Jim Boyd spends many of his mornings running four to six miles near his home on Bench Drive in Aberdeen.
That’s an impressive enough feat for a 71-year-old man. But those runs are mere warm-ups for Boyd’s primary athletic pursuit.
The compactly built, ebullient Boyd is one of the nation’s most prolific marathon runners. He is among a select group that has completed marathons in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.
He has finished 351 marathons (26 miles, 385 yards) and ultra-marathons (at least 31.1 miles) since 1978. According to a world running publication that charts such things, that’s the 47th most in North America and the fourth among Washington residents.
“Running all those marathons, it’s not about boasting,” Boyd said. “It’s all about giving thanks and having an opportunity to mentor others.”
Boyd even owes his Grays Harbor residency to his distance-running avocation.
A retired ship designer who grew up in San Diego and relocated to Seattle in 2000, Boyd competed in the Columbus Day Marathon in Elma a few years ago.
“After the marathon, I was driving down the coast,” he related. “That brought me through Aberdeen and I thought I’ve got to come back and explore this area.”
He moved to Aberdeen in June of 2012.
By his own admission, Boyd was an unlikely candidate for distance-running fame. He didn’t compete in sports in high school.
“I was a kid who couldn’t make the high school track club team,” he said.
While in his mid-30s, he attended a marathon in San Diego.
“I was expecting to see these winged-foot gods crossing the finish line,” he recalled with a broad smile. “What I saw was a handful of elite athletes finishing and, for the most part, a lot of pretty ordinary runners. And some of them were old, like 50. I felt, all of a sudden, I could do that.”
He entered the Heart of San Diego Marathon in October of 1978 and completed the event in an even 3 1/2 hours — a very respectable time for a novice.
“I was both tired and elated,” he remembered.
The jogging craze was at its peak at the time and Boyd quickly became hooked. He joined the San Diego Track Club and eventually began writing for its newsletter.
Busy with his job at a San Diego shipyard, Boyd initially was content to compete in a handful of marathons, most in California, per year.
After running 18 such races in 10 years, however, he had yet to attain a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon — the Holy Grail of distance runs. He had twice fallen short of the 3-hour, 10-minute qualifying standard for the 40-49 group by less than a minute.
Frustrated by the near-misses, Boyd devised a plan that astonished his friends and fellow runners.
“I said I’d run a marathon per month until I qualified for Boston,” he said.
Five marathons later, that mission was accomplished. He ran in 3:00.35 in the Las Vegas Marathon in February of 1989. That remains his fastest-ever time and the only race on the list of marathons he compiles in which his mark is designated in bold-faced type.
He competed in Boston that April and returned there in 2004.
“You receive a hero’s welcome that flat takes your socks off,” Boyd recounted. “You are not just another runner, you are their runner. The folks of Boston and the surrounding areas are beyond comparison and it just has to be experienced.”
His Boston experience highlighted a year in which he ran 15 marathons. During that time, he met members of the 50 States & D.C. Marathon Group, an organization founded in 1989 that currently numbers more than 900 members from such far-flung locales as Switzerland, Latvia and Singapore.
Having competed in only seven states at the time, Boyd became intrigued with the concept of running in every state in the union.
He began that pursuit in earnest in 1994. It took him three years to complete the odyssey, which ended with the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
Boyd didn’t exactly rest on his laurels. He ran 21 marathons in 1997 and 28 the following year. As recently as 2009, he finished 36 events.
He has never been the outright winner of a marathon. Nor is that among his goals.
“(I try) to finish well in my age group,” he said. “That’s where the competition is for most of the runners.”
Boyd has registered several age group victories, beginning with the 1997 Palos Verdes Marathon in California. He smilingly said his overall performances range from “fairly well to downright dismal.”
Very much attuned to the environment in which he runs, Boyd prefers marathons staged at scenic venues.
The Cascading Cataracts race in Northern California’s Marin County ranks as his favorite.
“It’s a trail marathon with views from up high on the Marin Coast, looking both north and south,” Boyd described. “You run through old-growth redwoods and, at one point, climb up a stepladder alongside a waterfall. At that point, the runners look down on circling hawks.”
In the Northwest, Boyd’s gold star goes to the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. As the name suggests, runners traverse the Yakima River Canyon from Ellensburg to Selah.
Boyd’s least-favorite marathon? There is no such animal.
“Some marathons have logistical problems,” he said. “That aside, each and every one is a personal victory.”
A gregarious man, Boyd enjoys interacting with his fellow parishioners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aberdeen and Our Lady of Good Help Church in Hoquiam. He recently joined the St. Mary’s Contemporary Choir and Our Lady of Good Help Men’s Choir.
During his training, however, he prefers to run alone.
“Typically, runners need to run at their own pace,” he explained.
Although the 5-foot-9 1/2 Boyd has kept his weight at 140 pounds and looks at least a decade younger than his age, he said time has eroded his competitiveness.
“I’ve slowed down a lot,” he acknowledged. “During the last three years, my time at the half-marathon point of a marathon is more or less what my full marathons were about 30 years ago. The age groups have been getting smaller and smaller and the competition fiercer and fiercer.”
While he calls the Pacific Northwest “the most beautiful place in the U.S. to run,” he competed in only five marathons in 2012 and two thus far this year.
But he sees himself continuing to run in about a half-dozen marathons per year “until I drop.”
“When I was a young child, I noticed there were old people who told me stories of their adventures when they were young and there were people who told me tales from (throughout) their life,” Boyd recounted. “I decided, before I was a teen, I was going to be one of the latter group and I’ve stuck to it.”
In a life built for the long run, Boyd made it clear he still has adventures to share.