CUMBERLAND – For runners like Dave Constantino, the unicorn on the logo of the Boston Marathon has been fitting.
For nearly a decade at the hallowed 26.2-mile race, the 43-year-old Cumberland native has tried to track down his own personal unicorn – that is, break the 3-hour mark – but each time, he’s fallen short.
And he has come oh-so-close. Two years ago, his time was 3:04:46. The previous year, he ran a 3:07:40. And in 2006, his second trip to Boston, he turned in a 3:09:27.
Constantino finally broke the elusive three-mile barrier last May at the Cox Marathon in Providence with a 2:59:17 time, and while that performance ranks among the highlights of his athletic career, it wasn’t done on the sport’s biggest stage in Beantown.
But Monday is right around the corner…
“I’m hoping maybe this will be the year that I’ll finally break three in Boston,” said Constantino, who will be heading to Hopkinton for the ninth straight year. “I know I can do it. I already did it last year in Providence. I’m hoping for the best and I’m confident I can pull it off.”
Constantino was confident that last April’s race was going to be his sub-three marathon, especially after establishing a personal best in it in 2011, but the extreme heat and the temperatures that hovered in the mid-80s for most of the day threw a monkey wrench into his plans.
At the half marathon mark, he checked in with a 1:28:32, but shortly after the 25K (15.5 miles) mark, he was reduced to running eight-minute miles, and despite a strong finish, he was saddled with a 3:14:56 time.
“That was the hardest marathon I ever ran,” he admitted. “My splits were actually faster over the last six miles because I just wanted to get to the finish line. I never ran in those conditions before. I ran in the 70s and close to 80, but never that high.
“I’m surprised I actually did 3:14, compared to a lot of people. I met a gentleman at the finish line, and he told me that the previous year, he ran Boston in 2:45, but it took him 3½ hours to do it in the heat.”
Dismayed by his finish, Constantino decided to spend the rest of the week resting up and then tackle the nearby Cox Marathon three weeks later. It was his 20th career marathon, and it turned out to be a magical one for him.
“I normally don’t do marathons back-to-back like that,” he confessed. “I usually take a week off to recuperate and then slowly get back into running, but it was haunting me so bad. I had to find out if I could do it. And I did.”
While Mother Nature plans to cooperate with Constantino and the rest of the 26,000-plus runners on Monday (partly sunny with temperatures in the mid 50s), a minor issue with his right psoas muscle, which is attached to the spinal cord and connects to the top of the femur (thigh) bone, might present a problem – but only after the race.
“Last year, I went to see a chiropractor, with the hopes that maybe if I could get adjusted, get my body back into alignment, that it might improve my running,” added Constantino, who said that his psoas issue forced him to restructure his normal training schedule. “And it has, because I actually shaved half a minute off my 5K times.
“But my doctor told me that once you go through the adjustment process, you’re going to feel periods of discomfort in certain areas because you’ve been out of alignment. I have felt a little discomfort, but it doesn’t bother me when I run. It’s only after I’m done that I feel a little bit, but this isn’t going to be enough to keep me out of the race.”
Unlike most runners, Constantino got a late start on his running career. A 1988 graduate of Cumberland High, he didn’t start running until he was 29 and required to do so in boot camp with the National Guard.
“After that, I began running more and I started competing (in races) in my early 30s, and that’s when I got the bug,” said Constantino. “I’ve been at it since then.”
In 2002, he took part in his first marathon, the old Ocean State Marathon in Providence, and produced a 3:40:26 time. Constantino went back the following year sliced more than 20 minutes off his time (3:19:37), and the next October, he headed to Connecticut and hit paydirt by qualifying for Boston with a 3:09:17 time at the Hartford Marathon.
The following spring, Constantino made his Boston debut, but to his disappointment, he ended up with a 3:34:33 time. Nevertheless, he returned to Hartford six months later and qualified again for Boston. That’s when he turned in his superb 3:09:27, and that began a streak of seven straight Boston Marathons that he finished under 3:19.
“I plan on continuing to run in Boston until I can’t qualify,” said Constantino. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to qualify every year. I qualified in Boston last year, even in the heat, but I also qualified three weeks later with a better time.”
In addition to running, Constantino has also been active in the triathlon scene. In 2008, he did a full tri (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run), the Ironman Lake Placid, in 12:26:38, and he’s done his share of half and sprint triathlons, including last August’s U.S. Triathlon Age Group Championships in Burlington, Vt.
“I don’t run every day, but I do a lot of cross training,” added Constantino. “One day, I’d run, and maybe run and bike on the same day, and the next day, I’d give my legs a break and swim or work out with some weights.”
Constantino, who is also active on the 5K circuit (he had a handful of top-five finishes in Massachusetts races last year), plans to get in some more 3.1-milers this year, as well as a couple of sprint tris, and he has his sights set on returning to South Hero, Vt. in October to run in the Green Mountain Marathon.
Last year, Constantino had to battle conditions that were the opposite of what he faced in Boston – “it was very windy, 25-30 mph winds, raining, and in the 40s” – but he finished fourth in his 40-49 age division with a time of 3:04:22.
“I haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” said Constantino. “I thought about doing Cox again, but like I said, I hate to do back-to-back marathons. But I definitely plan on doing the Green Mountain again because I want to try to break three hours up there.”
But first things first. There’s a big race in Boston in a couple of days that’s next on his to-do list, and a golden opportunity to lasso a unicorn that’s eluded him for so long.
“We’ll see what happens,” added Constantino. “I know I’ve come up short, but I’m hoping that this year might be different.”