This is the 22nd story in a series profiling runners who will compete in the 20th anniversary running of Emera Marathon By the Sea Marathon in Saint John on Sunday. The stories are also running on the MBTS Facebook page and MBTS website.
These days, Gary Keating might be better known in his run for public office. But the truth is, he’s been running for a long time. In fact, he ran in Marathon by the Sea long before he became principal at Simonds High School, a post he continues to hold today.
In hindsight, his association with MBTS started in the most interesting of fashion, the day after the first race took place in 1995 as part of Festival by the Sea.
“I did not participate the first year and that was the number one reason why I made it my goal to run the half marathon the next year,” Gary explained. “In August 1995, I read the article in the Telegraph Journal regarding the inaugural Festival by the Sea Marathon, read the names and I basically said to myself, if so and so can run a half marathon, so can I.”
It was not an easy decision for the married father of three. Admittedly, his fitness was not what it should have been but his eventual quest to find a time to hit the roads in the mornings fuelled his steady progress.
“I was approximately 205 pounds and out of shape,” he said. “I realized that running early mornings would be the least expensive way for me to lose weight, get fit and not interfere too much with raising a young family. Reading that article changed my perspective on physical fitness and life.”
Gary completed that half marathon in 1996 and has reached the finish line in every MBTS since. Sunday, he will run the half marathon on the route that takes runners over Harbour Bridge and includes a one mile salute to the memory of Cst. Douglas James Larche, who was tragically killed in Moncton in June.
For Gary, competing in Marathon by the Sea has served as a springboard for his personal health. He cites the 2001 edition of the race as his favourite of the 18 he’s completed.
“I was 40 years old, had completed lots of half marathons and that year, I decided to do my first marathon, with Marathon by the Sea being the event,” he said. “My personal objective was to break four hours, realizing that most of my half marathon times were in the 1:40 range. The first half was awesome, getting there in 1:45 and I was feeling strong.”
That year, the marathon route took participants out to Lorneville and the return leg was something Gary refers to as, ‘brutal’.
“The morning became extremely warm and I hit the wall with five miles remaining,” he recalls. “I vividly remember running over the viaduct, by the LBR thinking, I’m not going to be able to finish. However, I continued on with a very slow pace, completing the marathon in 3:59.20, meeting my objective.”
Since that marathon, he went on to complete five others, including the New York Marathon in 2003, with more than 36,000 runners at the start line.
His personal best was a 3:33.03 at the KV Challenge Marathon in 2006, narrowly missing the Boston qualification time. He does not figure he will run another full marathon but loves the feelings associated with the half-marathon distance.
Not all of those outings resulted in the perfect race, he says.
Take 2004, for instance, at the Marathon by the Sea.
“I ran the half marathon with a condition known as frozen shoulder,” Gary explained. “I was too stubborn to withdraw from the event and ran the 21 kilometers with mobility in one arm/shoulder only. It certainly was a difficult run and my form was way off, but I prevailed and finished with my pride in check.”
When the race ends, he’ll focus on a another Saint John competition on Aug. 23, when Gary and a team of Simonds High School teachers take part in the Mudd, Sweat and Tears event at Rockwood Park. Instead of the Seabees, which is the nickname for teams at Simonds High, the crew will be known as the Mudbees.
Since he started running, Gary has logged more than 10,000 miles or 16,100 kilometres, surpassing that mark last November.
“I owe it all to MBTS as it was the motivator that started my running adventure 19 years ago,” he said. “This year, I will be participating, once again, in the half marathon (my most enjoyable race) at MBTS and I look forward to continue to run, promoting fitness and healthy living by staying active.”