Two days before competing in the world’s most celebrated road race, Alex France ‘22 began to gain perspective of what finishing the Boston Marathon would feel like.
“I was at a banquet that Saturday night with some of the other paralympic athletes,” France said. “One of the speakers said that when you finish the marathon, you’ll be able to say I just ran the Boston freaking Marathon. When I finished, I think it hit me that I had just run the Boston freaking Marathon.”
Not only did the former Midland University runner finish the most prestigious marathon, he accomplished two personal goals along the way. He completed the race in under three hours (2 hours, 54 minutes, and 59 seconds to be exact) but also ran a negative split, meaning that he ran the final 13.1 miles faster than the first half of the race.
France has been visually impaired since high school with retinitis pigmentosa and has relied on guide runners in both training and competition. Competing in the T11-T12 for visually impaired runners, France’s time was good for second overall.
While running the Boston Marathon had always been a goal of France’s, he wasn’t sure it was going to happen this quickly. Starting a new job last fall had limited his training time, but his performance at the California International Marathon in December changed his outlook.
“I was surprised because I didn’t think my training had been that great, but I ended up running a personal best (2:48:17) and won my division,” he said. “As part of winning my division, I earned the Rich Hunter Award, which paid for my entry into Boston. So, I decided I was going to Boston.”
His training time was limited between training for the new job, a broken treadmill, and less-than-ideal weather conditions in Nebraska in January. “I didn’t have a lot of workouts, and my mileage was low,” he said. “I was viewing Boston as an opportunity to go and just enjoy the experience. If I run well, great, and if I blow up at the 20-mile mark, so be it. But I wanted to make sure I enjoyed the experience.”
Local runner and volunteer Benjamin Garfield ran the first 11.8 miles with France before a familiar face, former Midland coach, and his current guide runner, Phillip Duncan, stepped in for the remainder of the race.
“I met Benjamin two days before the race, and he had never run Boston either, so it was a new experience for both of us,” France said. “It’s great to have Phillip for the second half of the race because he’s run with me so many times, and as you start to get a little worn out, it’s good to have someone who knows how to run with me.”
France said he started to hit what he called the “pain cave” at about the 15-mile mark. While his training and perseverance were part of the reason he forged on, he was quick to give credit to an outside influence.
“The crowd there is amazing,” he said. “Mentally, the pain becomes temporary at that point, and with all those people cheering for you, it becomes way bigger than yourself. I had my last name on my bib, so people started yelling out my name and cheering for me specifically.
“I guess it’s the Boston Marathon for a reason. As you get closer to the finish, the crowd gets bigger and louder, and the pain and the miles get lost in the crowd. I even had to ask what mile marker we were at late in the race because I was getting so into it.”
France got to share his experience with family members and friends, including his parents and sister. “I have some extended family in New York that I hadn’t seen in a long time, so it was special to have them be a part of it,” he said.
After a little recovery time, France is back on the track this month as he planned to take part in the Hastings, Nebraska half marathon. He is also contemplating running a half marathon in Philadelphia this fall, while the Chicago and New York marathons remain a possibility as well. Longer term, France has kept his options open to compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris, France. “If that doesn’t pan out, I will start planning for the 2028 games, which will be held in the States (Los Angeles).”
France graduated with a degree in Youth and Family Ministry. While he continues to work with high school and college students at a church, he has expanded his ministry in his new role as an orientation counselor with the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. “I love working with people and sharing the gospel, and I wanted to be able to help people outside the church,” he said. “When I saw the opening, I thought there’s no better way to share the gospel than by helping people who are in a similar situation to me. God has given me an opportunity to use those skills, and I feel very blessed to be in this position.”