About 22 miles into the Boston Marathon, Jim Gefke needed something to ease the cramps in his legs and lighten the burden of the firefighting gear he wore: 30 pounds of pants, coat and helmet.
He found it in the indelible lessons of his mentor, John Harrington, a fellow North Shore firefighter who died in a bicycling crash nearly seven years ago.
Harrington's simple game plan guided Gefke, 29, through his final years at Nicolet High School, the firefighter cadet program, a job as a firefighter, and on Monday, to the finish line on Boylston St.
"If you put a plan in place and you focus and you do what you need to do, things usually end up working out," Gefke repeated, hours after finishing his fourth marathon. "You have a much better chance of succeeding if you do that, and those are things I took away from John while he was still here.
"He always instilled a lot of confidence in me to do something like this and figure out a way how to do it, rather than tell myself that's not something I would be able to do." It was fitting that Harrington would serve as Gefke's inspiration at the toughest part of his race.
The whole ordeal of running the 26.2 miles, on a brutally hilly course, in a full firefighter suit, was inspired by Gefke's desire to keep Harrington's memory alive. He ran in Harrington's honor, to raise money in his name to benefit the Wisconsin Burn Survivors Network.
The organization helps young burn victims make the transition to adulthood.
With his mentor in mind, Gefke started training in his heavy running gear in December and slowly shared his plans with his fellow firefighters and Harrington's family.
He had qualified to run Boston with a 3:10:48 in the 2009 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon and guessed a time of 4:20 with the added heft.
"Getting my body acclimated to running in the gear was the most difficult part," he said. "It's a bit restrictive, but mainly your body is losing so much fluid in comparison to when you run without it." Despite his cramps, the prediction proved to be nearly spot on. Gefke finished in 4:18:29.
That would be a respectable outing in shorts and a singlet - just two minutes off the median time for nearly 300, 000 male marathon finishers in 2010.
"I think overall it was a super inspiring event," Gefke said. "I'm really thankful I was able to do it and that I'm still standing at the end of the day." End finishes 31st: Shorewood High School graduate Nick End had the best race of the Boston competitors from the Milwaukee area.
With a 2:22:30, End finished 31st overall. End ran for Carnegie Mellon University and lives in Pittsburgh.
Among local residents, Kyle Fraser, of Milwaukee, led the field with a 2:37:37.
Marek Kotrly, a police officer in Brookfield, was a few minutes behind Fraser. The 39-year-old ran an impressive 2:40:10.
Rick Stefanovic, of Milwaukee, proved that 12 days of training is plenty for a Boston Marathon effort. The veteran broke his left ankle in December and finished his 20th run down Boylston Street in 3:25:19, less than two weeks after being cleared to start running again.
He trained on an elliptical machine and stationary bike while recuperating.
Aaron Hunnel, of Appleton, reached the finish line in 4:22:29. Hunnel, a staff sergeant in the Wisconsin National Guard, earned his ticket to Boston a year ago by running a marathon at Camp Adder in Iraq.
Copyright 2011 Journal Sentinel Inc.
April 19, 2011