HARWICH – Say what you will about walking the walk. For Monomoy Regional High School History teacher Richard Houston, running is where it's at, especially when he gets the thrill of combining his penchant for key events of the past with raising funds for a worthy cause. That's what he'll be doing on April 15 when he'll run the 2019 Boston Marathon, this time in support of IMPACT Melanoma.
The decision for Houston to support a charitable organization while taking on Heartbreak Hill isn't new – he's been quietly raising money for Dana Farber for years – but did take on a new impetus this year.
“In order to run Boston you have to hit a qualifying time,” Houston explained. “I missed the qualifying time by four minutes [last year].”
Fans will remember that the 2018 race was impacted by a cold and rainy nor'easter that made traversing the 26.2-mile course a particular challenge. Houston knew that those who've run the race 25 years in a row automatically qualified, decided to appeal to the Boston Athletic Association. Though Houston will run the race for his 31st time on Patriots Day, it will only be his 24th consecutive race.
But in case his appeal wasn't approved, Houston needed another way to run the race. That's where IMPACT Melanoma came in. IMPACT, which stands for Improving Melanoma Prevention through Awareness, Care, and Teaching, is a national non-profit organization that aims to reduce incidences of melanoma, which Houston and several of his siblings have had.
“I've had many excisions over the years. Fortunately all the malignant ones were caught early,” Houston said.
Houston applied to IMPACT to find out whether they'd allow him to join a fundraising team and was accepted onto a squad right around the time he heard back from the BAA, which approved his exemption. Though Houston had the opportunity to just run the race as a participant, it was important that he follow through with his commitment to IMPACT.
“I'm doing it for me and for my siblings, and many other people,” he said. “In the fundraising I've done already, the thing that I find not surprising but powerful is how many people who've already donated to the cause and it's because they know people who've been affected by the disease.”
So far Houston has raised roughly $1,500 of his end goal of $4,000, and he's hopeful he'll hit his mark before the race gets underway in Boston in April.
Houston first began running during his middle school years, participating in his first competitive cross-country race in the fall of 1969 when he was in the eighth grade.
“I don't think I've gone more than a few weeks without running since then,” he said. “My longest layoff was when I had knee surgery in September.”
He ran his first marathon in 1977, and his first Boston Marathon in 1979. He was there in 2013 when the bombings happened, hearing the explosions while retrieving his gear after crossing the finish line. While many runners questioned a return to the race in the wake of the tragedy that year, Houston, who has the Mylar blanket each runner is wrapped in at the finish line in his MRHS classroom, said he couldn't imagine not running.
“You're a runner. It's just what you do,” he said. “It just becomes part of what your day-to-day is. And I'm a competitive son of a gun. So all the way back to being in youth sports, there's something about that competitive bug.”
But there's also the history of the race that inspires him. He enjoys telling people the backstory of the marathon, which involves BAA club members representing the United States in the first modern Olympic Games back in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Boston, Houston is quick to remind folks, was once known as the Athens of America. Knowing that his marathon forefathers beat feet along the same course supposedly run by Pheidippides has proven a powerful motivator through the years.
“The first few years of running Boston it was more of a racing event,” said Houston. “I used to be absolutely crazy. Back in college I was running 120 miles a week, doing several marathons a year. Now it's of necessity. You just have to moderate it and see how you can match it up with your lifestyle in a way that makes it fun and allows you time to do it.”
These days Boston is Houston's only marathon, though he did add another a few years ago, with good reason.
“My daughter wanted to run one and wanted company, and how can you resist your daughter?” he said, adding that they ran the Baystate Marathon in Lowell.
Now his sights are set on conquering the course from Hopkinton to Boston and ideally surpassing his fundraising goal for IMPACT.
“It doesn't have to be a big donation.” he said. “But it's a great cause.”
To make a donation online visit www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/impact-melanoma-boston-2019/richardhouston2. Checks can also be sent to IMPACT Melanoma, ATTN: Team IMPACT, 490 Virginia Road, Concord, MA, 01742, with Richard Houston on the Memo line.