On a mission for Dad


On Monday, Patriot’s Day, Blake Edmunds of Edgartown will join some 29,000 other runners in the 26.2-mile test of sinew and well known simply as Boston to marathon runners. The starting line in Hopkinton is just a few miles from Holliston, Blake’s home town.

“Being from Massachusetts, growing up in the next town over, I always followed the marathon,” Blake, 36, said in a conversation two weeks ago on the sun-splashed deck of his house outside of Edgartown. “My dad was a photo-journalist, and every year we’d go watch the start and he’d take photos. He loved to run, but he’d get injured, so he’d stop.”

In August 2008, Blake’s father, Bill Edmunds, was diagnosed with cancer, and he died two months later. “By the time he was diagnosed there was nothing they could do for him, except make him comfortable,” Blake said. “He was in a Dana-Farber treatment facility and they were just great. They gave him all sorts of pain pills, of course, but they did so much more than that. They helped him go with dignity.” He was 64.

Last year, Blake joined the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team, which entitled him to run the Boston Marathon if he raised at least $3,200 for cancer research and prevention. “I always thought that running a marathon was impossible, just crazy,” he said. But he decided to go for it anyway, “in an effort to both remember my father and do what I can to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.”

Blake still seems a bit surprised at his transformation from spectator to competitor, though he has been keen on fitness for years. As a cyclist, he competed in both road races and cyclecross, and he worked as a bike messenger in Boston, between construction jobs. But he didn’t take up running until 2006.

He was living in Oak Bluffs at the time, with his wife, Carly, and their son, Gabriel, now seven. Since then they’ve been joined by Adelaide, now three, and Cooper, five months.

Carly, who ran every day after work when they lived in Boston, first put the running bee in Blake’s bonnet. With the demands of an expanding family making it ever harder to maintain his cycling edge, running, which takes about half as long to get a comparable workout, came to him as a natural substitute.

His first run was about three miles, up to the East Chop Lighthouse and back, and he thought it was a big deal. Soon enough, though, he was entering local five-kilometer races, and his mileage started to increase dramatically. “I guess I’m a bit compulsive,” Blake says, although his need for more is hardly atypical among runners as they move from beginner to intermediate.

The next escalation came when he fell in with the local running fraternity, principally Dave Diriwachter, Dana Gaines, Paul Vertefeuille, Garry Metters, Andrew Flake, Pat Parker, Neal Sullivan, Marylee Schroeder, Dan Vaughan, Jamie Padre, and Joe Guerin. “I’ve gotten a lot of great advice and encouragement from them and I can’t thank them enough,” Blake says, segueing quickly to a story to illustrate his point.

“Two weeks ago, I got a call from Neal Sullivan who said he’s always wanted to run from Gay Head Light to Edgartown Light, just over 20 miles, and did I want to join him,” Blake says. “We started at 5 am, and it took a few miles to warm up, but it was a great run, and beautiful.” And scenery does matter to Blake, who runs principally to feel good and enjoy where he is. Hardly a mileage junkie, he rarely wears a watch when he’s on the road.

Since the lighthouse run, Blake has been tapering off on his total mileage, to give his body a chance to assimilate all the training he’s done and channel it into three and a half hours — or less, he hopes — on Monday.

“When I thought about running Boston last year, at first I thought it couldn’t be done,” Blake says. “I was running up to 13 miles, but a marathon?”

Determination saw him through, though there were plenty of nerves leading up to the race. “It was very exciting being part of it,” Blake says, after all the years of watching. In the end, though, it was something of a let-down, at least from a pure running standpoint. Because it takes so long for the thousands of average runners to actually get moving after the start of the race, most of them don’t really start running for several miles. “It was sort of disappointing,” he said with a characteristic broad smile. “Because you don’t really get to run until you get to Wellesley College. I had a lot left at the finish.”

Carly backed him up. “He didn’t look terrible at the end,” she said, also with a broad smile. “I was surprised.”

Even though the actual running may be frustrating, the purpose of Blake’s run is crystal clear and runs deep. It’s about his Dad, and the disease that killed him. “My hope is that in some small way I can help prevent any other friends and family from having to go through this horrible disease, either as a victim directly, or as a powerless observer,” Blake wrote in a recent letter soliciting sponsors for his run. “I would humbly ask anyone who would like to help me with this to visit runDFMC.org/2010/blakee. I would greatly appreciate any help you would extend to Dana- Farber Marathon Challenge and my attempt to celebrate the life of my father.”

As of mid-week, Blake was still a bit short of the $3,200 he has pledged to raise. Islanders who would like to help him over his Heartbreak Hill of fundraising can send contributions to him at P.O. Box 2663, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, or reach him on his cell phone, 617-388-8536.