of hilly New England terrain. This run, which is the world's oldest annual marathon and one of the five World Marathon Majors, pits runners from all over the world against each other as they race from Hopkinton to Boston, Mass.

James Purtell, a police officer with the Department of the Air Force and retired 75th Security Forces Squadron master sergeant, intends to conquer this lengthy stretch of road on April 18.

Ever since his introduction to long distance running in the 2008 Bataan Memorial Death March, which he participated in with Hill Air Force Base's 75th SFS team, Purtell has switched his focus from bodybuilding to strengthening his body and mind and improving his running time.

This introduction, along with encouragement, guidance and motivation from Lt. Col. Shannon Smith, former 75th SFS commander, and Capt. David Bullock, former 75th SFS operations officer and runner in the 2009 Boston Marathon, has given Purtell a passionate start in the world of running. He has since competed again in the 2009 Bataan Memorial Death March as well as several other marathons, including the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay.

"I owe a lot to those two for their training ideas and keeping me at it in the beginning," Purtell said of Smith and Bullock. "Now I've just hooked myself. The running kind of gets into your blood."

After finishing his first long distance marathon in Las Vegas, Purtell decided his next goal was to compete in the Boston Marathon. It wasn't as easy as making the decision, though. He would have to rise against the odds and run at a pace no slower than the three hour and 30 minute qualifying time, all while on a marathon course approved by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Closer and closer

Only 10 percent of marathon runners worldwide qualify for the Boston Marathon, but these odds didn't deter Purtell from aiming for his goal. On his first attempt, he finished 17 minutes behind the qualifying time. Despite his own admission that 17 minutes is a long time to make up in terms of running, Purtell gritted his teeth and continued pushing himself toward his dream. His next attempt was only 23 seconds too slow to be a qualifying time.

Then, in June 2010, Purtell competed in P.F. Chang's Rock 'N' Roll Marathon in San Diego. His run time took a huge leap forward and Purtell charged past the finish line with a time of three hours and 27 minutes -- three entire minutes ahead of the Boston Marathon qualifying time for men in his age group.

At 46 years old, Purtell knows just how daunting preparing for a marathon can be, but his success proves that with the right attitude, self control and support, that 26 mile stretch can be tamed.

"I kind of got into this late in life," he said. "(But) anyone can do this."

Starting small is best

His advice for beginners and those working up to running a marathon is to start out small, then work up to longer distances and faster times.

"What I recommend, if you want to get involved in running, is to take baby steps," he continued. "Just start off small and work your way up."

Runners can benefit from weight lifting and stationary cycling to build up leg muscles and strengthen joints, Purtell explained. After becoming comfortable with mile-long runs and gaining confidence, he advises that runners move on to 5K runs and then 10K runs. After gaining confidence at that level, they can extend their comfort level to half and then full marathons.

"A lot of people will go run a marathon, then not make it and be turned off," Purtell warned. He stressed the importance of the time it takes to not only prepare a runner's body but also their mind so that negative thoughts and mental blocks can be left in the dust.

His training regimen

Currently, Purtell is working on a 16-week training program called the Less-Is-More Marathon Plan, which can be found at www.runnersworld.com. The three-days-a-week workout plan involves speed and tempo runs as well as a long run on the weekend. He also adds the stationary bike into the mix, which allows his joints a bit of rest while still keeping his heart and leg muscles going.

"It works fantastic," he said, describing the workout plan. "This is what I used to get ready for (the San Diego marathon)."

Along with his workouts, Purtell's diet is just as important. He sticks to low fat and high protein meals that include lots of vegetables, chicken and fish, as well as protein and fruit and vegetable smoothies. Purtell isn't afraid to include carbohydrates in his diet, either, though he is careful to regulate and base the amount of calories he consumes on the activities he'll be doing that day.

"You put in what you're going to burn," he explained.

The main difference between Purtell's diet and the one most people are familiar with is that Purtell eats small portions every two to three hours. "I call it 'grazing,'ΓΆΓΆ" he said.

Looking ahead

Though he's been successful in improving his run times and increasing his distance, Purtell doesn't plan to back down after the Boston Marathon. His goal for Boston is to complete the marathon with a time of three hours and 25 minutes, but he plans to keep improving.

"Down the road I would love to run a 3:15:00 or under," he said. "As I'm running I'm still learning."

Purtell's next marathon after Boston will be the Deseret News Marathon on July 25, where he will run with Smith and hopes to help his friend and running mentor qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon.

"If you can dream it, you can do it," Purtell said. "That's what I live by."