Madison County High School graduate Joseph Brubaker had run in marathons before, but none like this.
With unseasonably hot weather sweeping through Boston recently, Brubaker — a teacher, cross country and soccer coach at Jackson County Comprehensive High School — found himself in a runner’s fight for survival at the prestigious Boston Marathon.
Well-trained, experienced runners around him were dropping out of the race left and right, succumbing to the heat. Still, Brubaker forged on.
“Before even the halfway point, I would see several people (drop out),” Brubaker said. “And these aren’t inexperienced runners … I don’t know if they underestimated the heat or what.”
The former college runner finished the 26.2 mile course in three hours and 55 seconds — an average of 6:55 a mile — to place 562nd and in the top three percentile of one of the world’s largest marathons.
Brubaker, 31, explained how he got through one of most intense endurance tests in all of sports.
“That initial rush wears off about after three to five miles,” said Brubaker, who ran collegiately over a decade ago at Berry College.
“You realize that you’re in a marathon here and that you’re not even close to being a third of the way done. You just kind of have to fight with yourself mentally to stay in it, because you’re going to have highs and lows.”
A longtime runner, Brubaker, completed his first marathon in 2006 but didn’t have interest back then in tackling the Boston Marathon because of the cost and time involved.
Fast forward to 2010.
Brubaker attempted to enter the Athens Half Marathon but signed up too late to gain a spot. That’s when he began thinking about the Boston Marathon.
He changed training regimen from a half marathon to a full marathon and ran the Charleston marathon in 2011 in two hours, 53 minutes to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
The challenge for training for the big April race in Beantown was simply finding time to run.
Between his busy schedule as a teacher and soccer coach, he was only able to log 35 to 45 miles a week. While that may sound like a lot to an average runner, Brubaker didn’t feel it was sufficient prep for what he was facing.
“My weekly mileage was not anywhere near where I wanted it to be,” he said. “I wanted my weekly mileage a lot higher.”
But he was able to get in some quality long runs — up to 20 miles — which he said was essential. He made up for a lot of the lost time on Saturday and Sundays when he would hit the streets of Athens for long stretches.
“I was kind of able to be a weekend warrior,” Brubaker said.
Training was as much mental as it was physical. Brubaker did this in solitude as he had no training partner. That required serious self-motivation.
“It’s such a mental battle out there as well,” Brubaker said. “I would have loved to have a training partner, too. I have almost vowed not to do it again without a training partner.”
Asked if there were ever moments of doubt, Brubaker said, “absolutely.”
“Just (having) the time and energy to hit the roads by yourself,” he said. “With work and coaching, there’s not a lot of hours or energy left at the end of the day … There were times when I thought, ‘I don’t know why I decided to do this?’”
That might have been the thought of many of the runners on race day.
Boston temperatures — as high as 87 degrees with no shade — were daunting enough that race officials offered participants deferments for next year.
For those, like Brubaker, who decided to tough it out, hydration became a major issue.
“I consumed more water and Gatorade than I ever thought I would during a marathon,” said Brubaker, who eventually found himself stopping at every liquid station for water and Gatorade.
The heat took its toll on even the most elite runners as last year’s winner dropped out of the race.
Brubaker fought with another obstacle starting out — adrenaline.
The Boston Marathon is run on Patriots Day and the entire city is off work and abuzz about the event. Brubaker said he got chill bumps at least five times during the race, seeing double amputees and people in wheelchairs competing and troops marching in full fatigues with the crowd chanting “USA.”
“I had to tell myself to kind of cool it and calm down,” he said.
Brubaker started out with the goal of setting a personal record (PR), running at a 6:30 mile pace. But he quickly scrapped his PR aspirations.
“I quickly realized that 6:40 was more like it, and then I realized that sub-seven (minutes) was going to have to be it for the day,” he said.
Through constant stops for liquid, proper pacing and correctly reading his body, Brubaker was able to conquer the 26.2-mile course.
When he finally reached the finish line — nearly at the point of cramping up — Brubaker flashed back to 2008 when he visited Boston, saw the finish line and contemplated running the race.
“Finishing that and thinking back to that time four years ago and thinking this is something I kind of want to do, that was fun to kind of experience that as an athlete,” Brubaker said.