By Jean DePlacido
---- — Every year since Reach the Beach Relay began, only one competitor has been at the starting line every time.
That man is Jack McManus of Danvers, who was honored before this year’s race as the sole athlete to take part in all 15 events.
“They gave me a jacket that says ‘3,000 Mile Club’,” said the 59-year old McManus. “It’s pretty cool — and I’m the only one who has one of them.”
The 3,000 miles refers to the 200-mile long Reach The Beach Relay that McManus has done 15 times and counting.
McManus, who grew up in Woburn before moving to Danvers 20 years ago, originally began running to lose weight. What he found was that he not only shed the extra pounds, but found an added bonus.
“I was gaining a lot of weight, getting fat. I had just met my girlfriend, who is now my wife,” said McManus. “I not only started losing weight and getting in shape, but really enjoyed running.”
The Reach The Beach Relay is a grueling event which requires a lot of stamina. This year, the 15th annual event was held Sept. 13-14 beginning at Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire and passing through 30 cities and towns before ending at Hampton Beach. Teams made up of both novice and veteran runners run 200 miles over more than 24 hours, starting in the mountains and ending at the ocean.
“We didn’t do as well as usual this year,” said McManus. “In fact, the 33-hour finish is the slowest we’ve ever done; usually we do it between 28-30 hours. I was disappointed with how slow we were, and I told the guys we have to all come back in shape next year. I’ll be 60, which is a big one for me.”
When McManus competed in the first relay back in 1999, it began at Loon Mountain. The event grew from a small race to one that now attracts over 5,500 athletes from all over the country.
“There were only 30 teams that first year; now it’s grown to 486 teams,” he said. “It’s a great race and I’ve met a lot of nice people who are now lifelong friends. Over the years we’ve had some great experiences. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat ... you just run.
“When I first started I was on a team with several other Danvers people, but after five years they didn’t feel like doing it any longer while I wanted to keep going. So I went out and got a different team.”
For the last dozen years McManus has run the race with the same 12 people as part of ‘The Running Revelers’ (sponsored by Mirra Co. of Georgetown). He is the oldest of the 12.
“When I started I never figured I’d still be doing it 15 years later,” he said, “but I love the camaraderie.”
Everybody on the team does three legs of varying distances. McManus did 19 miles this time; he won’t soon forget his second leg, which was the most demanding because of a tough nine-mile stretch straight up the mountain.
“I started at 1:30 a.m. and it was uphill the whole way,” he said. “I went six miles the first leg, then nine, and my final run was four miles at noon the next day when we were getting near the coast. The last five miles are the flattest when we get near Hampton.
“It’s very demanding and if somebody gets hurt, you can’t replace that person. We had a couple of injuries this year; you have to be in good shape to do it.”
A fan of long races, McManus runs a lot of half-marathons and will be competing in the upcoming Hamptons Marathon before taking a break.
He also runs the Falmouth Road Race each August with his two sons, Patrick and Kevin. “They keep trying to beat me, but haven’t done it yet,” he laughed. “Kevin called from college to say he wanted a personal trainer so he can beat me.”
McManus knows if his young sons trained the way he does they’d be able to beat him, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“I want them on my team; maybe they’ll join me next year,” he said.
“It may not sound like it, but the Reach the Beach is a lot of fun. The first year we did it my team got lost, and another time it was hurricane-like conditions with so much rain and wind. I didn’t think we’d do it again after that, but we were right back there the next year. You have to experience it to understand why I keep going back year after year.”