Fighting off the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to complete a 26.2-mile road race was the easy part of Boston Marathon weekend for Michael Westphal.
The 58-year-old carpenter from Great Cranberry Island finished Monday’s 120th annual run from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Boylston Street in downtown Boston in 3 hours, 38 minutes and 59 seconds to complete the historic event for the first time since 1986.
“It’s nice to finish it, and the last time I finished it 30 years ago was quite different,” said Westphal. “There are a lot more people on the course now and a lot more people around you with the runners and a lot more spectators. It was pretty exciting.”
Westphal, whose last Boston run was curtailed by a hamstring injury in 1992, was among 206 Maine runners registered in this year’s field of 30,000.
The Pine Tree State contingent was led by 28-year-old Chris Harmon of Portland, who placed 97th overall in 2:38:22, and 44-year-old Sheri Piers of Falmouth, whose time of 2:52:25 was good for 29th place overall in the women’s field and fourth among masters’ women finishers.
Perhaps even more challenging for Westphal than completing the race — which was held under a bright, sunlit sky with temperatures in the low 70s and a headwind blowing east to west from the ocean — was being the guest speaker three nights earlier at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research banquet in New York City.
Westphal had raised more than $38,000 for that foundation last June when he qualified for Boston with his 3:32:56 finish at The Great Run marathon on his home island. This year he already has raised more than $18,400, nearly double his original $10,000 goal, with his Team Fox Web page for this race.
“There was a lot of pressure speaking,” said Westphal, who met Fox at the banquet. “I’m not a public speaker, but everyone said I hit it out of the park. The Team Fox people were happy about my speech, so I felt good about that. I was more nervous about that than the marathon.”
Once the race began, Westphal and his brother Rolf were able to maintain a pace of about eight minutes per mile through the first 20 miles.
“Then we had to slow down a little bit,” he said, “but we were passing people coming in even though we were slowing down.
“There was a lot of carnage out there today with the heat,” he added.
Westphal, who took medication for Parkinson’s during the race, didn’t notice any symptoms of the disease until the last three or four miles of the race.
“I began to feel a little weak then, but I don’t know if that was the heat or the medication,” said Westphal. “A lot of people didn’t finish, and I ended up walking a few times because I felt like I was falling forward. As I would attempt to regain my composure, I would walk for 20 seconds at a time up some of the hills, and that helped.”
Westphal’s time qualified him for next year’s Boston Marathon, and while he did not definitively say he’d run the 121st edition of the event, he clearly enjoyed this year’s race.
“It’s just an amazing experience,” he said.
Harmon, a former distance runner at the University of Maine, ran the first 35 kilometers of the marathon in 5-kilometer splits of between 5:40 and 5:49 and reached the midway point of the race in 1:14:37 before backing that up with a 1:27:45 clocking for the hillier second half.
Piers, the three-time U.S. women’s masters champion and a three-time U.S. Olympic marathon trials qualifier who will be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame on May 1, was competing at Boston for the 10th time in the last 12 years.
She averaged 6:35 per mile during her run, reaching the 13.1-mile midpoint of the event in 1:23:55 before closing with a 1:28:05 second half.
Among other Mainers in the race, Christine Hein of North Yarmouth was the state’s second-fastest woman finisher, placing 58th overall in 2:57:49. Former UMaine basketball standout Tracy Guerrette of Saint Agatha was next and 59th overall with a personal-best time for the distance of 2:58:02.
Twin brothers Wade Boudreau and Ward Boudreau of Gardiner crossed the finish line together with identical times of 3:34:26.
MDI Marathon founder and director Gary Allen of Great Cranberry Island, who has been nursing a right knee injury in recent months, persevered to finish his 100th career marathon in 5:26:57.