Local men reflect on finishing the Boston Marathon

A Crothersville resident and a Seymour native were in different waves of the 126th running of the Boston Marathon.

They, however, nearly had identical finishing times.

Aaron Mays, 36, of Crothersville crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 7 minutes, 23 seconds.

Ben Franke, 28, who now lives in Bloomington but is originally from Seymour, completed the race in 3 hours, 7 minutes, 36 seconds.

They were among runners from all over the world who hit the pavement in and around Massachusetts’ state capital on April 18 for the iconic 26.2-mile race. It’s the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the most prestigious road racing events.

In the end, the two local men were happy to be among the 24,918 people who crossed the finish line of the marathon because it’s considered the pinnacle event within the sport because of its traditions, longevity and method of gaining entry into the race (via qualification). There were 28,604 people — from 120 countries and all 50 states — entered in the race.

“Just everything considered — the weather, how everything worked out — it was really just perfect,” Mays said. “It was everything I thought it would be and more. I thought the marathon in Indianapolis could never be topped because that’s where I qualified for Boston, but I was just blown away.”

Even though his pace slowed down for the last 5 miles of the race, Franke was excited to call himself a Boston Marathon finisher.

“I left smiling even though I wanted a better day,” he said. “I didn’t leave sad. I didn’t leave feeling down on myself or depressed. I still left head high.”

An hour after the race, he checked his phone and saw all of the messages of support and congratulations, and that made him smile even more.

“All of these text messages from people saying ‘Proud of you,’ ‘Congratulations,’ I realized … they were really proud of me no matter what, and that feels good,” Franke said. “It didn’t really matter the time I finished, and that was a reminder, if they were proud of me, I could be proud of myself, too.”

The Boston Marathon returned to its traditional Patriots Day date, bringing runners and participants back to Boston in the spring for the first time since 2019. The race was the second held in just six months after the Boston Athletic Association hosted the 2021 marathon in October due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mays and Franke both qualified for the race after finishing the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on Nov. 6, 2021, 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.

Mays then focused on preparing for his second marathon, and Franke got ready for his third.

Mays said he had nerves because it’s such a big race and it’s a known hilly course, but he kept his mind on his goal time of 3 hours, 9 minutes. He was part of a group of runners based in Louisville, Kentucky, that was dubbed “309 Wolfpack.”

Mays said of the six men in the group, half of them finished at the goal time or better.

“We lost a lot at the hills,” he said. “You start the first 4 to 6 miles running pretty progressively downhill, which when you hear people say downhill versus uphill, they tend to think that that might be a little bit easier, and for some, it may be. Then at about Mile 18, you start hitting rolling hills. Your legs are just trashed, and you’ve got to start climbing and then going down and climbing, going down.”

Mile 20 is known as “Heartbreak Hill.”

“That really gets to some people,” Mays said. “When you get to 20 miles in any marathon, you’re tired because you’ve hit 20, but you’ve still got a 10K to go, 6.2 miles. (In the Boston Marathon) you start just climbing this massive hill that looks like it’s never-ending. It can make you or break you.”

At the top of the hill, Mays said he “really, really was feeling it.” Fortunately, the guy he was running with, Mike Korfhage, was very encouraging. It was Korfhage’s ninth Boston Marathon.

“We kept each other together mentally, and we fought through it,” Mays said. “One of our fastest miles was on the hills in Newton, which Newton is a part of Massachusetts you run through. That’s where the hills are at. They call them the Newton Hills.”

It also helped that Mays’ wife and three kids were there to support him. At Mile 8, he saw them on the side of the road holding up a sign, and he got to run up and give them a hug.

“When you’re running in something like that and you see your family, the charge that you get is just out of this world,” he said. “I saw them again at 25 miles and crossing the finish line. That was like the perfect ending to a long journey.”

Mays also liked the support of the race fans along the course.

“The people in that town and that area where the marathon runs through, they almost treat their runners as if they are celebrities,” he said of kids wanting high fives and people handing out things like orange slices, Twizzlers and water. “It’s a spectacle. The one thing I learned was to really understand, you have to see it. It’s one of those deals.”

For Franke, he went into the race with some hiccups in his training.

Earlier this year, he had a good base running about 55 miles a week before he got hurt and missed a month. He was still able to do some training on a bike, and then he got back up to 45 miles of running a week.

“Training was definitely hampered a little bit,” Franke said. “I made the most of what I could. I still think I went into the race probably about the same shape I entered November in, even though I was trying to take that next step up. I didn’t quite get the preparation I wanted to, but I still got enough, I still got a good amount of work in, enough to get me ready to go for the race.”

At the start line, Franke said it was neat to see some of the iconic landmarks in person that he had only previously seen on television.

A special moment occurred when the national anthem was played.

“You go to all of these sporting events and they play the national anthem, and then after it’s over, you sit down in your seat and get ready to watch the athletes compete,” Franke said.

“Halfway through it (at the Boston Marathon), I realized this is for me, I’m actually one of the athletes out here competing, so that was kind of a cool feel and I got caught up in that, like ‘I’m the one on the field now,’” he said. “Even though I’m not competing to win, you’re still part of the event in that way. That was a neat feeling in itself.”

Once the race started, Franke found himself in the back of the pack, but he remained patient, maintained the pace he wanted and felt good through the first 16 miles.

Then he started slowing down in the hills from Mile 17 to Mile 21.

“I think that probably took a little bit out of me,” Franke said. “Then we got to Mile 21, it was that last hill, which is the biggest hill. That was the final nail in the coffin of my race right there. That’s the one where I had to start walking up that hill. I was getting pretty gassed. Then I crested the hill and still had 5½ (miles) to go, and it became more about survival mode.”

While he didn’t reach his goal time of 2 hours, 50 minutes, Franke was happy to just finish the race.

Plus, he got to see his parents, Nancy and Tom Franke, there.

“Running has meant so much to me. The Boston Marathon is the peak of the running world. Even nonrunners know about it,” he said. “If you say ‘Boston Marathon,’ they know it’s a big thing, so it’s nice to just have them there to experience something that has meant something to me and the pinnacle of what our sport is. Letting them be a part of it in a way was cool for me just so they could experience some of that joy and some of that fun I had.”

Franke also had friends and family supporting him from afar, including the student-athletes he coaches at Bloomington High School North.

Since they give their best effort in practices and meets, Franke knew he had to do the same thing in Boston.

“If I don’t, I’m going to have to answer to it,” he said, laughing.

Both Mays and Franke have qualified for the 2023 Boston Marathon based on their qualifying time in Indianapolis.

Still, though, Mays said he plans to run the Chicago Marathon in October to try to set a personal best because that’s a World Marathon Majors race like Boston. If more people his age register and post faster times, he may not meet the cutoff and wouldn’t get to go back to Boston.

“The cutoff for my age for Boston is 3:05. To even consider to qualify, I have to go under 3:05,” Mays said. “Right now, my best is 2 hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds. Six and a half minutes, that’s a pretty good buffer.”

Mays also is running in the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon on Saturday in Louisville.

“That’s just going to be for fun,” he said. “I’m running with a friend of mine who is an older gentleman who is trying to qualify for Boston himself. He has been there multiple times, but his qualification is not good anymore, so he needs to requalify.”

Since he’s 8 minutes under the qualifying time for his age, Franke said he went into the Boston Marathon thinking he wouldn’t do it again next year. After “an awful hour of running” at the end, he thought that was his last marathon.

But now, he’s getting the itch to go back.

“I’m probably more inclined to run it now than I thought I would be,” he said. “I’ve got until September to make those final decisions. It’s definitely a possibility I would go back. Unless the rest of the country gets stupid fast and starts really dropping time down, I should be good for next year.”