The cherry on top of Monday's birthday cake for 70-year-old Joe Garcia was winning a silver medal at the 118th annual Boston Marathon.
The St. Albert plumber celebrated the milestone with a second-place finish in the men's 70 to 74 age category.
“It was very exciting,” said Garcia on Wednesday morning before heading to work at the Edmonton Public School Division. “It was the most exciting race that I've ever ran because of the enthusiasm of people and the unity and the support of the race was overwhelming. I felt privileged to be in such an event.”
Garcia's time of three hours, 29 minutes and 54 seconds was six minutes slower than his goal for the 42.2-kilometre course.
John Ouweleen, 73, of Sebastian, Florida was the top 70 to 74 male at 3:28:11.
“I wanted to go a little better timewise but I'm very satisfied with the placing,” said Garcia, the 7,233rd male and 9,316 overall finisher.
The race winner was Meb Keflezighi, 38, at 2:08:27. The San Diego resident, who was born in Asmara, Eritrea, was the first American male champion since 1983.
The fastest Canadian male was Tom McGrath, 27, of Edmonton at 2:30:24 for 101st place overall.
The second Boston Marathon of Garcia's career outshone his 2011 debut as the fifth-fastest 65 to 69 male at 3:22:29.
“I enjoyed this one better, definitely. I've been waiting for this for a couple of years for sure,” he said. “It's a very prestigious event. It brings people from all over the world together. It's the most known marathon (held on Patriots' Day, the third Monday of April) and the oldest in the world. Everybody wants to be there, especially this year.”
Last year two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260 and at least 14 people required amputations.
Garcia described the security as “unbelievable” for this year's race.
“They had the army, national guard, state police, local police, helicopters, everything – it was like being in a war zone but having a party in a war zone,” he said. “There were lots of festivities. It was a party. Everyone was happy. Everyone was cheering you on. It was packed solid all the way for 42 K, maybe two deep or three deep with spectators, and it was very loud with kids and adults cheering.”
This year the Boston Athletic Association added nearly 9,000 runners to accommodate those who were unable to finish the 2013 race and the field of nearly 36,000 was the second largest in history, surpassed only by the 38,708 entrants for the 1996 centennial.
“The amount of humanity on the race was overwhelming. There was all those people ahead of you and you had to more or less stay within your space, your group of people, because if you wanted to get ahead you either had to go zig-zag or kind of separate from a couple of people in front of you to get ahead,” Garcia said. “Later in the race you didn't have the energy so you more or less stayed within your area of people. Some people fell behind and some people passed you but more or less it was hard to pass people.”
Garcia approached the finish line on a balmy Monday with a spring in his step despite some pain.
“I was very comfortable until the last three miles were left and then the wheels fell off. I was hurting plenty. The legs hurt a lot but it was my thighs mostly. My calves were OK though,” said Garcia, who completed his first marathon at age 49 at 3:08 that remains a personal best time. “I knew I was probably going to hurt and I was ready for it because I did the work but previous marathons the wheels fell off way before that, maybe five miles or six miles to go, but this time I was still able to sprint at the last moment.
“Today my thighs and my legs are still hurting, but I'll make it. I'll survive.”
Garcia qualified for the race as the No. 1 male in his age category at the 2012 Seattle marathon at 3:30:31.
The doting grandfather of twin boys was also the fifth-place 65 to 69 male at the 2013 Chicago Marathon at 3:28:22.
One of the founding members of the St. Albert Road Runners and Triathlon Club will now ramp up the training for the 32nd annual Ironman Canada, consisting of a 3.86-km swim, 180.25-km bike and marathon run, on July 27 in Whistler for a qualifying spot at his third Ironman worlds in Kona, Hawaii.
“That is the plan. I'm going to get on the bike tonight and start going,” said the 11th-place 65 to 69 male finisher at the 2013 Ironman Canada in 14 hours, 52 minutes and 40 seconds for 1,661st overall.