Two local men qualify for Boston Marathon

Ben Franke started cross-country running as a seventh-grader and walked his first 3K race, but he later became a state qualifier in high school and continued running collegiately and even stayed with it after that.

Aaron Mays didn’t start running until a couple of years ago.

Despite the difference in running experience, the two men have one thing in common: They are Boston Marathon qualifiers.

The 26.2-mile race in Massachusetts’ capital city is the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s most prestigious road racing events. It’s considered the pinnacle event within the sport because of its traditions, longevity and method of gaining entry into the race (via qualification).

Franke, 28, a Seymour native who now lives in Bloomington, and Mays, 36, a Crothersville native, both qualified after finishing the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on Nov. 6 under the 3-hour mark.

Franke’s time was 2 hours, 52 minutes, 4 seconds, while Mays finished in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 30 seconds.

Both felt confident they qualified for Boston, and they recently received confirmation that they will be among the 300,000 runners in the 126th annual race, set for April 18, 2022.

For the average runners, Franke said the Boston Marathon is like their Olympics.

“I’m never going to make the Olympic Trials, I’m never going to make the Olympics or get signed as a pro runner, but for the Boston race … everyone in that race had qualified to be there, had run a previous marathon, ran so fast, fast enough to get there,” he said. “If you get to the Olympics, you have to hit some kind of standard and beat people to do it, and that’s kind of what I feel like the Boston Marathon is for the average runner. It’s that big prize for the average runner.”

Mays agreed it’s a prestigious race.

“Obviously, the Chicago Marathon is a major marathon, but it doesn’t have the same appeal and draw as Boston does just because having to have that qualifying time, it’s special,” he said.

While he hasn’t been running long, Mays said he has developed a love and passion for it. Knowing the hard work he put into training for his first marathon, qualifying for the Boston Marathon made it all worth it.

“That was the second most glorious day of my life outside of my wedding day,” Mays said. “As long as you work hard for something, anything is really possible. You just have to be dedicated, and it doesn’t have to be running. It could be whatever you put your passions and your heart and your soul into, and for me, I found running two years ago. And outside of my family, it’s my other love.”

Franke said his love of running grew as he went through high school, and the experience of Seymour making it to the cross-country state finals in 2011 led to his decision to compete in that sport and track and field all four years at Hanover College.

After graduating from Hanover, he moved to Bloomington and landed a job in inventory management at Dick’s Sporting Goods. He didn’t want to completely get away from running, so he became an assistant coach with the girls cross-country team and boys and girls track and field teams at Bloomington High School North and also ran on his own.

“That has just been an absolute joy,” he said of coaching. “I’ve loved getting to do it from that side of it. It has been probably even more fun than doing it as an athlete is doing it from the coaching side.”

Mays, on the other hand, played in basketball leagues during high school and was always athletic but said he never was a runner.

His first run wasn’t until Thanksgiving 2019 when his father-in-law, Brett Turner, invited him to run the Turkey Trot 8K race in Seymour. At first, he said he was reluctant because he weighed 230 pounds, was out of shape and hadn’t jogged since high school.

“He asked me to go run this, and I had an old pair of New Balance 574s that were just like street shoes that you’d wear with blue jeans if you were going to a football game,” Mays said. “I threw those on and went up there and met him. I think I drank a Red Bull before I started, and I got out there and we ran like a 9:57 pace and we got like 96th and 97th place, but we finished, and that was what we wanted to do.”

Franke said he would return to his hometown each year to do a couple of 5Ks, but it wasn’t until 2019 when he decided to take a leap to his first marathon.

“To get a chance to run the Boston Marathon was probably the biggest motivator to that,” he said of signing up for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.

He wound up finishing in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 28 seconds. While he just made it under the qualifying time to register for the Boston Marathon, he realized as more people filled the available spots, he would have been cut.

This year, in his second marathon, Franke was 7½ minutes faster. He started training in June with five or six runs a week totaling 25 miles and slowly built that up from there, mixing in harder and longer runs.

“I learned a lot after the first one,” he said. “I always told people my first one, I raced like a rookie, and some of the lessons from the first one definitely helped in the second one.”

This time, he said he had a little more energy and felt better coming across the finish line.

“I knew I did what I wanted to, so the last 200 meters, I made the most of the moment, I guess you could say, and just had fun, high fiving people and they were giving me a high five down the finish line,” Franke said.

He then met up with four of the cross-country runners who had completed their first half-marathon (13.1 miles) an hour earlier.

“It was good to celebrate my race and then getting to celebrate their race,” he said. “For some of those girls, their longest runs were 8 to 10 miles, so they had run much farther than they ever had in their lives at a really fast pace, too, so it was neat to celebrate their performances, too.”

In deciding to tackle his first marathon this year, Mays said he had done well in some local shorter distance races and thought he could train to run 26.2 miles and hopefully reach the point of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

“That’s like the Masters of marathoning, if you will,” he said. “That’s like the grand stage. It’s one of the six majors, it’s the oldest marathon and the only way to get into it is to qualify, so it’s just very elusive, and it had a great appeal to me.”

In May, he was at his father-in-law’s house when he told him he wanted to try to qualify.

“He was like, ‘OK. I’ll help you in any way I can,’” Mays said. “Then a little over 900 miles later, a lot of training and a lot of ups and downs, I did it. I really never subscribed to any actual training plan. I just ran on how my body felt.”

Coaching the Austin Middle School cross-country team and forming relationships with the high school runners, too, Mays said they inspired him as much he inspires them. Plus, he had great support from family and friends in completing his first marathon.

“Everything just came together perfectly,” he said.

Both Franke and Mays have taken some time away from running since the Nov. 6 marathon, but soon, they will get back into it to prepare for Boston.

Franke plans to run about 50 miles a week and hopes to beat his Indianapolis time at Boston.

“Getting to Boston is a pretty cool accomplishment, getting to run that marathon, so I’m going to train still and try to put myself in a position to go fast, and when the race hits, I’m going to go out and race it,” he said. “I think just being in Boston at the marathon is going to be cool in itself, and whatever the time is will be what the time is.”

Mays said he is going to slowly work his way back into running and train to run the Carmel Half-Marathon on April 9.

Then at Boston, he’s going to run with a group of guys from Louisville, Kentucky, who are veterans of the race.

”When I was running in Indianapolis, I was so focused and in the zone, I didn’t pay attention to anything around me … because my focus was eyes forward, breathing, staying hydrated, making sure I maintained my nutrition, things like that,” Mays said. “I’m going to run with them and just enjoy it and take in the scenery and enjoy my Boston experience.”