The old sports saying about third time being a charm doesn’t usually apply to long-distance running.
Sean Carter’s path to running the Boston Marathon was in itself a long journey, one filled with pitfalls and potholes along the way, but it took a lifetime to become an instant success.
The runner, who works as a planner with the city of Chestermere, finished one of the most prestigious races in the world with a personal best time this spring, and get this — it was just his third marathon.
Even better is his age. Carter refers to himself as a centennial baby, which puts him at the ripe age of 51 — not exactly the typical time when someone takes up long-distance challenges for the first time.
Considering that nearly 28 years ago Carter suffered a traumatic brain injury that took half a year from his memory, what he’s accomplished in the past year is remarkable.
To him though, running in Boston wasn’t so much a dream as something he felt he should do, seeing as how he qualified after running in the Red Deer Woody’s RV World Marathon last May and the Edmonton Marathon last August.
“It was a relief,” Carter said about finishing in Boston. “There are thousands of people that apply. I’m a 51-year-old white dude from small-town Alberta who has only run two marathons.
“It’s a roll of the dice. I was happy to get accepted and I set a personal best so that was great.
“I hear stories about people that register for 30 years and don’t qualify. I ran Red Deer and qualified. I ran in Edmonton and qualified again. Both races are qualified times so I took that as a sign I should go.”
In Boston on April 17, Carter finished the marathon in three hours, 12 minutes and 37 seconds, finishing 3,802 out of 29,998 runners, which puts him in the top 13 percent of racers — a great result considering his experience.
You could call Carter a natural runner, but he just thinks he’s a skinny kid who grew up using his feet to get around growing up in the Maritimes.
He played high school soccer and then did that sport recreationally while getting his degree at St. Mary’s University.
It was shortly after graduating though that his life was altered greatly. On Oct. 28, 1990, Carter was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident that caused significant brain trauma. It took two years to recovery physically but he eventually went on to trade school and a masters degree at Dalhousie before moving west in search of work.
“About six months is missing,” Carter said. “It’s like the memory tape for six months was cut out and thrown in the garbage. I don’t remember graduating from St. Mary’s University. I still knew where I grew up and that, but people I met within six months of my accident never existed.
“I had my accident in October and the first thing I remember is a Christmas tree at my parents house. I don’t remember being in the hospital at all. It has its pros and cons. It’s weird to have people come up to you and tell you stuff that you’ve done.”
The brain injury inadvertently led him into competitive running, although it took a while. In 2002, he ran the Southern Alberta Brain Injury Society run in Calgary and finished fourth, a sign of what was to come some 15 years later.
The injury still affects his running. He has poor memory coding and retrieval and doesn’t have left peripheral vision, which means he has to remember to look left, which is a hazard when sprinting through his fellow runners.
Through it all he’s made it work, and managed to train in the difficult climate Alberta has to offer.
This winter was particularly harsh on outdoors people, but it didn’t bother Carter. He doesn’t use a trainer, and instead just goes by the guide for marathon training he read in a book.
“I must like it because I ran outside all winter,” Carter said about his training. “You see these guys running in ultra high-tech spandex and that. For me, I intentionally run in crap clothing.
“I wanted to make what I was wearing as heavy and clunky as possible. I didn’t really care how I performed when I was training. It’s about how intense the training is. You train hard and then on race day you can perform.”
That training suited him well. The temperature in Boston was around the mid-40s Fahrenheit and it was mostly raining and miserable the entire day, so much so the baseball game played at the time of the race was cancelled. Still, the experience was amazing for Carter, and the finish was something to behold.
“It sneaks up on you because you turn a corner and there it is,” Carter said. “It was quite cold. It was an ugly day so that cut down on the crowds. With the marathon the city was quite busy.
“They put heat blankets on us as we crossed the finish line. It rained from start to finish. It was that Eastern rain and not the western one. It was a gale wind in your face most of the time. If you made a turn you might get it at your back but mostly it was in your face.
“I was surprised that I set my personal best. It was cool at least so you weren’t going to overheat. Hypothermia was an issue with some people. I had three layers on so I was good.
“I’m a lobster fisherman from the East so cold wet weather is not unheard of. When you are running in Boston, if you aren’t doing your best then where will you do your best?”
Carter plans to continue racing, with a second running of the Woody’s set for the long weekend in Red Deer. After that, he’s hoping to better his time in Edmonton later this summer.
As for long term, he’s not sure what will happen. He’s going with the old sports adage of ‘one race at a time.’
“My 51-year-old hips haven’t quite recovered yet from Boston,” Carter said. “I’m going to see if I can get a better time than last year in Red Deer.
“I will roll with the punches I guess. I’m 51 so I will see how much this poor old body can handle running 26 miles.”