When Richard Pimentel crossed the famous blue-painted strip of pavement on Boylston Street, serenaded by a raucous crew of friends and family, he had reached the finish of not just the 2022 Boston Marathon, but of an odyssey suitable for Hollywood or Homer. His is a larger than life story, a tale full of unspeakable toil, of windswept miles along the frozen lake, icicles sprouting from his eyebrows, of long mornings on July bike paths slick with humidity, caked in the salt of his own sweat. It’s a tale of September afternoons spent cranking out yet another hilly tempo run, beset by a cadre of mental and physical monsters, tortured by the tricks of capricious running gods. And while we’re at it, how about travel complicated by mechanical and weather delays, sudden changes of plan, the vagaries of modern geopolitics?
A deadly global plague? Sure, why not?
These are the things that can make any hero wonder if maybe they’ve bitten off a bit more than they can chew. Dark night of the runner’s soul and whatnot. But thankfully, there are also endorphins and beer and pizza, effortless outings in spring air redolent with blossoms, casually heroic feats in front of cheering crowds on the boulevards of shining cities. There is new shoe smell and the fellowship of the running community, the joy of having a strong and healthy body that does amazing things. And, (the best bit of any great epic) there is the part where the hero finds true love.
No, the triumphant run down Boylston was not just the end of a 26 mile, 385 yard footrace, but the crowning and improbable jewel in an epic voyage covering tens of thousands of miles, on three continents, a voyage that chewed up innumerable pairs of shoes and plates of pasta, birthed enough stories to last a lifetime. So, settle in, slip on your recovery slides, and prepare yourself for a long, strange trip, the tale of a normal guy with a big idea, an everyman and total badass, and how he came to belong to a really bitchin’ club.
The Six Star Medal was introduced by the Abbot World Marathon Majors in 2016 to honor runners who complete all six Major marathons: Tokyo, New York City, London, Berlin, Boston, and Chicago. The medal cradled in Pimentel’s shaking hands a few minutes after and a few yards beyond the Boston finish line had to have been wet with sweat and tears. Its six stars, one for each completed Major, surely glistened and pulsed in his shaking hand, a firmament infinitely bigger than a simple fistful of engraved metal.
“It was the pinnacle of my running career,” says Pimentel in a call from his home in Chicago. Not only had he finished his Six Star quest at a race he had dreamed of running since he was a kid, one he never really thought he’d be fast enough to qualify for, but he had a crew on hand with whom to celebrate the achievement. His fiancé, Troy was there, along with a large contingent of family members who had flown in from California. Pimentel’s voice on the phone swells with feeling.
“Our families were there. It was such an incredible moment. I think one of the biggest things that kept me going was knowing my whole family was stationed on Boylston Street; they didn’t want to miss me. One thing I didn’t know was that Troy had got cutouts of any family members who couldn’t make it, so they had these big-old heads of everybody as I was getting ready to cross the finish line. I saw them all, then Troy was the first one to run up and give me a big-old hug. I get emotional just talking about it.”
Pimentel got his first Star at New York City in 2013. “I signed up for the lottery, but didn’t get in. I was heartbroken.” But then a contact at Asics, the race’s major sponsor, secured him an entry, and Pimentel – quite literally – was off to the races.
“I had run a lot of marathons, but NYC was another level. Then people started telling me I should run all six Majors, that I was in for a treat.”
Next came his hometown race in Chicago in October, 2014, followed by London in the spring of 2016. He knocked off Berlin in the fall of 2018 and Tokyo, to which he gained entry by supporting a race charity, the following spring. “Tokyo rivalled New York as an event,” Pimentel said, “And it was by far the cleanest marathon I had ever seen. I didn’t see a single water cup on the ground. The entire course was lined with volunteers holding trash bags. I found one after every aid station. I didn’t dare throw my cup on the street!”
All that remained now was marathoning’s crown jewel, the world’s most historic footrace, the final star in the constellation he had been chasing for going on a decade: Boston. But there was a problem.
To qualify for Boston Pimentel needed to run 3:10. His PR was 3:49. Improving one’s marathon time at all after running thirty of them is both rare and incredibly difficult. To take forty minutes off ones best with so many races on the legs is nearly unthinkable. Sure, he could gain entry by raising money – a lot of money – for a race charity, but qualifying for the Boston Marathon was arguably as big a goal as completing the Majors. Pimentel was in a conundrum.
“Running Boston was a lifelong dream,” he said, “A really big deal. I decided that if I was going to run it, I wanted to qualify.” He added, “There is nothing wrong with getting in by raising money; it’s fine, it’s noble. But after dreaming about running Boston since I was a kid, I wanted to honor the history of the race, do it the old-fashioned way.” Six Stars or no Six Stars, Richard Pimentel was going big or going home.
And then fate intervened. A few months after Tokyo, and shortly after his decision to run Boston as a time qualifier or not at all, the world shut down. Pimentel works as Regional Visual Merchandise Manager for an international sporting goods company, a job that sees him traveling 80% of the time. He made marathon training work with the travel, but it was far from ideal. When the pandemic struck, Pimentel, like almost everyone else who traveled for business, was grounded.
“During the pandemic I was grounded for literally a year. Working virtually with my locations. I became a pro at walking stores over FaceTime,” said Pimentel. “It was a big challenge, but we found a way to make it work! And since I was home Monday through Friday, it gave me an immense boost with my training. I had a set schedule so I was able to plan all my training times, which gave me even more consistency and discipline.”
He also realized that the training itself needed to change. The self-guided same-old, same-old would not be enough if he wanted to take such a massive and improbable chunk from his marathon PB. So, he took the plunge and hired a coach. The results started coming almost immediately. Within a few months of beginning to work with a coach, Pimentel had lowered his half marathon time to 1:28, and suddenly, the impossible was looking possible.
“Running 1:28 really sparked my hunger,” he said. “Suddenly qualifying really seemed possible. It was easier to focus, to train harder. Things I could never do before now seemed easy.”
That 1:28 half qualified Pimentel for the BQ.2 Spring Chance Marathon in nearby Geneva Illinois, a small race designed to help people qualify for Boston. On April 17, 2021, (exactly one year to the day before the Boston Marathon returned to its traditional Patriots Day slot after a COVID hiatus) it was a fit, healthy and confident Richard Pimentel who lined up for the start of the first flat, sheltered loop of the BQ.2 course. And those aforementioned capricious running gods? They smiled down on him and his fellow competitors that morning.”
“It was a perfect day, “He said, “Cool and sunny with no wind.”
A relaxed Pimentel cruised through the first half in 1:33:20, not much slower than his PR, and on pace to qualify for Boston with time to spare. But this was uncharted territory. Could he hold on? Not only did he hold on, but he ran the second half in 1:32:10, knocking off a negative split, just like coaches tell you to, and qualifying for the 2022 Boston Marathon with a cushion. Later, he spoke about it on Instagram.
“I don’t even know where to begin!” he beamed, “My coach and I knew I was fit, so we went after it and stuck to our plan. For the first five miles I focused on keeping it easy, running about 7:15 pace. Once I hit mile five it was time to hit that true marathon pace of seven-minute miles. As the miles clicked away, I was running sevens and sub-sevens the entire time and I was feeling good! I have never run a negative split in a marathon before! At age forty I just qualified for my first Boston Marathon! I can’t believe it!”
Suddenly, there was a bright new Star on the eastern horizon.
But the fate was not quite done smiling on Richard just yet. Rewind a few years. Pimentel is enmeshing himself more and more deeply in both the local and wider running communities. He became a RADrabbit, a sort of ambassador for rabbit, the running apparel company, and part of a group that shared their running lives at meetup events and on social media. He became more of a presence on Instagram, where he began chatting with Troy Baugman, a runner from Atlanta. The fates being what they are, this chatting led to something considerably deeper.
“He was actually training for his very first marathon, which was the Chicago Marathon back in 2019. So, we kind of had a long distance relationship in the beginning, over the internet. We actually met in person at the Chicago Marathon Expo, which was pretty cool. We were both running that year. It was his first marathon and it was cool to be there for it, to be able to go through it together. Fast-forward: He was actually in the process of moving to Chicago, so it kind of worked out”
Newly enchanted runners seeing one another for the first time at a major marathon expo, what could be more romantic than that?
“Then,” Pimentel continued, “COVID hit. As you already know, I had totally changed my structure, started working with a coach. Fast-forward again, through 2020, to 2021. When I went out to qualify for the Boston Marathon, Troy was there with his family. One of the biggest things that really sticks with me is how much support he’s given me. He’s such an incredible cheerleader.”
At this point Pimentel sounds as if he might actually be levitating with happiness.
“He pushes me; drives me. Those days when the training was really tough, he is always the first one to really encourage me. And he was there when I actually qualified, which was an incredible experience.” He takes a deep breath. “That same year, 2021, we went to Berlin, for Troy to run the Berlin Marathon, so I got to be right there with him on his journey of the Six Stars.”
Since then, the fates have been a bit more fickle, with Pimentel getting a nasty case of COVID and Baugman dealing with injuries. But both look to be running unencumbered by illness and injury soon. Pimentel plans on running the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall, and after that they will both turn their attention back to the Abbot Marathon Majors, shooting together for the Stars.
Brent Terry escaped lockdown onto the trails of southern New England, where he runs, recites poems and performs interpretive dances for tiny woodland creatures. His stories, essays, reviews and poems have appeared in dozens of journals, and he is the author of Four collections of poetry. The Body Electric, a novel, was published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. Terry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, a PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction, and the Connecticut Book Award for Poetry. He was the 2017 winner of the Connecticut Poetry Prize. He teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University, but yearns to rescue a border collie and return to his ancestral homeland of the Rocky Mountain West.