By Ricky Doyle
Going from a drunk, chubby stoner to a marathon runner may not be a direct route, yet that’s how Matt Baker, 23, of Quincy describes his jump from adolescence to adulthood. The inspiration behind this quantum leap is his father, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Baker of the United States Army National Guard who is currently deployed in Iraq on a 13-month tour.
On Marathon Monday in Boston, Matt and his father exchanged e-mails discussing a rare feat. Both crossed the finish line after 26.2 miles, but with a BIG difference. The finish lines were on opposite sides of the planet.
Matt Baker completed the Boston Marathon at 3:02 p.m., finishing the course in just over four hours and 20 minutes. Two days earlier, 45-year-old Christopher Baker trekked the same distance through the sands of Tallil in Iraq as part of a Boston-sanctioned marathon. He finished in three hours and 26 minutes, fourth overall and first in his brigade.
“I’m never going to hear the end of this one,” said the younger Baker of his father’s time. “Seriously though, pretty impressive if you ask me.”
An experienced runner, Christopher finished an hour ahead of his targeted time on Saturday. He began competing in 1993 when he ran the Boston Marathon for the first time. Matt’s experience was his first marathon. He had never run a road race prior to Marathon Monday and started training last December after finishing his studies at the University of Vermont — both as a way to honor his father and to get into better shape.
Training for the Boston Marathon was a productive use of time in the months leading up to graduation and he ran as part of a team raising money for the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.
“I’ve grown up watching the [Boston] marathon and love Patriots’ Day, so running was always in the back of my mind,” he said. “For Christmas, all my gifts were running gear so at that point, I was pretty much all in.”
Matt Baker followed a 16-week training program that included increasing his mileage weekly. About every other week, he would set new long distance goals. With a focus on remaining healthy and minimizing fatigue, he ran three or four times a week, getting advice from his father via e-mail.
“Every time I run, I think about how my father can do this in a sun-baked hellhole of a warzone,” he said.
Baker’s commitment surprised his friends and family at first. Ultimately though, he gained universal support. “He is one kid that I never imagined would run a marathon,” said Baker’s long-time friend Timothy McCarthy. “I honestly laughed when I heard the idea. But, what can I say? I’m proud of him.”
Baker described Marathon Monday as one of the proudest days of his life, not only for his accomplishments – and his father’s- but for the entire city of Boston.
“I could literally feel the spirit of support and camaraderie amongst the runners and the crowd,” he said. “It is a day that really shows the true spirit of the city.”
The last four miles were the most challenging, Baker admits , but also the most exhilarating.
A raucous crowd, equipped with air horns and ‘Kiss Me’ signs, greeted marathoners as they dashed through Kenmore Square for the final stretch. Baker’s arrival sent the crowd into a frenzy. Friends and family shouted his name, and he responded with a sky-high fist pump and high-fives all around.
Although he’s reluctant to admit catching the runner’s bug, Baker said he hopes to run in a half marathon next month and the Falmouth Road Race this summer. Younger brother, Chris, 19, attended Monday’s race and said he may run a Boston Marathon too — a feat to further a Baker family legacy.